“Every one of us forms an idea of Christ that is limited and incomplete. It is cut according to our own measure. We tend to make ourselves a Christ in our own image, a projection of our own aspiration and desires and ideals. We find in Him what we want to find. We make Him not only the incarnation of God but also the incarnation of the things we and oursociety and our part of society happen to live for.”

–Thomas Merton(seeds of contemplation)


The search for the self, in other words, the search for the essence, the inwardness, and the way of the soul, stems from the recognition that one is alone in the world. When man stands suddenly alone in the world, when everything seems to be addressed only to him, then there is no aspect of reality that does not challenge him. He has to relate to this person or that situation, he has to judge and resolve all the problems of the world with himself as its center. It would appear that the real agony begins when one’s horizons in this world expand, as one rises from one level to another, and as one’s intellect and imagination encompass more of the domain of the human. With external reality pressing heavily on man, the physical, the philosophical, the psychological questions only intensify the urgency of the basic question of the self. Man may thus deepen his inner essence in his solitariness, making it something quite separate and special, adding new powers and talents, new ways of seeing things, sometimes also a deepening of thought, and sometimes nobility of spirit. And yet very often it seems that the basic point, the self, is untouched-even though the more a person grows, the more the problem of the self should also grow. So it is that a certain depth is added to the solitary person; he finds a whole world of inner treasures and spiritual powers. These can occupy the mind and give one the feeling of connection with things, even if only for a time. But ultimately the things that such a person attempts to cling to as moorings, as fixed points, are over and over again revealed as delusory. It is not that real points do not exist in the world, but rather that they are not permanent. A man cannot build on them and relate to them as to something fixed and definite, because in the long run all these points, both in external space and in his interior depths, only refer in turn to one focal point, to that very self which has no anchor at all.

The seeker is caught in a paradox. He is dismayed to learn that the resolution of the search for the self is not to be found by going into the self, that the center of the soul is to be found not in the soul but outside of it, that the center of gravity of existence is outside of existence. He may, to be sure, experience a glimmer of hope when he discovers that the focal point of individual existence can be found in existence as a whole. This discovery will bring him to what is stated in Psalm 73:

“My flesh and my hearth faileth: but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

He becomes aware, in other words, that the center of being is in God and not in-man. Only the point to be found at the center of the absolute provides the basis for a meaningful answer to the question that appears at first to be so very simple and so very distant from the search for the absolute.

A person may therefore stray as far as possible, infinitely far, from God, and there he can find the source of his deepest self, the point of the meaning of his soul. He orients himself on the map of his world and is startled and pained to learn that he is not necessarily its center. But recognizing that he is part of a larger existence that does go to the heart of the world, he can begin to take the path to this existence.

–Adin Steinsaltz (The Thirteen Petalled Rose)