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Contentness to Be Unseen
Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience
Man has lost the courage and the faith without which he cannot be content to be "unseen." He is pitifully dependent on self-observation and self-assertion.
- Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience
As is often the case with many modern maladies, the roots were usually planted long before the effects came to complete and culture-wide fruition. Today’s preoccupation with identities, and with asserting and having those identities recognized, was already obvious to American Trappist monk Thomas Merton in 1959 while writing The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation (a book that he didn’t get around to revising before his death, but that was eventually published in 2003).
Of course, Merton is speaking from a religious perspective and lamenting that people can no longer recognize their own true inner “secret, invisible, and incommunicable” self in God. In his perspective, our dependence on “aggressive self-assertion” is because we are utterly exiled from God.
Whether such a perspective speaks to you or not, I believe the quote is apt in its insight that a contentedness to be “unseen,” or to not seek validation, requires courage. At the very least, it requires a sense of inner security that isn’t really promoted today.
Instead, people are encouraged to view the recognition of their identity not only as incredibly important but as a human right. Man, Merton writes, is now “dependent entirely on exterior and contingent things” and in a flight that takes him “further and further away from reality.”
His solution, of course, is a return to God. But, in my estimation, even those that don’t see a need to seek God could do with a little less dependence on external validation of their self-asserted identities.
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