the better i get to know myself

“Even a drunk with a flair for the dramatic can tell himself he’s an angel.”

– Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie, in the TV series House

There’s something so wonderfully, irritatingly droll about the character played by Hugh Laurie. Yesterday I posted a short poem on the suffering of animals and then deleted it – not because it was in any way invalid, but because I felt that having in the last few days become unreasonably angry at work at an intransigent client, I was in no position to claim any sort of moral high ground – ethical, philosophical, religious or otherwise. I was suspicious of my writing: the ethical position expressed in the poem itself was valid, the disquiet lay in the distance between who I am and what I said. Was I writing of the pain of animals, or my own? And if the latter: well heaven forbid I surrender to moral masochism.

“The apostle Paul’s confession that “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the thing I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 6:14) resonates in the hearts of all those who struggle in depth with their life in faith. We are, in significant ways, “other” to ourselves–an “otherness” we deny, fight, withdraw from, and seek to understand in countless ways throughout our lives.”
(Source: MYSTICAL COMMUNION WITH AN UNFORGIVING GOD: A DESCRIPTIVE PRACTICAL THEOLOGY OF DEPRESSIVE MASOCHISM by K. Brynolf Lyon, Associate Professor of Practical Theology & Pastoral Care Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana

I saw that once again I have been that “drunk with a flair for the dramatic” who “… can tell himself he’s an angel”; to this extent I’m oddly thankful to my client for the opportunity to reflect on my own self-delusion. Reaching for the splinter in her eye I discover (again!) the log – perhaps an entire timber yard – in my own. Shame ensues of course, and like any Pharisee worth his salt there is the projection outward of one’s shame as anger. How disappointing to find mine are not wings of fine white feathers, but dry bat-wings of patched leather and cardboard, held precariously together with the frayed string of flimflammery, the brittle glue of self-deceit. A good – if painful – thing to find oneself thus unmasked!

disappointed with myself, reproached in my dreams and imagining reproach all about, I take comfort in the forgiving presence of my wire-haired fox-terrier, Griffin. “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs”‘ said Charles de Gaulle. I’d add to that, “The better I get to know myself”.

*****

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) wrote, 

“Every creature is a word of God.”

It’s interesting just to consider this idea: to try and make sense of the German mystic’s proposition: my intransigent client, the corrupt politician, the murderer, the mosquito, the shark, the Tyrannosaurus-Rex: How can each be a word of God? It makes no sense – and yet: why should it?

*****

It might be simply  word-association, but the House quote above made me think about Leonard Cohen’s Bird On The Wire:

“Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.”
There’s our drunk again: perhaps I am a little like him, joining the good folk in their singing and yet really not one of them, too dirty, ragged and ‘out of it’ to belong, to be accepted fully. I can imagine a forced sort of kindness laced with irritation and embarrassment as our drunk mutilates the lyrics, trying to stand upright like members of the genuine choir, making himself all the more ridiculous. And yet, who can blame him for trying to be free, for recognizing however dimly that these folk singing of Christ bear witness to another world, a world of freedom?

multivalent

What an intriguing word. The Merriam Webster Dictionary follows it immediately with the equally intriguing “adjective mul·ti·va·lent \ˌməl-tē-ˈvā-lənt, -ˌtī-, especially in sense 3 ˌməl-ˈti-və-\” (“sense 3 being “having many values, meanings, or appeals”.

There are some interesting comments by readers and contributors on the site too:

“art is multivalent” Lili Fulton Co-founder at Tea With Shakespeare/ Lili’s Book Box
“… images of the serpent and its multivalent representations.”
“… the multivalent character of parables” Susan Anholt
“Life is messy and multivalent.Julie Orringer from April 2014 issue of O Magazine – 20 Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself (Question 3 – Am I With The Right Person?)
“It is this movement towards the imagination, towards questioning the ‘parallel realties’ that we inhabit, the modes of living that we aspire to, and the ‘truth’ that we believe in, which activates these works towards a multivalent modality of a ‘thinking’ photography.” (Hammad Nasar. From ‘Spirit Pulling’ to ‘Thinking’ Photography. Where Three Dreams Cross. pp 17)

“The practice of trying to be human is attended to by the Spirit, whose reason for being is to orient individuals intersubjectively to truth. If proposals regarding the canon’s unity are to coexist in a community that works out their truths, then the stance accepting anticipatory unity is trust—Spirit-filled trust attentive to the multivalent of truth’s unity.” Kenneth Gray, Missionary at InFaith

The Oxford Dictionary adds to this, “Having or susceptible of many applications, interpretations, meanings, or values: visually complex and multivalent work”.

The suffering God

“God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross… He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. [The Bible] … makes quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. … The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.”

“To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man—not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer