One of my favourite movies of all time is The Shawshank Redemption. In one of the early scenes Andy Dufresne arrives in Shawshank prison where he is introduced to the warden along with the other prisoners. I will never forget the speech the warden makes as he looks at his new charges for the first time.
This is Mr. Hadley. He’s captain of the guard. I’m Mr. Norton, the warden. You are convicted felons. That’s why they sent you to me. Rule Number One—no blasphemy. I’ll not have the Lord’s name taken in vain in my prison. The other rules you’ll figure as you go along…I believe in two things. Discipline, and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord. Your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.
As the movie proceeds we discover that Mr. Norton is not nearly as righteous as this speech would indicate. His faith is rigid, legalistic, arrogant, and violent. It is a clear example of what Brian McLaren calls ‘bad faith’. Mr. Norton’s faith also demonstrates how we all bring ourselves into our spirituality.
THE DEVALUED SELF
We tend to think of spirituality as focusing on God. It is common, in Christian circles at least, to speak of everything being about God and not about us. Some spiritual traditions seem to teach that our human selves are to be overcome or done away with, and that we do not matter in ourselves. We often hear the Bible quoted as saying, “Deny yourselves.” (Matthew 16:24), and we hear much about “dying to self and living for Christ” (Galatians 2:20).
So much of how these and other spiritual writings are interpreted leads to a faith that is like Mr. Norton’s. We have all noticed how some people who come to faith become unkind, cruel, hard, judgmental, and violent. You can’t easily love others when you are taught to hate yourself.
GOOD FAITH AND VALUING OURSELVES
But what if good faith requires a very different way of viewing ourselves? What if there is good in us? What if who we are is as important in our spiritual journey as who God is? I am convinced that this is the truth. Good faith and life-giving spirituality require us to value and learn to know ourselves. Even the ancient Greek Delphic maxim inscribed on the Temple of Apollo proclaimed this when it challenged visitors to “Know Thyself”.
We have spent the last few weeks exploring God Talk—the words and ideas we hold about God, and what it would look like to explore new directions in our thinking about the Divine. For the next few weeks I invite you to join me as we explore Self Talk—the words and ideas we hold about ourselves, and how learning to become more self aware and intentional in our self-work can lead us into deeper, more life-giving spirituality.
SELF WORK AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
When we fail to work on ourselves, and when we remain unaware of the forces within us that drive and shape us, it is almost inevitable that, like Mr. Norton, we will create God in our own image. But, when we look within with the same sense of wonder, curiosity, and openness as we bring to exploring Spirit, then our spirituality becomes a journey of discovery into the mysteries of God, and into the wonderful, glorious mysteries of our own human selves.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey in the next few weeks!
You can start right now by doing two things:
Commit to being more intentional and consistent in doing the work of reflection and learning about yourself in the next few weeks.
Join the conversation in the comments and share your thoughts and stories around how your experience of yourself has affected your spirituality and relationships.
Over to you!
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