The Way of Shame and the Way of Thanksgiving

0915-olsorrowThe language of “self-emptying” can have a sort of Buddhist ring. It sounds as we are referencing a move towards becoming a vessel without content – the non-self. Given our multicultural world, such a reference is understandable. It is, however, unfortunate and requires that we visit the true nature of Christian self-emptying. Our self-emptying is deeply tied to shame and the Crucified Christ. As a touchstone, I cite the primary passage (Philippians 2) that undergirds the notion of self-emptying:

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

The passage is not a random choice. It is, as St. Paul states, a description of the very nature of the mind that should be in us. It describes how we are to live and think. Considering Christ, we can see that He emptied Himself of Divine Prerogatives and humbly accepted death on the Cross. But what is the “mind” of this self-emptying? What is it that we are emptying when we empty the self? And how is it an “emptying?”

There is nothing precise that we can identify as the “self” in such a manner that we “empty it.” We could identify desires, thoughts, plans, wealth, energy, and the like as things that we might choose to deny or give up. And this has been a well-worn path in asceticism and monastic life through the centuries. But it still concentrates our efforts on an absence, leaving us with nothing within. Such an absence is ultimately a misunderstanding of self-emptying.

Like many things in the Christian life, “emptying” is a paradoxical phrase. We do not and cannot “empty” the self without reference to another. Christ’s own offering on the Cross was not an act of isolated renunciation. It was profoundly an act of love in which He emptied Himself but also filled Himself in union with our brokenness. A key to understanding Christ’s self-emptying is found in Hebrews. In many ways the passage is a parallel to the Philippians passage.

[Christ], for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2)

Our own self-emptying has the same characteristic. Christ, who is our joy, is found in the union of the Cross, as we ourselves “despise the shame,” and sit with Him in His throne at the right hand of God. This “despising the shame” is the equivalent of “bearing shame,” in which we acknowledge the brokenness of our own selves, without turning away, uniting ourselves with the Crucified Christ.

Shame is the “unbearable” emotion. It is the deep pain we feel in association with “who we are.” It is an extreme vulnerability and nakedness. Our deepest instinct in the face of shame is to hide. That is precisely what Adam and Eve do after their sin in the Garden:

So the man said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Gen 3:10)

God Himself does not shame the man and woman. Indeed, in the conversation with Adam, God directs Adam’s attention to what he has done (guilt): “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat?” Adam’s attention is on his shame (nakedness). And his shame is a distraction.

God’s direct attention is to the action and the need to understand and deal with its consequences. But even when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, God covers their nakedness, providing them “tunics of skin.” God covers their shame.

This theme of “covering” continues throughout the stories of Scripture. Even our daily clothing is associated with shame. Shame is always about identity and character (“who I am”). We use clothing to hide vulnerable aspects of our lives, or to signal belonging, or competency, or beauty, all of the many things that hide who we are, the nakedness of our shame.

However, the Cross is a return to primordial nakedness. Christ is “naked and unashamed.” There is a shame associated with the Cross: the shame of humanity’s brokenness and sin. And it is this shame that Christ accepts in the self-empyting of the Cross, described by Hebrews as “despising the shame.” The word translated “despise” (καταφρονήσας) simply means to “have little consideration for.”

Stated positively, Christ “bears our shame.” Isaiah has this prophetic description:

I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. (Isa 50:6)

Our own self-emptying has a similar action. We “bear a little shame,” in the words of the Elder Sophrony. This is reflected in the language of beholding Christ “face to face.” For it is primarily in the face that we experience shame. When shamed, our instinctive reaction is to lower our eyes or hide our face. We can only see Christ face to face when we unite ourselves to him and “bear a little shame.”

In Revelation, the fear of shame is experienced as a judgment:

And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:15-17)

So this “bearing a little shame” is one form of our self-emptying. Another takes a very positive, though equally difficult path. It is the giving of thanks – always and for all things. Its similarity to bearing a little shame comes particularly in the “always and for all things.” Everyone can give thanks for the things they enjoy and that give them pleasure. Even unbelievers are thankful in such situations despite their inability to figure out whom they should thank. But it is the “always and for all things” that brings us face to face with Christ, particularly at those points where we would rather turn our faces away.

Although it is not readily apparent, we experience disappointments and hardships first as shame. It is only after the experience of shame that these experiences become occasions of anger and depression. We find the shame too hard to bear and so it is very quickly translated into anger or depression. We experience these things as shame because we feel in ourselves that disappointments and hardships declare our unworthiness, incompetence, inadequacy, etc. The same is true of the sins in our lives. It is not our guilt that is hard to bear – it is our shame – how our sins make us feel about ourselves.

St. Paul emphasizes that we are saved in our weakness rather than our strength. Our strength offers us no shame (quite the opposite), and, as such, offers us no solidarity with the self-emptying of Christ. We are not only saved from our sins, we are saved only through our sins, as we thankfully behold Christ face to face.

The giving of thanks, always and for all things, brings us face to face with Christ. To give thanks in the middle of our shame, is a primary means of “bearing” our shame. It embraces the fullness of Christ’s offering on our behalf, and unites us with that same offering. It is in the giving of thanks always and for all things that we find self-emptying as fullness. It is there that the Cross of shame becomes the “joy set before us.”

It is essential that we understand that the bearing of shame must be voluntary and never coerced. Shame that is placed on us by others is generally toxic in nature. God never shames us. This is frequently misunderstood. Many experience Christianity as a deeply shaming way of life. This is a fundamental distortion and a spiritual poison.

A very good example can be found in the liturgical prayers offered in preparation for communion. This prayer of St. John Chrysostom is typical:

Lord and Master, I am not worthy or sufficiently pleasing for You enter under the roof of the house of my soul. Since You, the Lover of mankind, wish to dwell in me, I boldly approach. Command me, and I shall open the doors, which You yourself have made. In your constant love for mankind You may enter in and enlighten my darkened mind. I believe You will do this, for You did not send away the harlot who came to you in tears or the publican who repented. You did not refuse the thief who acknowledged Your kingdom, or the penitent persecutor, Paul, to continue in his ways. Rather, You numbered among Your friends all those who came to You in penitence, for You alone are blessed always, now and ever and to ages of ages. Amen.

