whole: Sunday 2

But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole.

Richard Rohr ‘Love Alone Overcomes Fear’ (Thursday, March 19, 2020)

FOR NOW WE SHALL SEE THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY; BUT THEN FACE TO FACE: NOW I KNOW IN PART; BUT THEN I SHALL KNOW EVEN AS ALSO I AM KNOWN 

(I CORINTHIANS 13.12 KJV)

With what – or whom – do I allow myself to come face to face?  I know it is all too easy for me to hide away, making managing my health, and the needs of family and friends the focus of my world.  It is also all too easy for me to become isolated and insulated from the world outside the walls of my bedroom.  What do I really know of the broken communities of the world?

Yet seeingdarkly, even at my lowest moments, means that somewhere within me remains an unseen thread of connection to the eternal.  And if I admit the presence of that thread in any way, then being connected to the eternal means I can become consciously welded to all those who breathe in, as I do, at this very moment – wherever, however, they are.

I learned to be a human being 

from other human beings

I am who I am in this moment because of who other people are.  This is the wonderful African principle of Ubuntu which Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama introduced to me in their Book of Joy: 

a person is a person through other persons (60).

The connections between us are not fixed.  So one of the ways the Holy makes me is through binding me to other people.  If I am open to coming face-to-face with strangers, then there will be different people to whom I am bound, in the different days and seasons of my life.  The more I hide from interacting with others, the less I am made into the whole woman God wants me to be.  We cannot be human without each other, ‘we’re meant for a very profound complementarity … I learned to be a human being from other human beings’, says Desmond Tutu (60):

This God is community … Being created by this God, we are created in order to flourish.  And we flourish in community. (62)

Ubuntu

As Rohr notes above, I need to be connected to others by allowing their suffering to meet my own wounds. In that meeting we may all be healed.  Similarly, in The Book of Joy Douglas Abrams summarises:

What does our happiness have to do with addressing the suffering of the world?  In short, the more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others.  But in a surprising way, what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were saying is that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others.  It is a virtuous circle.  The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.  The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves, but as the Archbishop poetically phrased it, “to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.” … joy is contagious.  As is love, compassion and generosity.“ (63)

I am a long way from being the serenity of the Archbishop’s poetry, but these reminders of the ways in which seeingdarkly can connect me with others, is a rich vein of gold I need to mine.  I need to pay attention to the ways in which my ‘becoming’ – where the Maker is at work – is dependent on my encouraging the flourishing of others.  Ubuntu has become a kind of shorthand of this for me in the last year.

the way we heal our own pain is actually 

by turning to the pain of others

The visual elements of my pondering about Ubuntu have been influenced by the work of painter/sculptor El Anatsui.  He is a Ghanaian artist best known for making textile-like hangings by joining bottle tops and milk cap foils with copper wire.*  He uses recycled materials to create huge flags, sheets and drapes, which shimmer with a richness that belies the humble origins of his materials.  His works are literally made out of African ‘base’ ‘gold’, and point up the fact that there are some places in the world where people have to re-use materials out of necessity, rather than as choice.  Some of the materials have been made in Africa, shipped to Europe where they are consumed, and shipped back to Africa to be processed and recycled.  Thus they also ‘connect’, by physical joinings, ideas of global consumerism and its historical origins, including the part played by slavery and the oppression of poverty.  El Anatsui says:

I saw the bottle caps as relating to the history of Africa in the sense that when the earliest group of Europeans came to trade, they brought along rum originally from the West Indies that then went to Europe and finally to Africa as three legs of the triangular trip…The drink caps that I use are not made in Europe; they are all made in Nigeria, but they symbolize bringing together the histories of these two continents.

(The New Razzle Dazzle, Art News)

Astonishingly, the materials El Anatsui uses link together in such a way that the final whole is not a fixed, stiff item but is:

always in motion. Anytime you touch something, there is bound to be a change. The idea of a sheet that you can shape and reshape.  It can be on the floor, it can be up on the ceiling, it can be up on the wall, all that fluidity is behind the concept. 

(The Nomadic Aesthetic*)

I am who I am becoming because of the ways I touch others, the ways I connect with them, how I deal with their pain, how I sit next to them in their suffering.  

Flexibly, through them, God makes me; flexibly, through me, God makes them.  

I cannot but be connected to the Whole.

Today I will praise.

I will praise the sun

For showering its light

On this darkened vessel.

I will praise its shine.

Praise the way it wraps

My skin in ultraviolet ultimatums

Demanding to be seen.

I will lift my hands in adoration

Of how something so bright

Could be so heavy.

I will praise the ground

That did not make feast of these bones.

Praise the casket

That did not become a shelter for flesh.

Praise the bullets

That called in sick to work.

Praise the trigger

That went on vacation.

Praise the chalk

That did not outline a body today.

Praise the body

For still being a body

And not a headstone.

Praise the body,

For being a body and not a police report

Praise the body

For being a body and not a memory

No one wants to forget.

Praise the memories.

Praise the laughs and smiles

You thought had been evicted from your jawline

Praise the eyes

For seeing and still believing.

For being blinded from faith

But never losing their vision

Praise the visions.

Praise the prophets

Who don’t profit off of those visions.

Praise the heart

For housing this living room of emotions

Praise the trophy that is my name

Praise the gift that is my name.

Praise the name that is my name

Which no one can plagiarize or gentrify

Praise the praise.

How the throat sounds like a choir.

The harmony in your tongue lifts

Into a song of adoration.

Praise yourself

For being able to praise.

For waking up,

When you had every reason not to.

‘Praise’

Angelo Geter

* all the quotes above are taken from this quick introduction to the work of El Anatsui: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/el-anatsui-17306/who-is-el-anatsui

now I know in part i&ii (diptych). (iPhone mages)

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

One thought on “whole: Sunday 2

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