By Mary Marrocco | Catholic News Service
Who could forget the look on Ingrid Bergman’s face, playing Paula in the movie “Gaslight,” as she apprehends the possibility that she might be slowly going insane?
She wonders because her husband is deliberately trying to unbalance her mind, so he can declare her incompetent and control her assets (concealing his even darker secret). One of his shrewdly tortuous methods is to make the gaslights flicker and convince her she imagines it — till she ultimately blames herself for the fault that is external to her.
Her facial expression? Anguish.
We often think of “psychosomatic” as a pretend illness, a weak person’s inability to cope with reality. But “psychosomatic” reflects the intimate, little-understood ways our psyche (soul) and soma (body) are intertwined. What affects the soul affects the body, and what affects the body affects the soul.
Paula feels physical pain because her soul is being tormented by the deceit of one she loves and trusts. The resulting inner conflict almost destroys her, until the lie is exposed and the truth restores her personal integrity and wholeness.
Deceit works on us this way: It divides us internally. Imagine what would happen if your skin were divided from your flesh, your sinew from your bones. Your body would be torn asunder. Since the soul is a vaster, deeper reality than the body, the soul’s internal division is more agonizing still.
Scripture calls Satan the “father of lies.” There is an anguish unique to the human spirit internally rent by lies. The deceit might originate within the person or from somewhere else, or both, but either way the anguish — though not necessarily recognized or understood — is as deep and sharp as the deception sits in the soul.
It’s the father of lies who tells humans they are not who they are: “Nobody wants you.” “You are only a fetus, not a person.” “You would be better off dead. It’s best for your family.”
The one being lied to in such ways is suffering death by a thousand cuts. The message will echo in the soul, and the person’s blood will pour out again and again. The wounded person may wound others, building on this lie, which will in turn reopen his own wounds.
In Genesis, the serpent is “the most cunning” of all creatures, slithering into the soul of Eve to divide her from herself, her mate, her Lord and her rightful place in creation. She is thereby mortally wounded — as anyone suffering from lies is wounded unto death, often a long, slow, incremental death like Paula’s.
At times, it seems there is nothing but lies, swirling anywhere, spoken by anyone, till nothing seems trustworthy. But there is an antidote.
What marks our present moment in history is how, once again, lying has entered the public as well as the private domain and taken up residence among us. Leaders are less and less even expected to speak the truth. This in turn expresses itself at the interpersonal level, where truth is no longer held as a high value.
It becomes acceptable to lie for a righteous cause or ideology. Could we not expect our mental health to suffer? The father of lies “is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), trying to convince us we, or “the other,” are totally depraved. Worthless. Garbage.
This is not the word of God. In Genesis, not even Cain, the first murderer, hears such things about himself from God. Rather, God rearranges everything to protect Cain’s life, which remains a divine gift.
God had already rearranged everything to protect the truth of Eve and Adam’s goodness and beauty, even after the lie tore at them and brought them the toxic shame of their naked selves.
There is an antidote. The truth will set us free. It is the father of lies who taunts us: “If people saw you as you really are, they would be horrified. Hide! Attack! Defend! See, you are worthless.”
This is not the word of God. In the Gospel narratives of the Passion, Christ does not speak thus to the soldiers who abuse him, nor to Judas who sells him, nor to Peter who (in the most intimate and therefore most cruel act of all) denies him.
Rather, with his words, actions and entire life — with his whole humanity and his full divinity — Jesus proclaims to them and each of us: “You are worth everything. You are my image. You were created for a purpose. I forgive you. You are my beloved.”
Christ is the truth. And the truth will set us free. We need not fear or hide from it. We may need to learn again to recognize it, treasure it and divide the lie from the truth — rather than being divided by the lie. It is breathed into our inmost being. Truth is risen from the grave.
Mary Marrocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature photo: The Women at the Empty Tomb is depicted in this stained-glass window by artist Guido Nincheri at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, Ontario. (CNS photo/Gene Plaisted, Crosiers)