Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Inner Poverty

If thou couldst empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf
And say:"This is not dead,"
And fill thee with Himself instead
But thou art all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity
That when He comes He says:'This is enow
Unto itself: 'Twere better let it be
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.'
                                T.E. Brown

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Then the eyes  of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.     Genesis 3:7

Our lives are filled with fig leaves, these fig leaves consisting of all the things we use to hide from God, especially the illusion that we can rely on ourselves and don't need anyone else, certainly not God.

In some ways much of this world is a chimera, blinding us to the deeper realities of our existence, an illusion masking the truth of our utter reliance on God. Strip away this illusion, this falseness, and what do you find? Our inner poverty. This is something we must all face at some point in our lives. Yet, in fear of this "unmasking" people hide behind so many things, things that they have convinced themselves reflect the truth of who they are. Their identity is based on what they do or what they have instead of who they are. But what good will it do clinging to these illusions about yourself  when you are confronted with truth itself? What happens when all the lies that we have told ourselves (or others have told us) disintegrate at the time of death and your soul lies bared before the eyes of God, before whom no untruth can stand?

The purpose of seeing our inner poverty isn't so we become shocked at how bereft we are (though this may happen until we realize God has no intention of leaving us empty), it's to point out our dependence on God. When we understand how much we need God we learn to turn to him instead of relying on ourselves. It would be much better if we were to realize this here on earth rather than at the time of our death.

Which begs the question:
Why is death so frightening to us? After all, death is not death, is it? Is it because we are too attached to ourselves and not to He who holds our life in his hands?

Death isn't a bad thing. Death strips away all the falsity, all the lies, all the pettiness in our lives. If we are ill-prepared death disrobes us of the "fig leaves" we have used to cover our nakedness, our great inner poverty is exposed in one great shocking moment. I think this is why there are so many deathbed conversions. It is precisely this recognition of our inner poverty that opens the great door to God's mercy.  On the other hand, those who are "full of themselves" have no room left for God nor does one who has made himself into a god feel the need to seek a mercy that so much depends on this inner poverty. 

Death is the great equalizer. Death is not a bigot; it favors neither the king nor the pauper. Both the rich man and the poor man, the saint and the sinner, the wise and the foolish must submit themselves to death when their time comes. 

Death leaves us stripped bare. There is nothing left to hide behind but the reality of who we are.

Scary thought, isn't it? I know it freaks ME out. This is one of the great truths in life - one day each and every one of us will come face to face with the Lord of all there is. There will be nothing to hide behind in the face of Absolute Truth. This Truth will pierce you to the very depths of your being and your "fig leaves" will mean nothing at all. Your wealth, your education, your country, your talents, your "stuff"... you will find that all these were merely tools along the journey. Good things...but tools nonetheless. The tools don't come to heaven with you.  In death, stripped of all these "lesser things" what will you have left?

This is why it is best to understand our "oh so great" inner poverty here on earth. Sometimes we need to wade through all the outside clutter, the "lesser things", that weigh us down and make us seem so fat and healthy on the surface so that we can face and understand our inner poverty as well as our utter and complete reliance on the Lord. Truly, it's best that we confront this here rather than in the hereafter.

This is no small thing. It is one of the greatest things that we can do in life.

It is God, himself, that is and was our "coat of glory". Without God...we have no glory. God is the glory of a human being.  Often we come to this realization of our complete dependence on God only after he strips away our false dependency on things that are not Him. Like a baby weaned of its pacifier so we too are weaned of what is not lasting, of our dust makers, so that we may receive of the everlasting instead.

When I reflect upon it, it becomes clear to me that everything here is a preparation for that great moment when we see the Lord face to face. He won't ask me whether I have a Master's degree in theology or if I lived in a mansion. He won't ask me whether I was a great athlete or a famous artist. No, all these things are but tools we use on our journeys.  What He WILL ask me is whether I shared the coat of glory, the totality and completeness of His Love that I am encompassed by, with my brothers and sisters. I will be judged on how much I have loved.

And believe me, this is something I fail at on a regular basis. Yet, I have great hope because even in my failures I am coming to the understanding of my complete dependence on the Lord, including my dependence on his mercy. I know this mercy well, at one point in my life I came face to face with it. By no means was it a fancy moment, either. It was me in my abject misery standing before the mercy of the King of Kings. Even now I struggle to make sense of it. Yet, He loved me anyway. I think I learned more from this great gift, this pulling of the knot which began the unraveling of my false self, than I yet realize as the grace of it unfolds over the years. 

It is not until we let go of our illusions about ourselves, see our immense poverty and walk through the door of God's mercy that we begin to see how rich we really are.

