Metanoia

1.  Metanoia is a wonderful Greek word that you find in the New Testament in literally hundreds of places.  Literally, metanoia means "to change your mind" (meta=change; noia, from nous=mind).  And that literal translation is, in my view, the best one.  Unfortunately, most biblical translations render metanoia as "repentance," which loads up a whole host of associations onto the word that reflect a very specific way in which one can change one's mind.  Repentance is a kind of metanoia, to be sure, but I think that limiting the meaning of metanoia to "repentance" neuters the word of its full meaning.

2.  If, up until very recently, you had asked me "do you think you have good social skills?" and I was answering honestly, I would have told you, "no."   Not the worst, but certainly below average.

Now, I was never actually asked that question in a direct way.  If I had been pressed on this fact, I would have suggested that people who know me have better things to do than inquire about my social status, or otherwise would have refrained from asking such a question out of politeness, so as not to highlight an area of personal weakness.  But, as it turns out, that is not at all true.  The people around me, the people who know me the best, would not have thought to ask such a question because they believe they already knew the answer, and the answer was "of course Mike has good social skills."  It is very likely that there is only one person who would have answered that question in the negative.  Me.

Here's the interesting thing about that.  If you were look at this matter objectively, there is almost no evidence to support the position I had taken with regard to myself.  I have been blessed with a very robust set of friends, both deep and wide.  People with poor social skills tend to have a hard time making friends, and I have never really had any such trouble.  I've won competitions for public speaking, which tends not to correlate with poor social skills (or, at least, with certain kinds of social skills).

If you had pressed me as to why I had poor social skills, it is likely I would have led with  "I feel uncomfortable and awkward in large gatherings of people where I know no one."  And that's 100% true--I do.  In fact, sometimes in those settings I use a little trick--I sneak off to the bathroom to get a bit of a reprieve from the crowds of strangers.

I have a close friend who I have always viewed as being far, far more socially skilled than I.  A few months ago we were having a conversation about I-can't-remember-what, and I mentioned this "sneaking into the bathroom" trick.  Without batting an eye, he slipped in "oh, yeah, I do that, too."  I was literally stupefied--I thought (a) only I did something like that, and (b) it was a sign of my basic awkwardness and social maladjustment.  I told him that, and his response was appropriately dismissive--almost everyone feels awkward and uncomfortable in large groups of strangers.  And, perhaps more importantly, his other response was something along the lines of "I have seen you in large groups of strangers, and you seem perfectly fine."

3.  People like to believe that they perceive the world as it actually is, in a detached and objective manner.  But, I have come to believe that this is only rarely true.
What actually happens is that we see the world through a series of filters.  Or, maybe a better analogy than a filter is a pane of glass.  When the glass is intact, it is easy to believe that there is no glass there at all, and that you are getting an unmediated view of the outside world, no matter how much the glass is actually focusing and distorting the light.  But, once there is a crack in the glass, you become immediately aware of the fact that you are looking through a pane of glass.

The problem here was that at some point in my development, I internalized the idea that I was not socially skilled.  Once I did that, everything I experienced became focused and distorted through that glass.  Evidence that marginally supported that thesis was inflated to critical importance; evidence that contradicted that thesis was discounted or rationalized away.  I lived life looking through that glass for a long time, and it has only been very recently (like, in the last couple of months) that I can feel the glass starting to crack.

The shattering of this glass is, in the truest sense of the term, a metanoia.  The way my mind is structured, and the way it has been structured for a long time, is literally changing, and for the better.  It is, in a very real way, a liberation for me.  More specifically, though, it is a liberation toward what is true and away from a self-destructive delusion.  All true metanoias are moves from delusion and to truth, from falsehood to honesty.

4.  In my life, the basket of self-destructive delusions has a name, and that name is depression.  People think being depressed has to do with being sad, but in my experience sadness is basically a tangential symptom of being depressed.  Depression is ultimately another pane of glass that distorts the images that are coming through.  Only, this one is tricky, because it distorts the images in a series of ways that seem different, but ultimately revolve around the same basic message--you are a worthless piece of shit.

