Preface to this 3rd and final part of Theology From Prison.
I have an inmate editor here at Bastrop Federal Satellite camp who refers to himself as Ben Bradley. Bradley, for all you millennials, was the respected editor of the Washington Post during Watergate. He wondered, after reading "Theology of Prison, Part 2: The False Self" if I had an out of body experience in the midst of writing it. His comment after reading this post was that he feared I had outkicked my coverage. Neither of these comments were exactly compliments. Anyway...here goes nothing.
How do I write about something that is not exactly achievable because it's already me, but is also something I've seldom experienced because of me? Would that make the True Self an enigma? Probably not, because it's not difficult to explain. It's simply God in us. It's the essence of God incarnate. It's love instead of fear. That sounds simple, but we can't study, work, or tithe our way into it because it's already the essence of who we are created to be. We could theoretically pray ourselves into becoming our True Self. But in my case, that would be a miracle--something like a presidential pardon.
So what is easy to explain is difficult to be because our False Self provides us with what feels like security, as it's who we think we are. It's comfortable, like a pair of old jeans, compared to the nakedness of the True Self. But only when we are naked and lost can we be clothed and found in God's love and mercy.
Thomas Merton explains it this way in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. "At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a pure point of truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal...This point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us...It's like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven" (p. 58).
The apostle Paul describes the True Self as being "in Christ, hidden in God". (Colossians 3:3) It's what Jesus describes as being "in me and I am in you. (John 14:20)
How do we know we are becoming our True Self? Often the transformation, that takes place "by the renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2), happens painfully when we realize for whatever reason (failure, illness, addictions, humiliation) that our lives are unmanageable. Ultimately the False Self has to surrender control. When that happens, it's still valuable because it's the raw material of our own unique version of our True Self, like the caterpillar who becomes a butterfly. At first we see ourselves differently, no longer through the lens of judgment or pride. We might slowly begin to recognize that our lives are characterized by contentment, liberation and compassion. When the False Self must have answers, the True Self looks at what it doesn't know with calmness, humility and honesty. Then we begin to see others differently, too.
Our True Self is what God breathed into us in creation before we realized we were naked. Returning again to our True Self is religion, pure and simple. If that kind of religion doesn't happen, nothing happens; and the longer it's delayed, the more we miss out. Personally, I've just begun to scratch the surface of transformation. I confess that, not out of a sense of false modesty, but because I realize I started the journey late.
Thankfully, my time horizon is eternity, so a late start is not as detrimental as it might have been.