February 10, 2012

Humble and Precious and Chaste

Yesterday I put on Twitter the old gag about the recipe for holy water: take regular water. Boil the hell out of it. It got retweeted a bunch of times, and immediately I felt bad because I don't know if this is an old joke in the public domain or if it belongs to someone. So if it does, I apologize.

Nevertheless, I like the joke for the theology embedded in it. It's not that something has to added to the water to make it holy; the holiness is already there (apparently) but for the hell that needs to be boiled out.

Sanctity is not something new to be found, but a deeper identity to be uncovered as distractions, sins, and false selves are cleared away. Holiness is the real identity of the creature; we have just forgotten about and become distracted from who we really are.

This is why the old advice we've been fed for so long, 'be yourself,' is so right, but at the same time often unhelpful. Of course we should be our real selves, the flourishing and happy saints free for compassion and care that God has created us to be. But this isn't something you can just do.

When I try to just 'be myself' I usually end up reinforcing a false self and any number of vain self-attributions that I have wrapped like dirty bandages around the festering injury that is the lingering effect of original sin. Being myself ends up being a very hard and ongoing work that requires letting go of all kinds of stuff that I thought was me, of struggling to be free of the tyranny of the self, of abandoning what I thought was me in favor of the creature I am in the mind of God.

This is why we're like the recipe for holy water. We are already saints, but for surrendering to having the hell burned out of us by the burning love of the Crucified, apart from which there is no way.

Via autem non est nisi per ardentissimum amorem crucifixi.

No comments: