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Saturday, May 26, 2007

What Self Are We Feeding?

As I prepare to study for the Doctor of Ministry degree through Asbury Seminary's Beeson Pastor Program beginning this July, I have many assigned text books to read before arriving. For the Spirituality of Leadership class, I have been asked to read one of the works of Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk who wrote extensively in the mid Twentieth Century. I am by no means a Merton expert, but I'll attempt to summarize what I know of one of his major themes.

Merton differentiates between the false self and the true self. He suggests that too many of us live with masks on that cause us to live in the bondage of the false self. The false self is always busy, always buying, always bullying, always focused on the exterior non-realities of life. The true self is realized when we go beyond the exterior and discover the interior of who we are in so far as we are able to experience through contemplative reflection the Ultimate Reality who is God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let's be honest, too many of us Christ-followers are living lives focused more on developing the exterior, mask-wearing false self than the interior, mask-shedding true self. I know this because many of my Christian friends (as well as yours truly) expend more energy on false self development than true self development. For example, many of us, like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, put forth elaborate spiritual displays when people are looking on. We pray eloquent public prayers, quote Scriptural admonitions to others, and sing with passion while gathered with the sacred Sunday assembly. Yet, when no one but God is looking on we fall asleep during prayer, neglect bible reading for days on end, and fail to deeply connect with the God of the universe because we're not willing to invest the needed time and energy for such connection.

Some sobering questions begin to surface for our reflection that help us discern whether we're developing the false self or the true self: If I continue to live as I have lived these past three days, will I feed the false self or the true self God has made me to be? Am I more concerned with what I do outwardly or who I am inwardly? Do I constantly need the approval and affirmation of others or is my contentment found through pleasing God alone?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How completely uncanny,...I am currently reading a book entitled: When the Heart Waits written by Sue Monk Kidd. Much of her writing is inspired by Thomas Merton. I have considered reading his works.

This is an area I have been exploring of late and sharing with a mentor of sorts who recommended the book I am currently reading. These are the very ideas "false self vs. true self" that I have been been jostling about.

There is an inner sanctum, our soul,(the one lasting part of our being) within each one of us that our Creator has designed - the true self. This glorious design is reflective of His character, however, we sadly spend our lives conforming to the pattern of this world. The pattern meaning, man's design for the ideal being. I feel that I have seen with more clarity the craftiness of our enemy. We tend to look at the "big sins" aka - the obvious,'s seems a very clever decoy. We are so highly distracted with the obvious that we have overlooked the slow decay of our true selves - the amazing inner beauty of our soul that has been knit together by YHWH. How completely devastating.

Our soul is who we truly are, who God intended for us to be, and the place where we truly commune with Him - His Spirit communing with ours. When we arrive with layers of masks and protective walls - what then? Are we truly meeting with our Creator or are we hiding in the bushes clutching our fig leaves?

As quoted from the book I'm reading: "St. Teresa pointed out that the door of entry to the soul is prayer and reflection." Above all, I want to know my God and my King, without the ideas of man to taint his glory and I want to know the reality of workmanship that He has created, called me. I want to shine as He intended, not with my own polish or the affirmation of man, but simply by being still, and knowing that He is God, amazing and complete.