I have spent the vast majority of my adult life believing, deep down, that the people who claim to love me are lying to me.  They are lying to me because they are trying to be nice to me, and it is socially mandated to at least pretend to love the people in your family and your life.  They must be lying to me, because I know deep down that I am a worthless piece of shit, and surely they know that, too.  All of this is nonsense, of course.  None of the wonderful, loving people in my life have provided any real indication of anything other than loving kindness.  But the terrible lens that is depression makes everything look like lies covering up the "truth" that you know for certain.

But, as bad as that is, it is not the worst part of depression.  The worst part of depression is that it implants in your mind and soul the idea that if you would just do this one thing, if you would accomplish this one goal, if you make this one change, then you might be able to get out from underneath being a worthless piece of shit.  Then, once you have obtained that brass ring, then people will actually love you the way they say that they do.  And so you run endless laps chasing that brass ring.  You never get it, of course; how could you, since it only exists in your own mind?  But the failure to catch up to the ring that doesn't exist makes all of this your fault.  You become fully and completely responsible for your own denigration, because you have failed to get the ring that will make you worthy of being loved.

No amount of chasing this dragon will ever net you the brass ring.  The only salvation from this endless destructive cycle is a metanoia.

5.  Martin Luther famously preached a Gospel of the unmerited grace of God.  It is fashionable in anti-Luther polemics, mostly by Catholics, to accuse Luther's theology of being a product of neuroticism (here's a particularly ugly and mean-spirited version of this, if you really insist on reading such things).  He couldn't hack being a Catholic and doing all of the Catholic things, so goes this account, and thus he found a self-justifying theology that excused his failures and soothed his conscience.

Here's what I hear when read Luther's writing.  I hear someone who is very, very much like me.  I hear a man who couldn't possibly believe that he was loved by God, and that status of being unloved was entirely his own fault, a result of his own failures and his own sins.  I hear a man who spent a good portion of his life as an Augustinian monk chasing a dragon that I know very well, the dragon that says that salvation might be possible around the corner if you just do this one more thing, become this little bit better.  Then, you will have earned the right to be loved.

But, more importantly, I hear a man that had a metanoia, who came to understand that the brass ring he has spent his life chasing exists only in his own mind.  I hear a man whose mind was changed to a mind that can accept the possibility that he is already loved.  I hear a man telling the world that you don't need to earn something that you already have.  I hear the voice of a man who almost certainly suffered from depression, and who found his way to the sunlit country on the other side.

I don't agree with everything that Luther said.  But those disagreements don't stop me from seeing him as a brother, and a model, and an inspiration.

6.  It has to be the case that I heard this hymn before yesterday.  I've heard a lot of hymns in my day, and this is a pretty common one.  But I can't recall ever singing it before yesterday, and if I heard it before, it didn't have nearly the impact on me it did yesterday.  No, on this day I heard this song and it hit me like a freight train.

Come thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace. 
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of God's unchanging love.

Here I find my greatest treasure;
Hither by thy help I've come.
And I hope by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God;
He to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His Precious Blood.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, oh take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.

At the kiss of peace, the woman sitting next to me told me that I have a wonderful singing voice, and that I was pitch perfect.  I told her, truthfully, that this was very kind, but I have no musical background or training, so I am sure that it wasn't really true.

On one hand, maybe I do have some secret musical talent--after all, I thought I was socially inept for a long time, so my assessment of my own skills is all out of whack.  But, I wonder if she heard in my voice how that hymn was impacting me.  Generally, when you sing the hymn that is selected, you are doing it because it is the hymn that is selected.  But yesterday, I felt like when I was singing this hymn yesterday I was saying what was on my mind and my heart.  It was almost like a testimony.  It felt different, and maybe Suzi picked up on that.

Maybe God is teaching me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.  Maybe God is taking my heart and sealing it, in a way that leaves me open to seeing the world as it really is.  Maybe the glass is really and truly starting to shatter.  Maybe I am having a metanoia.

If so, come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

On the Amice and Ghosts

How Did This Happen? Part 1

How Did This Happen, Part 2--A People Set Apart