I dont usually quote US TV personalities, but Dr Phil, who has a sort of an "advice on how to live your life" programme on daytime TV, said this:
When you're not living faithfully to your authentic self, you find yourself feeling incomplete, as if there is a hole in your soul. You may have found that it's easier to fill the roles your family and friends expect of you, rather than becoming who you really want to be . Are you living a life that is more in tune with your "authentic" self (who you were created to be) or your "fictional" self (who the world has told you to be)? You probably weren't even aware that these versions of your "self" existed! 1
What I find helpful in this quote (which I got from the internet, not from watching daytime TV) was that the emphasis is not on trying to be perfect, but rather on wholeness and completeness. There has been too much preaching on our moral improprieties, which are pretty obvious to most of us, and not enough reflection on what it means to have a full, rich and whole life.
Now this may get me into trouble with some, but I believe that in fact we need our immoralities in order to have the raw material for the authentic life. I have had three funerals this week. Two of them here and Felisia Cooks service at LePines in Camberwell, and at each of those services I reiterated that sorrow and joy are mingled together in each of our lives. In fact, you cant really have one without the other. And if the goal of life is to grow into maturity and, in our Christian practice, into the likeness of Christ, then sorrow, pain, disappointment and even despair are necessary in that process. Even if they are of our own making.
The Real Thing
My understanding is that the word authentic means "the real thing". It is not a copy, it is the genuine article. So when we talk about living the authentic life it means that we the life we live is not copied from somewhere or someone. However, that is not so simple, because the forces in our world are continuously pressing us to conform to a mould of what we should or should not be.
Now let me pause for a moment and say that there is much good in the way parents, teachers, friends, ministers and many others seek to pass on the best of their experience, knowledge and culture. Wisdom calls each of us to listen to wise people. So throughout life there is an ongoing process of discernment and making judgements about what is of value and what is not of value. But, and this is the difficult part, it is a personal journey and we may each come up with different expressions of the authentic life. But most important is to wear your own face and speak with your own voice and not wear the faces of others.
I have printed the poem The Journey by May Oliver on the back of the order of service. Ill read a few lines:
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice. Though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles.
'Mend my life!' each voice cried. But you didn't stop. You knew what you had to do little by little, as you left their voices behind there was a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do --- determined to save the only life you could save.
I think that was what both attracted people to Jesus and repelled people from him. He would not be a copy, he was the real thing, and he stepped not only deeper and deeper into the world, but deeper and deeper into his own soul.
The Authentic Jesus
To return to the original idea that to be authentic is not to be perfect but rather to be whole or complete; or to repeat again that our objective is to be "the real thing", not a copy of someone else, then we can look at Jesus as an example. As Jesus travelled the countryside, particularly the area around the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum, those he met and taught imposed on him what they thought he should be like and what he should say. He came from humble beginnings, so who could possess so much wisdom? He was a teacher, therefore he should follow the traditional teachings of their faith. But he didnt:
On the Sabbath he gave a public lecture in the Nazareth synagogue. Many of those who attended were surprised and impressed by what he had to say. "Who would have guessed that a local lad would have done so well?" they said. "Where did he pick up such wisdom? And look at the miraculous things he does with just a touch of his hands!" But the next minute they were getting their noses out of joint. "Who does he think he is? Mr Big-shot! Hes just a carpenter Marys boy no better than any of us. We know his brothers James, Justin, Jude and Simon. His sisters all live here, and theyre no different from us." So they ended up resenting him.
Jesus responded to all this, saying, "Its always the way: prophets are appreciated everywhere except among the friends and relations they grew up with." There was very little he could do there. He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them, but that was about it. He couldnt get over how stubborn and sceptical they were, so he moved on and did a teaching tour through the neighbouring towns.
Mark 6: 2-13 (Nathan Nettletons paraphrase)
I suspect that the wisdom they are reflecting on is the wisdom of the heart. Its not just the stuff you get from books, but what some may call "the school of life". There are many times in the gospels where it is recorded that Jesus went off by himself; or to pray in a lonely place. I think that is where that wisdom begins to take shape and eventually takes hold of him.
The authentic self needs time to contemplate and reflect on the experiences of life and information that one is constantly absorbing. For Jesus it was never going to be a "book-style" religion. To be real, faith, hope, love and truth must take hold in your whole being. Drawing from his tradition, he encourages his followers to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength". (Deuteronomy 6:5) Simply put, with your whole being. So it was the real Jesus that his followers fell in love with. The one who was trustworthy. His words and actions were not just copied from others; they were embedded deeply within him. And that can take years of living, and reflection on that living.
I cant resist the temptation to use Margery Williams story from The Velveteen Rabbit about becoming real:
'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.'
To become authentic, real, means entering into the rough and tumble of life, but you also need, as the Skin Horse says, to be loved and I would add, to love back. That remarkable relationship Jesus had with the one he called father was what formed and shaped him to become who he was truly meant to be. Of course the same is open to us, if we have the willingness and courage to pursue the authentic life. Rather than living a copy of someone elses life or wearing a mask that covers your true self. Here are a few words from May Sartons poem that calls you, as Jesus does, to be who you are meant to be, Now I Become Myself:
Now I become myself. It's taken time, many years and places; I have been dissolved and shaken, worn other people's faces