Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Artifice And The Social Self

“Our service of God and of the Church does not consist only in talking and doing. It can also consist in periods of silence, listening, waiting. Perhaps it is very important, in our era of violence and unrest, to rediscover meditation, silent inner unitive prayer, and creative Christian silence.” (Thomas Merton – Love and Living)

Several years ago, after two and a half decades of attempting to live in the Protestant tradition of active Christian involvement, I dedicated myself personally to a more solitary and contemplative lifestyle. In part, I came to the conclusion that all of life’s circumstances up to that point precipitated this move.

Over these past several years I’ve come to understand this move more and more from the perspective that this is a distinct calling, a vocation that I’ve yielded myself to. I’ve come to understand it as a path that’s been laid out before me as I endeavor to know God through personal union and communion with Him. I’ve also come to understand just how difficult it is to live out this vocation. The world, and sadly the Church as well, simply do not operate on this life-schedule.

There are many dimensions to this thing called silence and we need to be careful what we make of it in our lives. We can use it as an excuse for regression and escape and it can become another means to loss of true identity. Or it can serve as a means to genuine awareness in our lives. It can be a means to self-discovery and unification. It can unify our lives with the life of Christ and this unity can only serve as a means to unify Christ’s Body that’s called his Church. Creative silence can also be a means to unify us with the rest of humanity, to create compassion within us, compassion that moves us to empathize with the emotionally and spiritually broken and downtrodden, a class that is experiencing a growth-bound in recent years with the demise of so many economic illusions.

Most Christian people are never able to divorce themselves from their “social self”. Most fear and avoid silence. In silence we are forced to come face to face with who we really are. In silence we are confronted by many questions about the value of our existence. In silence we find ourselves confronted by the reality and value of our personal commitments.

In the realm of silence we find ourselves confronted by the authenticity of our everyday lives. We can, according to Merton, be “more or less content with an external identity, the social self, which is produced by our interaction with others in the wheeling and dealing of everyday life. But no matter how honest and open we may be in our relations with others, this social self implies a necessary element of artifice.”

The social self becomes addicted to artful devices and stratagem. It always finds itself involved in some sort of base relational deception and trickery as it attempts to advance itself even, especially, in the Christian arena. The harder I work to overcome this beastly artifice, the more I find myself faced with opportunities to hone and practice it. It is, in my estimation, one of life’s most dastardly and deceptive demons, one that disguises itself in many costumes.

The general nature of the Christian experience necessitates, to some degree, interacting with other people. The lives we live affirm and give credence to the lives of others within the arena of faith. The lives we live also offers the world outside the realm of faith an opportunity to view Christ personified in us. What others do with it is none of our business. Our business is to live it. The danger here is that we can so lose ourselves in a world of interaction with others that we fail to discover who we really are and, if we fail to discover who we really are, we will never develop in our true identity.

In Him we live, and move, and have our being. It is in silence – meditating, praying, listening, and waiting – where we personally commune with the one we know as our Source of Life. It is here that we discover our true being and are finally able to relax, to rest, and move about in the realm of spiritual freedom that liberates and restores integrity and genuine Christian character.

From "The Less Worn Path", (c) 2006, David A. Kralik