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I AM ∴ i am – Selfish Ambition – Deadly Reason

by Stephen Hebert on Thursday - 5 August 2010

in Ministry

I’m re-reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, and, to be quite frank, I am blown away by my own lack of spiritual life and understanding. Allow me to make three brief points inspired by Merton:

I AM ∴ i am

The Source, God, offers Himself to each one of us — a free gift of the divine to our broken humanity, adopting us, giving us sonship (and daughtership!) as heirs to His royal and divine kingdom. Reading Galatians 4:1–7 confirms this for me:

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave,though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (ESV)

The point is this: I exist and live because He exists and lives. Without his pure personality, I have no personality; without his redemption and adoption of me, I am less than dust.

He is; therefore, I am.

Selfish Ambition

In describing the contemplative life, Merton derides selfish ambition as the contemplative killer. Confession time: so much of what I do, even when it doesn’t seem to be, is done out of selfish ambition. Right now, I’m spending a great deal of time preparing for the classes that I am going to teach this next semester. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing. However, there is a part of me (Calvinists, here’s your Total Depravity!) that desires to do this only in the vain pursuit of approval in my students’ eyes — I want them to believe that I am smart!

If I truly understood and recognized my place in His kingdom, perhaps I wouldn’t be so ambitious and wouldn’t worry so much about the approval of my fellow humans.

Deadly Reason

Merton believes that the West has robbed Christianity of the mystical by treating God as an object, a thing to be grasped, rationalized, and understood. He’s right on this point too, and I’m guilty of that hyper-western mode of theological reflection.

In my favor, I have said on this blog before that the pursuit of a systematic theology is potentially useless. I summed that up with this statement: Infinitude defies finite system. I think I’m right here, and I happen to think some weighty 20th century thinkers like Merton and Lewis would agree with me here.

However, in spite of my contempt for systematic theology, I find myself systematize things spiritual and turning God, spirituality, etc. into a thing to be grasped — an object to be attained, understood, etc.

I have been slapped on the wrist.

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