Self-knowledge and the spiritual life – Part I of III

How are the brake lights on your car? Are they working properly? I have an experiment for you. Go out to your car all by yourself and try to verify that they are working. Back already? How did it go? Did you cheat and do the exercise in your head? That’s OK, let’s just go with it. The bottom line is this; in the normal course of life, you would never know that one of JeanEtienneLiotard07MirrorVanityyour brake lights was broken unless someone else revealed it to you.

The same is often true in the spiritual life. Because of the effect of concupiscence (our inclination to sin) we are prone to self-deception and to fall prey to the lies of the world and the enemy of our souls. These deceptions are often subtle and have worked their way into our persons in such a way as to blind us to them. Our natural adaptation to ways of living, thinking, and acting become second nature and thus they disappear from our sight because they are familiar to us. These hidden faults might come from a series of choices we have made in life or they can come from patterns of behavior common to our families of origin. They can also come from the habitual clinging to imperfections or venial sins that provide some temporal benefit to us. Regardless of their source they are moral defects or patterns of sin and spiritually destructive behaviors that we are often unable to see without the help of others. They are the broken brake lights that significantly increase the probability of a serious spiritual crash.

How can we be sure we are driving through life with all our lights functioning properly? The answer lies in a life-long commitment to spiritual practices that foster self-awareness. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena, along with many other spiritual doctors of the Church, strongly emphasize the necessity of a God-centered self-awareness in order to have a vibrant and healthy relationship with God and others. St. Teresa says this about self-knowledge and spiritual development (in the second chapter of the First Dwelling Places of the Interior Castle, also known as The Mansions):

Knowing ourselves is something so important that I wouldn’t want any relaxation ever in this regard, however high you may have climbed to the heavens… So I repeat that it is good, indeed very good, to try to enter first into the room where self-knowledge is dealt with rather than to fly off to other rooms… Rather, let’s strive to make more progress in our self-knowledge. In my opinion we shall never completely know ourselves if we don’t strive to know God. By gazing at His grandeur, we get in touch with our own lowliness; by looking at His purity, we shall see our own filth; by pondering His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble.

Regardless of the level of delusion we suffer, the challenge is that if these patterns of deception find a home deep within our makeup, it is very difficult to diagnose and then effectively deal with them. Failure to deal with them can result in serious spiritual calamity. The good news is that the beginning of freedom comes with the beginning of self knowledge. The beginning of self knowledge comes through the exploration of God’s love and provision for us. In our next post, we will explore a few ways we can uncover these challenges hiding in the dark corners of our souls that hinder the great love and peace that God has prepared for us in Christ.

Seek Him – Find Him – Follow Him

Dan

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Art for this post on self-knowledge and the spiritual life: Young Girl Singing in a Mirror, Jean-Ètienne Liotard, 18th century, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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