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Know Thyself, Don’t Watch Yourself

One of the great turning points in the spiritual life is the realization that progress – growth into spiritual maturity – comes when we know ourselves. Finally aware that knowledge of our failings can be a great ally in fighting the good fight Christians often look inward to root out the debris that comes with living in a culture as messy as our own. But there is a world of difference between knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and overanalyzing the ego and its musings.

You see, as human beings we have this seemingly unique ability to turn inward, to reflect on our experiences not just after they have occurred but while they are still unfolding. We can watch a movie and then turn inward to see how it made us feel. We can have an argument and reflect upon the triggers within our minds that made us lose control.  This, so far as it goes, is not only helpful but necessary for maturity of any kind.

But then there are the moments when we choose to reflect while experiencing something true, good or beautiful.  We hold the child that God has given us and rather than allowing that loving embrace to fill us up we watch ourselves holding the child. On another occasion we look into the eyes of the person that we love and rather than losing ourselves in the moment we watch ourselves for how we look in love. Brought to its logical conclusion we begin also to distance ourselves from the Holy Mass and rather than lose ourselves in it we tend more and more to see it as something on a screen.  It is because of this that entertainment and not engagement becomes the measuring stick for one’s experience at Church.

What these latter examples have in common is that one is trying to be a spectator when in fact it is necessary to be an active participant. The child, my love, the event which brings heaven and earth together, these all concern me greatly and I am required by my very nature and new life in Christ to live them out.

Any spiritual director or guide will tell you that you have to know yourself if you are going to grow in the spiritual life, but just be careful that you do not become a third party observer, detached from the most intimate and precious moments that God has to give you. So yes, know yourself, your vices and virtues, weaknesses and strengths, but don’t watch yourself or the drama that is your life will pass you by.

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