Fear Most Yourself

At the Transfiguration of our Lord, we are blessed with a glimpse of Reality, as His disciples are confronted with Jesus’ glorified appearance. The Bible tells us, “the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.” What an incredible blessing for those men – they saw Jesus not just as the everyday guy they followed, but as He is in His glory. Whenever I meditate on the mystery of the Transfiguration, I ask God to help me to see Him as He truly is. This is the grace that was granted to Peter, James and John, if only for a few fleeting moments.

But once I have started seeing God as He is, as my Heavenly Father, there’s another thing I have to worry about: what God sees when He looks at me. Is there any correlation between the reality that God sees when He looks at me, and what I think He sees? Maybe not too much! Unfortunately, as a vain, willful, self-deceived human being, I’ve got all sorts of unreasonable ideas about who and what I am. It’s amazing what we can believe about ourselves, all evidence to the contrary….

Think about your coworker, the woman who used to come into work late every day, when she came in at all. There was always a “reason” – one of her kids had been sick, car trouble, stuck in traffic, lost track of the time…. When she got to work she sat down and began making personal phone calls, “to check on the kids,” “my mother’ll disinherit me if I don’t call her today,” “Amazon messed up my order, and I’ve got to get this straightened out before it gets sent to Bangladesh.” By the time she got all that squared away, it was time for her first coffee break. She would then begin explaining why she was going to need Friday off, and why you shouldn’t worry about her if she wasn’t back from lunch right on the dot because if she didn’t go to the Humane Society today, somebody was going to adopt that wallaby that her kids had their hearts set on. After lunch she would call in to explain that she was at the doctor’s – he was treating her for a severe allergic reaction to wallaby dander – and to let you know that she wouldn’t be able to return to work that day, but she would definitely be there bright and early tomorrow!

So of course, no one was surprised when they let her go – no one but her. I worked my butt off for them! you overheard her muttering as she cleared her desk out. You felt sorry for her, but what could you do? You can’t help people like that.
How could anyone be so self-deceived?

How? EASY! We’re ALL self-deceived! Seeing yourself as you truly are is well-nigh on impossible! Meister Eckhart warned despairingly of the 30 or 40 skins or hides, “as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s,” that cover the soul. Human beings do have a tendency to “put on,” a tendency with all sorts of unhealthy ramifications….

Satan is the “Father of lies,” and when we lie, we behave as his children. While he sometimes maliciously inspires us to deceive others, he generally doesn’t even need to prompt us to deceive ourselves about ourselves. It comes naturally. It’s a defense mechanism. You start when you’re little, when it wasn’t your fault that you hit your sister, and you rationalize your way through adolescence and young adulthood. By the time you marry, you’re a past master. The Real You is lost under a dunghill of excuses and justifications.

Kierkegaard was clearly onto something when he warned:

Of all deceivers fear most yourself!

Jesus demonstrated the solution to our predicament in his encounter with the woman at the well, the woman Orthodox Christians call “Photine.” She came to the well that day to get water. Jesus came to the well that day to meet her. The problem was, she wouldn’t let Him meet her. A social outcast, it was not the woman but the woman’s “persona” who showed up at the well. A “persona” being basically a figment, Jesus couldn’t deal with it. He came not to save the fictional character that this woman had allowed herself to become in her own mind – He came to save the human being that He Himself had created. When she asks Him for the living water He’s touting, He addresses the real issue: Go and get your husband.

An innocuous request – why is the rabbi even bothering to discuss these matters with a woman? Go and get your husband – then we’ll talk.

Yet the innocuous request addresses the core issue in her life: the cover-up. I’m not a bad person. You have no idea how hard my life’s been. My mother didn’t want me around, so I took up with the first man who came along. That doesn’t make me a bad person. Of course, then I was damaged goods. What choice did I have but to take up with the next man who came along, and the next, and the next? If things had been different, I would have been different, too! Actually, I think I’ve turned out pretty well, considering. If one of the women of this village, just one, had ever even tried to understand me – it’s not like I want to live like this. They’re just jealous. I’m getting along fine the way I am. I don’t come out to this well in the middle of the day in the blazing sun because I’m a pariah; I actually prefer being alone to being with them and their nasty thoughts. I’m not a bad person. This man here at the well is a stranger. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know what I am. He doesn’t have to know….

The Stranger at the well was Jesus, and He did know her. He had come to introduce her to herself. He couldn’t work with the woman with the chip on her shoulder, with the invented history, with the self-justification and the lies. The only person He could work with was her, and so she had to bring herself, her real self, to Him. His Living Water is for real people, and only real people need apply.

Go and get your husband.

God knows about the fictional characters we’ve invented to live our lives for us, and He has a remark, a command or a question for each of them – Nathan’s “Thou art the man!” addressed to King David, and Jesus’ “Why are you persecuting me?” demanded of Saul of Tarsus come to mind. The Lord’s instruction to St. Thomas to put his hand in His side was particularly poignant – it exploded Thomas’ Missourian “won’t get fooled again” persona into little shards. When it is revealed to you by God what you really and truly are, “my Lord and my God!” is the only appropriate response.

The woman at the well didn’t recognize God Incarnate when He came to meet her. She had to learn to recognize herself first. God can’t change a figment. He can’t change you until YOU show up, asking Him for help.

Reality awaits you at the well, with Living Water in His outstretched hand. He directs us to the second reality we must embrace, the truth about who we really are.


On the memorial of St. Dominic

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Ústí nad Labem, the Czech Republic. Větruše, a mirror labyrinth, by ŠJů/Wikimedia Commons

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