If your newborn could speak I believe he or she would ask a similar question: “Who am I and what kind of story do I find myself in? Is the universe good or evil? What is my role…Am I enough?” But how are the answers to these questions fundamentally interpreted and who is going to answer them?
Who am I?
A major clue is found in the “faces of desire” we see all around us. The groundbreaking work of literary critic Renee Girard unpacked the observation made throughout history that humans have the capacity to reflect whatever captures their gaze. If you haven’t noticed, we are professional imitators of the models around us! This isn’t just a phenomenon found in children but in all ages. This field of study has been labeled mimetic realism. Beyond simple imitation it has been discovered that we also imitate the intentions and desires of others. Desire then is not directly linked to the object of desire but is mediated by a third player — that of another’s desires. In this way desire is actually created by another person — not independently initiated. This is one of the most profound implications of mimesis: it exposes the illusion of the self as independently formed and sustained. It is now a known reality that we are born into inseparable relationship with others …and indeed everything (on every level and dimension in which we are scientifically aware!) This reflective nature is what allows us to flow and travel through the mirrors and models of life incorporating them, for good or for ill, into a collective and yet unique self.
I am the sum total of the many models that create the desires that form my self. Really and truly, “there isn’t a me without you”!
In this we learn how all our individual stories are intricately woven with the stories of others through this connection of reflective desire. My own story began with an emotionally absent and troubled mother coupled with a very rough school in my early years. While I had an amazing and loving father he unfortunately had to point to the concept of the god he himself was given who possessed not one face of desire but two (that of love and retributive “justice”). I lived in fear and felt in competition with others and struggled to forgive. Not having one central reference for myself, but rather many faces in stark contrast and competition, left me with a very fragmented and fragile sense of self. Tragically in my ignorance I placed the same mirror of a dualistic god, and all the contradicting faces of its followers, before my own children. Consequently they reflected in many ways the same sense of inadequacy and lack I found in myself. I was unaware of the source of the problem and therefore sadly unaware of the solution. What is not transformed is always in danger of being transmitted says Richard Rohr.
What kind of story have we fallen into?
Better understanding the context of my life is one reason I am so grateful for the Mimesis Academy. I have been given a greater narrative, a Story beneath my story, that is able to transform it. The lost identity, the conflicts, the struggles and the deaths of selves and dreams I experienced are simply (even valuable) elements found in every worthy story. This has given me such hope! Mimetic desire, ultimately understood and applied, reveals how all these mis-forms (crucifixion) of self can be trans-formed within the context of the deeper and truest Story found in Jesus Christ. The “Christ-Story” reveals that our story is destined to ultimately be one of indomitable resurrection life! Just as light chases down the darkness to fill it, even so the Author of Life chases down all our false selves and deaths to re-interpret, re-tell and transform them into gifts from a gracious and loving Father.
What is my role…am I enough?
Recently I had a profound experience that came from this understanding of our reflective nature within its relationship to others. I was feeling overwhelmed by my own limitations and flaws, as well as some heavy circumstances in my life, and I began to sink into a deep dark depression of isolation and fear. I just couldn’t shake it and felt desperately alone and helpless. I had learned to see God as my Father who created my true self as “innocent and blameless in Christ” and so thankfully I was not filled with the normal condemnation. But I still could not find my way out of the terrible darkness. I seemed to need more than to just know “God loves me.” Then, it hit me. “I am not alone. I am in relationship and I am a relationship. My issues are not just mine and I do not shoulder them alone.” As Rohr puts it, “The burden of holiness [or wholeness] was never meant to be placed on the individual.”
The wonder of the universe is not in the stars or the protons or the cells or even in one human being but it is in their relationship to each other; That is the miracle we call life. I suddenly realized (like a quick look in the mirror of “perfect freedom”) that I was not an isolated individual doomed to carry the burden of my self alone. Although distinct and separate, I was in inextricable and vital union with everyone else. Like a whole body that hurts when one part is injured I realized that my problems were on some mysterious level theirs too and of course the other way around. How this humbled me to realize I am indeed my brother’s keeper. So many thoughts spun forth from this! It meant my words and attitudes carry an energy of either life or death that affect others, perhaps on the other side of the globe, for good or for evil…perhaps even for war or for peace!
We wonder what we can do in our little isolated corner of the world to make a difference. Some of our corners seem quite small. I began to imagine how sitting at my brother’s bedside while he lay there with a terminal neurological disease not only comforts him and enriches me but perhaps it enters that space where all relationships are occurring and adds my influence of love. Perhaps this love will somehow help someone else have a better chance at being transformed by the compassion I placed there in that space. I don’t know how that would or could work but neither do I understand the physical relational entanglement of all creation “seen through a glass darkly” by physicists! Somehow “Love bears all things, hopes all things and never fails” and God is love and “he is filling all things” (1 Cor 13;1 Cor 15:28; Eph 4:6).
I am not alone and therefore I am enough. In Christ and in union with others I have a powerful role to play. From my small corner of the universe I have the potential to influence the world!
The transformative and healing power of relationship
I am seeing more clearly the power of the self in relationship — what I choose to reflect will either create or tear down, somewhere in the universe. That is why it is written that all creation groans for the Children of God to wake up and know their true identity! (Rom 8:22) “All things new” can only take place in this space of connective relationship in Christ, not in trying to define the parts or fix the parts. God wants to heal the relationship between all the parts and selves of His creation. This is one of the greatest practical revelations of really knowing that our Reference for life is a Family of face to face mutual love and adoration: it is this vision of our inclusion into this relationship that transforms everything. We’ve wasted valuable time trying to define what is “God” or “trinity” and missed looking into the Mirror of what they are simply being together …with us, for us and as us.
This life with a perspective from the other side of resurrection found in the face of perfect relationship has given me new eyes with which to reinterpret my own story, my adult children’s stories and now begin offering a new storyline, and thus a new “face of desire,” to my grandchildren!
What kind of a tale have we fallen into? It is no longer the frightening story of an independent self separated from an isolated god and others. It’s rather a Story of recovering and discovering our true selves found in the purest Desire of all — a Family of mutual love, adoration and fellowship. We each have been included at their table to freely taste and reflect their oneness with our brothers and sisters. But the journey to finding our true reflection and exposing our false selves and gods is full of “many dangers, toils and snares,” even crucifixions. It’s certainly not safe, alluding to Lewis, but the resurrection is making everything, and your story, very, very good.