Slap me upside the head – I’m feeling vainglorious

This is my very first blog post -ever.  Which is why it might seem odd for me to say, maybe it should be my last. 

I’ve been a compulsive blog reader for years and an on-again-off-again writer and poet with just enough self-confidence (or delusion) about my literary abilities to continue the practice, and go so far as to register a blog for the world to read.   In my opinion, the best bloggers seem to have an ability to make observations without sounding pompous and ill-informed.  Their personal anecdotes are relevant.  They write in a straightforward style as opposed to others that write with such tooth achingly sweet self-indlugence you wish their DH, DD, DBF or WTHC would kick them in the emoticon just to get them riled up.   This would not be one of those blogs.  I don’t do cute.

But it is self-indulgent to think I have anything more relevant or insightful to add to the trillions of electronic words that do not even have the permanence of a bargain bin paperbook at the dollar store.  I will feed this blog with relevant words and in turn, I am hopefully to be fed with a few self-affirming comments.  That is the nature of an interactive art form like writing – it requires the symbiotic act of reading.    A musician can play for the sheer joy of music, but you’d be hard pressed to find a writer who actually enjoys reading their own words.  The pleasure and reward of writing is in the audience and their favorable response to your work.   This is the addiction that has its roots in vainglory.

Vainglory is an odd word that today seems to be almost exclusively thought of in religious terms, although it had a perfectly secular usage until fairly recently.   The straight up definition of vainglory is a boastful, unwarranted pride in one’s accomplishments or qualities.  

The Holy Fathers and the saints have had a lot to say about vainglory.  St. John Climacus (ca. 579-649), Orthodox monk, ascetic and abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai, wrote a book that to this day remains one of the most widely read works on the spiritual life and the taming of the passions.  The Ladder of Divine Ascent was originally written for monastics, but has become hugely popular with the laity – those in the world who are trying to live a fully realized, God-pleasing faith.   St. John uses the image of climbing the rungs or steps of a ladder as an upward – heavenward- movement in one’s spiritual life.

St. John has this to say about rung 22:  Vainglory:

A man who takes pride in natural abilities – I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and all such skills as we possess without having to work for them – this man, I say, will never receive the blessings of heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful and vainglorious in much.

Sounds like writing a blog would fall within St. John’s parameters.  Am I consciously walking down the path of sin by undertaking this blog?  Trying to write well; trying to impress.  The writer in me says ‘you can’t post anything that sucks’; the vainglorious sinner says ‘if you just have humility when you receive your praise, it’s ok’.   False humility can be as deadly to the soul as boasting.   So what is one to do?

St. John puts forward three sure fire solutions to the seeking of glory and the pleasure that comes from praise.  First, the remembrance of God during prayer – the contemplation of “blessed fear”.   Failing that, the remembrance of death (the cold bucket of water approach).   And if you’re really stuck in the vainglory trap, St. John warns you of a holy gotcha – “the shame that always comes after honor…for he who exalts himself will be humbled…”   Squashing the sin of vainglory is essential if one wants to prevent the development of an even greater sin – pride.   While the dictionary definition of vainglory makes it seem analagous with pride, St. John distinguishes vainglory from pride.  He pictured vainglory as a little worm, maturing, sprouting wings and flying higher and higher in the sky.  “Pride begins where vainglory leaves off”   Pride is an even rougher road – so nip vainglory in the bud right quick.

So there you have it.  My dilemma.  I hope with prayer to stop this blog from turning into a source of vainglory and to prevent my entering the realm of pride.  To make some edifying contribution or at least not lead anyone into sin.  And I would certainly appreciate it if anyone would take it upon themselves to knock some true humility back into me if I seem to be getting too big for my britches.  St. John would expect no less.

 

 

 

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3 Responses to “Slap me upside the head – I’m feeling vainglorious”

  1. Ben Says:

    FIRST!

    Okay, seriously, though. Interesting thoughts, Tina. Is any act we do which garners attention or praise vainglorious, or only those which we do intending to gain attention and praise? I’m not really sure that I have any better idea than you do, although you seem to have given it *much* more thought than I have. One question for you that might help with your dilemma, however, is this: is your blog where you’re publishing your manifesto, or is it an invitation to share your thoughts and invite others to respond? The latter seeks edification, the former adulation. So, there you have my two cents, for whatever they’re worth. Anyway, hope the new blog takes off for you!

  2. Katherine Grace Bond Says:

    Hi Tina,

    I just started a reply and it launched into some cyber black-hole, so if this posts twice — my apologies.

    I’ve been thinking about this same topic quite a lot lately. (I’d read _Gifts of the Desert_ (Markides) and was feeling a little Mount Athos-y.)

    We can do one of two things. We can quit writing (or never divulge our writing to anyone), or we can continue writing and publishing.

    I’m coming to believe that the spiritual journey of the Christian writer is to live with the tension of being public and dying to self. One thought that struck me in Markides book was the idea that temptation strengthens us because it is only when we are tempted that we develop our spiritual muscles by resisting the temptation. For the writer the temptation is always self-glorification when our words bring ourselves or others joy.

    We could quit publishing our writing and then we wouldn’t have that problem. No one would find joy in our written words because we simply would not make them available.

    But how are we to grow spiritually if we don’t face temptation squarely? As writers we will always live with the tension of praise. But praise is also a kind of fuel that we give each other to spur each other on in our gifts. I never think twice about praising a good writer. I want that person to continue using their gift because of what it can give to the world. And I find that when I’m not sharing much of my writing and hence not receiving much feedback that I start to wind down and lose my enthusiasm for working. And I’m a grump when I’m not writing. My family doesn’t like it.

    So risk the temptation of vainglory. A well-placed rejection letter will always be there to take the wind out of our sails 😉 If we’re not receiving enough rejection we need to be submitting more work. And that’s where the balance will come.

    Courage on your journey.

    And I LOVE your writing! So there!

    Katherine

  3. tinag46 Says:

    Katherine and Ben – I really appreciate your thoughts and insight. It means more knowing it comes from writers far above my abilities. Katherine, you are exactly right about the output and productivity of a writer being directly dependent on the feedback you receive. Monastics and hermits would just retreat farther into the wilderness when they received praise. That isn’t possible for a writer, but I suppose it’s still possible to go into the wilderness of your heart. That sounds a lot harder than packing up and moving though. Well, pray for me anyway.

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