Thursday, November 13, 2008

Seeking God

Once upon a time, the story begins, some seekers from the city asked the local monastic a question:

“How does one seek union with God?”
And the Wise One said, “The harder you seek, the more distance you create between God and you.”
“So what does one do about the distance?” the seekers asked.
And the elder said simply, “Just understand that it isn’t there.”
“Does that mean that God and I are one?” the disciples said.
And the monastic replied, “Not one. Not two.”
“But how is that possible?” the seekers insisted.
And the monastic answered, “Just like the sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and the song. Not one. Not two.”[1]

When we approach life as a spiritual pilgrimage, it doesn’t take long before we conclude that pilgrimage indeed involves some difficult work, some hard going. We are, after all, seeking God in a world that always seems to run interference. There will never be a shortage of allegorical washouts, rock and mud slides, cold winds, blistering heat … things we tend to think of as obstacles to our journey rather than essential elements of it.

We have a tendency to look, after all, for God in what we perceive to be perfections, in successes, in models and terms that are measurable according to our own conditioned and perceived ideals. When others fail to measure up to these ideals, it is easy to accuse and condemn them. When we personally fail to measure up to these ideals, it is easy to rationalize and justify ourselves.[2]

“We are warmed by fire, not by the smoke of the fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship. So too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.”[3]

Here is where the work really begins and ends … in the depths of my own being. This is the hardest of work. This is the most avoidable work. It’s always easier to measure the shortcomings of others, to measure my progress by the standards set by the failures of others, than it is to look within the depths of my own contingent being where I realize that I am as much a part of the problem with humanity as anyone else.[4]

[1] As told by Joan Chittister, OSB, Wisdom Distilled From The Daily, p.195
[2] In using any language that may remotely appear inclusive (we, our, ourselves, etc.), no intent is made to include other’s experiences. I write exclusively of myself. Here, though, the proverb is apropos. “If the shoe fits.”
[3] Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, p. 117
[4] Matthew 7:1-5