October 6, 2011

Being a Unique Snowflake

Thinking on St. Bruno for his feast day this morning, I opened up the home page of the Carthusian order. I don't know if it's some kind of quote or motto or something, but I was struck by the greeting to visitors:

"Friend, whoever you are, whatever led you to this site, welcome. You will not find anything fashionable, not even a concern for being different."

I find that profound and challenging. Anyone who wants to live a devout life of any sort must forever struggle with the rotten intuition of the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men. This is especially true in a society that has given up not only on the truth of eschatology but even the erstatz eschatologies of the worldly philosophers of history and thus craves novelty and celebrity as the only things left to provide temporary relief from the general aimlessness.

When we decide each day that we want to live a spiritual life, the devil will do everything he can to stoke our vainglory and encourage us to think it zeal and righteousness. The injury of original sin has left each of us with a little narcissistic celebrity inside. It's easy to get convinced that this person is our 'leadership potential' or our zeal for the reform of others. Since it's easier to worship a celebrity than to worship the living God, the devil sees a lot of potential for damage to souls through ministers who let themselves become their own worst selves.

The good news is that God wills to save us from ourselves. The very work of prayer teaches us interior poverty because God refuses to be a commodity or a possession. A life of prayer doesn't make us special, but instead teaches us that the need to be special is a dead end that leads only to alienation. The God who desires us in prayer is no-thing that can be had and no credential that can be pinned to our insecure heart. Prayer delivers us from the horrendous cut-throat system of this world in which I can only be somebody if everyone else is a nobody. Prayer opens us to the truth that we are all somebody only because of the Someone who is the Ground and Love out of which we are all spoken into being. The spiritual life exists not to help us indulge our need to be special or different, but to let go of it.

'Be yourself', as we were told as children. True enough, but they didn't know what they were talking about. Being yourself does not mean what the world thinks it means, namely indulging one's quirks and so-called individuality so as to wrap a certain uniqueness around the meaningless and moral chaos that the world asks us to accept. No, being yourself means letting God love the person he created, and discovering the liberating humility of journeying through the discovery of who that person really is.

"The way to contemplation is an obscurity so obscure that it is no longer even dramatic. There is nothing in it that can be grasped and cherished as heroic or even unusual." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 250)

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Love your words "The injury of original sin has left each of us with a little narcissistic celebrity inside." Ha ha, so true, so true.
I spent 5 months living in an old Carthusian Monastery-turned-school/hotel when I was in university and the stories that went around about the Carthusians were truly remarkable. One I remember well...when a monk dies they are all buried in unmarked graves, and the graves are re-used. In several instances, incorrupt bodies were found when re-using an old grave and when that happened, they would cover the body back up, and dig up the next grave. Unbelievable to think of all the Carthusian saints there probably are, and nobody knows, and they prefer it that way.
St. Bruno, pray for us!