Many (if not most) people misunderstand such prayers. What they hear is God saying, “You are not worthy or sufficiently pleasing for me to enter under the roof of your house…” But this is utterly false. His words are very much in opposition to this. The origin of this prayer is found in Christ’s encounter with a Centurion whose servant was sick. Christ made as to go to the Centurion’s home, but was told by the Centurion, “I am not worthy for you to enter under the roof of my house, but say the word only and my servant will be healed.” The Centurion bore a little shame. Christ recognizes in this the Centurion’s union with His own suffering and sees the Centurion as a friend. He announces, “I have not seen such faith in all of Israel!”

The language of prayer, often expressed in similar terms of self-emptying, is not the language of toxic shame. It is, or should be, the language of voluntary union with the shame-bearing self-emptying of Christ. It is, at its very heart, the balm that heals us from the wounds of our shame. We bear our nakedness – and Christ clothes us in His righteousness.

Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex makes this observation:

It was through the Cross of shame that He saved us; so, when we bear a little shame for His sake, in order to repent and come to confession, He considers it as a thanksgiving to Him, and in return He gives us the comfort of the “Comforter”. (The Enlargement of the Heart, Kindle 1712).

Like the Cross of Christ, this is a voluntary offering and cannot be otherwise.

Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father. (Joh 10:17-18)

The whole of this action, our grateful thanksgiving, always and for all things, in which we bear a little shame, unites us with the self-emptying life of Christ and becomes the gate of paradise and salvation. This is the very heart of repentance, and the secret of its joy. Chrysostom’s prayer, quoted earlier, reminds us of this joy:

You numbered among Your friends all those who came to You in penitence.

Friends of God in transfiguring joy, unashamed and unafraid, we behold Him face to face.

 

 

 

64 comments:

  1. Glory to God, Father, that He accepts us in our brokenness and heals us. Thank you for the many reminders to us to bear our shame.

  2. And this is perhaps the reason why the most frequent occasion for most believers’ encounter with abundant grace is following an utterly trusting, shame-revealing confession…

  3. What if you feel crushed by a burden of shame that feels beyond what you can bear and all that remains is a crater of anger, sadness and doubt?

  4. I only know of the Orthodox Church’s answer, which is readily available, simple and perfectly effective, sublimely transformative: Find a priest you can trust fully and tell him everything in the Holy Sacrament of confession.

  5. Granted Barbara, there are indeed caveats in that view you bring to the discussion, but the simplicity rather than the ‘magical’ of it is to be found right there (in Confession).
    It still stands -I think- that, to that same measure that I go as if going to Christ, going for Christ (like Zacheus), wanting to reveal to Him my shame in trust in His Love, to the same measure Grace’s balm comes through the Priest to transform my “anger, sadness and doubt” into peace, joy and assurance.

  6. Joe,
    There are various forms of shame, some of them quite “toxic” to use the language of psychology. Ultimately the way past the anger, sadness and doubt is through the shame itself. It takes a very good therapist, or a good confessor, somewhere that feels entirely safe and unjudging. Vulnerability is, in general, what is happening when we “bear” a little shame. You might it helpful just to read a little about shame. Brene Brown has some useful, easy books on the topic. They can’t take you where confession ultimately will, but such reading can help lighten the load a little and make it possible to take it to someone.

    It is certain that we cannot fix shame ourselves – it always requires another human being.

  7. Especially in reading the interaction in Dino’s and Barbara’s comments, it occurs to me that it takes as much grace in God-given courage and faith to make a good Confession in the first place as one stands to gain in peace and comfort in the aftermath from making it.

    I’m often under the delusion that though I am hard on myself (tendencies to perfectionism in areas), I’m able to be relatively patient and more gracious with others. This is patently untrue, and I find this out the moment someone becomes defensive or “unreasonable” with me. (I notice how easy it is to be kind to someone who is being genuinely vulnerable–to someone who is humble, in other words!) A therapist once told me it is impossible to be any more gracious toward others than we are with ourselves. If we are driven by shame (and a good confession means our shame no longer controls us) to try to hide our sinfulness, we will also be critical of others and hard on them (at least in our thoughts), and they will ultimately get the message even if we don’t always show it up front. As a parent especially, this is another motivator for me to seek God’s healing in this area. I appreciate the word about the giving of thanks in order to heal because, though even this is difficult, it is easier (as you have noted) to take an approach of seeking to do what is good (give thanks for all things) than that of seeking to avoid what is bad (which is how I often misinterpret the call to “empty” myself). In a similar way, it was helpful for me to be reminded by my Bishop once that repentance doesn’t mean looking back in sorrow and regret on our failings and sins, but rather looking forward in hope and faith into the face of Christ.

  8. Father, I’m glad you mentioned the pre-communion prayers. They are some of my very favorite prayers. And I think they are a wonderful tonic for those who claim that Orthodoxy is fundamentally about being more moral. That cannot stand while we pray that “I know that I am guilty, and that I eat and drink condemnation to myself” and “I stand before the gates of thy Temple, and yet I refrain not from my evil thoughts.”

    You mentioned that “[m]any experience Christianity as a deeply shaming way of life.” I wonder if the cliche “Catholic guilt” might be better put as “Catholic shame”? This seems to be the driving force behind many leaving Roman Catholicism. Shame was drilled into them at a young age, but they were not taught to bear it.

    It reminds me of the interview with Stephen Colbert from earlier this year. He says that an improv coach told him the key to success was: “You’ve gotta learn to love the bomb.”

    “It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.”

    He goes on to quite powerfully connect this to the untimely death of his father and brothers:

    “It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

    He is a Catholic who learned to bear his shame and so he remains one today.

  9. Karen,
    I think the key point in this relationship of trust is that holiness comes from another… it is traditioned, therefore our relationship with the Church, our priest, our Spiritual Father, this being (and ‘feeling’ even) “in Christ” sacramentally, is what gives holiness to us. So, obviously, confession is very clearly an act in which we can intensify this ‘laying down everything’ at the feet of the ‘Apostles’ (Acts 4:35)… and become grafted even more intensely on the Body of Christ – the Church- It is were we can face God naked and unashamed in revealing our shame to Christ.

