Friday, July 29, 2011


Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”

Sometimes people admire me even though they don’t know anything about me. This always creeps me out. The person they admire is of course someone entirely different from me and in fact someone entirely different from anyone who actually exists. On days when I’m in a gracious mood I can chalk this up as a vocational hazard. On the days when I’m feeling especially unlike the imaginary spiritual action figure in question, patience comes less easily. The latter kind of days have been more common recently so I've been finding myself eager to drop an F-bomb or pick up a cigar or lay down some smack, just to etch an exclamation mark behind what I’d really like to say: Foo. Dat. Idol.

Several Greek Church Fathers, a few scholastic monks and a handful of retro-hip modern theologians all say that you and I are like the Trinity in at least one very important way: We have our ‘being in relation.’ By that I think they mean that we don’t first exist all cozy and complete and then go around making incidental relationships. No, they say, that would be backward. Instead, our lives are meant to be something closer to the other way round: We find, discover and receive our identities from others in the throes of our relationships with them. Identity is not the nugget inside, the island, the ‘substance’ beneath it all. Identity is the gift our friends and family inject into our spiritual bloodstream by acknowledging us as the person we are becoming. This is  true of whatever weekly jousts we might have with the gas-station attendant and of however we might know the Father through the Son by the Spirit.

In other words, I’m not me unless everyone who knows me keeps knowing me as the person we are collectively creating.

But let’s bring this back from brink of deep-thought gibberish: We are whoever the people we love allow us to be.

And yah, that’s loaded. What if we’re lousy at love? I’ve heard that’s common. Or what if the people we manage to love are occasionally grabby, selfish dinks? Also common, I’ve heard. Or, now back to the point, what if some of the people in our lives ‘know’ us as someone we really aren’t?

I’ve been a dad for twelve years now. And each of those twelve years is filled with twelve months of four weeks where most days I respect my own parents more. They were the first to acknowledge me as the person I am becoming today, and somewhere in those early years I was given a sense that I don’t need to pretend to be anyone else. I have no idea how that worked except that it likely had something to do with courage and trust and their uncanny ability to allow me to make my own mistakes.

It would be a mistake to accept my identity from people who don’t really know me.

And it’s no mistake that ‘know’ can be a euphemism for love.

Those who do know/love me know that although I might have a weakness for cigars, I don’t ‘lay down smack,’ can’t cuss without sounding dumb and am nowhere near as impressive as the idealized mirage of a spiritual hero that some people want me to be. On my good days I’m okay disappointing the confused caravan of some people. They’ll have to get over it. It would be good for them to get over it. On the more common days, the days when there are more mirage seekers than grace givers, I can almost hear my soul crack in the baking sun of false admiration. Ack. Blech. Gasp.

On those days it’s up to the frazzled shards of my childhood faith to creep and crawl back from the pounding hooves. Let the caravan pass. 

And let me find again the soothing shade of God’s Grandeur.