The world is spinning – seemingly out of control. Divergence not diversity is the theme. Lies trump truth. Pain and hurt, shame and guilt abound. Vile comments, pictures, and behaviors sear our souls. Violence and human misery cause our hearts to despair. How can we live in these times? What can we do to share the mind of Christ in 2018? The word that floated into my mind as I pondered how to live faithfully in today’s world is HARMONY. Watch this space for ideas on how to live in harmony in 2018.
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“I’m gonna live the life I sing about in my song
I’m gonna stand for right and I always shun the wrong
If I’m in the crowd, If I’m alone
On the streets or in my home
I’m gonna live the life I sing about in my song.”
This verse from a gospel song by Mahalia Jackson, famous gospel singer and civil rights activist, states our challenge in life: our outsides need to match our insides; our actions need to be congruent with the words we speak and the prayers we offer.
In previous posts in this series, it has been noted that the human condition has changed from God’s original creation – because of our choices. However, we still hold the image of God and the character that God himself holds and exhibits – and has passed on to us. Thomas Merton describes this image beautifully:
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will” (quoted by Richard Rohr in Daily Meditation for October 6, 2017).
That image has been covered or tarnished (but not replaced) in each of us. Our need for control has created a “false” self, a self that we keep private, a self that we may not even fully know or understand. The false self becomes stronger as we struggle to cover up our wounds, as we build defense mechanisms to deal with those wounds, as we become private unknowable people to try to mask those wounds.
Our false self is the self most of us present to the world, making harmonious relationships with others more difficult. Our frightened false self protects itself rather than opening itself to others. It puts on a “hands off” sign rather than risk pain. It insults others rather than appreciating their differences. It covers our fear with anger, often thought of as “righteous indignation,” rather than admitting our true feelings.
The false self is a midwife to the eight vices identified by ancient Christians: sloth, lust, gluttony, envy, wrath, greed, pride and vainglory. As Jon Bailey reminds us:
The vices are habits of a broken soul, we experience them in everyday life as the common forms of egotism, the habits that rule the self-centered person. It is these well-worn habits, cemented in our personalities that make loving like God loves impossible. Vice starts out in the form of microscopic choices, entrenches itself in our habits, and over a life time, swells into a goliath-like character. It is the vices inside of us that must be crucified and finally killed.
Richard Rohr explains that “our attachment to our small, separate, false self must die to allow our true self—our basic and unchangeable identity in God—to live fully and freely.”
If we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” as Jesus directed, we must be in the process of shedding our false self, that private me that we don’t really want others to see. Our goal is to operate from the image of God in us, rather than from the wounds of our past. If we don’t understand how the false self motivates us, the neighbors we are to love will be better off with out our attention!
In his new book, God Soaked Life, Chris Webb tackles the idea that our false self prevents each us from moving forward in harmony toward others.
“As long as we continue to hide our brokenness from ourselves, from others, and from God, we cannot expect any serious changes or healing in our lives. We’re simply play-acting at life, wearing masks to hide our weaknesses and shortcomings while failing to face the root issues that are slowly destroying us from within like a cancer of the soul. Making a searching inventory of our moral lives is painful. It’s never easy for any of us to face our shadows, the darkness that haunts us from deep within our hearts. It also means facing the guilt and shame that darkness brings to birth and accepting the responsibility for the continued power of that darkness over our life and relationships. Opening and cleaning our spiritual wounds requires enormous courage.”
The good news (the Gospel) is that as we peel off our false selves and live from the image of God in us, we will more and more able to “live the life we sing about in our songs” and speak about in our prayers – whether we are in a crowd or alone, on the streets or at home.