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In the 1800’s a visitor from the United States visited the famed Polish rabbi Hafez Hayyim. The tourist was amazed that the rabbi’s home was a simple room filled with books and the furniture only a table and a bench. “Rabbi,” asked the tourist,” where is your furniture?” Replied Hafez, “Where is yours?” The tourist said, “Mine? But I’m only a visitor here.” “So am I,” spoke Hafez.
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Rather than "visitor," we could use "pilgrim." "Pilgrim" has often been used to refer to persons sojourning like strangers on Earth, their Home elsewhere. In fact, "pilgrim" means, from the Latin, "foreigner," deriving from an adverb, "from beyond." This is the sense in the Christian New Testament, a verse the English Puritans who founded Plymouth Colony used as inspiration to refer to themselves as pilgrims. Hebrews 11.13 KJV reads, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."
This Earth is a wonderful place and nothing in itself of all the good creation is to be judged evil. However, spiritual pilgrims see creation as a luminous veil of Life, both revealing and concealing the Light. Nature is a witness to the unseen. So, the pilgrim, sensitized to Grace, finds himself or herself in what some might see as an odd relationship with life on Earth. One may find himself or herself in growing to feel at-home here but not at-Home here.
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An interesting insight on this, at a subtle level, is from Thomas Merton, in A Search for Solitude. Struggling over his call to solitude and what that meant for him, he writes:
If only it were a simple question! I like less and less the term “hermit.” I want to live alone—not become a member of a fictitious category ... I am more and more convinced that I have to settle this question somehow ….”
Here, we see the subtle distinction between engaging a certain kind of life, as a divine calling, and having a label attached to it, especially a label that means different things to different persons. It seems Merton was aware of the deep longing to a solitary life, and not to have an unreal label attached to him by others. It seems Merton was aware that any label given to a spiritual calling is unreal, is fictitious.
So, Merton shows us of a yearning to be what one is to be, by sacred appointment, and know that any identity it is given is unreal, is an imposition on truth. Yet, we can be tempted to take pride in our religious or spiritual labels. Why? Pride. Most of us are not content simply being, in innocence, we lose innocence in needing to be this or that and for others to know we are this or that. Yet, this being this or that can easily be another possession, an identity unreal and fleeting in its illusionariness. When one dies, all identities die, and all identities are shown by death to be fictitious at core.
The only use, then, of even a spiritual label is functional, nothing more; one is to remember he or she is not that. We are to disown all religious or spiritual titles, labels, and categories that apparently define us or what we do. We can use them in conversation, to communicate, but are not to trust in them or take pridefulness in them. I received a philosophy doctorate degree, but I have never been a doctor of philosophy. That degree is only a sign of work I did and what others say I am qualified to do, it is purely, only functional. I have never, and need never, identify as a doctor of philosophy-I am not that and cannot be that, for I am, not I am this or that.
And that "I am" leaves me with nothing to hang on to, for that I am is not this self others say I am; the I am is innocently intangible. I can only see it by trust and know it through Grace showing it to me. This body, being matter, is, then, a veil of I am, and that I am is not fleeting, is a true identity, but there is no name for it. So, I am is a nonpossession and an identity we cannot identify. How oddly wonderful!
And this essence, this truth of Being, is what makes possible standing apart from things to see them as they are, not as real in themselves. As long as I see myself as a thing, I will see myself as a thing among things, and I will see neither things nor myself rightly. And this seeing myself as a thing in myself and other things as things in themselves, this seeing will be only to see myself and things as unreal, even while I think them to be real, for I am not seeing them rightly. Yet, looking from the poverty of Silence, I can see things as things, having a derived being to be appreciated and employed for the Good.