Theological Notebook: Faith and Doubt, Harmonized in Merton's "Thoughts In Solitude"
Before bed: I've been reading today in the Preface to the Japanese edition of Thomas Merton's Thoughts In Solitude, and I found myself really working on this paragraph, which is a particularly rich one in what amounts to a brilliant brief meditation on solitude itself, and the interior integrity which it demonstrates in a human life.
Is it true to say that one goes into solitude to “get at the root of existence”? It would be better simply to say that in solitude one is at the root. He who is alone and conscious of what his solitude means, finds himself simply in the ground of life. He is “in Love.” He is in love with all, with everyone, with everything. He is not surprised at this, and he is able to live with disconcerting and unexciting reality which has no explanation. He lives, then, as a seed planted in the ground. As Christ said, the seed in the ground must die. To be as a seed in the ground of one’s life is to dissolve in that ground in order to become fruitful. One disappears into Love, in order to “be Love.” But this fruitfulness is beyond any planning and any understanding of man. To be “fruitful” in this sense, one must forget every idea of fruitfulness or productivity and merely be. One’s fruitfulness is at once an act of faith and an act of doubt: doubt of all that one has hitherto seen in oneself, and faith in what one cannot possibly imagine for oneself. The “doubt” dissolves our ego-identity. Faith gives us life in Christ, according to St. Paul’s word: “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). To accept this is impossible unless one has profound hope in the incomprehensible fruitfulness that emerges from the dissolution of our ego in the ground of being and of Love. Such a hope is not the product of human reason, it is a secret gift of grace. It sustains us with divine and hidden aid. To accept our own dissolution would be inhuman if we did not at the same time accept the wholeness and completeness of everything in God’s Love. We accept our emptying because we realize that our very emptiness is fulfillment and plenitude. In our emptiness the One Word is clearly spoken. It says, “I will never let go of you or desert you” (Hebrews 13:5) for I am your God, I am Love.
– From the Preface to the Japanese Edition of Thoughts In Solitude published in March 1966
While this is without a doubt best read as part of the entire Preface, I am struck by the simple fact of how it is the opposite of this argument that is always presented to us as the wisdom of our world: that one can only be grounded or enlightened if they create in themselves a systemic doubt in God (who is assumed or preferred to be unreal), and a comprehensive faith in oneself. Despite its appearance and its boast, the result of such a programme is not only to isolate us from God. It also results in isolating us from the root of our true selves, and creating in its place an image of self that is incapable of offering back to us any fruit beyond the repeated and insistent assertion of its own triumphant independence.