The problem with the idea of "dying to self" (Y-not question the Sunday Readings)
Thank you again Tony for your detailed reflection on this passage, and I'd also like to add my thanks to Sue for further exploring what Jesus is teaching us here.
I find that I continue to be concerned, though, by this whole idea of "dying to oneself" or of "losing one's life in order to keep it". I can understand in theory what is behind the teaching, and it's also true that we receive most by giving to others. It's just that, there can be a very thin line between living a genuine Christian life of service to others, and on the other hand, being unhealthily self-sacrificing and denying your own legitimate needs. A large part of the problem is, of course, that once the Church achieved a position of power, it was all too easy for this "dying to self" ideal to be distorted so that it became a tool for keeping people "in their place", and even for reinforcing social injustices. Sadly, many of us had the sort of "Christian" education which encouraged deep feelings of inferiority and unworthiness, and which tended to confuse happiness with mindless pleasure-seeking, and self-fulfilment with self-indulgence. These early influences can be remarkably persistent, even if we no longer believe anything of the sort in our rational minds. When I think of some of the nuns who taught me, I have to say they fit perfectly into the definition of a puritannical person that I once came across: it's a person who is haunted by the fear that somewhere, somehow, someone is enjoying him(her)self!
The fact remains, though, that at the heart of our faith is this idea that life comes through death, that we have to lose our life if we want to gain it. I think the best way I have found of comprehending this is through the time-honoured image of the caterpillar's metamorphosis into a butterfly. This is of course a particularly appropriate way of teaching children about this great paradox of death and resurrection (it's funny how I often find that whatever is good for teaching children about their faith, is also what best works for me in understanding issues of faith!). Anyway, the caterpillar does not literally die of course, but its disappearance into the cocoon is a very apt analogy of Jesus' body in the tomb. And, of course, it dies to itself as a caterpillar, because it emerges into new life as literally a differnt creature: a moth or butterfly. What makes this so good as a metaphor for death/resurrection is the glory of its new life: it can now fly, instead of just creeping along the ground! Does the new life we've found in Jesus enable us to "fly"? In other words, as we strive to live a life of love and service, is this making us like a caterpillar crawling along the ground, waiting for someone to squash us? Or does it make our spirits soar, enabling us to be more than we could ever have dreamt of?
In reality, of course, for much of the time we feel very earthbound and our spirits feel that they are anything but soaring. However, if we really believe (as I do)that Jesus can transform us and lead us into the fullness of life, as we are told, then this needs to be a reality we experience in our lives, not just a nice idea!
I splash in my poetry puddle
and try to keep God amused. - James Broughton
- All, from least to greatest, shall know me! Sunday Readings Lent B5 - Ynot, 2012-03-23, 17:25
- An initial response - CathyT, 2012-03-24, 14:30
- Die before you die. All, from least to greatest, shall know me! Sunday Readings Lent B5 - Sue, 2012-03-25, 10:32
- The problem with the idea of "dying to self" - CathyT, 2012-03-26, 01:09