10 June 2014

A Contemplative Moment: On the Experience of Existential Dread

Existential Dread

Dread is an expression of our insecurity in this earthly life, a realization that we are never and can never be completely "sure" in the sense of possessing a definitive and established spiritual status. It means that we cannot any longer hope in ourselves, in our wisdom, our virtues, our fidelity. We see too clearly that all that is "ours" is nothing, and can completely fail us. In other words, we no longer rely on what we "have," what has been given by our past, what has been required. We are open to God and his mercy in the inscrutable future and our trust is entirely in his grace, which will support our liberty in the emptiness where we will confront unforeseen decisions. Only when we have descended in dread to the center of our own nothingness, by his grace and guidance, can we be led by him, in his own time, to find him in losing ourselves. . . .This deep dread must be seen for what it is: not as punishment, but as purification and grace. Indeed it is a great gift of God, for it is the precise point of our encounter with his fullness.

Thomas Merton, OCSO, Contemplative Prayer