Spirit of Prayer

Readings and resources in the Spirit of Prayer—
Communing with God, others and self


Two: The abyss of self-deception

{This writing is in progress}

The topography of abysses is not an ordinary topography. The ordinary rules of geography don't apply here. An abyss can seem to have a bridge across it that, when walked on, turns out not really to have been a bridge at all but another abyss. For example, we can despair of the "Grand Canyon" of distance between us and God, then, when we learn of His closeness through the Cross of Christ, we feel great joy—there is a bridge—only to find that we are frustrated by the uncomfortability and vulnerability of infinite closeness to Him. Finally we realize that once we get our bearings we can reckon this chasm another great adventure or we might even find that both abysses are present at once, paradoxically, or alternately present—sometimes alternating with alarmingly disparate variability: paralyzingly slow, blindingly fast, or confoundingly unpredictable.

Such is the topography of this metaphorical map of the human soul and its relationship to God and other people. One day you are walking straight toward a sheer rock face wondering how you are going to get over and the next day you find it to be a gentle slope down to a sweet babbling brook. One day you are gazing out over an infinite view of cloudless day; another day your eyes are straining to see your own hand through the dank fogginess. And then you realize you are comfortable with the blindness but the clearness is unbearable and full of anxiety. And when the clearness is unbearable people make adjustments in themselves and in the ways they relate to others. These adjustments are called lies and the most basic and powerful of lies are the lies that we tell ourselves.

Lies are thought, by the one who lies, to be bridges over abysses of impossibility, solid roads leading to solid personal goals. Deception is thought, by the deceiver, to be a wall of privacy covering weakness, ugliness or shamefulness but in reality it is not solid, it is not opaque. Deception is a projection—smoke and mirrors. A deceiver projects a cunningly made image of himself, like one of the Star Trek holograms, not programmed by a computer but made quite naturally, humanly, as it were organically grown to fruition from the soul of a real person.

But it is more sorrow to feel of our own spirit's deceits. For sometime our own spirit is so overcome peradventure with each of these three spirits, of the flesh, of the world, and of the fiend, and so brought into danger, bounden in bondage, in thraldom and in service of them all, that sorrow it is to wit. In great confusion and loss of itself, it doth now the office of each one of them itself in itself. (From the treatise, "Of the Discerning of Spirits", The Cell of Self-knowledge, edited by Edmund G. Gardner, Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., New York, 1966.)

The passage I have quoted above is from an unknown author of the mid-fourteenth century, possibly Richard Rolle of Hampole or Walter of Hilton. In it the reader is warned of the dangers of the flesh, the world, and the devil, but beyond those we are warned of the danger of self-deceit. The writer warns that we can lose ourselves in the confusion of inner voices—so, in the process of the discerning of spirits, possibly the most important thing I can do is discern the truth or falseness of my own voice.

Think of a time in your life when the subject, "lying to yourself" came up in conversation. It was a time of interpersonal conflict, a time of strong feelings. It was a time when you had exhausted all reasonable explanations, and, grasping for understanding and resolution, you turned to your brother and said, "You are living a lie! You are lying to everyone and most of all to yourself!" But by the time you have said it you realize that, even though you have spoken the truth, your words will only serve to widen the gap between you and your brother. You have been driven away by your brother's erratic, unwise, or unkind actions and you have attempted to reconcile yourself to him; you have tried everything you knew to close the gap but the gap would not close. Finally, it has dawned on you that the gap is not really between you and him, but between him and himself. He is self-deceived.

But doesn't it always happen that the time for confronting self-deceit will be the very time that self-deceit covers itself most securely? When your brother most needs to see his disrelation to himself and to God, when his stubborn words and irrational acts are causing the most hurt to himself and his loved ones, that will be the time when he covers his self-deceit with self-deceit and there will be no way for him to come to himself. "What do you mean, I am lying to myself?" he will say. "I know my own mind. I don't lie to myself!" He will rise up deaf and blind covering his ears and eyes against himself and against his own deafness and blindness.

This is the abyss of self-deception.

©Joseph Perry, Greyfort Publishing
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