John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. "For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." Mark 9:38-50
Jesus sets a tone of danger: “It would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” if you put a stumbling block in the way of the little ones. From the context in Mark, I think he means child abuse or shattering innocence for any reason. He emphasizes the point graphically by suggesting the excision of hands, feet, eyes if you wish to blame your body parts for the sickness in your soul.
I thought, too, of the inner life and of other stumbling blocks on the ladder of perfection. John Climacus asks, if “an angel fell from Heaven without any other passion except pride,” is it possible to ascend to Heaven “by humility alone?” There's no room for ego-inflation on the mystical journey.
And there's no need to hoard goodness. “That’s the thing about grace and love,” says a friend. “The more you give away the more there is – there’s enough and more than enough for everybody!”
This week’s prompts offer a little ego-trip. Dag Hammarskjold was a keen observer of the ego, especially his own (Meditation One) Religious practice takes on the wrong-sized ego. (Meditation Two). It’s useless to judge another’s progress (Meditation Three).
Ever battling inflation, - Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Save Me From My Secret Faults
He stood erect – as a peg-top does as long as the whip keeps lashing it.He was modest – thanks to a robust conviction of his own superiority.He was unambitious – all he wanted was a life free from cares and he took more pleasure in the failures of others than in his own successes.He saved his life by never risking it – and complained that he was misunderstood.
- Dag Hammerskjold1905- 1961 Markings
Doffing the ego’s / safe glory, he finds /his naked reality.
- Dag Hammerskjold, Markings
Ladder to Heaven inspired by the teachings of John Climacus, Russian, 16th century manuscript
A much more fanciful and detailed rendering of the idea of the ladder of the soul's ascent to heaven. You might interpret the painting as a map of the psyche. Like interpreting a dream, all the parts of the picture are parts of us. Imagine the demons as negative parts of yourself: character defects, weaknesses, inappropriate or unhealthy aspects of the ego.
Anangel fell from Heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.
- John Climacus 570-649 Ladder to Paradise (Step 23, Section 12)
That spring, on the first of June, 1958, I was ordained in the chapel of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, where some four and a half years earllier I had heard George Buttrick give the sermons that had started me on my way. I sat by myself in the front pew feeling awkward and unreal. Dr. Muilenburg preached on Elijah's handing his mantle over to Elisha. Dr. John Knox preached on two texts from Matthew. In one of them, Jesus commanded his disciples to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel, Dr. Knox said, but in the other he told them that it would be better to have a millstone fastened around their necks and be drowned in the depths of the sea than to cause anyone who believed in him to sin. As I knelt there in the chancel with the hands of all the assembled ministers and elders heavy on my skull, I had no doubts, if I had ever had any before, that it was a risky as well as a holy trade that I had chosen.
-Frederick Buechner Now and Then
And just for fun ..
Bodleian Library, Oxford, 14th century
Ladder to Heaven inspired by the writings of John Climacus, Icon 13th or 13th century, St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai
Meditation Two (Insight)
The Same Process
It is necessary to forget the ego, and that is exactly what mystical tradition has in mind when it connects remembering God and forgetting the ego. The process wherein the ego ceases to forget God is the same as the one wherein it begins to forget itself. Remembering and forgetting are two sides of one act. Forgetfulness of the ego, replacing the normal forgetfulness of God, is mystically speaking part of immersing and losing oneself, of falling in love, that is to say, one of the activities in which we depart from ourselves.
–Dorothee Soelle The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance p.211-212
Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps of sub-consciousness – I wouldn’t know. But I am sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness.
- Aaron Copland 1900-1990
Silence is the cross upon which we must crucify our ego.
-Seraphim of Sarov d.1833
Meditation Three (Integration) Illusive Exclusivity
To judge others is a shameless abrogation of the Divine prerogative; to condemn is the ruin of one's soul.
-John Climacus 7th century Ladder of Paradise (Step 10, Section 14)
Jesus visits Peter at the Pearly Gates and asks how things are going.“Well,” says St. Peter, “I have a complaint. You know, Lord, I’m scrupulous about my job here.I interview each soul arriving at the Gate of Heaven, and I check to see if his or her name is written in the Book of Life.I turn away the people not worthy to enter heaven, but a little while later I turn around and I see those very people wandering around on the inside!I don’t get it! What’s going on?” “Oh.That’s my mother for you,” replied Jesus.“Those people you turn away - she keeps letting them in through the back door.” -old joke
The Last Word
Ego is to the true self what a flashlight is to a spotlight.
– John Bradshawb.1933
You're the only one who knows when you're using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you're opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is - working with it rather than struggling against it. You're the only one who knows.
Eldad and Medad
A young man runs to Moses complaining that Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.* These two reluctant prophets skipped the ordination. Out of protest? Humility? The text doesn't say. But the Holy Spirit not only consecrates Eldad and Medad, but bestows upon them Gifts surpassing all the other legitimate prophets.
In a parallel story in Mark’s Gospel,** the disciples complain to Jesus that others not of their circle cast out demons in his name. The disciples are surprised by Jesus' response, just as Joshua was surprised by Moses’ response. Jesus knows what Moses knows - you can’t contain or control the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, Moses and Jesus, not slaves to the ego, don’t need to possess or hoard the power of God. “That’s the thing about grace and love,” says my friend, “The more you give away the more there is – there’s enough and more than enough for everybody!”
I think openness to surprise can be the beginning of the right-sizing of ego. Not only allowing myself to be open to the endlessly changing scenes around me as I go by, but extricating myself from comforting ruts in the road of my own sense of self.
"...One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner...a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. This is what I mean by worldliness -- taking life in one's stride, with all its duties and problems, its successes and failures, its experiences and helplessness. It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly in the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, that is metanoia, and that is what makes a man and a Christian (cf. Jeremiah 45). How can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray, when we participate in the sufferings of God by living in this world?" Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Letters and Papers from Prison" (pg 226-7)
Eldad and Medad were probably as surprised as anyone. Hooray for Eldad and Medad and the eternally mysterious Spirit!