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Friday, February 17, 2012

The Self as more than Me

In response to the previous post regarding self-hatred, a comment was posted:

If the most shameful aspects of our lives are to have meaning then surely it's not so much serving others or carrying the message that cures self hatred but our ability to be honest about who we are and to live an authentic life no matter in what capacity? 

I responded with this:

Why do those things have to be separated? All of us have the capacity to serve in one way or another, and an authentic life means serving others. If we are honest, then we realize that we are all meant to love and serve others, and it is this discovery that fulfills the realization of self. 

Honesty about who we are is very difficult for most of us because we have been taught to think of ourselves in absolutely individualistic terms.  Our notion of humanity is either utterly philosophical or biological: we are either thinking beings (thinking is a solo activity since no one else is in our heads with us) or biologically isolated 'quantities' of human material.

'Me' becomes an absolute.  But, this is not the case.

As far as sciences are concerned, it has been psychology that has make the most advances in recognizing that isolated humans break down.  The other sciences have not, generally because of their materialistic limitations, picked up on this.

Part of humanity is the interaction of humans with the same substance, the same ousia to use the technical language of the Church.  We are meant to be with one another and to relate with one another.  In early development, this is a one-way relationship of need.  Yet, in every society up until now, the passage into the fullness of humanity, adulthood, has been the establishment of one's ability to serve.

Even marriage was seen not just as a couple serving one another, but the couple's role in serving the community.  To not serve was to not be human.

What is worse, because we have deleted this important aspect of humanity from our intellectual discussions of the topic, we have decapitated our definition of humanity.  Relations with others and the ability to serve them is a primal drive.  We are made to be more that creatures of desire and anxiety.  We are made to love, and in loving we serve.

The most profound type of service we can render to others is to rescue them.  Christ died on the Cross so that He could be resurrected and save us through the renewed humanity He received.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. [Isaiah 53:5]

If we follow Him, we are going to be wounded, but the fullness of the healing we receive is not for the 'self,' but for the whole of humanity.  We are not called merely to experience our own goodness given to us by God, but to share it.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. [John 15:13]

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. [1 John 3:16]

To be fully human, we ultimately must lay our lives down.  It is not an exotic act reserved for a few select people, but the daily calling of all those who follow after Christ and who want to experience real humanity.  If you want to know God's love, the love with which He loves you right now, it is by loving others in a self-sacrificial way.

We cannot separate service to others from the honesty of who we are, and it is only when we see the wounds of our lives not as just ours, but as belonging to all those around us, that we can also share with others our healing.

Thanks, Maussy, for your comment.  I appreciate your participation in this blog.


  1. An excellent post, one of many that I've enjoyed reading since I started following your blog. I wish I had a guide to the various anthropological models used in the scripture and in the fathers when I was first reading about Orthodoxy. This is an important topic given that many words do not have their "obvious" meaning.

    1. I'm glad this blog is helpful. The Orthodox Church has only made serious attempts in the late 40 years or so at teaching in English. Even now, there is a great deal that has not been explored.