During the fourth week of Advent we approach the true human element, the element that sets us apart from and above every other living thing, the “I”, the sense of self. To consider that man is an advanced animal is most misleading – and it leads us away from what it means to be human. It also prevents us from knowing ourselves, which is our task and purpose. Two quintessential words have echoed down the ages, “Know Thyself” gnothi seauton. Contained within these two simple words is the mystery behind the birth of Jesus and the subsequent presence within him of the mighty being of Christ.
What are we to make of these two words in this psychology-soaked world? Advice abounds, often superficial at best. Gaining insight into ourselves is not an easy task, nor is it meant to be. It is not the knowing that is important, it is the journey towards the knowing that has real value. The Greek word seauton means much more than the self we refer to when we say “I”. It speaks of our potential, which is far greater than we know. In addition, the path of know ourselves is not a lonely path, it requires interaction with others; we become each other’s mirror – being careful not to confuse the behaviour of others with our own.
Prerequisites for knowing ourselves are keen self-observation, astute awareness, and immense openness. This may seem like a big step to take, but we do it in our own time. At the heart of this work is acceptance. We are who we are for a reason. This reason is embedded in the purpose of our life. If we could stop being self-critical, wishing we could be different (often wishing we were like someone else), and start accepting our own uniqueness, we are living the “Know Thyself.” If this causes conflicts with others it is quite likely we have aroused a memory of a past life connection. While such memories remain unconscious, antagonism arises.
Antagonism is our signal to “Know Thyself”. Jesus created antagonism from the moment he was born. The family of the Matthew Jesus [link] had to go to Egypt because Herod ordered all male children aged two and under to be killed. If we take up the task to “Know Thyself” we will deal with rejection (which at its core is killing), and this is ok. It is not the killing that matters, it is the way we handle it that is important. Being okay with rejection gives us the opportunity to be open, aware and observant. A feeling of immense gratitude for the person who was the catalyst for us to overcome our feelings of self-doubt, or ‘not knowing ourselves’, follows this.
We soon begin to stop criticising human behaviour as we understand that we all have the same “Know Thyself” task. Love wells up, the new kind of love that was born in Bethlehem. With this knowledge Christmas no longer oscillates between mysticism and materialism, it is a practical moment in our lives to give birth (which is painful) to a new aspect of ourselves. Through the light of the Christ star we are assisted to “Know Thyself” a bit more and a bit better. Perhaps we should have two Christmas trees for only when the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge [link to Advent 2] become one within us will Christ be born in our inner manger we are preparing for him.
Image: Madonna of the Meadow Giovanni Bellinin
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