Doubt. I think I have decided it is the very core of mountain of purgatory for it touches each terrace: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. Doubt is different than not knowing. It puts us in a place that is away from our foundation. It takes us away from God. And almost always, it is accompanied by…fear.
I don’t know if I am comforted or disturbed at the doubt Thomas Merton encountered while he was discerning his vocation. Perhaps holding both lightly is the contemplative exercise I am called to do. I was comforted at the beginning to know this was part of his journey. But understanding the depth of his doubt…well it takes “Doubting Thomas” to a new level for me! For a contemplative giant to encounter so much doubt in his faith journey seems so counter-intuitive. Important dust can doubt…a lot! Not just doubt, but retreat, self-negate and hide.
I began reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain again as I prepare to attend the Spiritual Directors International Conference, Emerging Wisdom, in Louisville this April. Studying Merton’s wisdom in the contemplative life, I encounter the real-life faith journey of one ordinary being called to a life in Christ, in community, in union with God. I encounter someone willing to let everything go for the gift of grace. I encounter someone in the search for true vocation that was willing to give up his gifts for God. Yet in this place of letting go, God provides for him so faithfully.
To fellow doubters out there. Keep talking to your trusted advisors. You can take a break from it for mental health when you need to, but don’t let it drop off the map. And don’t let fear be part of the equation. It is okay and wonderful to ask questions. Listen. Stop and really listen. Be ready to hear the Holy Answer.
(c) 2015 The Rev. Lil Smith