News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Rev. John Bush

Take honest look at self in mirror of faith

One of the most difficult things anyone has to do is to look himself or herself in the eye. It isn't easy to be completely honest with ourselves about who is looking back at us. In fact, it is an exercise most of us will avoid.

At times, though, it is unavoidable to face ourselves as we are, times of self-assessment and spiritual introspection.

That is one of the themes of "The Miracle Worker," the story of Helen Keller and her friend Annie Sullivan. The story is enacted each year at the Helen Keller home in Tuscumbia. In that play, Annie is able to see Helen for who she really is, the person behind the self-centered, over-protected person she has become because of her problems. Annie recognizes that Helen must face herself, her peculiarities, if she is going to overcome the obstacles life has given her.

Annie's first task, then, is to force Helen to look beyond herself in order to recognize that she is a person with a great deal to give, not just one who makes demands on others. The transformation of Helen Keller begins when the two women meet at a well and Helen learns the significance of the word "water."

For everyone, of course, there is a great deal to like about ourselves. There is an anonymous little verse I've appreciated:

I like being myself.

I'm glad I'm who I am.

Even when I do the wrong things, I know I am the right person.

As true and as healthy as such a positive self-assessment is, we are also aware that we have other, darker sides we would rather not face. Yet, there is no way beyond that dark side without having the light of truth turn on it. The psychologist William James said we do not run away from things because we are afraid. We are afraid because we run away.

I suspect we deny our darker sides because we are afraid we do not have the spiritual resources to face them, and this denial serves only to increase our fear. I also believe that faith offers us a way to be honest about ourselves by helping us to hold up a mirror so we can see ourselves face to face.

William Willimon, now Methodist bishop in Alabama, previously was chaplain at Duke University. He tells of one of his students, a religious young man who always had a Scripture verse or pat answer for every question or situation. One day Willimon noticed a change in the fellow, a change for the better. He was now more vulnerable and less certain that he had the right answer. Eventually, the young man confessed that he'd had sex with a woman he met on a religious retreat. The young man was shocked that he would do a thing so completely against his religious scruples.

Willimon goes on to say that he then knew why he had come to like this person: He had come face to face with himself. His religion now was a way of dealing with his life rather than a way of avoiding, suppressing or denying its realities.

It is part of what we mean when we talk about grace.

The Rev. John Bush of Decatur is interim pastor of Birmingham First Presbyterian Church. He is one of several local ministers writing religion columns for THE DAILY. Call 340-2468.

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