  10. Dino,
    This beautiful quality of the mysteries of the Church is so evident to me. As a former “low church” Protestant, I long for my non-Orthodox brethren to experience this, too. I generally make much more thorough confessions of my sins privately, since I am always more relaxed and collected alone. My most recent formal Confesson was the probably the least thorough and most scattered, flustered and incomplete I have ever made, since I took my Priest’s advice and came when I had the opportunity, not when I had my carefully prepared and printed list in hand! Nevertheless, the effect was multiple times more powerful than any private confession I have ever made or even a confession made to a friend or group of friends.

  11. I think people fail to grasp the sacramental character of confession many times. There can be a powerful psychological aspect, and as a deeply psychologized culture, it is easy to see it in that perspective. But it is a sacrament, and has a character that is very like the Eucharist and all of the other sacraments – which means that there is a very deep and primary component that is unseen and not revealed immediately.

    The work of grace through any of the sacraments is frequently not discernible, certainly at first, but is essential in our lives. God is doing a “secret work” and a “hidden work.” One of the reasons I rail against things like “making progress,” is simply that we generally do not actually know what God is doing in us. Some of the worst times in my life turned out to be the most important times, and I don’t doubt that this will be clear on the Last Day.

    We need the sacrament of confession because it is a means of grace. And grace is deeply effective and essential to our whole life. And it’s free!

  12. Thank you Father Stephen for this reminder that Confession is sacramental and that the Grace we receive doesn’t have to be immediately evident (and it does not necessarily result in a feeling of “relief”, either immediately, or ever….). I relate very well to Karen’s experiences of feeling “scattered, incomplete and disorganized”, it seems like all confessions are like that, whether I prepare for them or not…. Things come out not as I intended, it’s hard to remember that I am confessing to God and not the priest (God knows everything, but I feel a need to explain myself to the confessor, just admitting things doesn’t seem enough) and I certainly don’t walk away any “lighter”….

    It’s a blessing be reminded that God is working in us even during the worst confession, and that we are doing our part just making an effort…. Or is it presumptuous to think like that, is something more than our genuine effort needed…?

    But I love the fact that it is free and always available !! 🙂

  13. This hallowed sacrament of our Church – Confession – indeed, has the authority to raise up the fallen; to return the prodigal directly into the loving embrace of the Father of Lights. In a flash, the boundless Grace of the perfect is bestowed unto the formerly wicked through her mystical power. She adjoins the estranged to the Source of all Life again, and repairs and illuminates and liberates the shattered and darkened and enslaved.

  14. I cannot help marvelling that, of all sacraments, Confession is the only one in which we see such a convincing interaction of two human freedoms in synergy with God’s, (Who’s grace is “impatient” to come to them both), as their combined “guarantee” (the penitent’s/confessing one’s and priest’s/confessor’s) spawns God in both of them.

  15. Dino,

    Your beautiful comment regarding the “freedom” of our confession painfully reminds me of on dilemma from the parenting realm: should I “force” my children to go to confession (teenage boys) or allow them the freedom to choose to completely ignore it? Which is the right parental [loving, yet somewhat responsible] action?

    Father Stephen,
    What do you recommend to parents of rebellious (or simply lazy) teenagers?

    Thank you.

  16. We can’t force any sacrament can we…?
    We can’t enforce freedom.
    God has His ways though. Our noble respect of our children’s otherness, our magnanimous trust in their freedom (because of our underlying trust in ‘God’s unfathomable ways for them and for all) makes our prayer for them truly strong.
    It also turns parents into saints.

  17. Fr. Stephen,

    Long time listener, first time caller. Thank you so much for your continued guidance and exhortation. I eagerly await each post, sometimes taking them to my priest for further discussion. Many a confession has been directed by your insights.

    You mentioned Elder Sophrony and Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex in your post. Are there any specific books by them you would recommend reading to further understand the Way of Shame and the Way of Thanksgiving?

    Thank you.

  18. Father Stephen had this to say on child-rearing in another thread. I think it is quite valid here as well. (Please forgive me if I should not have re-posted it, Father. Delete as necessary).

    It’s an art (child-rearing). First, we are never able to fix them. They will grow up and do what they want regardless of what we do. To a large extent, they will most likely grow up to be like us. That is both promise and threat. If you want your children to “turn out well,” then be an example of what “well” looks like.

    More than anything (and this is very, very hard), be concerned to pray for their salvation. What is so hard about it is that we really don’t know what they need for their salvation. When my son was young, he was diagnosed with ADD. I was sad that day, and was musing in myself about my disappointments, etc. It’s funny, because at that time I did not know that I was ADD myself. But as I was sort of being sad and such, I had a very profound rebuke from Christ. He said (almost audibly), “This is for his salvation!”

    I realized that I actually had no idea what my son needed for his salvation and that it wasn’t given to me to know such a mystery. What I can know is the good God who loves mankind. I can say now that my son is nearing 30, that I clearly see how God has used this in his life. He’s a wonderful young man and a great believer. I think that had I been allowed to “fix” him, he would be an absolute mess.

    So, we love our children, and try not to be guided by our fears, but by our love for God. Don’t try to do what has not been given to you by God to do. Above all things, pray for their salvation. And always pray that God will save our children from us!

  19. I read an article about ISIS terrorists forcing a christian man to watch as his 5 yr old son was cut in half. Obviously God is not the source or cause of such a horrific act. God does not cut children in half. Satan, however, had his filthy hands in this terrible act of pure evil. Cutting a child in half belongs to the devil, and I will not thank him for it (in fact, I will not thank the devil for anything). However, God did allow this to happen. He did not step in and stop it. Instead, He allowed this 5 yr old, whom He created and gave life too, and loves with a perfect and eternal love, to become One with Christ. Through an intimate and indivisible union to Christ and His sufferings, the child, too, became an unblemished and holy victim. The child has died with Christ, and is raised with Christ, and now the child shines forth the Glorious Radiance of Christ. And if these men from ISIS, whose hearts now reside in a dark, dark pit, someday find the Light of Salvation (and I hope they do), it will be tears of repentant joy, weeping at the feet of this radiant child, and his beloved Lord, Jesus Christ. And for this I can give thanks.

