We cannot know God without knowing ourselves. Otherwise, God would be only the successful result of a scientific experiment that we were conducting, not what God means as the source, ground and goal of being itself.
The awkward thing is that the path of self-knowledge takes us (as we saw in the first week) through valleys of death. These are the painful dis-illusionments of our maturing. How can we get to know ourselves without sometimes being ashamed and hurt by discovering that we are not what we (or others) thought we were? The outcome of these painful unveilings of the deeper levels of ourself is always good, in the long run. But, because there is suffering involved in self-knowledge, we often resist, deny or evade it, maybe for decades. A typical example is an addict coming to recognise and humbly admitting his problem. But it may also happen to an acclaimed philanthropist who slowly realises he helps others mainly because of the good image of himself it gives him.
One reason that the process of self-knowledge is difficult is because it exposes the deep, often deeply buried conflicts within ourselves. Falling off the Lenten bandwagon (like breaking our promises or new year’s resolutions) achieves this exposure of a division within our will. If what I am is what I want, what happens if I have to admit that I want different things, simultaneously and irreconcilably? Wife and mistress. Family life and major business travel. Chocolate cake and a slim waist. God and mammon. Netflix and the evening meditation.
For the well-constructed ego (a ‘successful’ or popular person usually has built one), this discovery of the divided self can be devastating. The inner eruption, which put St Paul out of business for a few years, turned him from a persecutor into a victim who then saw a transcendent glory that transformed victimhood into the highest human dignity and humility. Even after he had started the new life and become a teacher of it, and touched mystical heights, he suffered from a visceral conflict of desire. What he wanted he did not want. What he did not want he wanted.
For him, this rude awakening shattered his self-righteous ego and helped him to see that rules and legalism will never lead to self-knowledge, the knowledge of God or to the freedom of the new life. Oddly enough, it is often in breaking a rule that – at least for the righteous or the guilt-ridden – the purpose of the rule is revealed. Perhaps that’s why St Benedict’s wisdom is built around a Rule that is so full of exceptions.
As we will sing on Holy Saturday: ‘O felix culpa’. O happy fault of Adam. Or, as Mother Julian of Norwich took the risk to say, ‘sin is behovely’. This rare word has a Scrabble value of 19 but possesses a more valuable meaning for the spiritual seeker. Necessary, advantageous. The root meaning of the word combines the sense of ‘grasping’ with ‘something profitable’.
So, if your Lent hasn’t been perfect; if you feel you have failed in your discipline or that you fail consistently in your meditation, all is not lost. Indeed through this very sense of failure all may be won.