Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fully Known

Real Life Preacher has a wonderful blog on the difficulties of truly knowing and expressing who we are.

One of the poems in Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" is called, "Song of Myself." That poem caught my attention the first time I read it, and I have contemplated its meaning many times since. Singing the song of yourself has a thrilling and dangerous appeal, like skinny-dipping or hitchhiking across the country with only twenty bucks in your pocket. Many times I have wanted to sing the song of myself, but I’ve never been willing to take the time or pay the price.

You can read the rest here.

I found myself very moved by this posting. I posted this comment.

Your words moved me deeply. I often reflect on Paul's words, "then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." There appears (at least in the English translation) to be some ambiguity about whether the second part means, 'even as I am fully known now' or 'even as I will then be fully known.' The promise that I will be one day fully know seems to be a promise. The thought that God knows me fully now I find rather more terrifying.

The issue of sharing what I know of myself with others seems really complicated. A few of my friends and I have a little reading group and when we last met we talked about the problem of autobiography - that when I reveal something of myself it usually means I'm revealing something of those close to me. I find the same blogging, that I try to protect my friends' privacy as I write about my stuff. This just gets added to the fear that comes from singing the song of myself.

I reflect on the passage from Corinthians almost daily. At some church meetings once I asked a friend something about one of the bishops. He responded that if transparency was a quality of the episcopacy then we had few bishops in the church. I laughed but I've thought of that comment often because I don't think transparency is something only bishops should aspire to. Yet I see all the pitfalls RLP sees in expressing who you truly are and more. My own capacity for self-deception is great and so I struggle with whether I actually know myself well or not. And then, while I long to be fully known I am plagued by the fear that if I was fully known I wouldn't be liked because all those yucky parts of who I am would be out there.

I think the problem is a bigger one than just trying to know and express ourselves. The philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch was concerned to show in her novels how we are constantly writing scripts in our head in which we are the main character and everyone else is just there to play a role in our drama. The critical moment in her novels come when the main character actually sees the other person and sees him/her as s/he is and not as an extension of himself or herself. She picked up Simone Weil's idea of the importance of 'paying attention.' So if we are to pay attention to ourselves, to know ourselves and to find expression for ourselves it can't be at the expense of knowing others, of paying attention to others. And this ties in to another comment left by someone on RLP's blog, that we aren't individual constructions but only exist in relationship to others. So the song of myself is essentially always a multi-voice polyphony.

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