Friday, May 31, 2013

Self-Denial, Jesus, and the Self

Some fear that self-denial and humility mean the total abrogation of any sense of self or compassion and understanding for ones own feelings and convictions.  Some do not fear this at all... they masochistically love it.  And in the name of Christ they stamp "virtue" on it, as though it is what Jesus meant.  Willing doormats.  This is far from it, for the burial of self is not virtuous when one considers how it quenches any light of truth within us and hides it under a veneer of compliance and niceness.  They cloister themselves away as a means to control the world around them and avoid feeling the sting of walking in it.  Whether they are aware of it or not, it is a facade, a prison.  As a song goes, "I sold my voice to pay for my security.  Now I write my sentence on it's walls."

No, what Christ means in denying self, at least in part, is leaving behind our vain mechanisms for self-security and binding ourselves to Him.  As we are bound to Him, we can see others, and ourselves, through His eyes.  And when we see ourselves through His eyes we can see ourselves with compassion, as from the outside, and have compassion for the ways we feel and act, understanding that there is meaning in those things, there is importance to it and value in it, and as such we see others through His eyes as well, and through the reflection of ourselves through His eyes, and thereby we learn compassion for others.

"Self-denial can never be defined as some profusion -be it ever so great- of individual acts of self-torment or asceticism... Self-denial means knowing only Christ, and no longer oneself.  It means seeing only Christ, who goes ahead of us, and no longer the path that is too difficult for us.  Again, self-denial is saying only: He goes ahead of us, hold fast to him." (Bonhoeffer)

I would add that through binding ourself only to Christ we begin to know ourself as we see ourself, with Him, through His eyes.

I believe it is this way with ourselves in any good, close relationship where there is total closeness, total transparency, and total acceptance.  I think that is how God built us.  We know ourselves best and we learn compassion for ourselves and others as we let down our guards and develop closeness with another.  As we give ourselves to them, we can see ourselves through their eyes -not as a goal but as a byproduct of that closeness.  And where that closeness is lacking, where a person has never experienced that level of closeness, there is a shell, a self-abandoned person.  We do not truly know ourselves, I believe, until we know ourselves in the context of true closeness with the eyes of another who is present and loves us.  We don't truly know ourselves.  What we know, instead, is our facades and our reactions and ways of coping with and controlling the outcomes of this world.

If this is true, two things should not surprise us.  First, it should not surprise us that Jesus was the most "self-knowing" person we will ever meet, having existed since eternity past in total closeness and communion with the Father and Holy Spirit.  Second, it should not surprise us that when our union with Christ takes this same shape of closeness and binding (as it is meant to) we experience the same kind of thing to an infinitely higher degree? 

It is an irony, for some believe that freedom is found in being free of bonds, but the truth is that freedom is found in finding the right bond, the right binding, the right One (and ones) to be bound to.

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