from C.S. Lewis’ letter to Walter Hopper on November 30, 1954
The goal of deeply knowing oneself is to forget oneself.
Forgetting oneself opens the way to connectedness with the Divine. We are, generally speaking, far too focused on ourselves. Failures and sins should not be dwelt upon – they are to be confessed and forgotten lest we plunge ourselves into despair. Nor dare we ponder for any length of time on our talents, gifts, accomplishments, or imagined value. If we do, deadly pride lurks at the door.
The spiritual shadow is the consciousness of self. When the sun is vertically above us, we cast no shadows. When we come to the divine meridian, our shadow-selves cannot be found. At that point, we become almost nothing but empty vessels to be filled with cruciform love, hope, grace, faith, peace, and mercy. God fills us. The cosmos fills us. We fill creation. We fill the Divine heart.
God needs nothing, but God desires, yearns for, creatures who choose to love and be loved. We “fill” God’s heart when we worship, pray, serve, and love.
Every aspect of nature, all the phytoplankton and great blue whales, every rock and leaf, every insect and bird, elephant and aardvark, all of nature, groans for us the fill it with care, healing, love, hope, and peace.
God fills us as we pray, read scripture, contemplate, and meditate. Creation fills us each time we gaze a night sky, climb a mountain, weed a garden, explore a tide-pool. We stand at the divine meridian, bathed in the warm light of perfect love as God inundates us with mercies and graces.
God fills the natural world with sun and rain, snow and breeze. We fill the natural world when we recycle a can, clean up a beach, lower our carbon footprint, and promote environmental care and justice. We’re not doing a good job because we’re focused on ourselves, on our needs, our wants, our status.
But (and here’s the rub) we cannot simply stop focusing on ourselves. The more we try, the more locked into ourselves we become, like being told not the think of a pink elephant.
The only way to come to the place of selflessness is by thoroughly knowing oneself. Most people do not. They only know their shadow selves, the façade they present to the world. Knowing yourself takes decades of work. I could not get far without the help of spiritual directors, pastors, life coaches, and therapists.
Slowly, we peel off the layers, dissolve the shells, heal the hurts, reconcile relationships, and are reparented by the divine. We never, in this life, reach the telos, the finality, the omega point. But, somewhere along the journey, we have grown enough spiritually to both know and love our authentic selves.
It is at that point that we come to a place where we’re no longer so consistently preoccupied with ourselves. With no burdens of guilt, regret, or unresolved grief, we are in place to truly love ourselves, others, creation, and God.