Neville Symington sees that our human task is to be lived by Life and here he means ‘Life as a transcendent principle’. He thinks a worthwhile test of whether or not we have lived worthwhile lives is this: is the world a better place for my having lived in it.
Following the superstitions surrounding the false god mean we are not open to life, but rather hemmed in and reduced by conformity to certain rituals, and ways of being not initially based on our own subjective experiences. During his training and work as a Catholic priest in the late 1950s and 1960s, Symington felt that his adherence to what was expected and what he saw as the associated superstitions meant that he had become as he puts it ‘hypnotized’ – false. This became a life long struggle, only become partially resolved in old age. He writes that he believes he will struggle with it up to the point of death. ‘I became a priest; I wore the outer clothing but inside I was not truly a priest. There was a priest-like person but not the priest whom people outside thought I was.’
He thought that if we remain false and bound by superstition of how we ought to be and so on, and then what happens is ‘a suicide of the heart’. But what he calls the ‘absolute in our being’ calls us to allow that reality to be the supreme motivating principle in our lives. If we turn away from this, then we have not allowed God to be God within us. Symington questions what it is that paralysed him, and led to holding the person he really is prisoner within the outer conventions. His answer is ‘a savage God who hypnotized me’.
He quotes Teilhard de Chardin writing about meditation and finding the layers within himself of convention and superstition beginning to fall away as he searched for his inmost self; and his sentiment echoes that of Thomas Merton who wrote about the ‘disturbing stranger’ that is within each of us – our true self.
This is what Symington says:
‘Leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates…as I moved further away from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came – arising I know not from where – the current which I dare to call my life.’