We live in a world of mirrors and surface images. We project a self like that of which we see, and have projected back to us something of the self we project. This is both conscious–in the achieving by dress and “lifestyle” of a certain “look”–and unconscious–in that how and what we are toward others is the sort of reflection we receive back.
But this external orientation–seeking our self from the looks of others–will damn us to a hell of self-ignorance and self-loathing. If we seek affirmation from the social mirror–whether of our sexual desirability, or of our success, or of our belonging–we will be ever turning to catch the restless mirror that cannot settle. And we will be damned to chase that which we can never grasp. Do we seek affirmation of our sexual attractiveness (our attractiveness as a man or a woman)? We will find ourselves reduced to a living plaything soon to be discarded, soiling our souls with ever-demanding standards that ever judge and condemn us for failing to meet the restless targets that never stand still, and behind which our aging bodies will further and further fall. Do we seek affirmation of our success? We will find ourselves reduced to nothing but an arithmetical cipher, with increasingly impossible demands that condemn us in terms of numerical goods–salaries, square-footage, 401k’s–and steal from us all that is good and loving, our children, spouses and friends. Do we seek the affirmation of our belonging? We will find ourselves always short of an eternally secret list of demands, reduced to the performance of poodles and flaming hoops as we seek to squeeze our souls into shapes they can never achieve, and which will permanently disfigure us if we do not come to our senses.
In our age, we have given up the quest to find our selves, and are merely looking for masks with which to cover our faces and plastic with which to deface our bodies, but which can be changed as we tire of them or find them too painful to wear. But the quest for the perfect mask or the perfect disfiguring of our bodies–those temples of the Holy Spirit–fails to understand the true nature of our seeking, and will not result in satisfaction, but an ever-growing thirst and hunger. We are like the soul that has been swept clean.
“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)
We must do all that we can to abandon this empty quest for the surface label, the external style, the paint which only temporarily covers the cracks but never fills them and heals them. We must truly look within and find there all that which we fear to see, but also, if we but invite him, the One who can clean and heal and fill this soul, this true self. It is not to the victorious martyrs, not to the brilliantly pure saints, but to the lukewarm, the tepid, those of us who seek the ephemeral over the eternal, that the Lord says:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3:20)
And if we bring him into our disordered selves, or even into those selves we’ve swept clean by a punctuated rather than a continuous repentance, we will find that the revelations he brings to us, while painful are also healing. We will find a new satisfaction, a new filling, a new contentment, for he will finally reveal to us who we really are.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:17)