I recently bought a copy of Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.
It is a hugely influential book. Therese of Lisieux, for one, quotes it in her writings. It is sort of a 'how to' manual for building a deeper relationship with God. I am about a third of the way through and I am getting a lot out of it so far. It is true that the language can be tough. The translation I have (I bought it at the Catholic book store) talks a lot about 'hating the world and all that is in it' in order to more fully love God. We must despise everything worldly. This smacks a bit of Jansenism to me.... But on some level, I get it. I understand that in order to grow in Christ, I have to shift my focus from the things the world loves towards building a deeper relationship with God. If I can get beyond the language, I have much to gain from this book.
The part of The Imitation that deeply resonates for me is that if I wish to help bring about peace in the world, I must develop a sense of inner peace. This is not a matter of listening to new age music, hanging pretty pictures and burning incense. It is about being in a deep, committed relationship with God. I must practice remembering that in all things, in all interactions, in all circumstances, God is part of the process. He is there. He sees everything. He knows everything. The Imitation stresses that if that is true, then we need only please God in our interactions, not people. This speaks volumes to me. I have been a person who always tried to be 'the best' at everything. Whatever that means. My natural tendancy is to seek recognition for my achievements. I try to minimize my failings. I am delighted when people tell me how wonderful I am. Thomas scoffs at all of that. God is the only one who counts. St. Therese gives some wonderful examples of this shifted dynamic in action. For example, she talks about having a major revelation about a passage of scripture, but another nun takes credit for the idea. Instead of correcting her, St. Therese lets everyone think that the other nun did, in fact, come up with the idea.
This is incredible to imagine. I know for a fact that if I were in the same situation, I would seek to make absolutely sure that everyone knew it was my idea. I would probably try to do it subtly so people would think I was humble. I would be furious with the other nun. I would be appalled at not getting credit for my brilliance.
But why? Why, if it is really a matter between me and God, would I care?
That is the part of the Imitation that blows my mind. It never even occured to me that true humility is letting go of the worldly measurements of success altogether and focusing on sitting at the feet of my creator and offering EVERYTHING to him.
The chasm between God and me is growing by the day. My ignorance is clearer and clearer. And yet I can only be grateful and delighted that I am seeing the truth of my nature. I can only be relieved to offer myself to God completely... faults and all.
(PS: These are not my ideas. I stole them from a 19th c. nun and a 15th c. theologian. They don't seem to mind.)