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Ego and Selfishness – A Reflection

May 21, 2021
An Eastern Towhee that we spent some time with at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

This is something that has been on my mind for a number of years now. The more that I study scripture and the teachings of Jesus; the more I see a disconnect between his teachings and Christianity today. In the book of Acts the story of the early Christian community is told. One of the key ingredients in this early gathering of believers was concern for others.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:44-47)

At what point did the concern of the individual believer turn from concern for others to their concern primarily about their own individual salvation? The concern for me is this—when did the individual salvation of a believer became more important than loving your neighbor? Of course, I ask this question as much to myself as I do anyone else. When did the ego, and in its worst case, narcissism become more important than the other?

As I continue to get to know Thomas Merton through his writings, I sense some of the same struggle that he had in his own heart. How could this monk and contemplative balance concern for the world that he left while at the same time continue to follow his calling to withdraw from the world?

In No Man Is an Island, Merton had the following to say about selfishness — To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell. Selfishness is doomed to frustration, centered as it is upon a lie. To live exclusively for myself, I must make all things bend themselves to my will as if I were a god. But this is impossible. (p. 24)

The first step in restoring my (our) relationship with God is to look beyond myself (ourselves). In the words of 1 John 4:7-8 — Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Only then can we begin to repair the damage that centuries of selfishness have inflicted on the community of faith that was formed at Pentecost and became the church.

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