Underskins of Gold

I’ve encountered a few Holy People in my lifetime, and recently too– people who appear to be salt of the earth, but when you start scratching their surface you find layer after layer of pure gold, or a crystalized interior like a geode. Even their underskins have been purified and refined, and the mystery of their interior tabernacle draws me closer, making me want to both be with and be like them.

I know that I experience genuinely holy longings myself, but one would only need to scratch me lightly to find that underneath a relatively tidy exterior, I’m a stoney substance through and through, that God has only just begun to penetrate me. I have moments of insight, though I usually don’t remember them. They occur just long enough for me to write them down or tell them to a friend, and then all wisdom is gone at the moment of the test, when my six children and my husband are there standing witness and judge like the fourteen eyes of God.

Holy longings and divine insights are of little help when they never translate into the concrete stuff of relationships with the very people God sent into your life to refine you. Jesus teaches us that it is through relationship–with others and with God–that we decode the mystery of the human soul. In relationship we learn both who we are, and how we are to behave.

On finding the Boy Jesus in the Temple, Mary and Joseph ask him “Why have you done this?” And Jesus answers, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary ponders these things in her heart. She doesn’t understand. She ponders. Her child is a mystery to her.

And Jesus, attempting to explain himself to Mary and Joseph, identifies himself through his relationship to the Father: “Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?”

His first revelation is to identify his relationships and where he comes from. Likewise, one of the first steps of decoding the mystery of the self is to identify family of origin. When I first meet someone, the first thing I tell them is that I am a wife and a mother. These are the relationships in my life. You can begin to know me by knowing the other souls to whom I’ve anchored my life.

The truly Holy people I have met are yoked either to a family, a community, or to a flock. They know whom and how to serve and this defines them in a way being unyoked, no matter how introspective, simply cannot, though having a family alone is not enough to refine a soul, as my own life will testify.

We make ourselves known by having a relationship with Jesus. Through the course of his public ministry Christ reveals the nature of God, how to imitate him, but even more importantly, how to live and move and have being within him. The more we imitate Christ, the more we dwell in him, the more knowable we are to others.

I think this is why some people think they can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their spouse will not cheat on them–because they are currently fully vulnerable in their relationships both with Christ and with their spouse. This can only be a present knowledge. It is fact only insofar as these relationships remain in tact. But it is knowledge indeed.

About Elizabeth Duffy

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