The real point of the contemplative life has always been a deepening of faith and of the personal dimensions of liberty and apprehension to the point where our direct union with God is realized and “experienced.”
We awaken not only to a realization of the immensity and majesty of God “out there” as King and Ruler of the universe (which he is) but also to a more intimate and more wonderful perception of him as directly and personally present in our own being.
Yet this is not a pantheistic merger or confusion of our being with his. On the contrary, there is a distinct conflict in the realization that though in some sense he is more truly ourselves than we are, yet we are not identical with him, and though he loves us better than we can love ourselves we are opposed to him, and in opposing him we oppose our own deepest selves. If we are involved only in our surface existence, in externals, and in the trivial concerns of our ego, we are untrue to him and to ourselves.
To reach a true awareness of him as well as ourselves, we have to renounce our selfish and limited self and enter into a whole new kind of existence, discovering an inner center of motivation and love which makes us see ourselves and everything else in an entirely new light.
Call it faith, call it (at a more advanced stage) contemplative illumination, call it the sense of God or even mystical union: all these are different aspects and levels of the same kind of realization: the awakening to a new awareness of ourselves in Christ, created in him, redeemed by him, to be transformed and glorified in and with him.
In Blake’s words, the “doors of perception” are opened and all life takes on a completely new meaning: the real sense of our own existence, which is normally veiled and distorted by the routine distractions of an alienated life, is now revealed in a central intuition. What was lost and dispersed in the relative meaninglessness and triviality of purposeless behavior (living like a machine, pushed around by impulsions and suggestions from others) is brought together in fully integrated conscious significance.
This peculiar, brilliant focus is, according to Christian tradition, the work of Love and of the Holy Spirit. This “loving knowledge” which sees everything transfigured “in God,” coming from God and working for God’s creative and redemptive love and tending to fulfillment in the glory of God, is a contemplative knowledge, a fruit of living and realizing faith, a gift of the Spirit.
From Thomas Merton, “Contemplation in a World of Action”