    The devil would have us curse God for not stepping in a stopping such a horrific act upon our child, so that we would fall into a thankless existence. Because if we curse our Creator, who has given us everything pertaining to our existence, than we cannot give thanks for our life, or anything that exist. That’s what despair is; to live a life void of thankfulness, coupled with a crushing feeling of utter hopelessness under life’s circumstances, endlessly tormented by our own existence.

    But the joke is on the devil, for because of the Sufferings of Christ, this little boy has inherited in his sufferings the infinite Glory of the Resurrected Life of God. And the joke is on the devil because the men of ISIS who committed this evil act have the potential to grasp this Glorious Life themselves by “bearing a little shame,” and weeping in joy at the feet of the little boys Ever-Loving, Ever-Forgiving, Glorious Lord and Master. This evil act of death has itself died in the light of Christ’s Life-Giving Death. God is Glorious, and for this we can give thanks.

    If we sit down and really ponder intently at the darkness that must engulf a person in order for them to be able to gleefully cut a small child in half then despair becomes palpable and we can understand its hopelessness. And when we imagine ourselves in the position of the father who watched his son’s body split in two before his eyes we can taste that deep dark pit and its endlessness. But God is Glorious, and Good, and Beautiful, and He comes down in a thick cloud of Light, and covers this act and all involved. He lays overtop them like a heavy blanket, warming their cold bodies. The men who did harm can do the impossible, they can find hope while in a hopeless state. And the father can do the impossible, though he find himself in a bottomless abyss, he can stand on firm ground in joy and peace. They all can turn their eyes from the despair of hell and behold the Beauty and Goodness of God that all of creation has been submersed in. They can behold the ocean of Beauty and Light that surrounds and penetrates this little boy. It is a paradox that hell is indeed a hopeless, endless pit, that has in fact reached its end, being revealed to be nothing in the Light of the Presence of God.

  20. Agata,

    Confession is nothing that can be forced. Confession lies in the path of humility. If you can live your life humbly and candidly in front of them, and help them to face life honestly themselves, you will have trained them in the way they should go. Nothing else is within our power – besides praying for them of course.

  21. Michelle,
    The case of the child is a form of the most egregious tragedies of our sinful world. It is, however, precisely the same evil that crucified Christ.

    6Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.1 Cor. 2:6-8

    Christ, in His great mercy, has united Himself with such little ones (and with us all). It is thus also Christ’s blood that was shed by these men, on behalf of us all, even for his murderers. We give thanks to God because He redeems in a mystery the evil of this world. It does not ever make the evil character of the action disappear, but it makes it finally of no effect, other than to defeat evil itself. For all of which we give thanks.

  22. Thank you Byron. And thank you Michelle for this story and your beautiful comments about it. If we stay close to Christ (really, authentically, as best we know how to in our life), indeed every difficulty and tragedy can be utterly transformed, and transport us from this human life into paradise where we are in the Light of the Presence of God.

    Thank you Drewster, prayer indeed is the only work that is required of us when it comes to our children, especially past the age of 8, I suppose…
    I love these words from Fr. Stephen:

    “So, we love our children, and try not to be guided by our fears, but by our love for God. ”

    One confessor (whom I visited in a parish away from home) told me to always remember that God put my children in this time and place because this is “the best place for their salvation”. The same is of course true for all of us…

    May God grant us strength, patience and faith to become the saints for our children’s lives (as Dino suggests is possible). At least the praying and interceding saints….

  23. Agata,
    It is rather St Porphyrios who strongly suggests this, I think he knew what he was talking about… Elder Aimilianos is also very analytic on all this.
    Many others have affirmed something analogous that’s interesting, and with a broader range of (unwitting) ‘sway’ than just immediate family: namely that our perpetual confidence in God’s ability to bring good out of evil, our deep lack of all worry because of this, our joy due to this, and particularly our joyful and trustful asceticism>/b> , rarely leave others cold…

    Of course these words might be seen as usually “addressed towards monastics”, whose very way of life itself might, perhaps ‘trouble’ with persistent thoughts of repentance those who haven’t utterly stifled their conscience. However, we can all have a part of it (this unwitting ‘sway’) according to our measure. Its efficacy is not just because of our modelling a good example but, due to the profound mystery of our interconnected ontology too.

    Yes, a child might never actually witness/see a Mother’s prostrations on an empty stomach in the middle of the night for the salvation of herself and the child and all others, but according to the measure of such zealously ascetic, patiently-trusting, ‘utterances’ towards God, an ‘aura’ of it all encircles her all day long, and it can avert the standard ‘meddlesome interference’ that’s so counterproductive. So this hidden ascesis is therefore ‘witnessed’ in a certain way. The Mother also knows what to do now that does not entail a force upon another, but upon herself, and is grateful for the honour to be able to stand in the face of God (for her sake, for the sake of others and for the sake of God’s joy) and be transformed according to her faith for the rest of the hours of the day.

  24. Father,

    It is hard for me to understand this paragraph:
    It is essential that we understand that the bearing of shame must be voluntary and never coerced. Shame that is placed on us by others is generally toxic in nature. God never shames us. This is frequently misunderstood. Many experience Christianity as a deeply shaming way of life. This is a fundamental distortion and a spiritual poison.

    Can you enlarge a bit the view with some extra clarifications? What do you mean by the distorted view of Christianity as a shaming way of life.

    Thanks

  25. Fr. Stephen,

    I really appreciate your words on self-emptying. It’s quite true that we just think of being empty, nothing – which would tend to lead us to being a lifeless hulk void of motivation, opinion and thought.

    The thoughts you share concerning nakedness and shame, and especially of being able to – in the middle of the shame – raise our eyes to meet those of Christ. These ideas and that image are revelational. They ring so true down deep inside and yet I can barely grasp them yet.

