I lose myself…
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
When we are deeply engaged, with all of our senses and thoughts involved in something, we say that we lose ourselves. How many people lose themselves in the playing of video games – and how many people think that that is sad? But, one can also lose oneself in the admiration of a great work of art, the enjoyment of a song or concert, or in the pages of a novel. We say that we lose ourselves in the excited activity of a city or in the expansive view from atop a mountain. Most sweetly of all, however, is the losing of oneself in the loving gaze of one’s beloved… which is much like losing oneself in the deep communion of prayer.
Jesus says that whoever loses his or her life for His sake will then find it. This “loss of life” is most obviously associated with martyrdom – if we are killed for our beliefs or because of charitably saving another, then our souls will go straight to Heaven and we will find the immediacy of our eternal lives. But these particular words of His, as is true for all of the words that issue forth from the mouth of Jesus, have deeper and more complex meanings, too. To lose one’s life is linked in meaning to denying oneself and to taking up one’s cross to follow Christ.
Self-denial in medieval times, and even now in some religious minds, meant the barest minimum of food, the poorest of clothing, and the scantiest shelter. It even meant self-flagellation and other forms of self mortification designed, it would seem, to make the person feel as though he or she was nothing and that the body and earthly needs were a sinful burden. The human body is, of course, not a sinful burden – for then Christ, who was without sin, would never have assumed a human body, and He would never have eaten meals or accepted shelter or even rested when fatigued. And Jesus Christ did all of these things.
One of Christ’s great disciples was a man who lived more than 1000 years after His time on earth, a man called Francis of Assisi. This man denied his wealthy inheritance and chose to live in low poverty. But, this kind of self-denial was, for Francis, not a hatred of the body and its needs, but a love for his fellow human beings. He wanted his focus to be solely on Christ – Christ who commands that we love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Francis did this while being attentive to the basic needs of his body, the needs of earthly survival, and, throughout his life, he celebrated the beautiful wonder of the earth and had great affection for the animallike aspects of his body. Why? Because he saw Christ in all of this.
His love of God was so deep that he did not consider his own individual life to be his own – rather, he saw himself as belonging utterly and completely to God. And he wanted to be like Christ, God Incarnate, in this. He believed that his very reason for being was to emulate and image Christ in the particular and unique way that God had chosen for him. So, anything that he could, through free will, have claimed for himself only – for his self-centered whims and selfish desires – he chose to give to God and to God’s beloved creatures. He chose to live his life for God’s sake. And in this ongoing act of giving himself to Divine Will, he lost himself in Divine Love, he was daily losing himself in Christ… and was truly found.
We are not all called by God to be like St. Francis. But, we are all called to be like Christ – we are all called to be saints, the holy ones of God. We were created, not to have our lives end here on earth with the deaths of our bodies, but to live eternally. And, as eternity has no beginning and no end, our eternal lives have already begun, here and now, within God’s blessed Creation, beloved creatures that we are of both flesh and spirit. So, we are called out of self-centeredness and into God-centeredness. Our true fulfillment lies, not in indulging fleeting, selfish desires, but in engaging the fullness of our lives, our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, in things eternal.
To work solely for the body and its appetites and pleasures is to live a life that has its only end in death. But, to work solely for God, through, with, and in the body, is to live a life that has its end, its aim, in eternity.
By denying the soul and feeding only the body, we are only half human, half alive. Denying the soul will result in the loss of the soul, which is the loss of eternal life – and, thus, we will be deprived of becoming fully ourselves. This is a “loss of life” that goes against Divine Will, that causes God to mourn and the one lost to moan and gnash teeth. Christ shows us the better way, the truer way, by being THE Way, Truth, and Life. We are to feed both the body and the soul, not losing ourselves in fleeting and eternally meaningless things, but, rather, losing ourselves in the giving and receiving of divine love, in, with, and through all that is good, true, and beautiful, all that is of God. In small but generous acts of loving kindness, through the simple willingness to suffer for the good of another, and with the loving and active respect for the Created world and for our fellow human beings, who are all beloved by God, we can strive to be like Christ.
Taking up my cross in order to follow Christ is not merely the taking up of a heavy burden (for a burden of love is never heavy). It is the placing of myself at the apex of human and divine, at the intersecting and marrying of my will with God’s will… It is losing myself in the outpouring of love that is the realized fullness of who I am.
The true I of myself is waiting to be discovered, waiting to be fulfilled…
© 2014 Christina Chase