“My poor human personality has finally found the ‘Other’ with whom it may speak.
In a 1969 issue of Psychology Today, a group of scholars discussed the emergence of a generation of inward-moving, self-reflecting, young men and women. Most agreed the prospects of such a generation were both promising and ominous—promising because discovery of self can be a step toward honesty and authenticity, producing a society better equipped in matters of self and community. But prospects of the inward generation were also ominous in the eyes of these sociologists because of the present mood and form of this inwardness they were observing. It was an inward move toward self that seemed “unbridled by any social norm or tradition and almost void of notions for exercise of responsibility toward others.” According to their data, the inwardness that was being embraced was leading more to a form of self-centered privatism than it was to depth and wholeness of self. Research portrayed men and women more interested in material comfort and the immediate gratification of personal interests than in new realities of a deeper self that could mold and transform society.
The pull toward inward self-examination is clearly a trend still among us. Spirituality and self-reflection are topics that continue to reach bestseller lists, while the pursuits of materialism and sensuality continue to lure us into self-absorption with the promise of self-fulfillment. It is still ominous to perceive this compulsion toward inwardness and self. Likewise, it is still promising.
The pull toward inward self-examination
is clearly a trend still among us.
The current multi-generational tendency toward self-reflection can lead to multi-generational discoveries of the hope of authenticity and the reality of the unseen. But there is a great difference between knowing our bellies and their constant pangs of appetite and knowing our selves. Within the pursuit of knowing the self, there is a choice to tread water safely or to delve into hard questions and risk drowning in order to know what it means to be human, why we pursue and believe in self-fulfillment, what it means that we long to know the point of a lifetime and the reason we live it. Speaking of this uniquely human enterprise, James Loder writes, “In its bewildered, blundering, brilliance, [the human spirit] cries out for wisdom to an ‘unknown God.’ But it is the personal Author of the universe whose Spirit alone can set the human spirit free from its proclivity to self-inflation, self-doubt, self-absorption, and self-destruction, and free for its ‘magnificent obsession’… to know the mind of God.” In other words, authentic inwardness always moves the spirit outward.
“I don’t understand myself at all,
for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.
Instead, I do the very thing I hate”
+ Romans 7:15
But it is not easy. Truly delving inward into the human self is messy, unpredictable, and unsafe. We find ourselves as Paul explained with confusion: “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). But in plunging into the question of what it means to be human, what it means to actually live, and what it accurately looks like to fall short, we find something other than condemnation, someone other than the self for whom we were looking. For the brave human spirit in such a posture, the words of Carlo Carretto ring true, “My poor human personality has finally found the ‘Other’ with whom it may speak. The ‘Other’ is God in His being, His truth, His love. The passage to faith is radical, absolute; only God is capable of stating it, carrying it through, controlling it.”
The pull of the human self inward can be the means with which the Father shows us his own image. In this journey, the words of Isaiah and the promise of God are our own: “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name” (Isaiah 45:3). Where we are driven to mine with integrity the dark caverns of self, Christ appears with light and reveals what it means to
be human. I am the way, the truth, and the life.
+ Jill Carattini