Warning – Steep and Deep Waters ahead – only for the courageous
Richard Rohr’s last published book, Immortal Diamond, has been formative in my heart and life over the past weeks. As many of you know, I spent much of the Lenten season in 2013 reading and re-reading Rohr’s work.
Sometimes, you just have to call them as you see them. That isn’t just a reality for a baseball umpire or someone who evaluates or inspects, it is a foundational truth for all of us. To live otherwise is to live in a fantasy. To not deal with reality leads to a plethora of life dysfunctions, from relationships to personal struggles. Dealing with reality is that first “step” toward a better life, a healed heart, a more intimate relationship and fuller sense of truth in your soul. Someone once told me a long time ago that we are only as “sick as our secrets.” I couldn’t imagine a more true statement as we enter into another section of Richard Rohr’s book, Immortal Diamond.
Since we have investigated a couple of terms over the past couple of weeks, that being, a sense of what it means to be live our lives out of a “true self” (see last week’s devotional), this week we’ll dive into the “flip side of the coin.” As I mentioned above, reality is a good place to start when we take steps toward living in God’s light. Before we discover MORE about what it means to live out of a true sense of self in the love and grace of God, Rohr postures that we need to understand and embrace that reality which fills our lives, that being, a false sense of self.
“Your false self is NOT your bad self, your clever or inherently deceitful self, the self that God does not like or you should not like. Actually your false self is quite good and necessary…it just does not go far enough, and it often poses and thus substitutes for the real thing…the false self is more bogus than bad…it only pretends to be more than what it is.” (Immortal Diamond, page 27)
All of us continually “live” out of our false self because that self is primarily that which shapes our beliefs about who we are. Rohr states that it is wrapped up in our body image, job, education, financial state, car, degrees, success, and those other trappings of our ego that is our projection of who we are onto the world. Over a lifetime, the problem is that the false self (or small self) gets very comfortable. We might even say that it is easy to OWN and continue to be attached to that sense of self. There are a host of “payoffs” from living out of our small self – payoffs like respect, titles, salaries, self-esteem, etc. That’s why Jesus’ words, “whosever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39)” are always so threatening to people. Despite the fact that Jesus does promise fulfillment in the midst of denying self (a promise of life inexhaustible and abundant), it feels to most of us that to do so ushers in the end of our existence. And, heaven forbid, that happens! Thus we tenaciously hang on to that which gives immediate (or at least what we perceive is tangible) gratification.
Unfortunately, we don’t deal with reality in our love of the false self because, it is precisely that self, that is the foundation of most of our addictions TO ourselves (which, in essence, is the definition of idolatry and, thus, original sin). Despite the truth that that self is a social construct (in other words, that which is “made or created” from roles and identities we embrace from outside of ourselves), even as Jesus would say a “wineskin” (Mark 2:21-22), take it from me, that sense of self HATES and fights change. In a brilliant move of religiosity, the false self often invents and utilizes a whole list of supposedly spiritual “acts” to prove its value. Moralism or spiritual legalism (lists of dos and don’ts that we live out to prove we are spiritual or acceptable to God), those acts which Rohr calls, “arbitrary and small”, are quick and easy applications that we are apt to embrace over against the call of Jesus to deny ALL. We say to ourselves, “if I can be good, visibly and remarkably good and I can rightfully judge others at the same time from a position of rightness/holiness or spirituality, then I have attained that which my soul seeks.” How preposterous! At that point, a personal sacrifice (that being, a hidden sacrifice, so no “prid pro quo” is demanded of God) is the ONLY way that the false self dies so that a NEW self can be resurrected in and through the Spirit of God. Rohr writes,
“The false self will create minor moral victories (like people who are scrupulous about church attendance or doctrinal minutiae) to avoid the major and necessary one (like underpaying their employees or demeaning their wife). As Jesus put it, ‘You will strain out gnats and swallow camels” (Matthew 23:24).
“Satan does not tempt you so much with ‘hot sins’ like greed, lust, and gross ambition. They are too obviously evil and will eventually show themselves as such. Instead Satan tempts you to do proper, defensible, and often admired things but for cold, malicious, or self-centered reasons. Maybe we cannot see this pattern because we actually admire the glamour of evil (1 John 2:15-17) and we often disdain the seeming weakness of holiness and virtue (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).”
What does all of this mean? I think ONE MORE quote will suffice:
“A true saint is no longer surprised by his littleness or her greatness.”
You see, the false self DOES care about those things…and when we grow to grasp the meaning and power of “littleness”, when we understand that “mustard seed type of faith”, when we are no longer admirers of parts, labels or hierarchies, when we are more attracted to and motivated from the perspective of WHOSE we are rather than WHO we are, then we have truly walked into a new life. Instead of being so consumed with right/wrong, good/bad, or truth/lies, Rohr believes (and I second his opinion) that once we get our “I am” correct then those scenarios tend to take care of themselves. In other words, once you get YOU straight IN THE LORD, then God will take care of the details. That’s why faith is a journey and life as a follower of Jesus is about trust. Trust is that “letting go” of false self to FIND true self and meaning in and through Jesus. How about that!