The authentic “I”

The first thing that you have to do, before you even start thinking about such a thing as contemplation, is to try to recover your basic natural unity, to reintegrate your compartmentalized being into a coordinated and simple whole and learn to live as a unified human person. This means that you have to bring back together the fragments of your distracted existence so that when you say “I,” there is really someone present to support the pronoun you have uttered.

Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience

I think it has become a cliche among some Christians to critic individualism as the primary evil of our modern world. I personally think that often this is nothing more than the “levelling” about which Kierkegaard speaks. If individualism is the evil, what is the good against which it stands? Conformity? Blind obedience? And who sets the limit of this conformity and obedience? I think often the people who war against individualism are more into creating a cult than Jesus.

Merton makes the point that before I start my journey of faith – or maybe as part of my journey of faith – there must be an “I”, a unified whole that stands alone, as an “I”, before God. Kierkegaard speaks about inwardness being the phrase “for me”. There is a major difference between “Jesus died for sinners” and “Jesus died for me, a sinner”. This inward movement, this unifying of all the parts to bring meaning to the “I”, is the fundamental movement from being a human being to being a person – a person created in the image of God.

It has taken me a very long time to get to this point. I have tried hiding in roles and in groups. Surrendering my thinking and believing to others. But in the end I stand alone before God. For faith to have real meaning in my life I need to be honest and open about the “I” that stands before God. To be an authentic “I” means ownership and responsibility.

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