Photo by a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Br. Paul Quenon, where Thomas Merton lived and wrote and taught and devoted every moment to a closer walk with thee.
This is Day 9 of Lent; it’s also Friday and with my prophetic gifts I know what you’re thinking.
Your Lenten ramblings follow:
“Father Louie,” as the mystic one was called in the Kentucky monastery where he was a spiritual writing machine.
My Main Man the Mystic Mr. Merton the Magnificent Monk (click here) wrote:
“A prophet is one who cuts through great tangled knots of lies.”
Jesus was not only a prophet in the sense of being able to clearly see the writing on the walls through his oneness with the Father/Mother/Creator, but a prophet also in the sense of speaking, and in fact embodying, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Let us never forget, Christian brothers and sisters and all ye who may drop in here–Jesus was a Jew and a rabbi and remained one till the day he pronounced from the piece of hardwood to which he was nailed, “It is finished.”
In this deep Jewishness of his he stood in the tradition of all the great, truth-telling prophets before him, from those that he so often quoted like Jeremiah and Isaiah to Amos and all the many others that perhaps too many Christians neglect in their reading and understanding of the Testaments New and Old.
Lent is a good time for us to reflect in our daily meditations on all the lies we tell, all the false fronts and faces we present to others in the course of a single day. It’s easy enough for us to spot what we know, or what we perceive to be, the “great tangled knots of lies” and phoniness in others.
The truth of the matter is that, more often than not, what we hate in someone else is the very thing that’s part of our own “stuff,” our own “baggage.”
“If you spot it,” the old saying goes, “you got it.”
You may very well hate someone or hate something about them because they do the very thing of which you are guilty yourself, something you wish you could shake, but seem incapable of letting go.
We find unique ways to delude ourselves, thinking we know ourselves so well while being willfully blind to the truth and the many harsh or ugly truths of our very selves.
If Jesus teaches us anything he teaches us that we will never live, much less enjoy, life to the fullest as long as we keep lying to ourselves, imprisoning ourselves in delusions and always seeking the approval of others by being something we’re not, or saying something that we know someone else will want to hear.
Mark this down: Jesus tried and tried to show us how important it is to be our honest-to-God selves to the greatest extent humanly possibly. That was a topic that took up an enormous amount of Merton’s huge and spiritually profound body of written work.
As long as we’re not being genuine, not being authentic–not being the unique and honest-to-God individual that God created us in God’s image to be but trying to be something or somebody we’re not–we’re lying to ourselves and hiding most of the time behind one of those masks we’re always wearing to protect ourselves from being hurt by somebody who may not like the real us.
Untying the knots of lies within us can be a great stress reliever because we’re not so preoccupied with worrying what others think of us; we’re not obsessed winning the approval of others all the time; we’re open to the grace and truth and tender mercies of Christ who wants us “saved” from ourselves and healed and renewed and restored to wholeness and authentic health.
There’s a reason Jesus is called “the doctor of souls” or simply “physician.” A “good Christian” is a mentally, emotionally and psychologically healthy Christian who knows who he or she is at the core. A “good Christian” isn’t faking it, appearing to be strong when he’s weak, secure when she’s overwhelmed by insecurity and over-compensating for that hidden fear of exposure.
We can, in a real sense, be perfect–we can “keep it real” by being real–like the one who created us. Christ meant what he said when he said for us to be perfect.
Christ always said what he meant. He was the truth and showed us the way to discovering and embracing our true being at our very core by really, honestly knowing ourselves, warts and all.
He’s still the utter truth.
He’s keepin’ it real, dude.
In cutting through the tangled knots of lies within us we can let go of trash like “keeping up with the Joneses,” freeing ourselves of burdens like debt overload and buying ourselves or our kids every new gizmo and toy that comes out at the Apple store, or fleeing for yet another “escape” weekend in Cancun or heading to the mall to shop till we drop.
Letting go, downsizing, simplying, “rebooting”–these can be spiritual paths to wholeness and health because they can help us to see the ruts we’re stuck in on the same old dark paths that are leading us nowhere fast. Or paths to places (or even friends!) that may have been good for us at one time but no more.
In spiritual “rebooting” we can re-prioritize and let go and live more fully, and joyously by the way, in the present moment. That can relieve us of a lot of pressures and stresses and strains that we pile on ourselves and those closest to us.
The present moment, incidentally, is the only moment we have and the only moment we’re promised, and anyway–it’s only in the present moment that we can be fully engaged with that God who made us in His/Her image.
Think about it. Can you really be still and know God if your mind is never rested and relieved from what my Buddhist friends call the “mind monkeys” swinging around up there non-stop? (Merton, incidentally, was on a tour of the Far East engaging Buddhist leaders when he was electrocuted in Bangkok.)
Can you “hear” God if in every moment you’re eternally and intensely preoccupied with thinking of later this afternoon or tonight or next year and being an anxious worry wart about it all? (Or worse, thinking of the past with all the tangled knots that it can keep us locked up and stressed in.
Sometimes the hardest thing in life for us is being right where we are. That is, being wholly present in the moment, the here and the now. Getting still. Getting quiet. Just being and letting God be and allowing ourselves to be so quiet as to hear the small, still voice.
But practicing solitude and silence in order to tune in to God may require a certain amount of bravery and intentional practice. A lot of bravery, in fact. It’s a lot easier to preoccupy ourselves with planning another dinner party or shopping at the mall or worrying about the things we cannot change than to get still and take a good hard look at ourselves.
Being the hopeless rocker that I am I love the lyrics of a Fleetwood Mac about talking to God who thunders, “Now don’t ask me what I think of you I might not give the answer that you want me to.”
I know it’s only rock and roll (and I like it), but there’s theology to be mined even from it.
For us to be prophetic Christians does not require us to be abrasive, combative howlers who claim to know and speak the truth from every mountain top. Whenever I encounter someone who is always blunt and plainspoken to the point of abrasiveness, who is always speaking of himself as one who just tells them the truth like he’s Harry S Truman reincarnated (while possibly lacking a fraction of Truman’s substance or his gifts that made Truman authentic and genuine), I look for an escape route. That person is one who can’t begin to look inside himself and see how tangled up in knots of lies he is.
People who are so full of themselves all the time (that couldn’t be me, mind you!) that they can’t seem to complete a sentence without it ending in the words, “and that’s the truth, by God!” really need to leave God out of the conversation. They suck way too much oxygen out of a room and make it hard for others to breathe, much less get a word in edgewise.
Speaking of music makers, they make me wanna holla. (Marvin Gaye, “What’s Goin’ On?”)
Being prophetic in the manner of Jesus, seeking greater truth in the world and especially all the worlds within our own minds, bodies, spirits and souls, is a spiritual practice to be approached via a wide path of humility so that we can attain more humility as we work to live in the truth, to know the truth, and to liberate ourselves from all those “tangled knots of lies” within our very selves.
But spiritual self-diagnosis, which is a large piece of what Lent is about in order to become a whole and healthier self who can give more wholly in service to others, requires being in the moment and finding better health in each and every moment.
My main man Merton who wrote those words of wisdom about tangled knots of lies also wrote in his journal:
“The grip the present has on me–that is the one thing that has grown most noticeably in the spiritual life — nothing much else.”
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
— From Psalm 46: 10
And congratulations to the great actor and devout Catholic Christian activist Martin Sheen. See here for more.
Read Full Post »