“We have what we seek. We don’t have to rush after it. It was there all the time. If we give it time it will make itself known to us.” — Thomas Merton
By Charles W. Sidoti
As a young child, I remember a picture hanging on the wall in my grandfather’s house. It showed Jesus standing outside a door and patiently knocking. This picture is often accompanied by a caption, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” (Revelation 3:20). I realized at that time that the closed door represented the door to my life, the door to my heart. I knew it was about letting God in, and yet I did not know how to put the wisdom that the picture represented into practice. I remember thinking to myself even at that young age, “I will be happy to open the door … but where is the door?”
As an adult, I reflect on words of the 13th-century Islamic theologian Rumi, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” It brings me back again to that image of Jesus and the meaning of that closed door. The picture relates directly to Rumi’s statement because it relates to whatever barrier we may place between ourselves and love — and between ourselves and God, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The question that I remember asking as a child and that remains relevant today is, “What does it mean to open the door of my heart to God?”
In saying that our task is to remove the barriers that keep us from experiencing love, Rumi is describing the work of the contemplative life, which is to grow in the awareness of God’s presence.
Evidence of God’s presence is within and all around us. One common barrier to our experiencing it is our tendency to become lost in our own imaginations. In our imagined isolation and self-sufficiency, we have learned to see life through the eyes of what the famous Catholic writer Thomas Merton calls the false self. This is the barrier, the door, between us and God. Seeing through the eyes of this false self, we do not realize that the things in our life, the people, the miracle of simply being alive, and the entire created world are the ways in which God comes to us. These “things” are the tangible presence of the living God. We need to die to the worried, preoccupied false self and learn to see with new eyes. Jesus spoke of this death and rebirth when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Removing the barrier of the false self involves spiritual work. It involves the spiritual discipline of prayer and true humility to acknowledge our faults and to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness. It involves asking for God’s help to remove the falseness that stands between us and the realization of God’s love.
Charles W. Sidoti, BCC, is coordinator of spiritual care at South Pointe Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Health System. He is the author of “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time,” and “Simple Contemplative Spirituality.”