Left Hand/Right Hand (Getting free from illusion #2)
I recently wrote a post about getting free from illusion – “Glorious Disillusionment.” And speaking of illusion…
Matthew 6:3 – “But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
Was Jesus just being clever here? The saying sounds humorous, and it would have been taken that way by the original hearers. But what is the deeper meaning? There’s an illusion involved here. Read on.
We have a true self, the face of the new nature, the image of God in us. Everyone has it, though we all tend to bury it most of the time. It’s more than just the desire to be a good person. The true self loves truth, kindness, and beauty. It’s the human spirit, a seed of the Holy Spirit, the image of God in us. The true self is the part of us that hungers for God. It’s the place in us where conscience comes from; it’s the part of us that wants to love others, to give to those in need, and urges us to do so with a true heart, selflessly. The true self is the “right hand” Jesus was talking about.
And we also have a false self, the face of the old nature. It’s the human ego. It creates illusion, feeds on illusion, and hides itself behind a wall of illusion, because the ego itself is an illusion. It’s a face in a hall of mirrors that falls in love with itself, like Narcissus in the Greek myth, and builds a kingdom around itself, in honor of itself. The true self sees through the illusion of the false self and all the illusions it holds dear. The false self is the “left hand” Jesus mentioned as needing to be left out of our acts of charity and kindness. That’s because the false self wants to take over every good thing for its own glory.
The false self won’t be part of who we are in eternity, because it doesn’t know God; he has no relationship with it; it’s in opposition to our relationship with him. What Jesus was saying about the left and right hands – about the ego – is somewhat similar to our saying when someone does something good and then makes sure everyone knows about it: “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.”
Jesus said something else later on which also refers to the true and false selves: new wine requires new wineskins. The old wineskins—our egos, our old-nature, our unrenewed self—can’t hold the new wine of God’s presence; his Spirit at work within us will burst them. We need to live out of the new wineskins, the new life Christ gives. The old wineskins – our false selves – take on the trappings of time and use, opinions and attitudes, and the flavor of the old wine which is for getting drunk—a way of creating an illusion that lets you forget the pain, sorrow and evil of the world. The new wine is the Spirit of God working within our surrendered human spirits (Rom. 8;16), represented by the true self in each of us.
The reason that a faithful, truly Christ-centered practice of contemplative prayer is a useful tool in God’s hands is that it’s a new wineskin to hold the new wine of God’s Spirit, his Word and grace and truth and work in us. His Spirit destroys the old wineskins; our egos “can’t handle the truth” (as the movie A Few Good Men says), much less the Spirit of the Living God. That’s why Paul encourages believers not to be drunk with wine, but filled with the Spirit. The ego can’t accept or deal with who it is – an illusion. In the silence of centering prayer, God holds up the mirror of truth before us, and that crucifies the ego – the false self. He then breathes life into the true self that lies buried under the rubble of illusion, raises it up to its rightful position as servant-leader, clear-eyed and faithful to God alone, and transforms us into something that looks to the world around us like joy and lightness of being: a sip or two of fresh, new wine from a brand-new wineskin.