“Crux Fidelis”, Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, from the album “Lent at Ephesus”, (2014)
Yesterday, Good Friday, I watched “The Passion of The Christ” again. This film is as powerful now as it was the first time I watched it. I think most people in the West have probably watched “The Passion of the Christ” at least once. For others, it is more than once. And yet for others, myself included, it is an annual Lenten“ritual”.
Oh Lord, You have created me for Yourself, to love You and to enjoy You, infinite Good, ineffable Beauty; do not permit me to lose sight of this sublime end toward which I must tend; do not permit me to wander among the wretched satisfactions that vain, feeble creatures can offer me. (I don’t remember where I read that but it is too beautiful to be mine)
Yesterday was “Good Friday”, the end of Lent. Lent is about sorrow, contrition, and repentance. Recent scripture readings and meditations have sensitized the soul’s faculties to the clear realization of my sinfulness, and of God’s most wondrous prerogative, namely God’s mercy, and the revival of our adoption by Christ who: “desires not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Cf. Ezek. 33:11) … “this realization of mercy becomes the impetus of the soul’s advancement in virtue, the inspiration of its power for good, and its daily shield in its struggle for eternal life“. (John A. Kane, “How To Make A Good Confession”, pp 14)
I see “conversion” as a dawning awareness of the real truth of my sinfulness, a spiritual coming of age, where my soul experiences an ever intensifying consciousness of my preferential option for self worship, self gratification and of “sinning” in the pursuit of pleasure, consolation, satisfaction as ends in and of themselves.
The essence of this “conversion” is the turning of my soul and my faculties from sin towards identification of, and identifying with, the will of God, and a concomitant experience of remorse in understanding the lifelong predilection for self centered thoughts, habits, activities and attachments.
I had an intense AHA! experience early yesterday morning. The realization, in my own tiny way, of the pain God feels when his creatures turn away from his love and his care for them and his desire for them to live “the good life” in his orbit and under his protection.
This is what I do, in my selfishness, when I, essentially, tell God to “Just bugger off and leave me alone!” I want to do my own thing, to be me, to act out my own plan regardless of the consequences and the impact on others. I only care about me. It is manifest in a total absence of fraternal charity.
And then, when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, when I find myself in a place where I cannot control my life, where it is all just happening to me and there is nothing I can do about it, I get focused on my little pain from some small source and I think that is everything there is and it is the greatest pain ever. My pain is special.
But God feels all the pain of all the behaviour of all His love children, those creatures He created, out of love, to share His love with, and who He holds in His hands and holds their everything in existence, so they can misbehave with impunity, so they can torture Him and kill Him, His hateful creatures, hurting Him continuously and without pause, for all our time, in His eternal now.
I don’t think a human creature can even begin to realize the pain they cause God by disobedience, and the malice of self worship, until that human starts to get past the attachments to “self” and the self-righteous anger response when that belief, that worship of “self” is threatened or challenged in some way. The only thing that teaches me, that reaches me, is the pain of overwhelming loss of precisely those things or thoughts to which I am most attached.
This painful experience fans the flames of my soul’s ever intensifying awareness of the preponderance of self worship, self gratification, self aggrandizement, and the serious attachment to all things and experiences centered on healing the wounds of my self regard, my self image to which I find myself so inordinately attached.
Attachment … to all the things of this world, but especially those things and experiences which reinforce my self regard, my self-worship. Becoming aware of this I feel sorrow and contrition for my conduct, now and throughout my whole life. I remember every little thing, from childhood to late in life looking back over my personal tale of woe, my misbehavior, my willfulness, and I am sorry.
The contrition experience gives rise to a desire for repentance, a desire to make atonement for past sins, a transformation of my mind, an up-welling of the supernatural drowning the natural in an intensifying struggle. How to atone? How to repent?
Repent, atone, by cutting adrift all those elements, all those attachments, which contribute to the healing of the wounds of my self love, to papering over of those ugly wounds inflicted by self worship, to whitewashing my black heart.
My attachments are a significant part of the framework within which I view “reality” and is it really real? As I have remarked before, some famous guy once said: “it’s what we don’t know that we don’t know that bites our ass in the end”. I have great difficulty identifying and isolating attachments. I desire to see my soul as God sees it, the better to repent for a lifetime of all-purpose sin, my repertoire, my curriculum vitae of “being human”.
