By: Ellen Nimmo
Can I let you in on a little secret?
I like wearing a mask.
It makes me feel safe, hidden away. You see, what is scarier to me is being seen. Really seen. So, I pop on a mask when I head out the door. Or when I enter doors. I wear masks like you wouldn’t believe. There’s just about one for every situation. There’s the favorite “I am capable” mask. The “I am strong” mask, the “I have it all figured out” mask, there’s my “I’m not afraid” mask and the mask I might love most, the “I am so above this” mask. It’s so comfortable for me to slip one on and pretend. I have masks for dinner parties and masks for work, masks for relationships and masks for jerks. While I tend to think of masks as being archaic, a thing of the uncivilized past, masks are still relevant as ever, don’t you think?
Do you have a few favorites in your rotation?
The origin of the word “masks” seems nearly hidden itself. There are a lot of ideas and claims as to where the word came from, but a lot of the themes overlap, regardless of which language you think the root word originated from: buffoonery (Arabic), specter (Latin), covering (French), or added face (Spanish), to name a few. Masks have been and are used for a variety of activities throughout the centuries. Used in sport, in entertainment, during rituals and ceremonies, during wartime and as a covering for thieves, masks have also been used to channel the gods, shame breakers of social conduct codes, and protect from the spirit world.
Masks have all kinds of uses and, like most things, can be used as a way to help or hurt.
I was recently traveling, on an airplane. The flight attendant’s voice came over the intercom as the passengers were getting settled in our seats, “Good morning, ladies and gentleman, thank you for joining us on today’s flight. Please make sure, out of consideration, that’s such a nice word isn’t it? Out of consideration, please make sure you are wearing your mask at all times. Thank you.”
That word. Consideration. The flight attendant’s pause over it, nudged me to look at the duty of wearing a mask for the next three hours as something I could do – out of consideration. Knowing that there’s so much unknown still, the very least I can do is slide on a mask, after all, I’m usually wearing one anyway. And, in this case, this bandanna, or this light-blue paper covering, or this cotton mask could potentially be what protects someone from getting sick. For me, it is worth it to sacrifice some small part of my “freedom” to consider others.
In fact, all this consideration regarding masks has made me realize how often I don the other sort and wouldn’t you know, it’s far easier to see the way others may be wearing the proverbial mask. The invisible disguise. Hiding us away from one another, away from the real task at hand.
There’s the friend who tosses on her “Go with the flow” mask, with gritted teeth trying to smash back the longing for control. The “I’m tough, I’m over it, I’m not hurt” mask which is what many of us throw on to avoid the sometimes painful, but always worth it, effort that leads to true forgiveness and reconciliation. The “workaholic” mask, which works and works and works as a way to escape the challenges of relationship, parenting or self-awareness. Each of these could all be easily partnered with other popular, modern masks such as, “I’m important,” “I’m busy,” and “I’m good.”
But what if all this mask wearing is robbing us (and others) of getting to know our truer self?
A few days back I heard a sermon. The pastor was of the protestant, Christian variety and it (the sermon) was all about the lives of “believers” being “hidden with Christ.” The verses quoted mostly came out of the Book of Colossians, which was written by the Apostle Paul.
Paul was in prison for his belief and exultation of Jesus Christ during the time he wrote this letter to the Colossians. Within this letter, Paul claims that Christ is creating a new, multi-ethnic family, a new humanity hidden inside Christ. He asks them to “set their hearts on things above” (Colossians 3:1). Why? Because you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossian 3:2). Meaning, anyone who is a follower of Christ, indeed all of humanity, is invited to live fully in the present moment, suffering and all, and be transformed by the “new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9).
Take off your old masks, Paul seems to say and instead put on the consideration of Christ. Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Forgive. Letting the peace of Christ rule in your hearts so that you may love others, in unity, letting our conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Colossians 3:12 -15, 4:6). It may feel scary, but don’t worry, you are already hidden, your life is safely inside the Creator of all things.
For me, being hidden with Christ allows me to, freely and without regret, take off the mask of the old-self which pretends to know and be strong and capable of having it all figured out and instead, put on the new-self, the newness of humility and compassion. My life isn’t what it seems. It is hidden inside a glorious resurrection; empowering me to live in the present with more consideration for others. So in these troubled times, I’ll don a mask of consideration. Its presence on my face might help others, but it will also serve me: an ever-present reminder to leave the other masks behind.