"Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me. Otherwise, I will never pay a farthing for it." (Oliver Cromwell, on his portrait)
At Delphi, there was an injuction carved over the lintel at the Temple of Apollo. It read "GNOTHI SEAUTON" which translates as "Know Thyself". It is thought that Chilon of Sparta had asked the question "What is best for man?", and received this reply from the oriacle.
But what is it to "know thyself"? There are a lot of Self-Help and New Age books out there which suggest that the way to know thyself is to find "the god within", for example:
-We believe in an energy known as the Light, the Lord, God, the Tao, and many other names.
-We believe that the Light lies inside each of us.
-We believe that one must open one's heart to the Light within to attain spiritual fulfillment, true happiness, and mental wellness.
I've been reading Love Unknown, by Ruth Burrows, the The Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book 2012. She takes quite a different line, that self-knowledge is not just knowledge of "the light within us", but the darkness within in, that we must be aware of our failings, our flaws, and that is the beginnings of the road to wisdom, instead of the frantic self-obsession that we find elsewhere.
She sees this as a kind of self-deception, where we do not, in fact, "know ourselves".
We are intent on creating a beautiful self into which God will be privileged to enter! We want to feel we are good, pure and holy; we want to be lifted up out of the drab reality of our human condition.
In contrast, she wants to show how how God reveals himself to us through our personal lives, particularly our experiences of weakness and failure, because only when we know ourselves more fully - and more honestly - can we really make progress.
"St Teresa assures her Carmelite sisters that one day of humbling self-knowledge - she has in mind days of stress when, in close relationships with others, our nerves are set on edge and our tempers frayed and we see ourselves as we are, selfish, unloving creatures - one such day, she says, is of far greater value than hours spent in meditation."
"Is there one of us who has not, at some time or other, been forced to look in the glass of self-knowledge at an unflattering image? We cannot live with other people and not get our corners knocked off. The trouble is that we do not use this grace - for grace it is - as we ought. We allow ourselves to resent criticism even when justified."
"If only we really knew Jesus we would not be so concerned with putting on a good show and of how others see us. Instead of concealing our insecurities, fears, secret failings even from our selves, we would accept the reality that we are, tranquil in the certainty that our Lord looks on us with infinite compassion and mercy."
André Maurois knew the problem - Maurois was a quotable French author of the early 20th century. One quote of his that came very much to mind on a couple of occassions last week is (in...
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