Discovering the Self of Self-Denial
Self-denial is one of the most challenging parts of an authentic Christian life. Yet it’s also one of the most beautiful opportunities. Going over old writings for my memoir, I found this look at what I thought about self-denial when I first chose to believe in Christ in February of 2002. Note that I’m still enthused about the discovery of the soul but not comfortable addressing sin as sin. Some of the things that I wrote confuse what I now understand about faith matters, so corrections are made [inside of brackets.]
A little Biblical meditation for this week of Lent — a summation of what I was experiencing in Jesus’s words: “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him `unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him `unclean.’” (Matthew 15:11)
This Configuration of Flesh
In trying to experience self denial, I’m forming a clearer idea of what “self” really is. Self-denial is not just about food, but rather it concerns all the hungers of the flesh, the body and the mind. So many desires rear up inside of me during the span of one day, desires which clamor to be satisfied: pride, anger, greed, jealousy, laziness, as well as lust and gluttony. These aspects of human nature have been referred to as “The Seven Deadly Sins this,” but I don’t want to here refer to them as “sins,” rather as selfish cravings, cravings of the flesh. For it is the mind and the body which comprise the thing we call “self,” and every person’s mind and body is different, each human being is a different configuration of flesh — a configuration of flesh which houses, I maintain, an intangible something of the divine source of all life and being which we call “soul.”
On Ash Wednesday, I did not fast because it wouldn’t have been good for my health as I have a muscle wasting disease. Yes, apparently the health of the body and mind is of concern to the Roman Catholic Church, which affirms that human life is a sacred creation of God, a blessed gift which should not be taken for granted or brought to an unnatural end. So, in order to care for the health of my body, I did not ignore my stomach’s hunger and deny myself food. Instead, I figured that I should concentrate on “being good” in other ways, for surely, I reasoned, Lent is not just about food. Jesus’ self-deprivation in the desert did not only help him master his hunger pangs (which tempted him to try to turn a stone into bread [Jesus was tempted by Satan not hunger pains]) but also helped him master his pride and his greed [Jesus was without sin and did not need to gain mastery over pride or greed or any sins.] So, on Ash Wednesday, I tried to master my own selfish cravings — of which pride and greed are foremost.
When my parents were debating a particular issue, how to carry out some everyday procedure, I wanted to “put my two cents in,” but, realizing this desire was a hunger of my mind, I kept my mouth shut. Amazingly, life went on. When I wanted my parents’ assistance, needed their help to perform some everyday thing, I asked without any kind of manipulation (like whining or pouting) and made it understood that I would wait until they were ready to help me. For it occurred to me that impatience is a lot like greed, another hunger of the mind and body, a craving of the flesh. Through the course of the day, I heard one or the other of my parents get angry, at each other or at me, and I tried very hard to keep my mouth shut — for what I really wanted to do was scold them in some way, make them see that they really shouldn’t be angry and were wrong. This, of course, was a little reaction of pride, but it also made me realize something rather great: my parents, and every human being for that matter, also have hungers of the mind and body, also have cravings and desires which stem from their particular configuration of flesh. But inside…
Every human being is different, and isn’t that wonderful? All this lovely flesh configured in so many different ways, so textured and varied and beautiful. And, well, annoying sometimes when we clash. But really, we’re not that different because we have similar responses to what life gives us, similar reactions in the body and in the mind. We are truly connected by “a bond of sympathy,” as Einstein said, and, more than that, beneath the surface, beneath the flesh, we are exactly the same, no differences. We are all souls housed in particular configurations of flesh, [the body is more than housing because I am body and soul united as one person] souls which need to be recognized, nurtured, and lived out fully. The only way to identify our true, unchangeable, endless selves is to, at times, deny the “self” of mind and body with its petty and predictable cravings, and remember our souls, let our souls shine through in everything that we say and do.
Does that mean that I always have to keep my mouth shut? Why debate that hypothetical since it’s impossible, I’m human. Once in a while, self-denial is good to reveal the soul, like in Lent. And then, in the everyday, I just hope, and even pray, that the purest and sole act of my soul may guide me in all that I do — that action, that motive is Love.
© 2023 Christina Chase
Feature Photo by Tanbir Mahmud on Unsplash
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
I enjoyed this reflection very much. I just wish I could answer with my own thoughts so eloquently as you do.
Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for reflecting with me! Leaving a few words of encouragement for me means a lot — thank you!