The Weeping Rose

Hiding behind my fig leaf
Cowering in the shame of Eve
I, too, consumed fruit forbidden
Sweet to the lips, bitter to the soul
And mourned outside Eden's gates
An earthen vessel, Adam's seed
Lost in the dust of time
A rose wilted for lack of the sun
"Where are you?" echoed in my soul

At the faintest "here i am"
A broken arrow, a crooked bow
Stood before the Mercy Seat
Unbathed, covered with grime
Unrecognizable to all but you
Your eyes pierced through the filth
And saw the swan in the ugly duckling
You tucked my heart into your side
Two hearts beat as one
And in this Divine chamber
A weeping rose unfurled her first petal


  1. Mary, can't wait to read the above post. In a hurry at the moment, but will be back with some prayerful time to spend here. I'm dashing over to tell you that you have an award over at my blog :) Yep, another one! Woe is you..arms filled with accolades. Can't help it...your blog always reminds me of sunshine!

    PS We are under a winter storm watch today...everyone home; everything closed. What do you expect with 28 degrees and sleet? I'll be sure to let you know if we get any flakes. So far..disappointing. We were supposed to get a couple of inches. But, I haven't given up yet :)

  2. Thanks, Patricia! Well, if you don't get your flakes don't be disappointed - there's a flake heading your way right now ;)

    1. Mary, thank you so much for stopping by. You were my only "flake" today ;)

  3. Mary, this is one of those posts on which I want to comment but don't know where to begin. Words like "transforming" come to mind, and I know that sounds dramatic. But it's true. Going back to read it again. And then, I'm sure, again. Wow.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback, Nancy! I'm glad it spoke to you!

  4. You make some very good points. It's true that in lfe we tend to hide behind many masks to fool others as well as fool ourselves. Some even get to the point where they convince themselves that what they do is not really a sin. It's a way to justify what they are doing.

    God sees and knows all that. And as you say, at death our sins throughout life will be exposed to Him and us.

    Great post Mary. Thanx. Did you write the poem at the end?

    God bless.

    1. Thank you, Victor - I always appreciate your comments and yes, I wrote the poem :) God bless you too!

  5. Mary, this is amazing! There is so much depth to your thoughts about fig leaves and God's mercy. You are brilliant. But, your poem! Beyond brilliant! You are a master poetess! Love it!

    1. You are so sweet, Anne! Thank you for always having an encouraging word for me!

  6. Such a good reflection Mary and your poem is quite beautiful.

    1. Thanks, Monica! I'm glad you liked it!

  7. D'Oh ... I've just seen your poem on the right hand margin.

    Perhaps I should have asked: Did you write the poem at the end or did you copy it from the right?

    God bless.

    1. Lol. I copied it from the right, of course, because I type with one finger!

  8. Mary, this is so profound! I need to ponder how many fig leaves I am still hiding beneath. That moment when we appear before Absolute Truth...such a sobering thought. Yet I cling to that hope in His Love and Mercy. Without it, the thought of death would be unbearable. Strange how our culture hides from death. We don't talk about it, always seem to be running from it, etc. Thank you for the reminder that it is waiting for each one of us, and that we should prepare while there is yet time.

    Oh yes, your poem is sublime. I've read it often before on the sidebar. It's truly inspired....as are you! God bless you, dear friend. xo

    1. So true that our culture hides from death. I think it was better when we were encouraged to meditate on the "Four Last Things". You don't hear about this very much anymore.

      Thanks for the kind words and the award!

  9. Hi Mary! I have a post today about emptying yourself, but then being sure to fill that space with something good (or those pesky demons will move in!). Your post reminds me of that.
    I do think we should throw out the things we hold on to and refuse to give over to the Lord. He wants me to love him in everything, not loving the thing. I guess that's why I get so sad at death. I see what I've lost, not what God has gained. But if everything is his, including all his children, then we should be joyful when he takes one of us to himself. Death is a tough subject. You did a great job here.
    By the way, I am also a St. Faustina fan, and the Divine Mercy too!
    Have a great Wednesday my friend,

  10. Hi Ceil! Yes, I just read it - great post. But what's my kitchen table doing at your house? Lol. I clean it off all the time but it doesn't last because everyone tosses their stuff on it!
    I love how you related this to the spiritual life.

    Thanks for commenting! I hope your day is great as well :)

  11. Mary, this is an awesome reflection. It was so beautiful, it made me wonder if a saint wrote it and you just forgot to put the quotation marks at the beginning. So I waited for the quotation at the end which never came, of course. You know sometimes you just up the bar on blogging and make it impossible back to writing silly posts after this.

  12. Very funny, Anabelle :) I'm glad you liked it though and I appreciate your kind words!

  13. I came here to read more from the woman who chips dog poo out of ice and find this beautiful piece of writing. Not what I expected!
    Ack, I've started and deleted and restarted a comment so many times. I can't find the words, which probably means I need to reflect more on your words. This isn't a post that I can respond to without some major reflecting.
    I can say, though, that your poem is wonderful.

  14. Hi Christine,
    Chipping dog poo out of ice is one of my lesser known talents. My real talent is scraping it off the bottom of my shoe during the warmer months.

    Your blog is so funny! I laughed my way through a number of your posts! Though I see you have a serious side as well. Best of both worlds!

    Thanks for visiting!

    (Tip for my readers - Q-tips work great on those deep sneaker grooves.)