the spiritual life… is not a matter of doing one good work rather than another, of living in one place rather than in another, of praying in one way rather than in another.

It is not a matter of any special psychological effect in our own soul. It is the silence of our whole being in compunction and adoration before God, in the habitual realization that He is everything and we are nothing, that He is the Center to which all things tend, and to Whom all our actions must be directed. That our life and strength proceed from Him, that both in life and in death we depend entirely on Him. 50, 51

It is easy to mistake the spiritual life for something it is not. It is tempting to label a particular set of actions, behaviours, or choices as “spiritual” in distinction from those we decide are unspiritual. It may seem that certain feelings or “psychological effects” are more spiritual than others.

But the spiritual life is not first of all about how I act or how I feel.

The spiritual life, Merton says is “compunction and adoration” and the “realization that God is everything.”

“Compunction” has a slightly old-fashioned and mildly distasteful feel. It conjures feelings of guilt and shame for the “bad” things I have done. But, Merton has pointed out that the spiritual life is not about what I do. Compunction does not mean avoiding “bad” behaviour and doing “good.” Compunction means being honest. It means seeing my contradictions and hypocrisy and offering my brokenness in “adoration before God.”

If I am, as Merton suggests, “nothing” and God is “the center to which all things tend,” then there is nothing in me that is apart from God. All my shortcomings are ultimately “tending” toward God. They are all means by which God draws me more deeply into communion opening me more fully to the Divine.

This is why Paul can write,

I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I live the spiritual life when I embrace my brokenness and find in my failures the beauty of Christ’s presence.

How do I define the spiritual life?

What keeps me from accepting the dark and difficult parts of my personality?