I think of myself as self aware. I have spent the last two years in an institution that forces you to reflect almost constantly on how you respond to different stimuli, who you are and how you are developing. Increasingly I want to find the strength to cast off all that separates me from others. Personality tests, Psychological profiling, all of them helpful but each one I am forced to ask the question ‘What was Jesus like?” If our Myers Briggs type can change then I want it to change to Christ. There are so many ways people can pretend like they get to know themselves but all is fruitless if our aim is to die to our self and be raised in Christ.
I have used this quote before but I find it helpful in this discussion,
If your life is centered on yourself, on your own desires and ambitions, then asserting those desires and ambitions is the way you try to be true to yourself. So self-assertion becomes the only way of self expression. If you simply assert your own desires, you may have the illusion of being true to yourself. But in fact all your efforts to make yourself more real and more yourself have the opposite effect: they create a more and more false self… people cannot simply assert their true self; they need to pray for the strength to find that self beyond their desires. (Finding Sanctuary – Abbot Christopher Jamison)
And this one too,
Many poets are not poets for the same reason many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get round to being the particular poet or the particular monk that they are intended to be by God.There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular – and too lazy to think of anything better.Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity. In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be. (Seeds of Contemplation – Thomas Merton)
If my aim is to be more like Christ and Christ died to self, then I too must stop focussing on trying to be true to myself (if such a thing were possible). I want, rather, to be true to Christ.
I want to explore briefly the view that life is a performance. I’ve been re-reading ‘Faithful Performances: Enacting Christian Tradition’ and Ivan Khovaks’ cites Shannon Craigo-Snell work on interpretation of Biblical text. It’s an interesting exchange of ideas. What struck me was the move to acknowledge that by seeing life as a performance we are putting on pressure to achieve absolute and static truths all the time. If, however, we view life as a rehearsal we do not deny the possibility of achieving a connection with the character (of Christ) but we are aware that we continue to seek it until the final performance. Craigo-Snell places the Biblical text side by side to a playscript
…to show that although both are complete works, they nevertheless call for an in-the-flesh realization… she conceives of this enfleshed realization as taking place not only at the moment of performance but largely through personal commitment to the rehearsal process.
Khovaks goes on,
For the pilgrim, however, the journey is as important as the destination. Equally, one’s role in Christ, as much as it is given, nonetheless requires apprenticeship for learning to ‘put on Christ’, a life time’s rehearsal that will determine the quality of the end of performance.
Our society is so keen for us to reach the destination of self actualization that we belittle the journey of life. I believe, as a Christian pilgrim, that our destination is the eschatological performance in the resurrection where we will all take on the role of Christ. We will perform the character differently but in order to be faithful to that role we must be prepared to fully deny our own self. We will not achieve this fully until then. Until that point we can rehearse, trying to limit the times we slip out of character or exploring dead ends as we wrestle with what the character is or does.
What the riots have shown is that we are a society who have a fascination with pretending to be something we’re not. We are a society hiding from true reality. Many would say that being a Christian is to be blind to the truth/reality. The very nature of Christianity, for me, is the painful acknowledgement of reality and the hopeful path to living in reality. We have built a false reality and it is so complex and deeply set that we’re lost in it. Our basic need should not be to layer more stuff on us but the opposite of stripping back, allowing all that separates us and segregates us is to die.
The image of baptism is so important here; we are to be wrenched from this dream that we have constructed and look again at the reality outside. Outside our ‘self’ is seen as the statue of sand blown away in the wind of truth. The way to prosper and grow and live in true happiness is to clothe ourselves in Christ and allow that character to embed itself within us.
Believe me, there are several metaphorical cans of worms lined up in front of me but I will resist. Need to find a way to control the worms and structure them into my book… God, help me!