curving inward upon your self

The quest is a life lived outward … for others.  Not living with the “consumption assumption” – whereby you assume if it is there, it is all there for you to consume.  But to first learn to live outward, we must understand the opposite.  That is, the Incurvatus In Se – man turned in on himself.

This is from author Heather Choate Davis …

Augustine coined the phrase in the 5th century. Martin Luther resuscitated it a thousand years later. It is the best definition of sin I’ve ever heard.  Look around.  Never in the history of the world have the words Man Turned in on Himself been more apt.  And never have we been more in denial about what that means, and the cost of it.  The word sin— once recognized in all cultures and faiths as a given in the human condition— is hardly used outside of churches anymore.  Even there it is often glossed over in favor of more appealing terms like grace and hope and love.  Sin sounds archaic to our post-modern ears, which are protected by ear buds playing only what we want to hear, and laptops broadcasting only what we want to read or think about, 24 hours a day.  But if we think by taking the word sin out of circulation, we have rendered it obsolete—some dusty old religious label for prigs and preachers—we’re kidding ourselves.  The apostle John said it better: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

Nothing clears a room faster than the word sin.

Sin. Sin. Sin. Sin. Sin.  That’s all you Christians talk about and we’re sick of it.  We don’t need it.  We don’t want it.  And we don’t believe in it anyway.  So says the culture in 21st-century America.

But denying sin’s existence doesn’t make it go away.  And without the recognition of sin, the gift of grace means nothing.

So where do we start?  Incurvatus in se.  Man turned in on himself.  Sin as the slippery slope of “me, me, me”.  As the roiling sea we each contribute to and are then forced to swim in—us in our hoodies with our ear buds in, blocking out any and all input that does not delight or serve us, perpetually curving in on a world of our own creation.

That America is a monument to individualism is not news, but increasingly we can see the cracks: isolation, depression, apathy, anxiety, narcissism, addiction.  Where once there was purpose, confidence, belonging, and hope, now there is more of a gnawing void.  Now we trade in the town square for laptops behind which we disappear, hide, seeking to dwell unchallenged in worlds of our own design, ideology, ambitions, pleasures, secrets, shame, terror.  We are masters of our own free will, but still we cry out in the dark each night, “who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

Man Turned in On Himself gives shape to this brokenness.  Just picture a body curved in on itself—in the fetal position, say.  The shape of the curve protects and defends the thing it is turned in on, guarding it and the right to have it to oneself in the secret shadow of the curve.  It also creates a barrier between the heart’s desire and the things it wants to keep at bay: judgment, change, help, love, God. When man is turned in on his own desires, the world—despite his best efforts to the contrary— becomes smaller and darker.  Without access to any power greater than himself—and with the sudden realization that he is, in fact, only human—he becomes trapped in the “hamster wheel” of his own thoughts and enslaved by his own feelings and desires.

Is it hard to imagine, then, that this perpetual incurvatus state would lead us to create—and be subject to living in—a nation where, over the past 30 years, anxiety disorders have increased by 1200%?  According to the World Health Organization, America is, by a wide margin, the most anxious country on earth.  If you don’t personally struggle with anxiety, it is a statistical certainty that someone in your inner circle does.  And nearly half of those who suffer from anxiety will, according to Andrew Solomon, develop major depression within five years.

Enter the smart phone and gaming and Facebook and Tinder and Snapchat and a few thousand new apps a week, all to help us cope with our anxiety or our quest for control, and all drawing us every further in on ourselves (just a few more minutes) and away from the needs of the real (and often demanding) others in our midst.

This is the just one of the faces of sin lived out in the 21st-century.  And we don’t need a preacher or a Bible or a church to see it.  Because we already know.  It was, in fact, written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and our clenched spirits testify to it everyday: the more we turn in on ourselves to increase our sense of control or avoid our myriad sufferings, the more we become a slave to that seeking and avoiding.

"Bound Figure" by Brian Main

It is in light of this “slavery” that Jesus promises “we will know the truth and the truth will set us free” (John 8:32).  That he speaks into the still, small place in our hearts, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  And that He watches over us even as we reject Him, even as we turn inward again and again and again, issuing the same invitation he’s made to every man, woman, and child who came before us, and will make to all who come after we’re gone. “Turn back to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45: 22).


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