Identifying and isolating my attachments has been greatly assisted by my now 15 month long program of fasting … never realized just how much I was attached to food, and the activities surrounding food, until I started fasting. Now it has become obvious that all attachments hide like this, they hide in plain sight within the normal every day experiences of life until I isolate them by choosing a new and different direction for my habits, thoughts, actions.
“Your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash”. Those were the immortal words of Captain Tom “Stinger” Jordan in Top Gun. Of course, he was talking to Maverick, played by Tom Cruise. But that’s a movie, a Hollywood fantasy, it sells well because its what I would like to believe about my own life and abilities, when reality is truly somewhat different.
Odds are, when I use this phrase, especially when I am talking to myself, I’m talking to someone with considerably less ability, to back up the checks being written, with real life performance. Because I have great difficulty identifying and isolating attachments. Let’s count the ways I’ve used this phrase:
… to someone (myself) who was daring others to take action on some outlandish behavior, just because I didn’t really like those others, at that moment in time … no other reason … to that person (myself) who is making a rash decision because … just because, because I thought I could … no other reason, just asserting my specialness … to someone (myself) who just had a wild time in (fill in you last port of call), loudly, confidently, exclaiming, “Really! When am I going to be in (fill in you last port of call) again?”
Captain Jordan in Top Gun, as I know now, knew that it was all fool’s gold. Nothing special here at all, just me, myself, and I, stroking my own ego, my own fantasy that I am special. People (myself) that do outlandish things inevitably learn, hopefully, eventually, that they can’t make irresponsible decisions without facing the music. So back to the escapist fantasy. How did it all work out for Maverick? Crash and burn? Yup, and the real tragedy was that the rubber cheques took Goose and his family down with Maverick. Realization couldn’t bring them back or restore the magic.
It is only in the contrast of my losses and pain that I start to recognize the attachments of my life. This is that process which is described by the Greek word “Metanoia“, that is, changing my mind, and through that my reality. So conversion, contrition and repentance involve and devolve into an internal discussion, a meditation about real “reality” and how attachments seem to be the lens through which I interpret and act upon events and stimuli in my life and relationships … attachments … all the attachments.
So, how am I to move towards being detached from “the things of this world”, the creatures and treasures which I look to for consolation and pleasure when indulging my self gratification and self worship? I think I have to enter into and accept repentance as pretty much a constant mindset, a basic understanding of the enormity of my life of sin and the greater enormity of God’s eternal mercy and love for me. The eternal is what matters, and only reference to the eternal gives meaning to this world and the perishable material things and creatures of this world.
I am living in my material shell as an eternal “soul”, as the ghost in the shell. The shell is not the “me”. The shell is just the collection of lenses, sensor systems and actuators for the self, but it is not the self. I, me, the “ME”, occupy the shell and look at, interact with, and think about the perishable material plane, and the “things of this world”, but as an eternal soul, not as the shell … which is actually what I really am, that ghost in the shell is where that which makes me “I” actually resides, actually exists.
So, all my life is no more than one night in a bad hotel. More thinking and more understanding required … about repentance as a newly understood way of life, like the Prodigal Son, a new way of life full of painful daily reminders of previous offenses against my Father. I will conclude this with a rather long excerpt from Father John A. Kane:
“Repentance (from the Greek metanoia) is the mind itself changed and transformed. It is the supernatural conquering the natural. It is the assumption of the spirit of Christ according to the words of St. Paul: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”. (Phil. 2:5)
Thus it is evident that penitence, in its entirety, is perennial. It has not always the same quality, however. It assumes different phases, and in this respect it is like a lifelong grief. The first outbreak of sorrow will subside. The wilderness of desolation will bloom again with fragrant flowers. In resignation to the divine will, the soul will be flooded with light, peace, and joy.
Then it will glory in the consciousness that it is suffering with Christ. Its sorrow is now more abiding; it has taken root in the very depths of the soul’s consciousness; it clings to the soul far more tenaciously than the first convulsive paroxysm of grief.
Without any external evidence, sorrow has silently transfigured the soul’s life, uniting it more fully, more consciously with its God. A calm and permanent sorrow, which at first terrorized the soul, now lovingly embraces it and gradually sinks into its extreme depths, while externally there may have been no sign of its existence.” (John A. Kane, “How To Make A Good Confession”, pp 11-12)