Monday, June 29, 2020

Is your divine filiation what defines you? If it is, then you are in a most stable state of life.

There are many different ways that people choose to define themselves, especially in these times. Many who aren’t theists commonly define themselves by the work that they do.  This is especially so when they have attained some degree of excellence in their work and career, and have become what many consider as Captains of Industry. 

Evidence of this is when people encounter one another on a social level for the first time, and very often, after the initial introductions of names are exchanged, the next thing is the defining of their person by their jobs and titles, oftentimes printed on business calling cards.  The tendency is to equate the person with what gives them their source of financial stability in life.  

In the arena of the social media world, people are also often defined by their ‘followers’ and this has caused many to create a certain persona that is fabricated, sometimes with the help of creative agencies who are employed to help them relate to the public, hence the term Public Relations.  

This can have devastating effects on those who are so dependent on how others perceive them to be, because those created personas are often as  fragile as porcelain where with one scandal, the Instagram-perfection image is shattered into a million shards, when before it yielded over a hundred thousand “likes” and “followers”.  One particular episode of the dystopian fictional series Black Mirror titled “Nosedive” that can be accessed on Netflix, was a rather interesting depiction of how things can go horribly south if society was to be driven in such a shallow and utilitarian way.

In my encounter with the infirm, especially those who are afflicted by an illness that is particularly debilitating, there is also a strong tendency to let their illness define who they are.  They are often heard saying that they are cancer patients or stroke patients or even cancer survivors, sometimes making it almost like a badge of honour, letting their experience of the illness define who they are.  More to it, I have encountered senior members of the community who only see themselves as “old” and define themselves by the number of candles on their birthday cake.

As well, there are also many who strongly define themselves by their sexual orientation, giving them cause to be strong activists for the LGBTQ and similar movements.  There is a strong tendency for people of such persuasions to define themselves by their sexuality.   I am sure that many have heard of the phrase “you are what you eat”, with people promoting and advocating lifestyles like being vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian.  The ways that people define themselves have really caused society to be more separated and disunited than ever before, and this has proved to be a great stumbling block for harmony, peace and stability, both at the personal level, and at the level of society at large.

There are a whole host of problems that one brings upon oneself when one defines who one is by the things one does, or even what they are afflicted by in life.  If one defines oneself mainly by one’s career or title, the world can fall apart the moment one loses one’s ability to function at that level. No human person should ever define himself or herself by one’s illness, nor should they let themselves be defined by their illness either.  This is because it demeans the human being.  Our deepest selves are far more that what we can achieve, or by our sexuality alone.  However, the shallowness of this isn’t understood by many, especially if they aren’t theists.  

The real issue at hand in this reflection is that unless we discover (or re-discover) what our real and most fundamental identity is, and appreciate it anew, we will always be living with some form of insecurity and uncertainty.  The various kinds of ways of identifying ourselves in the earlier part of this reflection are but a few these examples.  There are countless other ways that people tend to define themselves by.  All of them have their limitations.  It’s not that they are morally bad in and of their own, but if one really ponders deeply about any one of them, they truly are insufficient to give anyone a lasting and totally stable base to find a real footing in life, most especially because each of them can be threatened by one’s fellowman or woman.  

It is for this reason that in order to be a truly secure man or woman in the life that each of us has while on God’s green earth, it is imperative that we find our greatest confidence and security in the fact that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, which is what “divine filiation” really means.  Because this identification is connected to God, who is not of this world, and who is truly supernatural, this love that we have by God is also not in any way predicated and affected by anything or anyone in this life as we know it.  

This is what Jesus was ultimately alluding to when he said that we need to build on rock, and not on sand. This is also what he meant when he said that true discipleship (of Christ) is seen when we prefer God more than we prefer father, mother, son or daughter.  Even for relationships that are as tightly knit and beautiful in life, if we define ourselves just by them, these too can be taken away once the people in our lives are no longer in existence.  

It is also for this reason that the kindness that we extend to others because they are images of God’s love (made in his image and likeness) can really be acts of kindness that we show to God (like giving a cup of cold water to even little ones).  

I believe this is what the Trappist mystic and writer Thomas Merton was so graced to realize one day in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.  It was on March 18, 1958 while Merton was running some errands in downtown Louisville when suddenly, he saw every single person in his field of vision as having an inborn brilliance.  He described it this way in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine, and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God himself became incarnate.  As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realise what we all are.  And if only everybody could realise this!  But it cannot be explained.  There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

What Merton intuited through grace that day is the very same truth that Jesus was imparting to his disciples. Somehow, sin and evil have blinded us to this reality, and the spiritual journey has, as one of its most important tasks, to unveil this truth from our often biased and prejudiced eyes.  

It is when we truly understand how astounding it is that each of us have such a divine potential in the depth of our being, we will always only see ourselves as human doings, and not human beings – humans being loved unconditionally by God, our heavenly Father. 

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