Introduction and gratefulness: My brilliant spiritual director, Andy Lyde, opened a helpful exploration to me. Now I am sure that others reading this will have gone through these types of quests long ago. Please send me your support and your own experience to add flavour. Others may read this and feel it is not sound or not for you; please feel free not to read further. As before, I am writing this for myself and to invite others to add their own beautiful observations to this. The very act of writing here is an open invite and an act of transparency. This is a more difficult read.
I (We) have many masks, personas, or facets - but we have one face. The face, true self, acts as the director and pivot, the unifying centre, for the other parts to congregate and integrate.
The true self is a profoundly spiritual, multidimensional being. This gift from before the foundation of the world, itself eternally spawn. It is the gift of creation, flowing itself from the Eternal One. Made in the image of God, created in the likeness of God, it holds an endowment of oneness, the very essence of God.
Events, experiences, covenants, words, and decisions split parts off this self, like an axe splits a log. The splitting is a sacrificial offering of a part, so that in that moment, I can cope. It becomes the I for that occasion, commeth the hour commeth the I.
If those types of occasions frequent, these splits can mature into a fully formed alter ego persona. The persona is there to shield, protect, cope, and help the deeper me. It acts to protect me.
The problem is that fractions are not a whole; it is a split-off slither bit. It lacks the wisdom of the oneness and acts in ego, not in the divine. The ego is selfish since its sole purpose is to preserve the me.
Therefore, these split-off ego ‘I’ may be rotten at the very thing it is supposed to do, and in its aim to bless ‘me’, it dominates ‘me’ and allow a bunch of unintended unwholenessess to pattern up.
So, after years, me becomes a legion of ‘I’.
My personal collection of these personae includes the slightly angry Joe Guevara, a revolutionary idealist, engaging the world, angry at injustice, a table tossing disrupter. The counterweight to this persona is Monk Joe, not angry, blissfully zen, and off to some mountain top or desert retreat. Further on, there is Joe Bacchus, the hedonistic one, ready to get your party started. Rescue Joe, serve me your problems; I have a toolbox of solutions. Not to mention the petulant teenage sulker, the frustrated academic…
When first Andy suggested that I find these personas, I thought that they did not exist. I was in complete denial. And, being a great spiritual director, Andy did an exercise with me that completely showed up the cast hiding in the show of me. This was a bit bewildering. What to do with this? Am I a schizophrenic? Gentle guidance by Andy led me to engage these characters. Start to get to know each of these. Who are they, what do they do, what started them off… (Recommendation: Get a spiritual director, I can send you Andy’s details if you don’t know any)
Then allow the true self to welcome them, to honour them and to thank them. Respect and thankfulness then do their part to bring these in to ‘be coordinated’ by the true self director. Once affirmed, thanked, and receiving unconditional love and grace, each part comes coordinated, then bit by bit integrated back into the oneness of the true self as they no longer need to be off on their own little mission.
Bit by bit, the process of identification and assemblage of the parts back into the whole require seeing the trauma and opportunity that caused the split. That moment when the bully let loose the inner clown, where the rejection from an admired let to the indifferent copester mumbling ‘whatever’. Or the apartheid injustice released the revolutionary out. The cane loving teacher unlocked the martyred saint. Whatever the reason, forgiveness of the event or perpetrator softened the causality. Grateful and graceful love for the sacrifice draws back the split persona. And so, the true self becomes the gravity to call back the orbiting moons, allowing a tug back to the centre wholeness.
These factoids are upper and lower, happy and sad, light and dark, excitably happy, morosely sad. When the true self is allowed and aware enough to love both in the same wisdom that knows that to ‘abate or abound’ is neither of much consequence, that ‘good times and bad situations’ are all opportunities to gain experience and be.
We slowly learn to stop misidentification with the parts of low estate. The inner poor peasant kicked out to face hardship, or the martyr presenting itself for flagellation, bullying or rejection. All these personas are ‘faced’, seen, and acknowledged with gratefulness and without judgement, which flow out of unconditional love, from the true me hugging and embracing these like a returning prodigal ‘I’, brought in, allowed back with a fattened calf and new set of clothes.
No wretched part of us is truly without its own critical role on the stage of me. But, these ‘I’ need direction and to find a home. On some AWOL walkabout, they are no good to me and may be up to no good to others.
As we learn to love the ‘other’ that are me, the many ‘I’ that form ‘me’, we ultimately learn that other people, in all their glorious weirdness, may be all critical parts in the even greater kaleidoscope that makes up a body that is bigger, enormous, galactic – a body of Christ or at least his bride.
We learn that we may be facing a split part of ‘their’ broken ‘them’. That the disrupting, irritating, and pain serving ego chip may just be a loss part of someone that ‘as a whole’ is actually amazing.
If we can see beyond the parts, find, and see the unifying centre of the other, look beyond the pieces, let grace and love flow to the true unifying potential core in someone else, maybe that beautiful part can be energised by the very flow of the lifegiving Spirit to get enough gravity to start clawing back towards its own wholeness.
But, our current media, our mad age, calls us to fight, take positions, encourage reactions of irritation, frustration, anger, and violence to the ‘other’. We justify this by so many ploys.
Our own ego I looks down it nose in self-justification and judgement. This gets beamed that the other should really be ashamed, try harder, repent, and shift behaviour.
