Friday, January 07, 2011

Human being, or a human doing?

"... which is why we're called human beings, not human doings." That little sentence fragment came to mind when I read this from Thomas Merton the other night:
We are warmed by the fire, not by the smoke of the fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship. So too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.
Merton, No Man Is an Island, p. 117
(chapter 7, Barnes & Noble 2003 edition)
Our pastor said the other day that the sickness of our time is that we are unaware of our souls and hence are unable to take proper care of them.

I think he's right about that. If my soul is what integrates everything in my life and makes it a life rather than a chaos of disparate drives, then having a healthy soul means that my mind, will, and emotions -- my professed beliefs and my actual desires -- will be aligned. I won't say one thing but actually wish another; what I "should want" would become what I actually want, and my "best self" would be what everyone around me sees every day.

Today's reality, of course, doesn't match that description -- in you or in me. David wrote, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts" (Psalm 139:23); his soul wasn't perfect, either, as shown by the adultery and murder he committed in 2 Samuel 11. Less dramatically, we can see David's internal conflict within Psalm 139 itself: after acknowledging that the Lord knows him (Ps. 139:1-6), he thinks about fleeing (139:7-11).

But it seems that our modern, high-tech world is so filled with distractions that most of us don't even know how conflicted we are -- toward God, toward our jobs, toward each other -- even toward ourselves. Fortunately, David shows us a step we can take: confess our needs and our anxious thoughts to God -- indeed, ask God to help us know what they are -- and determine to follow where He leads.

No comments: