Yesterday I used the word “mask” in reference to how our habits can sometimes shroud inner truths. In the early days of theater, masks were used to denote change in a character. Men wore masks to portray women (before women were allowed to act on stage); actors would put on different masks to give insight to the audience of some inner change that had transpired in the character being portrayed. Modern day psychologists would probably say that we wear masks all the time, when we unconsciously profess to feel or believe one thing when in actuality we feel or believe something different. C.G. Jung wasn’t the first to write about mask-wearing, but he wrote prolifically about its harmful effects on the psyche. In my mind, no one said it better than Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago, when his character Yurii stated, “Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel….Our nervous system isn’t just fiction, it’s part of our physical body, and it can’t be forever violated with impunity.”
I once heard a radio talk show guest (weight loss guru) question call-in listeners about their eating habits. Questions invariably turned to something like: “What was happening in your life the moment you decided to go to the freezer to eat that quart of ice cream?” In other words, hunger wasn’t really the driving force behind the decision to overeat.
So what does drive, or motivate, our actions? This is what ad agencies are paid big bucks to discover, while most of the rest of us don’t have a clue. An intriguing image exists in Psalm 131, of a weaned infant laying quietly at its mother’s breast. Mothers everywhere understand this picture. Before weaning, the slightest scent of milk, the lightest brush of the breast against the cheek, can send a child into a frenzy to feed, even when the belly is full. There is harmony and contentment in a weaned child who can sit still at its mother’s breast…completely unaware of what it no longer desires, living moment to moment without false pretense.
We are hardwired at birth with a deep-seated desire of the soul for God and eternity. Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Similarly, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “[God] has set eternity in the human heart….” By the time we are adults, unless we are taught about the soul and deliberately set about to nurture it, this knowledge is lost to our conscious minds. Like the man whose good arm withers from lack of use, we go about our lives as though the spiritual part of us doesn’t exist. We confuse what we need with what we want because we fail to acknowledge the truly needy part.
I would venture to add to Pasternak’s words that our souls are also entwined with our beings, and we can’t ignore them without suffering consequences. Next time – some consequences of soul neglect, and my goal participating in Lenten practices.