    It brings up images of situations where someone is deeply ashamed, and at that moment another person – a friend or authority figure – sits beside them, lifts their chin to look into their eyes, and then just spends time with them letting them know they are not alone and that they are loved.

    This is SO hard and yet SO powerful. I think of when Rome was hit by the plague and it was only the Christians who were willing to tend to (and die with) the sick. It is a weapon so strong and complete – that isn’t actually a weapon at all. If we are willing to bear a little shame, for ourselves but also with each other….. This is quietly but solidly mind-blowing. Thank you.

  26. How true Panayiota, kenosis can seem most terrifying indeed, even though it’s not so (and I think we must keep telling ourselves this while our ego claims the opposite.)
    We’re deeply frightened of hardship and suffering, enslaved to desires and habits, trapped in wrong judgements and opinions. In a word, we’ve fashioned a world for our self, which is stock and barrel ego-centred (and this makes us apprehensive of even just hearing about ‘kenosis’). It’s the deepest cause of our inability to pray without interfering thoughts or with the unrelenting fervency of the saints. May God grant us this Spirit of Love and kenosis as we make every effort to further and purify our repentance. Without this Spirit we are not yet living according to our existential ‘path’ (according to our ‘logos’). This ‘Repentance thing’ is merely a growing, unquenchable gratitude for God’s inexhaustible greatness, for His love-with-no-preconditions. And this can prepare us for even deeper kenosis which is such a single-mindedness for God alone, such an exclusive marriage to Him, that it naturally bestows on us total fearlessness of hardship and suffering, complete liberation from other desires and habits, freedom from wrong judgements and opinions. We then live in God. “crucified with Christ… we live; yet not ourselves, but Christ lives in us, the life which we then live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us.”

  27. John,
    These are very good questions.

    An easy example of Christianity as a shaming way of life would be the fairly constant message that you are a bad person, that you are totally depraved, that you are worthless, etc. When someone else tells me these things, they are experienced as shame. It’s like saying to someone, “The world would be better off without you.” Shame is how we feel about who we are (not just what we’ve done).

    However, even without someone else shaming us, we experience shame. And there are many, many causes of the experience of shame, many that would even surprise you. All of them are an experience of the inadequacy of who we are. We are unworthy, we are bad, we are the kind of person that others don’t like, etc. And these things may even be true (though not always). But, surprisingly, experiences that overwhelm us are experienced as shame. When someone contradicts us or a child refuses to obey us, we experience it as shame. Frankly, almost everything that “makes us mad” begins with an experience of shame, though seldom recognized as such.

    It is toxic, when offered by someone else. It is a wound in our very being. Too much of such shaming and our lives become extremely dysfunctional.

    But the shame doesn’t just disappear because we want it to. Someone else has to remove it (strangely). With Christ, we voluntarily “bear a little shame,” by acknowledging our shame in His presence and not excusing it or trying to run away. We simply pray, “Lord, comfort me!”

    That acknowledgement of shame in His presence (He has already taken all of our shame upon Himself, both that which might be deserved and that which is not deserved…all of it). Christ sees in us His friend, someone who is willing to bear our shame together with Him. And He gives us His Spirit, His grace, and heals us. This is a slow thing, not all at once. But it is the key to a good confession. It is a key to good prayer.

    The prayers of the saints, such as we read in the pre-communion service, are filled with the language of “bearing shame.” We say, “I am not worthy…etc.” but God never(!) says, “You are not worthy.” It’s our voluntary act.

    One of my favorite pre-communion prayers is by Thomas Cranmer, the Anglican. I still use it privately before I take communion:

    We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

    It is perfectly Orthodox. Interestingly, when I was an Anglican seminarian, back in the mid 70’s, and the so-called “liturgical renewal” was in full swing, this prayer was ridiculed by faculty and students alike as the “Prayer of Humble Groveling.” They refused to bear any shame. And today, they have gone on to do truly shameful things, far beyond anything we imagined at the time.

    The Christian way is not a way of shaming. God has no need to shame us. However, we are invited to unite ourselves with Christ in His Cross. To do that, we have to voluntarily bear our shame (or we won’t be able to bear seeing Him face to face). But, like the woman who was caught in the act of adultery (John 8), we are able to see Christ face to face. He does not turn away at our shame or refuse to look at us. Instead, He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

  28. Thank you Dino. I mistakenly think my ego is in some way protecting me. I think, how would I ever be able to bear God’s truth? It also begs the question for me of how do I cooperate with the Spirit for our lives “in Christ” to be realized? I think of St Paul who said that he himself wishes to do one thing, but does another.

  29. Drewster, your comments about responding to the shame of another challenge me. I become aware of how much shame I bear when I see someone else struggle. I believe Father Stephen or someone else touched on this some time ago, but it remains astonishing to me how strongly I desire to avert my gaze when someone else errs. Notes are forgotten at a piano recital, a tray is dropped in the cafeteria, someone greets another with the wrong name. Instantly I want to be somewhere else. It was not my mistake; it may not even be that the erring person feels shame (though my pain intensifies when they do.) Yet there is something quietly but deeply distressing about being a witness to someone else’s failure. And then to think of sitting with them and looking them in the eye as you describe? Who can do this? No wonder we are so prone to judging others when they fail–it seems the only way to unburden myself is to emphasize the distance between them (the failure) and me.

    Thanks be to God for showing us a more excellent way–the way of love–and for entering into our shame with us through Christ our Lord!

  30. Panayiota,
    I think we cooperate with the Spirit to the degree that we trust Him and distrust ourselves. We do the “good thing and not the bad thing” (as St Paul describes this schizophrenia in Romans 7) to the measure that we secure the wisdom that reveals to us our wretchedness, and God’s greatness. This makes us hate our ‘self-preoccupied self’ that desires to do “the bad thing” (seeing he is our true foe, not our friend) and start wanting to love and please the only One Who loves us.
    We stop paying heed to our mind’s petitions, for example, for fixing this or that or the world, becoming more and more fixated –at last– on gratefully and humbly standing in the presence of the only One that truly exists.