Or, the false ‘I’ nurtures the broken fragment of ‘other’ in layers of pity, excusing, fending and permissioning the false ‘them’. As the internal ‘me’ suffers the enslavement of a false ‘I’. My false ‘I’ easily forms a false alliance, a pact of co-dependent survival with the ‘them’ other. Such treaties between orphans create toxic partnerships. Most relationships today is nothing but toxic.
In rejoicing the fact of our own multidimensional spiritual being, we allow the true self to be the director. The same way as God, in our theology, directs through sublime oneness: a Father, A Son and A Holy Spirit, three but one, so we, through the force of and love of the true self, become ourselves a unity. Being a unity, we transmit unity, and others can find strength to unite too, because we showed love.
What if, in the fulness of time, we discover that even our theological God unites higher up to many other dimensions, such as that of Allah, Buddha…? What if these Russian babushka dolls stack in even bigger oneness, hard to imagine?
We have two sorts of community, those with a long tail and those with docked tails.
The long-tailed communities honour their culture, their nation, their theology, their history, backwards and backwards. All the ‘now’ is an appeasement of ancestors, culture, religious tradition, filled with the scrutinising eyes of dead people and ages before. Breaking faith with these is almost incomprehensible. Heresy, mutiny, rebellion and anathema, the path of taboo. The tail wags the dog.
The short-tailed community regards nothing but ‘now’. People are seen as they are. Not measured against the scales of a tail. What is honoured and looked for is the redemptive and unifying true self in the other. This is accepted, welcomed, and celebrated. Yes, such a true self may exhibit an orbit of complex false selves; a legion of noisy ‘they may cloud the lovely other’. It may want us to say things such as ‘they must just…’. It is the mystical Illuminati conspiracy ‘they’ that some of our fractured ‘I’ have such allergic reactions.
But, if we found the broken ‘I’ and learned to love the unifying ‘me’, then we can see the unifying ‘other’ in the mess of ‘them’ or ‘they’.
The tailless looks for a single beautiful ‘other’ to love and relate to; it forgives all ‘other’, loves all ‘other’ and honours all ‘other’. It lives in the now. It accepts as is. Finds a single reason to start a new story, a dance, a song or a play.
Together we can transcend the mere nationalistic, egotistic, ancestral. We cannot interpret today with the worldview of yesterday. We can live a free spiritual life released from the burden of the theology of time gone past.
Some years ago, I decided to become an atheist. At the time, I battled to the point of exhaustion with the noise of theology. It was easier to give it all up for a season. I gave it up because I failed. Failed to live the Christian life. Life as I lived it lacked any supernatural transcendency. It was mere; it was ordinary.
The first thing that happened was that I felt tremendously free. The weight of expectation (self-induced and heaped on by others, real or imaginary) fell off. Denying God’s existence was taking a holiday from the weight of failing to please God. I could suddenly do anything and everything. My tail got docked.
For me atheism did not last long. The empty universe makes even less sense. It is stark, ugly and meaningless. Its own untruth outs itself as false. There is no witness inside humans to nothing. That is why we paint, write poetry, tell stories, make melodies, and build cathedrals. We use our ethereal tentacles to explore the unseen universe. People that need to dissect, weigh and measure things before they recognise them are self-deluding. Go try to catch and measure the love for your newborn baby in a test tube. Imagination, art, beauty, and wonder give meaning, and meaning gives purpose.
When I started to admit again that I was actually spiritual, I found that over time that the heaviness was returning. My tail was growing back. Grace was shrinking. Love became conditionally attached. Freedom was another land. Until it dawned on me that these ancestral powers over me were nonsense. History was for then. Then is not now. The “them of then” will not be the same or do the same now. Nothing in the past will repeat truly today. It cannot. The world has moved dynamically on. Now is now. We can love what they did then and let it inspire us to be us now. But, such gratefulness is not a grave-finger dictate at us now.
All now wants from us is to follow Jesus. He loved the marginalised of his day. He accepted anyone, no matter what they got or were up to. He shunned theology, dogma and orthodoxy. He tossed a table or two. Bravely broke taboos. Jesus lived like a free man. He lived like a whole and unified person. He healed out of that state. Redemption flowed from his humility and self-accepting oneness. He ‘owned’ his humanity and divinity. He praised the past, but he praised the past as the past. He declared a kingdom of now. He measured out without constraint and judgement.
I am a multidimensional spiritual being floating on incomprehensible grace and love at this very second of now. My spirit is maybe a thousand times bigger than my body. I think, but I’m not my thoughts, I have emotions, but I’m bigger than any emotion, I have a body, but I am way bigger than this body.
It is safe to call home and welcome all my prodigal selves with such a big, grace-filled and loved' me'. To flood these with no recrimination.
In that self-same spirit, I can flow to others. Connecting my unifying centre to their unifying centre, no matter how weak that has become. Then finding that kind of love, learn to collaborate, unify and heal.
We can forge unity in the universal oneness, open and inviting all of us in, wanting to make its home with us. God with us brings the ‘me’ nestled in Christ back to me. The ‘Christ in me’ calls God to move in. The gravity of this tightens the orbit on the straying satellites that want to break off.
The future of the spiritual life on earth? What is the prognosis of the future? Random atheism? Backward step to reliving a past era? No, it is an ever more inclusive understanding, light in its touch, wholesome in its communion. Bear with the reformation; it is taking us somewhere filled with hope as never seen before.