"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Who Am I?

"Abba Poeman said to Abba Joseph: Tell me how can I become a monk. And he replied: If you want to find rest here or hereafter, say in every occasion, who am I? and do not judge anyone."
-- Greggory Mayers --
("Listen to the Desert," p. 9.)
One of the most insightful observations in the Bible is found in the Book of James, where it is plainly stated (at James 1:8) that, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."  

In one pithy sentence, this profound observation diagnoses the basic human dilemma - the duality of the ego and 'who' we actually are - as well as the symptoms of our dilemma, i.e., the instability of our egoically-inspired thoughts, words and actions. A person identified with the ego is, of course, apt to think, say or do just about anything in any circumstance. Thus, Abba Joseph's sage advice is to ask oneself repeatedly, and in whatever circumstances one may find him or herself in, the question, "Who am I?" Are our thoughts, words and actions driven by the all-too-human separate "self" of the ego, or do they emanate from the authentic "Self," i.e., in strictly Christian terms, from "the Kingdom of God within" us? (See Luke 17:21.)

Almost as an afterthought, Abba Joseph also adds the advice: "and do not judge anyone," for he must have known that each of us is liable to find him or herself at any time within the throes and under the dictates of of our smaller "self." This is the heart of Jesus' admonishment: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." And, of course, it is the ego, itself, that renders the harshest judgment, and is metaphorically willing to serve as prosecutor, judge, jailer and executioner. Our greatest challenge is, thus, quite literally, to get over our "selves."

"Only he who has renounced the impassioned thoughts of his inner self, which is the intellect" observed St. Hesychios, "is a true monk. It is easy to be a monk in one's outer self if one wants to be," notes the father of' centering prayer, "but no struggle is required to be a monk in one's inner self."

[Palmer, et. al, "The Philokalia," Vol. 1, pp. 174-175.]

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