  31. I used to attend a large reformed-leaning evangelical church, where the common practice was to “publicly shame” church members caught in egregious sin (I’m not making this up). Such folks were required to give a statement of confession to the congregation before being restored to community. I still feel I bear the marks of this practice, as well as others. A pastor once told me I was a pile of dung if it weren’t for the love of Christ; and this being an encounter where I went to him for spiritual advice and direction. I agree, there is a culture of toxic shame in many American churches.

  32. Toxic shame in cultural christianity and toxic “freedom” in cultural secularism. Rough waters to navigate.

  33. Byron,

    This is why the Church is our “ship of salvation”. It carries us in these rough waters, shelters and protects us, and gives us clear instructions for life (when and how to pray, when to fast, when to feast, how to forgive and ask for forgiveness, how to love…) If we would only sign up wholeheartedly for the cruise…. 🙂

  34. I read, and reread, and read again here at least once a day. What a powerful thing a well-managed blog is: to be able to hear thoughts from so many hearts, thoughts moderated by a wise guide and true spiritual father, his thoughts and those others inspired by the Spirit–a wondrous, mysterious benefit made possible through good use of technology. Glory be to God. And daily thanksgivings.

    (I am still thinking about Panayiota’s & Dino’s exchanges; their words hit home, as did Fr. Stephen’s story about Cranmer’s prayer, as did Tim’s “who can do this” honest reflection, as did. . . I can’t begin to explain how helpful you all are. But I wanted to try. Keep talking, please.)

  35. Fr. Peter,
    The connection is psychological rather than theological. It is an observation common in pyschological studies. Apparently, human beings find shame to be the one “unbearable” emotion. We can’t stand it. And what we do with it is to almost immediately turn it into something else. Anger is the most common male response, while women more commonly turn it into depression.

    The mechanism is pretty straight-forward. Shame is an experience of extreme vulnerability, as if someone just stripped you of your clothes in public. The first flush of shame is always felt in the face, with an instinct to avert the eyes or hide the face. Most often we look down.

    But, in a flash, we transpose the feeling into a protective reaction. Anger is how we are wired for protection. It is an outburst (generally short). With depression, the shame is believed on some level. Accepting it in a toxic form becomes depression. Women are often socialized not to react with anger. Studies show that mothers often discipline with shaming language, looking to provoke a sad repentance. Boys tend to react with anger, while girls tend to accept it.

    When we say, “He made me angry,” what we are describing is probably a shaming event. As I mentioned before, even the disobedience of a child can (and often is) experienced as shame, though it isn’t very rational. But it provokes anger. The more we learn to notice these things and attend to them in a discerning manner, the easier it is to deal with them.

    I recently counseled parents of a rebellious teenager to make a prostration before her and ask her forgiveness in a situation that was provoking anger and very hurtful exchanges. It was a difficult word, but very much on target.

    Such an action was key on a number of occasions when our children were young. Key – for the salvation of this angry father.

    Your prayers!

  36. Fr. Stephen,

    I find your words connecting shame with anger and/or depression so true. In fact I have heard of or witnessed moments where a person was somehow publicly shamed (stripped of clothing, or violently slapped, or otherwise belittled) and they did nothing. They simply went on with life and did not make the transition to either anger or depression, i.e. they continued the conversation, or put their clothes back on, or in some other way simply rode through the shame and went on.

    Scenes like this are simultaneously very attractive and extremely off-putting. Observers don’t know how to process them. How is it possible, they wonder. And then on the surface of their mind they either dismiss it or throw it into some easy category, like “he must be mentally disabled or something”.

    Jesus is of course the most famous person who was able to display this kind of appropriate response to shame. Interestingly I believe this inexplicable ability is one of the biggest things which makes many people want to write Him off and go believe in some other, less challenging God.

    Thanks again for your wisdom.

  37. I want to be careful so that readers understand that shame isn’t an inherently bad thing. It’s a perfectly natural and normal reaction to certain things. “Not feeling it” would be strange. Christ’s response to shame is not “appropriate,” it is “expiatory.” He bore it, despite its pain.

    I have thought recently about the disciples. I suspect they ran as much out of their inability to face the shame of Christ’s crucifixion as for anything. Their hiding was as much out of shame as of fear. But the Mother of God and St. John, and a number of the other women, stood by the Cross, and in that, had a share in Christ’s shame (the shame of us all). They “did not turn their faces away.” They became the first “friends” of the Crucified. Mary had always taken her share of His shame. She did not turn away from the burden of being a virgin mother and all that accompanied it, even from St. Joseph at first.

    Those who railed at Christ were themselves deeply shamed. They could see what they had done. Their accusations and their terrible derisions of Christ on the Cross are typical sounds of shame. They turn to a form of boasting and taunting rather than bear the pain of what they have done.

    But the Wise Thief, voluntarily bears His own shame, acknowledging what he has done and even professing that he deserves his own crucifixion. In doing that, he becomes the friend of Christ, who receives him that day (in “a single moment,” we sing) into Paradise.

    He easy. How simple is the work of grace.

    I will add that my understanding of shame only began about 4 years ago because of some events in my life. When I began to understand (in the heart) the nature of its work, suddenly I began to see it within the Scriptures and the Fathers. I especially found things in the Elder Sophrony and in Fr. Zacharias of Essex. I had opportunity for a private conversation with Fr. Zacharias and have been enjoying the fruit ever since.

    Some will doubtless wonder, “Why haven’t I seen this before?” The answer is that not many understand it. The Fathers do, and, the heart can be opened to see it. But for years I read all references to shame in a somewhat forensic manner. This article, in my opinion, is among the more important things that I’ve ever written – far more important, I think – than the critique of modernity. It is also interesting to me that it only has a fraction of the views. It won’t be a popular read.

    I have begun including shame, etc., as a major component of my talks when I travel and speak. I really don’t have enough material to constitute a book – though I think it could be of great value. We’ll see what comes of it in time.

