In his book New Seeds of Contemplation, Merton wrote “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: the false self.” Merton identifies the false self as the person that we wish to present to the world, and the person we want the whole world to revolve around. God desires for us to be the persons we were created to be: to be simply and purely ourselves, and in this state to love God, and let ourselves be loved by God. It is a double journey: finding God means allowing ourselves to be found by God; and finding our True Selves means allowing God to find and reveal our True Selves to us.
James Martin SJ says that for many, the road to self-acceptance can be arduous. For instance, those of ethnic minorities, with physical disabilities, or with painful family backgrounds may find the temptation to compare overwhelming. Still, the journey is an essential one in the spiritual life. Many gay men and lesbians, for example, have told him that a foundational part of their own spiritual development has been accepting themselves as gay men and women; that is, this is the way that God has made them. Coming to accept themselves in this way, and more importantly, allowing God to love them as they are, not as they might wish they could be, or how society might want them to be, is an important step in one’s relationship with God.
God loves us as we are because we are as God made us. “For I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” says Psalm 139. I think that this is something of what the psalmist may have meant. Merton wrote that the quest for the true self is part of the quest to let God know you as you are. One is freed from this spiritual prison not only by reflecting more realistically on the sometimes painful lot of others, as well as accompanying them into their suffering, but also by reflecting on the blessings in our own lives. In other words, by engaging in the practice of gratitude. The gift and talents and natural desires that had been placed in us by God were valued by others and needed to be valued by us.
This is the second part of Ian Diacono’s review of James Martin’s Becoming Who You Are. The first part can be accessed here.