Monday, October 29, 2012

God is a Terrible Person (A Halloween Meditation)

Because I am a deeply spiritual man I have been praying for guidance as to what I should dress up as this Halloween. No clear answers yet. 

As I try and decide between a ghost, a man in a toga or a sheet salesman, I have another thought in my mind about how I live the rest of my life. Here’s a few brief thoughts that will hopefully serve as a kind of a meditation.
In the Hebrew Old Testament, generally speaking, people are referred to as what could be translated “life-forms”. The word in Hebrew is nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ). It’s applied to people and animals and seems to be a way of delineating life from non-life. Rocks; not nephesh. Geologists and their pets; nephesh (unless they’re pet rocks).

When a person is referred to in the Old Testament, that person is called a life. And it’s largely the same in the New Testament. The Greek word Psuche (ψυχή) loosely means “soul” or “life”  and is often translated as such. When you look at a person, you are looking at life, who does in some way resemble the very Essence and Maker of life. Not to romanticize it too much, but there is a sense Biblically that human beings are thought of matter-of-factly as having depth and substance. 

It seems as though in our modern times, and in the English language, we’ve lost much of this sense. Unfortunately, we now refer to each other as “person”. When it’s a plurality of persons the term is “people”, which comes from populace or population.

But the singular, “person”, literally means mask. 

Rather than refer to ourselves by our depths, we casually call each other pretenders, actors, facades. Not, I believe, because we have judgmental intentions. But perhaps because we’ve grown comfortable thinking of ourselves by our outward presentation, rather than what makes us truly us. In fact, one could argue, we spend the majority of our energy being a good person outwardly without much emphasis on what we really are in our depths. Our focus and much of our life is dedicated to making our mask effective at hiding our inner reality while simultaneously impressing others at all life’s costume parties.

The Biblical story of humanity is one that begins with open, vulnerable, honest nakedness and descends quickly into fig leaves, hides and hiding. What was about mutual, unobstructed access to each other became the nervous mastering of others’ perception through coverings and pretense. Anxiety and an overall terror about being known for what we are (or maybe aren’t) follows through to today. 

We were made to look like God, but Humanity put on a mask and became a scared little person.

How much of the jockeying for position and rank we see in the New Testament or this last month for you and I is really men and women trying to put on the best show in order to win the most social currency? How many of our cares are really the culturally sanctioned fretting over whether we’re producing the results that give us the best shot at admiration, love and respect?

All this has brought me to think about Trick-or-Treat night this Halloween (you know, that one time of year we put on a mask to get something from others) and a brief meditative opportunity to be found where there was only candy and sweaty plastic masks before. 
Hopefully these questions can serve as one more step in us really seeing each other; really knowing and being known by each other. And in this, a little closer to the kind of human existence we know down in our ψυχή that we were meant to live.

If you go Trick-or-Treating with (or as) kids, ask yourself:

How much of your day-to-day life is like this night?

What are your costumes? “Costumes” comes from the word “custom” and has to do with customary dress for the place we find ourselves. So this question is asking what are the customary presentations of your persona that you recognize in all areas of your life? (Some of us pride ourselves on being a social chameleon, able to appear like whoever we’re this a plus?)

Do you present God a mask and costume, in your words or deeds, because you believe that’s what God requires if we’re to be found acceptable? In other words, do you give God only the person or do you also give God all the nebulous, scary, unanchored liability that lies beneath?

What would happen if you really dropped all pretending, whether gradually or all at once? Would you choose the avoidance of this outcome at the expense of remaining an actor? Or would you be willing to embrace the terror of nakedness?

Is it okay to hate whoever it is that passes out those unchewably hard taffies in black paper? Good grief. Spend an extra buck and distribute something resembling a treat.

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