As part of my Lectio Divina, I sometimes get bizarre thoughts and ideas. I was trying to meditate on my Lectio (reading or saying, which is always Phil 2:5) and the fact that humans have frequent temptations to stretch the truth to our own convenience (to make ourselves into God). Quite naturally, I thought of Procrustes. The following is from Wikipedia:
“In the Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon with a stronghold on Mount Korydallos at Erineus, on the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis. There he had a bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith’s hammer, to stretch them to fit. In later tellings, if the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly. Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, traveling to Athens along the sacred way, who “fitted” Procrustes to his own bed.”
The procrustean bed is one of the pitfalls of thinking that happens when we think we are god and thus truth is made in our own image and likeness. Naturally, with that view, what does not fit into our “truth” must be either stretched or lopped off to suit our own pleasure. It is classic sin of Adam and Eve. Read Genesis 3. To put it another way, when we place ourselves as the center of our lives, we have a fool for a god. A side effect of this thinking is that each individual is a god, or a church, or the rule of law. It is no coincidence that thinking you are god is the very first of the Commandments God gave to Moses.
There are only two ways to approach reality: one is that you are god, and the other is that God is God.
I AM GOD — Let me lead you down the slippery slope of logic, if you take this path, If you are your own god, there will be no one who can tell you that you are mistaken, no one to challenge your assumptions. Faith becomes belief, belief becomes the center of your life, but also, unfortunately, the center of all reality. You become your own religion, your own church, your own belief system, even if you belong to a church. Why? You are convinced of your certitude because Scripture, as you believe it, it fits your conception of what religion is. No exceptions. Even in secular society, with its disdain for anything that even mentions God stuff, you can notice the struggle of our US Supreme Court to view the Constitution as one of the individual rights versus States and Government rights. Those who lean to the right are called strict constitutionalists and those who tilt to the left are called progressives, those who believe the laws serve the people and not the other way around. It is a tension that permeates religion, spirituality, politics, the law, and even your job.
GOD IS GOD — Genesis, that marvelous commentary on the struggle of human nature to choose self over God, reminded me in my Lectio meditation that those who do accept God as God are suddenly faced with the struggle to decide between what the world wants (I am God) verses what God wants (God is God). If you think that this is simple, think again. Many “isms” claim that they have the truth, that their God is God and not your God. I call it playing God games. It is no coincidence that the tree of which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The big question, the elephant in the room is, whose approach is correct and, even more importantly, who tells you whose approach is correct? Well, there it is! Like the television program, Naked and Afraid, we face truth in our all-together.
No wonder science looks at religion and spirituality and utters cries of contempt and disbelief. Logic is abandoned in favor of faith (depending on each individual). No one can tell you what is right but you alone. Of course, the big problem with that is you may not be correct. as the basis for what you believe. You have the right to your assumptions but your assumptions may not be right (correct). If so, you do not have the truth, even if you are convinced you are in the right. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says our Master.
This is an age old problem and one also faced by those Apostles who were filled with the Holy Spirit and told to go out and preach the good news. Imagine! No books except the Torah, no cheat sheet of what Jesus said, each one would have to preach from the experiences he had with Jesus and the disciples. As time went by, St. Paul and his School would chronicle the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and why. These letters eventually made their way into a book called the New Testament but only after several centuries of discernment and usage.
The big problem in the early formation of the Body of Christ was the same struggle we face today: who determines what is from God and is not. If each person can determine what is from God, then the church as we know it today would never have survived. It would not have assimilated the Gentiles and morphed from the Old Testament prophets and teachings into the New Testament which allowed non-Jews and unbelievers to enter the Body. Read Romans 1:1-7. What a radical departure yet the natural progression predicted by Jesus in John 5:40-47. The approval is from the Father through the Son.
It is no wonder that the first expressions of communal faith were contained in the Apostles Creed, and later on in the Nicene Creed. Creeds are a very early statement of what all should hold as true. They are the concentrated orange juice of the early church, the core of what it means to be a follower of the Master. It would take centuries to mix the water of martyrdom and heresies with these truths. It is an attempt by a yet undefined Church, struggling with its Jewish teachings and rituals, to reach out to all who will listen. It is in this uniformity of belief based on authority transferred by Christ to the Apostles that allowed them to receive the Holy Spirit and pass it on to this budding movement with truth from God, not from individuals who wish to be god, like Adam and Eve.
As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I have determined that I want God as my center. To keep myself honest and not prideful, I must continuously renounce my old self to allow God to enter. I do that in the presence of community, which keeps me honest and the Church, which is a watchful mother that warns me when I take myself too seriously. I try, with many failures, to take up my cross daily and follow Christ. It is the time I take to carry that load that is important, as well as my final destination.
You don’t want to be one who sleeps in a procrustean bed. Remember Procrustes? He died sleeping in the bed he designed and had his legs chopped off.
That in all things, may God be glorified. –St. Benedict