I’d like to ponder holiness, but start with a question that often confronts me.
We cannot always change our circumstances. So how are we to be free?
Philaret of Moscow might be able to help us.
He lived in the 18th century and said, ‘Our visible but unreal virtues impede us from fighting against our invisible but real sins.’
What is his point?
We all create artificial or unreal personalities for ourselves which we present to the world. These personalities are designed to protect us from our unresolved terrors; and offer an alternative identity to see us through.
The poet Ted Hughes called this our ‘secondary selves’.
It’s a mask which replaces our true selves, and a pretty shabby one – yet we end up believing it entirely, imagining this mask to be our adult selves.
We might laugh at someone who wears a physical mask and believes it to be who they are. We’d think them mad. Yet it is rare to meet someone who does not do the same with their mental perceptions.
It is how we survive…or so we imagine.
(And here lies my interest in the Enneagram, a remarkable friend in this exposing and jewel-laden journey.)
If someone is to help us – and only the sane realise they require help – we need them both to expose the mask; and to see behind it to the figure in us God sees.
There is no magic in this journey to self-realisation; just kind and compassionate dismantlement.
Leonid, an 18th century Russian starets, put it nicely: ‘If you were as simple in heart as the apostles were, you would not hide your human faults, would not appear pious and would live without hypocrisy. This way, which seems so simple and easy, is not given to or understood by many.’
Most casual conversation I hear in the street is concerned with people justifying themselves; explaining their rightness in some dispute or other. ‘So I told him straight etc etc…’
Most do this without thinking; constant self-justification, their imagined selves to the fore.
But all judgement is hypocrisy; and all self-righteousness denial…it is better to stay with our own fractures, and not worry if they are on public display. This is what it is to be free.
And in this manner, the mask begins to dissolve, becoming unnecessary; and something more beautiful and freer begins to appear.
We cannot always change our circumstances. But freedom lies within our grasp, as we ease the redundant mask slowly from our faces.
I suspect this is holiness.