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Church of the Holy City

edmontonholycity.ca

Affirming the “Self”


Affirming the “Self”
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 24, 2012

1 Samuel 17:4-11, 32-40 Mark 35-41 Psalm 107

This Sunday I take to heart some of the comments we heard about self-love in our discussion a while back. I thought them over well, and wrote to another minister, Rev. Gardiner Perry, to get his comments on the subject. Rev. Perry is uniquely qualified to comment on the issue of self-love as he is an accomplished Swedenborgian scholar as well as a certified psychotherapist. My reflections and the comments of my fellow minister have shown me that self-affirmation is indeed a part of the heavenly life.
But I found that there are two kinds of self-love. One is negative and one is positive. Rev. Perry defines negative self-love as follows:
Self love (amor sui) can be understood as the spiritually problematic phenomenon Swedenborg portrays: it is love of self at the expense of others; self-centeredness; abuse of others for one’s own gain; and even the abuse of power when there is a power differential in the relationship.
However, he soon went on to say that if an individual has made the least progress in striving for a spiritual life, that self affirmation is to be cherished. He says, “This awareness is to be cherished, and is rightly considered in many traditions as a great blessing.” The important insight I gathered is to affirm who we are as individuals, as the agents of an activity that only we can do, and to affirm the unique persons that only we are. So Rev. Perry says,
However, if I, you, or anyone with whom you interact is on a more positive path, then one can afford to say, ‘Yes’ to my having my own existence. I can say Yes to self affirming attitudes, to self affirmation; and, when it comes to ministry . . . a pastor can say, ‘Yes, you can love yourself as you are.’
I believe this approach to self-affirmation is Biblical. And we see it in the story about David and Goliath. When David is about to fight Goliath, Saul clothes him in heavy, traditional warrior’s armor. But David refuses to wear someone else’s armor. He refuses to accept the traditional garb of warfare. He trusts in God and in himself. He goes out to meet the gigantic and formidable Goliath with only his sling, staff, and five smooth stones. David, in other words, goes out to meet Goliath as the shepherd that he is. He does not pretend to be a soldier; he does not wear a soldier’s armor; and he trusts that God will give him victory as He had when David was defending his sheep against lions or bears. David believed in himself as he was, and in the God who protects him.
I also reflected on an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson called “Self-Reliance.” In that essay, Emerson affirms each individual’s unique power to manifest divinity in their own way. He begins with self acceptance. Emerson teaches that,
There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.
True self-love is doing just what Emerson says. It means that we “take himself for better, for worse.” And also we are to till “that plot of ground which is given him.” Emerson asserts that great men have always done so,
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so.
Emerson moves beyond mere self-acceptance. He affirms the unique gifts and contributions that only we can do when we act of our own unique powers. When we look within, and find God within us, we will hear a voice that only we can hear.
Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it.
When we follow that voice, and let the God within us shine forth, then we are exhibiting God’s Wisdom in a way no other human can. And we find that we are not acting by our own power, but by God shining through us.
We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams.
Before I scare traditional Swedenborgians with too much talk about self-affirmation, I claim that this understanding of self-love is consistent with Swedenborgian theology. I have already shown that it has a basis in the Bible, in the story of David and Goliath. I will now show that Swedenborg agrees with Emerson’s statements on self-affirmation. We are each of us a unique creation, and we have uses to perform that only we can.
No one man, spirit, or angel is ever just like another, not even as to the face. When I only thought of two being just alike, or equal, angels expressed horror, saying that every one thing is formed from the harmonious concurrence of many things . . . Uses in the heavens are likewise in all variety and diversity and in no case is the use of one exactly similar and the same with the use of another; thus neither is the happiness of one similar and the same with that of another (HH 405)
So I believe it is appropriate to celebrate who we are as individuals, and to love who we are, and to cherish our unique gifts.
I will say a few words, though, about negative self- love. This may be called egotism, selfishness, or, as my fellow minster said,
love of self at the expense of others; self-centeredness; abuse of others for one’s own gain; and even the abuse of power when there is a power differential in the relationship.
There’s a story about inappropriately loving self that comes to mind from my university days. When I was in graduate school, I played bass in a pop-trio. We had myself, a sax and a guitar. We ran into trouble with a bar owner and our continued employment there, and we sent our sax player to negotiate with him. I think that our sax player got the wrong message from the bar owner, or he spun what the bar owner said in his own favor. The sax player, let’s call him Bob, came back to us and said,
OK. He said that I’m the reason that we’re here. He said that my sax is why we’re hired at all. Without me we wouldn’t be here. Other bands have guitars but we’re the only one that has a sax.
Now I’ll admit, having a sax did make us unique. But where would Bob be without the bass and guitar to back him up? I very much doubt that the bar owner would hire Bob all alone to play his sax. Bob was exaggerating his contribution to our band putting himself above the ensemble we were together. I would point to this behavior as self-love in a negative sense. Now I’m not saying that Bob was evil, nor egotistical in other areas of his life. What I am saying is that I think his attitude in this story showed self-love as ego, and not the healthy kind of self-affirmation that makes room for community. But then I went on to exhibit negative self love, myself. I told Bob, “Well if you’re the only reason we’re here, you don’t need me.” And I quit the band on the spot.
I think this short story shows what my fellow minister called, “love of self at the expense of others.” Bob and I were both too pumped up with pride to work for the common good of our band. And the result was that we broke up. I should say that our guitar player, Mike, was above such petty displays of ego. It turned out that he and Bob formed a duo without me that got jobs in bars for a long while after I left the band. But we were all able to bury the hatchet, and whenever I went to a bar they were playing at, they always asked me up to sing a couple songs with them.
But let’s return to healthy self-love. Let’s recall Swedenborg’s words,
No one man, spirit, or angel is ever just like another, not even as to the face. When I only thought of two being just alike, or equal, angels expressed horror, saying that every one thing is formed from the harmonious concurrence of many things . . . Uses in the heavens are likewise in all variety and diversity and in no case is the use of one exactly similar and the same with the use of another; thus neither is the happiness of one similar and the same with that of another (HH 405)
We can affirm our unique gifts and also affirm the unique gifts of others. I think that self-love and neighbor love can happily coexist in us. We are all unique because the universe is perfected by diversity. So Paul says,
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” . . . there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (1 Corinthians 12:21, 26).
That is how I see positive self-love. As Emerson says,
Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation . . . That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.

PRAYER

Lord, we give you thanks for the gifts and talents you have given us. For each one of us is unique and different, and we each have our own special way of making your wisdom manifest. May we seek you within our hearts, as we do in your holy Word. May we listen to the inspiration that you give to each one of us, so that we may know our call and live truly to it in our lives. May we seek our own way, the way you have given to each one of us; may we walk content on the path that is ours to walk; and may we till the soil that is on our own plot. Give us to rest content in our lives, and in who we are. For you have given us to ourselves to keep in service to you.

Lord, we ask for your peace to descend upon this troubled world. Where there is conflict and war, let there be understanding and peace. Inspire our leaders, and the leaders of other nations to govern their people with compassion and with your Holy Love. Where there is famine and thirst, may good hearted aid come and satisfy the needs of those who want. Where there are natural disasters, may help come from good neighbors and from compassionate governments. Where there is hardship and unemployment, lend your patience and hope.

Lord, send your healing love to all those suffering in body and soul. We ask you to give the gift of health to all in need. And Lord, there are special people in our lives who we wish for you to heal and bring back into a fuller enjoyment of life and our world. We pray for them now. Bring them a full and speedy recovery. Send your healing power to all those in need.

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