Strangely, it is in this helplessness that we come upon the beginning of joy.
But when...you see that your nature is still twisted and disfigured by selfishness and by the disorder of sin, and that you are cramped and warped by a way of living that turns you incessantly back upon your own pleasure and your own interest and that you cannot escape this distortion: that you cannot even deserve to escape it, by your own power, what will your sorrow be? This is the root of what the saints called compunction: the grief, the anguish of being helpless to be anything but what you were not meant to be.
Then, in prayer, all sweetness becomes a sickness. Consolation repels you because the smallest taste of it brings surfeit. All light brings pain to the mind by its insufficiency. Your will no longer seems able to dare to act. The slightest movement reminds it of its uselessness, and it dies of shame.
And yet, strangely, it is in this helplessness that we come upon the beginning of joy. We discover that as long as we stay still the pain is not so bad and there is even a certain peace, a certain richness, a certain strength, a certain companionship that makes itself present to us when we are beaten down and lie flat with our mouths in the dust, hoping for hope.
Then, as peace settles upon the soul and we accept what we are and what we are not, we begin to realize that this great poverty is our greatest fortune. For when we are stripped of the riches that were not ours and could not possibly endow us with anything but trouble, when we rest even from that good and licit activity of knowing and desiring which still could not give us any possession of our true end and happiness, then we become aware that the whole meaning of our life is a poverty and emptiness which, far from being a defeat, are really the pledge of all the great supernatural gifts of which they are a potency.
Father Thomas Merton "The Grace of the Rich Young Man." from New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1961).
Copyright 1961 by The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky. He is the author of over 70 books including The Seven Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation, and Wisdom of the Desert.Copyright © 1961 The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.
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