I have been laboring (with some success) on a promised book regarding the nature and place of shame in the spiritual life. Central to the work is a contemplation of the face – both ours and the face of God. Human emotions are primarily expressed through our faces – we “read” one another. If I want to get to know you, I need to encounter you face-to-face. The Scriptures use the language of the face of God to describe the most intimate possible encounter with Him. In the Old Testament, there are two strands. One stresses that “no man can see God and live,” while another says that Moses and Jacob spoke to God face-to-face. I have no suggestion of how to reconcile those strands. They are both there.
More than ever, it has become clear to me that our healing (and thus our salvation on the most practical level) flows from our face-to-face encounter with Christ. This is primarily something that happens within the heart, within the deepest levels of the soul. At the same time, it has been ever more clear to me that the deepest levels of the soul are frequently clouded and distorted. As St. Paul notes, “we see as through a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). “Cleaning the mirror” is an image used by St. Gregory of Nyssa in a description of the spiritual life. It is the fruit of repentance.
Bearing all of this in mind, it seems deeply important that we be cognizant of the distortions within the soul. Most of those distortions are the product of our own sins, or the sins of others whose damage has become part of our own burden. Moving through those distortions requires patience, the willingness to “bear a little shame,” and the long wisdom of the Church.
This, above all, is the great struggle of our time. In the course of my lifetime, nothing has ever compared to the heightened sensitivites and passions of the present. Everything I see tells me that this trial is only going to become more difficult. And, make no mistake, the trial is being waged in the heart rather than in the jostling debates and policies of the world outside. The noise outside of us serves primarily as a means for distorting the heart, for clouding the mirror. The world is seeking to hide from the face of Christ.
St. Silouan once said, “My brother is my life.” I suspect that it was the case that he had learned to see the face of Christ in the face of his brothers. I suspect that it is possible to see the face of Christ even in our enemies. I can only suspect this because it makes sense theologically. My heart is far too clouded to know this by experience.
And yet, when I see the face of Christ, I see that He loves my enemies even as He loves me. Of course, it is also the case that I am my greatest enemy.
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)