Monday, April 6, 2009

Merton and the Reality of the Body

"And what God has joined, no man can separate without danger to his sanity"

" If I never become what I am meant to be, but always remain what I am not, I shall spend eternity contradicting myself by being at once something and nothing... --Thomas Merton

While Gnosis is chiefly concerned with the mind, the idea of the body as a perceived reality is discussed by the Catholic Christian monk, Thomas Merton.

In his book, New Seeds of Contemplation, a compilation of his short musings on a variety of subjects he writes, "Detachment from things does not mean setting up a contradiction between things and God, as if God were another thing and his creatures were his rivals. We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God; rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see...This is an entirely new perspective which many sincerely moral and ascetic minds fail utterly to see..."

There is no evil in the created world, nor can anything created become an obstacle to oneness.

However the obstacle often becomes our self, "that is to say our tenacious need to maintain our separate, external, egotistical will... It is then that we alienate ourselves from reality and from God..."

We use all things "for the worship of this idol, which is our imaginary self; in doing so we pervert and corrupt things, or rather we turn our relationship to them into a corrupt and sinful relationship. We do not thereby make them evil, but we use them to increase our attachments..." To take for an idol is the worst kind of self deception. "It turns a man into a fanatic, no longer capable of genuine love...'

"Whereby a "saint knows that the world and everything made by God is good... while those who are not saints either think that created things are unholy [not unified], or else they don't bother about the question one way or the other, because they are only interested in themselves."

In the eyes of the Oneness, the unified, the holy, the saints, all beauty is holy and glorious; it is without judgement because he knows that his mission on this earth as saint is to bring mercy to all men.

Merton continues. He says, "The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who Dwells and sings with in the essence of every creature, and in the core of our souls.

In his love we possess all things... Until we love God perfectly [without fear], everything in this world will be able to hurt us. And the greatest misfortune is to be dead to the pain, and not realize what it is... The anguish that we [feel] belongs to the disorder of our desire which looks for a greater reality than is there... "

"But to worship our false self is to worship nothing... The false self must not be identified with the body. The body is neither evil nor unreal. It has a reality that is given it by God, and this reality is therefore holy. Hence we say rightly, though symbolically, that the body is the Temple of God, meaning that his truth, his perfect reality, is enshrined there in the mystery of our own being.'
'Let no one therefore despise or hate the body... Let no one dare to mis-use this body. Let him not desecrate his own natural unity by dividing himself, soul against body, as if soul were good and body evil. Soul and body together subsist in the reality of the hidden inner person. If they are separated, there is no longer a person... And what God has joined, no man can separate without danger to his sanity."

It is equally false to treat the soul as if it were a "whole" and the body as if it were a "whole."
Those who make this mis-perception fall firstly into the practice of "angel-ism," the study and love of angels, or spirit beings; those who fall for the second mistake, fall into the trap of life lived as below the level given by God to his human creation.
It would not be an acceptable cliche, however, to say that "such men live like beasts; there are many respectable and conventionally moral people for whom there is no other reality in life than their body and its relationship with things.'

'They have reduced themselves to a life lived within the limits of their five senses. Their self is consequently an illusion based on sense experience and nothing else. For these, the body becomes a source of falsity and deception. But it is not the body's fault. It is the fault of the person himself, who consents to the illusion, who finds security in self-deception and will not answer the secret voice of God calling him to take a risk and venture by faith outside the reassuring and protective limits of his five senses."

"You are the secret of God's heart." --unknown

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