So I want to start writing here about the insights I gained from this retreat. I’m not sure how much of a narrative this will really be; I’m not sure how understandable this will even be. I’m not sure I know how to talk about this, at least not yet. But I’ll give it a go.
Part of the reason I don’t know how to talk about this is because of my Myers-Briggs personality type. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a test that assigns you one of sixteen categories, based on how you answer questions. It indicates things such as where you get your information, and what makes you energized. The last time I took the test, my type was INFP, which means “Introversion + iNtuition + Feeling + Perceiving.” But the most interesting part of it was how I scored on it. The second letter of the type is either an S or an N, which means where you get your information, from either “Sensing” or “iNtuition.” I was almost literally off the scale on intuition, which means I get my information not by simply observing the details around me, but by seeking patterns and layers of meaning within it. Or, to put it crassly and just a bit hyperbolically, I learn everything I know from inside myself; I have no connection whatsoever to the outside world. It’s all inside. Deep, deep inside. Which means that I sometimes have trouble relating information I have to other people…it’s stored in me in a way that’s somewhat different than how I learned it. I’ve added layers of meaning, and sometimes I don’t have the words to use to describe those layers. And sometimes, it just doesn’t make as much sense outside of my head as it does inside.
Well, this actually has a connection to the topic of the weekend. We learned about how so much of us is hidden, even those of us who aren’t “N-monsters” like I am. Neuroscience has shown that our true motivations, our true “selves” exist deeper than we know, at a level so far hidden that we simply can’t know about it. Our brains have layers of motivation and activity that are impossible to think about. Like an iceberg, a great deal of who we are is hidden from our conscious minds. And there are centers of the brain that do a very good job of weaving together narratives to make sense of what we experience. But that’s all they are: narratives. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are not lies, exactly, but they have been shown not to be reliable. And so, and this is I think one of the greatest insights I found on the retreat: what is true about us may be deeper than thinking can think, deeper than feeling can feel.
But the point of the retreat was much more than the existence of our hidden selves; it was that that is precisely where Christ dwells. Our retreat leader, Dr. Martin Smith, referred frequently to the third chapter of the letter to the Colossians, particularly verses 1-4:
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. (New Revised Standard Version, emphasis mine)
If the most important and true part of our selves is hidden, then the author of Colossians tells us that what is hidden there along with us is Christ. And through the act of contemplative prayer (a type of prayer that is similar to meditation, in which we attempt to quiet down our mind and our thoughts in order to connect with God), we can receive something Dr. Smith calls intimations, subtle hints, intimate signals, that come from God to us. These intimations tell us that our true identity comes from God, and is promised through our baptism. They tell us that we bear the living Christ within us, and that when we focus on this connection, we can experience it.
This is the promise of the resurrection: not merely that we have been given life “after death,” but that the risen Christ has come into us, into the very depths of our being, a place that we cannot consciously connect to, but a place that is very much there. This is not new wisdom, Dr. Smith reminded us. While science has only recently shown evidence of this “hidden self,” Christian mystics, solitaries, and hermits have known about this for centuries.
This is heavy stuff, if I’ve explained it well. I’m going to end this post here. In my next post, I’ll describe some of the implications of this insight about living our lives hidden with Christ in God.