The problem with identifying myself as “religious” is that it sets my identity in my own idea of what spirituality is and puts me into a box, further defined by which religion I choose, then by which sect of that religion I claim. This identity assured, I can go on living my life secure in the comfort I have from knowing “it is well with my soul.”
The problem with this is that I still slam doors. Otherwise stated, I am still angry, noisy, overtaken by my emotion–which is really a manifestation of my ego, which no amount of religionising can overcome. My normative functioning is driven by my ego.
This, I believe lies within the same category as that which Jesus addressed when he told his disciples that, if they had anything against their brother, to go and reconcile with him before coming to offer their gift on the altar. I cannot expect to connect with the God who says “Be still and know” when all around me is the disturbance of my own false-self, my ego.
Even in my own worship of God, my ego seems to delight in its glorious spiritual identity.
Richard Rohr makes this point (quoting Thomas Merton quoting Thich Nhat Hanh):
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 self image instead of mirroring the image of God. It is that superior self-image which must die.
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. As long as I am going to church, it is really meaningless whether I close the door quietly or slam the door. A spiritual master would say, “first stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality.” Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors, so how can we expect the laity to be any better?
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.
Adapted from Contemplation in Action, pp. 79-80
So, taking the lead from St Paul, “I die daily” to my own religion, to my own sense of spirituality, to my own prideful door-slamming and noise, to my false self. And I rest in the “new self”–or as Rohr calls it, “the God-self”–as God renews me, recreates me in God’s own image and imparts to me a new identity.