The Birth of Self

I tend to have equal parts of love and enmity for Christmas each year.  Yes, I love what the season represents, but there is also all of the work as a pastor that goes into making Christmas meet everyone’s expectations: giving the congregation a great service, making sure my kids have enough presents that they actually want, etc.  While the beauty of it all stirs me, I’m also rather cynical as people rush around for gifts and lights and tinsel.  A pastor friend of mine even reached out to me minutes ago to share how much Christmas wears her out.  I can only agree, but a recent realization gives me hope.

Advent is coming to an end and we will pass into Christmastide and on into Epiphany.  I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the liturgical calendar and have become acutely aware that there is an internal process as well as an external one.  Externally, we consider the life of Jesus and what each phase of his life meant to the world.  Waiting for the Christ Child through Advent, his birth at Christmas, homage at Epiphany, journeying into the wilderness at Lent, dying on Good Friday, and being resurrected at Easter.

This is the typical progression that we celebrate throughout the year, but what if we were to undertake the inner work during these seasons?  Each step along the path of Jesus’s life is also a metaphorical representation of our own life journey.  Unfortunately we tend to experience these seasons from the periphery as we go through the motions, but I have become convinced that there is something miraculous that can happen if we commit to the process internally.

There is both a corporate and an individual aspect to the different liturgical seasons.  The corporate and cultural aspects (centered in our westernized Judeo-Christian cultural context) tend to get the most attention.  But what would it look like for us and for the world if we took each season with an attitude of intentionality and commitment to the inner work while celebrating the traditional meaning?  Perhaps it might look like this:

Advent – Traditionally, we await the coming of the Christ-child.  A light shines in the darkness and we wait in expectation for the birth of hope into a world that feels hopeless.

Internally we turn our gaze inward toward the light that shines at the depths of our being – the divine flame that burns within each of us.  We progress through Advent with a growing awareness of this flame and let the God-In-Us grow.  Like the desert fathers and mothers, the great mystics of past and present, we recognize the mysteries within and without and begin a commitment to embrace them.  The light shines gradually brighter and the darkness recedes with the only remaining unlit corners not as ominous traps, but as questions to be lived.

Christmas – Jesus is born into the world and despite the troubled climate of the land, the possibility of justice emerges.

Within us, the light emerges fully and for the first time, we begin to realize that change is actually possible.  There is a shift in our mindset from complacency to conviction and determination.  We refuse to give up in the face of opposition and start to claim our own lives.  The True Self that has been cloaked in darkness and fear emerges and our sense of purpose brings new meaning to being alive.

Epiphany – Three wandering Oriental mystics take notice of a shift in the cosmos and are curious.  They begin a journey across the desert to find the reason for this shift.  They pay homage to the baby Jesus and bring him gifts.

Inside, we develop an awareness that this “thing” is actually working.  It is not merely an idea, but a concrescence being born into reality.  As Catherine of Siena said, being who were were made to be actually is setting the world on fire.  People around us notice the shift in our countenance and feel the joy and peace that we are experiencing from being our True Selves.  This realization starts to take hold on those around us and a transformation begins.

Lent – Jesus leaves civilization and decides to go into the wilderness alone.  Many times he is tempted to take the easy route, but he commits to seeing his journey to completion.

In our hearts and minds, we come to the realization that, while we have allowed for the birth of our True Self within and the nurturing of the essence of our being that interconnects us all, there is a lot that needs to be let go before that True Self can fully thrive.  So, we embark on an inner journey of self reflection through which we carefully identify those attachments, relationships, habits that may (or may not) have served us in the past.  We realize that most of these things only served to feed and affirm our False Selves.

Good Friday – Jesus is led to Golgotha and crucified at Calvary.  He cries out to God “Eloi!  Eloi!  Lama Sabakhthani!?” My God! My God!  Why have you forsaken me!?  His Godhood within and without are at odds and he struggles with his destiny.

For us, we have done the work of naming those things that have to go in order for us to fully live into our True Selves.  We have identified what needs to die, but with both a sense of liberation and trepidation, have realized that we cannot merely shed those things, but must die completely to our False Self.  It isn’t easy.  There is much emotional and existential pain.  We have become so used to being who we thought the world wanted us to be that it feels nearly impossible to sacrifice that Self.  It’s who we have known and been for all of these years and as with anything, it’s easier to stick with what you know – even at the cost of losing our True Selves (recall the Exodus story).  But, we do it anyway.  We carry those burdensome and heavy traits of our False Self and through gritted teeth and stinging tears, cry out as our False Self breathes its last.

Easter – Jesus is called out of the tomb and when the stone is rolled away, he is nowhere to be found – until a gentle voice falls upon Mary’s troubled ears.

We open our eyes in complete darkness.  For a split second, we panic wishing that we had shorter memories.  But the grave clothes come off in strips more easily than we expected.  The cool smoothness of the rock walls inside the tomb are cool and soothing to the touch as we grope along the wall until we feel the huge stone that stands between us and  the sunlight.  Our fingers find their way to a small gap where a sliver of light pierces the darkness and we push with all of our might.  The stone moves slowly, at first, and then gravity helps.  The stone rolls down the hill as we smile, finding it reassuring that even the laws of nature were on our side from the beginning.  We make our way out into the day – resurrected, whole, healed.  Those who come to look for us in the tomb do not find us and as they weep for our selves and their own selves, they turn with a start as we place our hand on their shoulder saying, “It’s ok.  I’m not in there anymore.”

And so they begin their own journey to resurrection, to their true selves.  And so begins a revolution of societal transformation all because we chose to do the inner work through the liturgical seasons.

 

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2 Responses to “The Birth of Self”

  1. You’re right, the liturgical calendar guides is in different layers of journey – Jesus’ life, communal life, and inner life. But you left off Pentecost! 🙂

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