Secret Saints


Part three in a five part series.

This Lent we’re turning over and over those classic words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-21), where Jesus warns us away from public shows of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. It must all be done, he insists, “in secret.”

Jesus really hates pompous worship. That’s the lowdown here. He is frustrated with so-called spiritual leaders who live their faith almost completely on their sleeves, who pray and fast and give alms to get notice and credit. Whereas the point of those revered spiritual practices is to open the heart to God with the deep intention of conversion and transformation. All of which happens “in secret.”

This call into “secret” is Jesus’ signature way of moving us out of the public self, into the inner self that stands naked before God. There, in this moment of divine intimacy, pretense melts away. We are who we are. No BS.

It is hard to overestimate the power of self-deception. Most of us spend so much time trying to offer a more “presentable” version of ourselves to the world, that we end up believing our own fiction. Maybe “believe” is too active a verb; it’s more like we just stop noticing what’s really happening on the inside. We’re unaware.

Spiritually alive people know the dangers of self-deception. They are highly aware. They know that, in Thomas Merton’s terms, we all have a “false self” that pretends to be this great and fabulous person, and that—buried deep within—we also have a “true self” that knows its limitations, its selfishness, its tendency toward grandiosity, while also knowing itself to be totally and irrevocably loved and affirmed by God. The moment you forget that “you” are really those two selves (Paul called his the “natural” and “spiritual” man, 1 Cor. 2:14), you’re doomed to live totally inside the false self. The key is to stay in a constant state of awareness so that you can recognize the deception you’re tempted to fall for, and choose another way.

Maybe the best advice on this account is just to quit trying to be “spiritual.” The people who look the most devout probably aren’t. Authentic spiritual life will always feel too “ordinary” to count as anything special or holy. All you do is live with your eyes open. All you do is walk with your heart open. It doesn’t look like much but you try to be more patient, a bit more kind, a little more forgiving. You know you’re a plain old sinner, but in that secret place God is naming you a son or daughter, a saint. You’re content to live with that crazy both/and.

Every day, you think about those two selves of yours.

Next Week: Prayer in Secret

Part 1 The Big Secret

Part 2 The Secret Reward

4 Responses to Secret Saints
  1. Kathy
    March 1, 2018 | 12:42 pm

    How true, David. It is my tendency to think that I’m the only one with the two selves, and that is what keeps me trying to be spiritual, trying to pump up my false self. Everyone else seems put together. I need this reminder. And how freeing it is to let that false image go! Thank you.

    • Michael
      March 2, 2018 | 12:41 pm

      It’s true, Kathy. I often think everyone else is put together. I thought I was the only one who thought that!

  2. Ginny Lovas
    March 1, 2018 | 7:56 pm

    David, I know that I fight over the inner self and the self I think I am, but in so many ways am not. At least now, I recognize my inner, secret self
    coming out to clobber me more often!

    Hope this makes sense, Ginny

  3. Michael
    March 2, 2018 | 12:40 pm

    “He prayeth best who loveth best…” That was my reading this morning after I’d seen your post. When I remember that prayer is much less about place, posture and verbiage, I’m getting to the core of it.

    Action and attitude are prayers. So, love is a prayer. But also anger and inferiority and shame and fear.

    If I choose to persist in a state of fear, it’s like getting down on my knees in church on a high holy day saying, Dear God, keep hurting me and keep hurting those around me. All this we ask in the name of your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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