  38. This is very hard for me, too; I have found the writings of saints and elders in the “Silouan/Sophrony line” to be the most difficult for me to grasp. Three questions:

    1. Is the difference between right shame and toxic shame the fact that right shame is an acknowledgment of who we actually are (dust and ashes) vs. toxic shame’s false humility which creates yet another completely fantastical (though depressing) image of the self that is as much an idol and source of delusion as “classic” vainglory?

    2. You described the connection between shame and anger, but can you unpack shame and depression a bit more? Though male, I fall hard on that side of the spectrum and it can be difficult to know where the line is between right shame and depression/laziness/ mental retreat from life.

    3. Suppose a person has finished all their work for the day, done all their chores, is properly fed, has no other obligations or obediences, and so on. What is the proper use of the rest of the day: simply cultivating stillness and giving thanks for such time and ignoring all other “potential” and any “better” projects; taking steps and planning to protect and/or increase the amount of free time, financial security, cleanliness and/or organization of the house, etc. (as much as we can try to do those things) in a peaceful spirit; going out and finding people whose needs can be met and meeting them (whether or not it “makes a difference”); increasing liturgical prayers; or something else entirely? It feels like as soon as I start aiming for one of these, I get the “grass is greener…” temptations for the others. But no matter how much I ignore these thoughts, I still have to (by definition) be doing something (interior, exterior, or both) and there is no “necessity” that I can fall back on and just “do” without making a choice myself (contrary to our modern thinking, that may be quite a curse!).

  39. Joseph,
    I will answer at length a little later today, or this evening. Your observation about Silouan/Sophrony, etc. is quite accurate, I think. Sophrony especially is both quite theological (even pushing the envelope a bit) as well as highly experiential. What he theologizes, he actually knows by experience. Met. Hierotheos Vlachos therefore describes the Elder Sophrony as a contemporary Church Father.

  40. Those saints who come to abhor their selfish selves and stay united with all others are the only ones who become free from self-centredness –the originator of ‘bad’ shame– and from passions.

    Father,

    Would you concur that ‘bad’ shame is merely the initial (& expected) offspring of man’s self-centredness (meaning ‘philaftia’), the ‘fig leaves’ sought after the separation from our natural state of “God- centredness?
    Also, that ‘good’ shame, or rather the readiness to bear it, is simply the result of healthy self-hatred (which Fr Sophrony keeps coming back to)?

  41. This is exactly why I converted: the incredible balance of truth and grace that is found in Orthodoxy. The church has done for me what years of therapy could not: help me beat my shame with gratitude and I still have such a long way to go.

    I was wondering: is it ever spiritually healthy to laugh at ourselves when we catch ourselves in an old pattern? (I.e. “There I go patting myself on the back again,”) or is that not good?

  42. I hope you will continue to write about shame. The modernity posts are helpful, but the shame posts are helpful in a deeper, more personal way. Thank you.

  43. Dino,
    Essentially, the “unhealthy” shame is that which is not voluntary, but put on us by others. Of course, we can change such shame by voluntarily bearing it (by grace). I think the language of self-hatred is very monastic and works within a monastic conversation. It is, indeed, bearing a little shame. I think that it is too easily misunderstood – mostly because it is so strong – so I tend to stay away from it.

    There is a morbid self-loathing that can be part of a mental illness. I think many Americans can only hear that condition when they read Sophrony saying “self-hatred.” It’s why I’m sticking mostly to language around shame, filled with lots of explanations and illustrations (there’ll be many more articles). It’s an effort to digest the teachings of the Elder.

  44. Joseph,

    You asked:

    1. Is the difference between right shame and toxic shame the fact that right shame is an acknowledgment of who we actually are (dust and ashes) vs. toxic shame’s false humility which creates yet another completely fantastical (though depressing) image of the self that is as much an idol and source of delusion as “classic” vainglory?

    Toxic shame is a term used in psychology. It is, at its root, non-voluntary. It is a result of others trying to shame us. Its depth depends on a number of things – who is doing the shaming – how healthy a person is and able to withstand it – the very nature of the shaming itself. Shame basically only works when there is a bit of truth in it. But when someone else shames us, particularly in a toxic manner, they exploit the vulnerability of our lives and abuse it.

    “Healthy shame” is referring to that genuine shame we feel, when we are willing to voluntarily bear it in the presence of Christ. In secular psychology, shame is largely treated through the practice of vulnerability in a safe place, with safe people. But vulnerability is, at its core, the voluntary bearing of shame.

    2. You described the connection between shame and anger, but can you unpack shame and depression a bit more? Though male, I fall hard on that side of the spectrum and it can be difficult to know where the line is between right shame and depression/laziness/ mental retreat from life.

    Anger directs energy outwards. Depression directs the same energy inward. Why one happens and not the other depends on many things. Anger is certainly a safer route and protects an individual. Sometimes, when children are shamed seriously at a young age, they are less likely to develop good coping skills and are more likely to turn it into depression.

    3. Suppose a person has finished all their work for the day, done all their chores, is properly fed, has no other obligations or obediences, and so on. What is the proper use of the rest of the day: simply cultivating stillness and giving thanks for such time and ignoring all other “potential” and any “better” projects; taking steps and planning to protect and/or increase the amount of free time, financial security, cleanliness and/or organization of the house, etc. (as much as we can try to do those things) in a peaceful spirit; going out and finding people whose needs can be met and meeting them (whether or not it “makes a difference”); increasing liturgical prayers; or something else entirely? It feels like as soon as I start aiming for one of these, I get the “grass is greener…” temptations for the others. But no matter how much I ignore these thoughts, I still have to (by definition) be doing something (interior, exterior, or both) and there is no “necessity” that I can fall back on and just “do” without making a choice myself (contrary to our modern thinking, that may be quite a curse!).

    No one thing is necessarily better than another. The need to do the “better” thing is a problem, however.

  45. Thanks for the answers, Fr. Stephen. I have a one more question regarding “doing better”, though (for now!). You note that we are not doing better and you continue to draw our attention to the inverted pyramid, the way of shame, and so on. But as we enter into those things, there is still some amount of self-will involved, it seems to me. There is still some activity of the gnomic will, certainly. We can’t be sort of dead; we’re either dead or not dead. How do we overcome that last bit of will and get to the point where we really are doing God’s will, not just trying to get “better” at playing some kind of “inverted pyramid game” and thus missing it entirely? If I can’t overcome that, I worry I’ll be ever stuck between all these options, trying to decide and choose between these good things every day, never quite able to make that final leap. Not that I am ready (in some sense, I guess I can’t be, but that makes it all the more confusing!), but that is where I want to be.

