Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The delicate task of disillusionment

This morning I read a thought-provoking article in the December 2010 issue of American Benedictine Review by Abbot Martin Werlen, O.S.B., of the Abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland (the motherhouse of Saint Meinrad Archabbey). It is a very sharp, insightful, and even humorous look at how our illusions unwittingly control us while disillusionment can actually be a grace.

Abbot Martin Werlen
I had not approached the issue from quite that angle before, and it's been playing in my mind all day. It is worth sharing, so below are a couple excerpts from the article defining Abbot Martin's point. If you are somehow able to get hold of a copy, I highly recommend reading the entire article because what I have hacked out of it and copied below is admittedly extracted from its context and points of illustration. Still, it is enough to meditate on, and that is enough for anyone.
All of us fall prey to illusions time and again, and so we don't perceive reality correctly. We generally notice this only at each disappointment, when an illusion collapses. This is a moment of grace in a way,for it brings us a little closer to the truth. But it can also be very painful. For in such a situation we are confronted by the fact that we have lived an illusion.

The tragedy in every illusion is that it prevents us from responding appropriately to reality. We always respond to reality the way we imagine it to be, which means that we often react to illusions. ... We have a rather ambiguous attitude towards disappointments. Quite spontaneously, we tend to avoid them. ... Yet, what a pity to stop there! All of us, all fairly healthy human beings, want to come closer to the truth. Every disappointment and disillusionment brings us a little closer to the truth. We can be disillusioned only because we have been living in an illusion. How else could we be disillusioned?

The frequent disillusionments which we experience keep reminding us how deeply we are stuck in illusions: the illusion of omnipotence, the illusion of being infallible, the illusion of being in control, the illusion of knowing better, but also the illusion of being forsaken, the illusion of perishing. Quite often an illusion is noted when we say, "Yes, but." The greatest illusion we can fall into is the absence of God.

... Illusions cannot be controlled. They come unbidden. And they confuse us, the more certain we have been in our illusion. Disillusionments are like scales dropping from our eyes so that we can see and experience clearly what was hidden from us before. We might feel like the disciples at Emmaus.

... Illusions diminish the quality of our life because they prevent us from responding appropriately to reality. Disillusionments thus are an opportunity for coming closer to the truth. For this delicate task of disillusionment to succeed, we need readiness to let go of illusions, to be humble and respectful, but also frank and sincere.
American Benedictine Review 61:4, December 2010, pp. 416-426;
trans. Matilda Handl, O.S.B., Monastische Informationen, Nr 136, 22. December 2008, pp. 21-28.

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