Parker Palmer has argued that it is important to listen to our life rather than living on the surface of life, never paying attention to the inconsistencies between our inner life and outer life. Instead of determining the shape of our spiritual journey, we need to pay attention to all of the factors that are influencing the way we choose to respond to life. Much that influences us is hidden in our souls. I assume that most of the men who read this blog desire to serve and follow the Lord. One of the built in dangers that we face is trying to live with our christian “ideal self” and forget or even deny our actual self. Living with the ideal, while denying the actual and real self
Thomas Merton warned against our focus on the ideal self which he called “the false self.” He maintained that the life of the false self was particularly tempting for spiritual folks who can so easily convince themselves that they are special and somehow different from and better then others. Instead we need to face the inconsistencies found in our souls. “To deny the existence of inner realities is not to escape their devilish aspects but rather to fall victim to them. To deny inner realities is to fail to truly know one’s self and to know one’s self is to risk becoming possessed by that which we have ignored.”
Listening to our life means embracing our inconsistencies that are reflected in the way of false self manifests itself. Denial of its presence only drives the false self into a hiding place, from where it continues to influence of our lives. To be truly alive and living in the Spirit we all need to welcome the parts of ourselves that do not fit easily with what we consider our presentable self. We need to ask, as David Benner puts, “what uninvited and unwelcomed guests are present in the guesthouse of our souls.”
Benner give this advice regarding these unwelcomed guest that make our life inconsistent and prevent us from being truly alive. Identify the unwelcomed guests and see if you are able to make peace with the “unwanted parts of your experience.” “Give up your battle with it. You cannot defeat it, so you may as well accept its presence. Do not ever bother to label it as good or bad. Just accept it, and your life as it is. Remember the truly alive person will always have parts of self that do not fit easily with other parts of self. To be fully alive we need to embrace the mixed bag of contradictions that are part of our inner life.
Jesus warned against be contaminated with the Pharisees yeast which, of course, was a life of inconsistencies between the outer life and the inner life. “Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contamined with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever: before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever: sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town.” (Luke 12:2-3 – The Message) I have had the experience of the mask slipping in my life as a pastor. It exposed my inconsistencies. Thankful I am on the way to recovery from being a pharisee. I call myself a “recovering pharisee.”