To be dissipated is to be scattered, scatterbrained, scatterhearted.
In times like we are now in the self can be spread out like a thin layer of Saran wrap over the minutia of life.
In America we are the identityless people. The issue of personal and corporate identity is the crisis of our time. Our culture makes T.S. Eliot's "hollow people" look like paragons of self-discovery.
The more we lose focus, the more the self dissipates. Thomas Merton writes:
"The measure of our identity, or our being (for here the two mean exactly the same thing) is the amount of our love for God. The more we love earthly things, reputation, importance, ease, success and pleasures, for ourselves, the less we love God. Our identity gets dissipated among a lot of things that do not have the value we imagine we see in them, and we are lost in them: we know it obscurely by the way all these things disappoint us and sicken us once we get what we have desired." (Quoted in Henri Nouwen, 36)
Like Emilie Griffin once wrote, it's not life's failures that disappoint us, but life's achievements and successes, since once acquired, discover they do not fulfill us in the way we imagined they would.
The dissipated, flat-as-a-pancake self becomes less and less in its never-satiated quest to consume more and more. Life blurs together.
What's needed is the discovery, or rediscovery, of focus, of centeredness, of selfhood.
This is a learned behavior, and can be found in a life of praying.
In praying the self orients itself to the true north of the being of God. In praying, God gathers the scattered fragments of self into an undissipated whole. In the dedicated act of praying we are pieced back together and restored to our first love, which is Jesus.
In praying we realize, experientially, that our identity lies fully "in Christ." In praying, the self is gathered and retooled.
(For more, see my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.)
The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot
Mistah Kurtz - he dead.
A penny for the Old Guy
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other kingdom
Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
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