“And they were both naked: to wit, Adam and his wife: and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25)
“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
“For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature invisible in his sight: but all things are naked and open to his eyes…” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
In the writings of St. John of the Cross, he often used the term “nakedness.” When first read that, I thought this somewhat cryptic until I recalled one of my favorite subjects for mediation: the 10th Station of the Cross – Jesus is Stripped of His Garments. I have always loved this little fragment from the life of Christ as I believe it takes us directly to the core of Christ’s humanity and His Divinity: the complete and utter suffering endured by His human body, and His willingness to be humiliated for our thankless sake. What John of the Cross was so expertly able to accomplish is the total revealing of how and why we must become naked before the Lord. In his most well-known work, “The Dark Night,” John wrote:
“…the spirit must be simple, pure, and naked as to all natural affections of spirit with the divine wisdom in which, on account of the soul’s purity, the delights of all things are tasted to a certain eminent degree. Without this purgation the soul would be wholly unable to experience the satisfaction of all this abundance of spiritual delight. Only one attachment, or one particular object to which the spirit is actually or habitually bound is enough to hinder the experience or reception of the delicate and intimate delight of the spirit of love that contain eminently in itself all delights.”
This was a revelation to me. For, I had spent much of my post-conversion years acting like Adam expelled from the Garden of Eden: cowering, ashamed, downtrodden, covering and hiding myself from God. I walked around with a massive fig leaf; obscuring my whole body. In Confession, I was not very honest about myself or the past: being overly vague; wording things in a certain way to make me look better; or skipping from one confessor to another in a vain attempt to safeguard my pride. My relationship with Him was bizarre: I was the prodigal son and He the Father who begrudgingly welcomed me back, and now: merely enduring my loathsome presence. I was afraid of Him, and I showed little affection. I kept guarded. My mind was still warped, and my desires disordered. I thought, if He ever found out – I would again be cast into the cold and darkness.
At the time, I was completely uneducated and relying on my attachment to God as the all-powerful and vengeful Lord that saved me from the brink of hell. I feared Him, and knew that I needed Him, but I didn’t really love Him. It took years for me to let-down my guard. This happened slowly, but methodically; mainly through a frequent recitation and mediation upon “The Stations of the Cross” as written by St. Alphonsus Liguori. At first, the prayers were like an endless dirge. I kept repeating: “I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.” I kept thinking to myself: “What am I doing?” These prayers were meaningless. But, somehow, I remain steadfast. For a reason not known to me, God wanted me at the Cross. He wanted me to get there, and He wanted me to follow him on the journey up to Calvary. I didn’t know why. Finally, at the 10th Station, I prayed: “My innocent Jesus, by the merits of the torment Thou hast felt, help me to strip myself of all affection to things of earth, in order that I may place all my love in Thee, who art so worthy of my love.” Love! How could I love Christ? Then, while meditating, I saw Him beaten, bloodied, and uncovered. How could I not love Him? For, He was like me – ripped to shreds by a cruel and fallen world. At that point, everything dropped away, and I was done. I was done hiding; I was done with the lying; and I was done with the covering up. I knew that I had been holding on: to the past, to my own inflated self-worth, and to the shame. I was tired of carrying all this useless weight around. Instead, I had to give it to Christ. Because, I couldn’t do it. I was broken. In a way, I felt like St. Francis of Assisi: who famously removed all his clothes and gave them to his father. And it felt good. It was tough, but now it was done and over. Afterward, I could move on and start again.