It wasn’t long ago that I went through a “who am I?” stage. I am somewhat of a late bloomer, I suppose, but those who study human development talk less about age and more about stages of life. I am not sure what spurred my search for self, but part of it was to read Carl Jung’s work; another was to go through a process that Carolyn Myss developed and wrote about in her book Sacred Contracts: Awaking Your Divine Potential. I remember the process was long and grueling and I came out the other end feeling more confused than when I started. I think I was looking for something solid to get hold of, like a statue of me in my middle somewhere and has a name.
I happened to go to a retreat around that time and when I told the leader about the work I’d done and how frustrated I felt that I didn’t find a self more solid, he said, “Learn to live with it.”
This morning I was reading a book, The Road to Joy, a collection of the letters of Trappist Monk and mystic Thomas Merton. I first became aware of Merton when, as a senior in high school I read his autobiography, Seven Story Mountain. That should have been some kind of clue as to who I am. The first set of letters in Joy are those he wrote to his dear friend, Mark Van Doren. This is what he wrote in March, 1948:
“I can no longer see the ultimate meaning of man’s life in terms of ‘being a poet’ or ‘being a contemplative or even in a certain sense in ‘being a saint’ (although that is the only thing to be). It must be something much more immediate than that. I – and every other person in the world – must say: ‘I have my own special, peculiar destiny which no one else ever has had or ever will have. There exists for me a particular goal, a fulfillment which must be all my own – nobody else’s – & it does not really identify that destiny to put it under some category – ‘poet’, ‘monk’, ‘hermit’.”
He goes on a bit about this certain something being a gift that one is given and whose calling in this life is to give that back to God. “Once the contact is established,” he says, “I feel it in my bones & sets me on fire.” I think this is what I was looking for. In the end, Merton fizzled out from such intense reaching, just as I did. “In the light of all that, it doesn’t make so much sense any more to be planning to either renounce or adopt whole ‘blocks’ of activity – cutting out ‘all’ writing or ‘going into solitude for good’ (as I would like to) – the thing is to take a new line & let everything be determined by immediate circumstances that manifest God’s will & His action here and now. No matter where it may seem to lead, because I don’t really know anyway & I don’t have to know provided that God is doing the leading.”
I got up this morning thinking to ease into the day, read, take a walk, shower, eat a nice breakfast with Bernie, and later pick tomatoes and make salsa. But the phone rang and we whisked ourselves off to my daughter Heidi’s to help with a very necessary task. I think “I don’t have to know provided that God is doing the leading.” I love Thomas Merton.