Sometimes, Fr. Stephen Freeman just takes my breath away. I’ve never heard anyone who can so evocatively speak (maybe even deepen) spiritual truths I thought were ineffable. He’s a keen observer, wide reader, and deep thinker.
I highly recommend The True Self and The Story of Me. It’s a podcast of less than 13 minutes if you can resist “rewinding.” From the website:
The true self is “hid with Christ in God,” St. Paul tells us. What then is the “self” that we live with every day? Fr. Stephen looks at how we create our own identity and how we should seek our true self in Christ.
From early in the Podcast (paraphrase):
The story we tell ourselves about who we are actually begins to become our identity. But this carefully constructed and defended story is not our true self. Distinguishing between the two is one of the most essential tasks of the spiritual life.
One distinction that struck me (though Fr. Stephen didn’t juxtapose them explicitly) is that the heart, the true self, is quiet, intuitive, lives in the present and is accepting of circumstance, whereas without an enemy, the mind is unsure even of its own identity.
Another observation: part of our terror of dementia is that we lose the stories from which we construct our egos, and cannot imagine an existence without them.
But I’m beginning to be able to imagine existence without a narrative construct because for 15 years, I’ve been showing up on Sunday morning, trying to “lay aside all earthly cares” – to step out of chronos into kairos. There are no histories in kairos – if only I can stay there rather than thinking “Wow, how far I’ve come! Remember how shallow Sunday services were back pre-Orthodoxy? When will my young grandson start behaving more attentively in Liturgy? What will I have for lunch? What time is it?“
Listening would be, I think, a very good use of your chronos.
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If you’re having time wrapping your mind around the possibility of a self without a narrative, try entering into the narrative of Lonnie Sue Johnson, as told by Amy Ellis Nutt – because Lonnie Sue, who has global amnesia as a result of encephalitis, has no narrative of her own.
It’s tragic – but I don’t think you could ever convince me that Lonnie Sue has no self.
“Our identity is made up a lot of what we remember about our past and when that’s taken away, what’s left?” said Michael McCloskey, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Johns Hopkins University, who is part of a team testing the parameters of Lonni Sue’s memory. “But clearly something is. She’s not an empty shell that can talk. She has likes and dislikes and has a personality . . . There’s something of a child-like quality about her. Perhaps without a memory of horrible things, she doesn’t know how people can be so cruel.”
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Talk about anticlimax: Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.