The Self-in-God

By Richard Rohr OFM

In his booklet That We May Be One, Thomas Keating writes about two models of spirituality and how they influence our growth in God’s likeness:

Since the Reformation, the Christian Tradition has been somewhat focused on doctrinal differences rather than on the spiritual journey itself and the transformation of being. This has given rise to an overemphasis on our activity [and an under-emphasis on the inner spiritual journey]. Of course, Christian Tradition has always had a concern about works and grace and how they relate, but an overemphasis on works has led to a dualistic view of God and self.

A way of explaining this might be the characterization of a Western Model of spirituality as seeing the self-outside-of-God. By contrast, earlier parts of the Tradition and throughout time in the experience of the great mystics, [are] about the self-in-God, and God-in-self, which may be called the Scriptural Model of Spirituality. This distinction has profound implications for the spiritual life. . . . The [Scriptural Model] supposes that we are to become a living sacrament by being always in the presence of God and in relation to God. . . .

God is not just with us, not just beside us, not just under us, not just over us, but within us, at the deepest level, and, in our inmost being, a step beyond the true Self. What is the self?

Science has looked everywhere for a self in the human organism. It cannot be found. So the self then is not an entity. . . . We do know that the self can keep on growing until it becomes a true Self in the image and likeness of God. . . . The movement is towards unity consciousness and experiencing the divine as our ultimate Self, in which case the false self has a happy death in God!

Just by living and growing in consciousness, we are becoming, growing in God’s Self, in God’s presence, in God-consciousness. The ultimate consciousness is total Oneness in which God is all in all. [2]

I learned the terms “True Self” and “false self” from Thomas Merton—words he used to clarify what Jesus surely meant when he said that we must die to ourselves or we must “lose ourselves to find ourselves” (see Mark 8:35). Merton rightly recognized that it was not the body that had to “die” but the “false self” that we do not need anyway. The false self is simply a substitute for our deeper and deepest truth. It is a useful and even needed part of ourselves, but it is not all; the danger is when we think we are only our false, separate, small self. Our attachment to false self must die to allow True Self—our basic and unchangeable identity in God—to live fully and freely.