I think Richard Rohr is one of the best writers and teachers of Christian spirituality on the scene at this time. He sent out a meditation today which, in my opinion, is his best encapsulation of the endless schemes and machinations of ego. Spirituality is never more dangerous than when it is used to furnish the cavernous mansion of ego. Rohr writes,
CONTEMPLATION IN ACTION
We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966
The piercing truth of this statement struck me as a perfect way to communicate the endless disguises and devices of the false self. There is no more clever way for the false self to hide than behind the mask of spirituality. The human ego will always try to name, categorize, fix, control, and insure all its experiences. For the ego everything is a commodity. It lives inside of self-manufactured boundaries instead of inside the boundaries of the God-self. It lives out of its own superior image instead of mirroring the image of God. The ego is constantly searching for any solid and superior identity. A spiritual self-image gives us status, stability, and security. There is no better way to remain unconscious than to baptize and bless the forms of religion, even prayer itself, instead of surrendering to the Substance Itself. First stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality. Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors.
In the name of seeking God, the ego pads and protects itself from self-discovery, which is an almost perfect cover for its inherent narcissism. I know this because I have done it all myself.
I have been a pastor for 18 years. During most of that time I was a teacher of religion. A few years ago I decided I needed to teach Christian spirituality, which is to depart from merely teaching the mechanics and beliefs of a religious system (however good and important and valuable they may be) and move towards teaching time-tested ways of experiencing God personally. Rohr’s words above should be read and studied and contemplated until their meaning becomes perfectly clear because he is right. To slam doors is to continue to fortify the ego. Slamming doors can be understood as all the manifestations of ego — anger that we excuse as justifiable; attempts to force our opinions, ideas and perspectives on others; attempts to force others to change; verbal, emotional, and physical manipulation; endless clamoring for attention and validation from others, along with the depression and discouragement we wallow in when those attempts fail; constant cravings for recognition; comparing ourselves against others; feeling superior to and inferior to others; turning to things like food, substances, and pornography to comfort ourselves — the list is endless. All of these come out of the machinations of ego, and of all these religion is the most dangerous.
Religion is the best possible cover for ego because it hides itself in the things of God. Under the guise of religion I can try to force you to do what I want to because what I want and what God wants are synonymous. I can manipulate you into changing because the change might well be good and necessary and so I can justify any means of getting you to do it. I can whine and complain about whatever I wish and then simply claim I’m not yet spiritual enough to be able to control myself. This is especially dangerous because it looks like humility but it is simply ego finding one more way of justifying itself.
All of this is the endless scheming and machinations of ego. It is garbage. Shit, as Paul called it. Ego simply has to be faced down or it will continue to be the controlling factor behind everything we do and say. Like Rohr, I know this because I have spent most of my life — even my life in ministry — hiding behind it. Not intentionally. Ego depends on us never seeing it for what it is because as soon as we do we realize it is a shadow — a sham — a falsehood. It is only when we get a glimpse of the ego that we realize for the first time we have lived our entire lives, spiritual and otherwise, in the matrix. And as soon as we see the matrix for what it is, that is the beginning of the end of ego. That will feel like the scariest and worst thing that has ever happened to us, but it is in that moment that — perhaps without realizing it — we have been taken up into the freedom of God.