  46. Father,
    It’s quite stunning how prudently we have to tread in describing these notions in this modern world. Likewise it’s impressive when some ‘get it’ without misunderstanding the language. Perhaps the ‘hard saying’ can be introduced by first making listeners ‘suspicious’ of the whole unconscious procedure of the unexamined espousal of popular notions that internally contest it.
    Staying in the knowledge that our formerly believed-to-be friends (e.g. our selfish self) are our foes, and our feared and believed-to-be-threat (God) is our only friend, then we might be able to escape many misunderstandings on ‘bearing shame’, holy ‘self-forgetfulness’, ‘healthy self-hatred’ etc.

  47. Dino,

    This is the missional (pardon the overused phrase) part of our life with God: being patient and loving enough to reach out to those around us and share whatever He’s given us. If they can’t rightly relate to things like “self-hatred” and we’re able to translate that into something they understand, then blessed be both those who originate the wisdom and those who are able to convert it to other languages.

    If you like, think of it as taking care of widows and orphans. The hunter may lay a freshly killed goose at the widow’s feet, but she may in fact need another person to prepare it for her before she can readily make the connection that this is good food.

  48. Drewster,
    That kind of discerning application is always relevant indeed. I still lament the loss in any compromised adaptation when it continues for long – as it is a real loss. It’s what the Apostle lamented in: “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”
    As fitting as milk is early on, we’d expect a maturing to solids for full development.

  49. Dino,

    I’m reminded of the desert father who was continually asked what kind of miracles people after them would do. In the end, he said, they will do no miracles at all but will be greater than all that came before them. I took this to mean that it will take all their strength just to hold onto their salvation – which in turn would provide it to thousands around them. (St. Seraphim)

    In general I find that younger generations are having to be led by the hand in order to learn how to increasingly more and more basic tasks. We can call it reduced intelligence or some such, but the scriptures warned us that men’s minds will grow dark from the evil they give themselves to.

    Such a dedicated calling isn’t for everyone, but the fields are ripe for harvest. Some need to dedicate themselves to leading the blind, letting them feel things with their hands and cheeks, describing and explaining the things they feel with their skin. It is in the world’s trash (people) that God hides His treasure.

  50. Drewster,
    Elder Sophrony similarly feared that “a world of central heating and air-conditioning, ready meals and easy entertainment, would breed people incapable of asceticism” (“Conversations with Children” by Sister Magdalen p. 89) and I have heard some of the recent saints and elders on Athos exclaim that the newer generations could not possibly even survive a life that was merely convention in their day. I think this goes mainly for bodily asceticism but is also connected to spiritual struggles. It certainly affects believers’ capacity for ‘Liturgical’ immersion too. Of course, this does not preclude the sanctification of the faithful in this new context – and their eventual ‘distance’ from the world might seem greater than the seeming oddity of St Mary’s (of Egypt) life in the desert at her time.
    One of the lamentable side-effects of this however is that we cannot properly understand the words of the Fathers and of Scripture and are bound to misconstrue them to a degree, the need for such a discerning ‘translation’ means an inevitable loss in translation. Of course, when God’s grace visits, all this pales into insignificance.

  51. Dino,

    All you said is true. Much will be lost. But even the dogs get the crumbs off the table and it is of great value. Our job is to care for the widows and orphans, not manage them. I can appreciate that this is a fine line sometimes but for us is more about being obedience to what God has put at hand for us to do.

    I agree with the ascetics concerning the newer generations – to a point. In the face of great hardship the light of God shines forth from people. It is not our job to write off those whom God has not written off. Ours is to be faithful to what we know, i.e. keeping the commandments, loving our neighbor, etc.

  52. *correction:
    As a rule, the ‘general word’ will be close to the fullness (it has to retain it and guard it) and the ‘personally directed word’ is all ‘economy’. Just as a teacher lectures “100%” at the front of a class, yet speaks completely differently [on a personal level] giving each only their “5%”, or “15%” or “75%”etc, depending on their stage…

    Even the mere possibility of the concept of writing anyone off entering our mind is a disaster.

  53. I agree. The general word is to be spoken. The listening crowd may be dwindling though. I’m suggesting that more of the classroom time might need to go toward one-on-one meetings than did in the past.

    The writing off concept IS a disaster, but we mere mortals do have the thought cross our minds on those days when we’d just love to express a beautiful idea and be totally understood – to the point that the world was momentarily a brighter place and we all joined hands and loved each other – even if just for 10 minutes.

  54. Father, bless!
    One question I have, about thanksgiving, is its relation to pride. What I mean by this is that I think it’s impossible to truly bear a little shame in a proud way, even if one was to begin the practice in a proud way. (As in, the practice itself would straighten you out – the only danger I see is if I was to pridefully take on too much at once!)

    I’m not sure the same thing is true about thanksgiving. I’m not sure it “goes down,” in the same way – perhaps if one was to not begin the practice in a proud way, it would be fine, but I’m not sure that the practice itself would straighten me out if I were to begin it in a proud way – as in, if I were taking it on to try and ascend spiritually. I would appreciate your view on this.

  55. Father, bless!
    One question I have, about thanksgiving, is its relation to pride. What I mean by this is that I think it’s impossible to bear a little shame in a proud way, even if one was to begin the practice in a proud way. (As in, the practice itself would straighten you out, even if I were taking it on to try and make spiritual progress – the only danger I see is if I was to pridefully take on too much at once!)

    I’m not sure the same thing is true about thanksgiving. I’m not sure it “goes down,” in the same way – perhaps if one was to not begin the practice in a proud way, it would be fine, but I’m not sure that the practice itself would straighten me out if I were to begin it in a proud way – as in, if I were taking it on to try and ascend spiritually. I would appreciate your view on this.

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