Book Review: True Self | False Self

Book Review—True Self | False Self: Unmasking the Spirit Within

By: M. Basil Pennington   ISBN: 9780824518455

The Crossroad Publishing Company –127 pages

M. Basil Pennington (1931-2005) was a Trappist monk in the Cistercian Order. He published over sixty books including Centering Prayer which has sold over a million copies, Lectio Divina, and True Self—False Self the title and subject of this review.

The book opens with a quote from Blaise Pascal; “We labor unceasingly to preserve an imaginary existence and neglect the real.”

While this book is very brief, it is very weighty. I am convinced the truth that is revealed in this work is a foundational piece of each person’s spiritual journey; however, not every person may be ready to accept and work with the truth unmasked in True Self—False Self. The teaching of Jesus Christ expressed to his followers the only way to find real and eternal life was to lose the (false) life they held on to. Pennington brings focus to this teaching of Jesus by asking the following question:

“Are we not unhappy because we cannot do something we want to do, we cannot have something we want to have, or we’re concerned about what others will think?” The first step towards freedom lies in coming to this realization…

Pennington refers extensively to the writing of Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating as he reveals the unmasking of the false self as the way to understanding and realizing the true self, the self that is created to be in unity with God. This is deep and difficult teaching, especially if the reader has no reference or context to work with this type of language. Unmasking the false self is the consummate point in realized brokenness of our nature and this realization is not easily dealt with; I know. It was almost ten years ago that I came face-to-face with my own false self (it is the point of the iCrucified life–Galatians 2:20). I have spent the last decade learning about the true self and dealing with continued struggles with the false self. I have learned about the necessary steps to healing of memories, giving and receiving forgiveness, as well as subordination, obedience, and trust in the God I have professed to believe. This book will not accomplish all those things, but it can provide a starting point for those bold enough to unmask the false self and begin the journey to realizing the true self…the self that is imago dei, beholding and reflecting the Image of God.

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