Self-image can be very confusing terrain to navigate. Lodged deeply in our psyches is that principal idea of who we think we are, but who knows how such an image gets planted there in the first place and to what degree it is even truthful. Thus we all experience the need to escape into one addiction or another to cope with the impossible standard of the idol that has been constructed in our minds. What if instead of being slaves to this vicious cycle, however, we became serious about our life of prayer, a place where we might get some breathing room and perspective? What if we worked with another person or a group of people in counseling, recovery or spiritual direction to assess the validity of our self-image? What if we took risks and made daily decisions that challenged the mental concept of ourselves? We, who are “made in the image of God” (Gen 1:28), would begin to again taste the freedom of living as children of God (cf. Rom 8:21), gradually remembering that there is one and only one authentic self-image, Jesus (Col 1:15), who desires to expose all of the posers and take his rightful place on our psychic throne. With order restored to our souls, we shall simply spend our days in that eternal pattern of walking happily and dancing joyfully with the Lord (cf. Gen 3:8, 2 Sam 6:14). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
“Just imagine that everyone in the audience is naked” is the advice given to many first-time public speakers. This may sound odd initially, but there is a real spiritual logic here: the unknown arouses fear in us; fear is a primal emotion; and it is impossible to see clearly or speak effectively when we are ruled by emotions. The nakedness advice is thus an invitation to demand transparency in our lives, not because we want to know everybody’s secrets and business, but because we want to know where we stand with them as a starting point for a real connection and durable relationship. While there are certainly rightful occasions when we, as fragile creatures who are in-process, ought to obscure or hide our deepest self, we are nevertheless relationship-animals and must not be satisfied with a life that falls short of the radical availability and openness modeled by the crucified Christ. Let us therefore get into the daily practice of allowing ourselves to be stripped by the circumstances of our lives (cf. Mt 27:28), of learning to long for the living God from our most vulnerable place (cf. Song 3:1), of presenting our true selves to the Lord (cf. Lk 2:22), and of being known perfectly in return (Ps 139:1). In this way, we shall become constant prophets whose lives proclaim the truth no matter how intimidating the audience may seem (cf. Jn 18:33-40). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
BONUS RECORDING (a poem by Rumi)
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, a person goes on a very focused interior journey, sitting for hours at a time, asking deep existential questions, and striving for authentic self-understanding. While it would be easy to dismiss such a religious practice, from a Christian point of view, as too intellectual or too self-centered, these spiritual seekers just might teach us something about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. How many of us are really concerned about the meaning of life? How many of us are willing to look within ourselves? How many of us actually wrestle with the fact of suffering in the world around us? Perhaps, indeed, we just go through the liturgical and ecclesiastical motions without ever being honest about the way we feel underneath it all. Siddhartha lived hundreds of years before Jesus and did not claim to have any special revelations. How human he was, though, in his unwillingness to accept both pleasure and renunciation as a way of life. Instead, he listened attentively in long periods of meditation and responded to the call to a life of integrity. He thus became enlightened precisely by pairing the profound inner awareness of reality with compassion for and love of others (cf. Mk 12:28-31). If only we had this kind of desire for kenosis (cf. Phil 2:7), we too might be bearers of light (cf. Jn 8:12). Ave Crux, Spes Uncia.
There once was a man who experienced a reawakening of his religious faith. He quit his job and traveled thousands of miles to seek spiritual counsel from a famous rabbi. When he arrived at the rabbi’s apartment, he knocked on the door, and the rabbi answered, asking him, “Who are you?” The man replied, “I am a spiritual seeker who has come to learn about God.” He then looked inside the apartment and noticed how few things this famous rabbi had: a desk, a chair, a bed, a dresser. So the man said, “Where’s all of your stuff?” The rabbi looked at the man’s suitcase and retorted, “Where’s all of your stuff?” The man said, “I’m just passing through.” The rabbi replied, “So am I.” As disciples of Jesus, we have received a very direct vision of the meaning of life, so direct, in fact, that most of our minds cannot bear it. Indeed, instead of living soberly in the transitoriness of this life, as we await the trial of death, we find all sorts of ways to bury our anxieties about existence so that they can hardly be felt. Let us therefore take the words of our Lord to heart, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Mt 6:34), and in doing so, learn how to relinquish our stuff and partner with the living God, which is nothing less than a rehearsal for eternal life. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.