Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Gordian Knot of Self


There is a story from ancient Phrygia (a kingdom in what is now Turkey) about a knot that could not be untied. It is called the Gordian Knot, named after a king named Gordias, who originally tied it. He fastened an ox-cart to a post with "several knots all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to see how they were fastened." It was believed that whoever could untie the knot would become ruler of all Asia. 

For many years no one could untie the knot. In the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great arrived in town. He tried to untie the knot without success. At this point there are two different versions of the story. In the most famous version, he drew his sword and cut the Gordian knot with a single stroke. In a more ancient form of the story, Alexander loosed the knot by pulling the linchpin from the yoke, exposing the two ends of the rope, which allowed him to untie the knot without having to cut through it.

The human ego (or self or psyche or soul – you choose the label) is a Gordian knot located between God and our True Nature. It interrupts communion between us and God. Only when the knot in this “silver cord” (as Ecclesiastes calls it) is loosed will we find our true home in the Divine.

Jesus likened the process to going through the eye of a needle. When Jesus originally told his parable, it was not a dromedary or camel (the Greek word kamala) going through the eye of a needle, but a kamel, the Aramaic word for rope. Jesus’ native tongue was Aramaic, not the Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written. This parable was Jesus’ version of the Gordian knot.

A rope is too large to fit through the eye of a needle. But if it is unraveled and separated into finer and finer threads, one will eventually come down to a thread small enough to fit through the eye of a needle. In this way the whole rope can pass through the eye.

So with the ego or the self. The apostle Paul uses the Greek word sarx, which unfortunately has been translated into English as “flesh,” to describe this false self, but it is much more than the physical body. The New International Version uses the better phrase “sinful nature.” It is best understood as the false self, as opposed the True Self, which is the Image of God.

This false self must be transcended if we are to enter into the Kingdom of God. Some people slice through the ego with a simple stroke. In a flash of insight the ego is “seen through” as a mirage, nothing more than an illusion. It is not real in itself. It is just a psychological tightening in our human nature, obstructing the communion of our True Self with God. For others the dissolution of the false self involves a long and laborious process of spiritual discipline to unravel the knot until there is nothing left to untie.

In either case the Gordian knot is loosed and the eye of the needle is navigated. Both ends of the silver cord that binds heaven and earth, the human and divine, are seen to be coterminous. As the fourteenth century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart says, “The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.” When we see ourselves for what we really are, we will see God for who God really is.

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