Inside Out


What am I? I am a word spoken by God. Can God speak a word that does not have meaning?” Thomas Merton

When I read these words for the first time the other day they thrilled me. In our daily prayer, we were in the midst of the creation stories in Genesis in which God “spoke” and things came into being. To think of myself as a word that God had spoken, called forth and created, put me in a new place. But Thomas Merton, in his book “Contemplative Prayer” from which the above quotation comes, soon challenged my reaction. He goes on to say,

Yet am I sure that the meaning of my life is the meaning God intends for it? Does God impose a meaning for my life from the outside, through event, custom, routine, law, system, impact with others in society? Or am I called to create from within, with Him, with His Grace, a meaning which reflects His truth and makes me His ‘word’ spoken freely in my personal situation.

This brought me up short. I know that for most of my life I have acted from the outside; that I have cared too much what certain people thought of me and tried above everything to please and impress them. I know that I have not lived freely and courageously out of God’s law but often with fear and anxiety lest I do something that exposes my vulnerability and inadequacy. I know that I have tried to be what my culture tells me is a successful human being.

The most subtle temptation, however, has been to try to live a “successful” Christian life; to be the sort of person others look at and are impressed with – to give into, as T S Eliot says,

“The last, the greatest treason,

to do the right thing for the wrong reason.” (Murder in the Cathedral)


Wrong, in my case, because it is all still about ego and pride, humankinds’ lifelong adversaries. And, of course, in trying to live like this, I have tried to live this ‘good’ life on my own and left God out of it. I have not lived ‘inside out’ but ‘outside in.’

One of the great gifts that comes with age is that you get tired of trying to impress. It ceases to have the allure it once had and becomes empty and meaningless. This can be a crisis if you don’t know who to live for now. But it can be the greatest opportunity if you can see that the call is to own up to your vanity and its hollow promise and to turn to the source of real life, Christ. We have to learn yet again to start again. Back to the beginning, to what some of us were taught kneeling by our bedsides. But not as we once were: not saying our prayers by rote. Now we are called to rest entirely on God in prayer, to hear again his voice calling us into life, his life. We move with him from the inside to action on his behalf out there.