Posted by: rosa alba | June 20, 2009

To be or not to be; and if to be, how and who to be?


My son tells a riddle about having four legs in the morning, two in the middle of the day, and three in the evening..and the answer to the question of Who am I? is, of course, man(kind).  Shakespeare would  say- not in Hamlet of course, but in As You Like It – that, in a Derrida-like approach, we are many things to many people: daughter, sister, friend, lover, wife/partner, mother, some of which may intersect.  Lacanian psychology builds on the Freudian notion of the Gaze – and perhaps even theories of authenticity in terms of Existentialism – in understanding how, in forming a sense of Self,  is  the need we have to find our identity reflected and confirmed in the mother-child dyad, or through our relationships with other people.  While more cognitive behavioural based approaches would assert that it is not one’s business what other people think of one (which would be an authentic existentialist approach).

But, does an identity (as  sister, daughter, or mother) still exist if the relationship is no longer there, through damage  or severance  or loss  of whatever kind, or death?  And how does one integrate the various whos that that one is,  into one unfragmented identity, when these different external identities are just that – different in what people sees of one and how what they see or perceive is received.  Who is the ultimate Signifier of one’s persona, who knows us in our entirety, our worst and our best?  The ultimate Signifier is Logos, without which nothing has significance:

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths,  you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

[Psalm 139]

While God may be the ultimate Signifier who gives meaning, the functional integration by Self of the different selves into one harmonious Self is more fraught.  I know who made me and why – and even what to do with the being  that I am.

1. Who made you?

God made me.

2. Why did God make you?

God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him for ever in the next.

3. To whose image and likeness did God make you?

God made me to his own image and likeness.

4. Is this likeness to God in your body, or in your soul?

This likeness to God is chiefly in my soul.

8. What must you do to save your soul?
To save my soul I must worship God by Faith, Hope and Charity; that is, I must believe in him, I must hope in him, and I must love him with my whole heart.

And perhaps,  we are indeed known by our works, and it is a question of action.  Through Faith, through Hope and through Charity – through Grace from God in the Sacraments – we can be who we are, rather than the external personae we put on for show, each mask fractured under the layers of grease paint, be it belted knight, marquis or duke.

But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

In other verses of  A Man’s A Man For A’ That, however, it is honesty that Burns extols.  And Self cannot be fashioned without honesty to oneself, if not to other people.  Honesty includes the recognition of one’s faults, failings and humanity within the context of the faith-structure, that God knows (and has always known) our every weakness and failing and loves us in – despite and, perhaps, because of – that humanity; the only sin beyond redemption, is that of Judas, despair in the infinite potential of the Saving – Redemptive – Grace of Calvary.   This is not problematic; the problem is working this honesty in the world, in which we are for a season to live – as “brithers”, with others, but foremost with one’s Self.
Warring aspects of one’s self, be they the more pathological multiple personalities born of disassociation through abuse, or the Self never fully integrated through lack or dis-integrated through trauma, or hidden aspects of the Self – the “madness” society would prefer locked in an attic – or other failures to conform (as Szasz would have it) to all of one’s society’s dominant mores are a breeding ground – with internalised oppression – for self-harm, whatever of the many forms it takes.
As the struggle with depression and suicide becomes tiring almost in the daily-routine it can assume, so the fighting or struggling aspects of Self take their toll increasingly – and outward manifestations of that hurt must – like an addict’s dose –  increase to provide simultaneously sufficient embodiement of pain and sufficient euphoria (from endorphins) to lift beyond.  Even that, has limits. The exhausted resulting   “dark night of the soul”  pulls one far from the light of God – not so much the  engulfing fears and terrors of demons of whatever manifestation whispering doubts into one’s ears, but – worse – the emptiness of complete separation and isolation: the desperate lament of “Eli Eli lama sabachthani,” when even  prayer forsakes us, hopeless and helpless, in a Hell of nothing.  But Christ died, descended into Hell (Gehinom) and conquered Death.  As Christ’s final words (according to Luke), “Father into Thy hands I commend my Spirit”, so perhaps the prayer of despair might be, not so much “Lord, Lord, why have You forsaken me” as “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy (on me, a sinner)”, or “Through Him, With Him, In Him, in the Unity of the Holy Spirit”.
But,  however firmly one’s eyes fixed on the Cross – one needs to find a functional level of integration in the world, a vision of self as a coherent Child of God, loved whatever our failings, the Child who (in the Parable so beloved of Fr Chris Brannan) despite having squandered all his father’s fortune and author of his own downfall, was welcomed with opened arms, and feted.  The rancour of the other brother – the Pharisees – that which falls short of understanding  infinite love.  The answer in reality, is however, all too often (initially) a poorly knitted coherent Self – vulnerable to the slightest snagging; or to use a Biblical analogy, a house, but one not yet built on rocks.  It is  – ultimately – a question of trust, as it was for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (dayenau — it would have been enough: to say the word, but the Word was quiet).  God, perhaps, easier to trust however than those around us; yet as with charity, as with lending to do so  without expectations, but to pray for forgiving and blessings to be showered on those who hurt us, (seeing  vulnerability and fear  – as that of Peter – in their lashing out),  as Christ asked forgiveness for those crucifying Him

The irony of being, as one might say, “not free to marry” is then, for me,  in the analogy of marriage with regard to integrating aspects of Self, at least in the lyrics of Dory Previn’s song Morning Star/Evening Star.

So I hereby
Take myself
My soul doth take my heart
To honor love and cherish
Till death do us part
I will I will
Accept myself
With hope and fear and wonder
And what I have joined together
Let no one put asunder
Let no one put asunder.


Sadly, there are those who cannot,  in their dark night of the soul, make out the Shadow of the Cross, not through lack of faith but through biochemical imbalances or metaphorical blindness  – whose vulnerability, not beyond the healing of God but too open and vulnerable to  environment, too damaged by circumstance to navigate being able to fix their eyes on God’s gaze.  Please pray for all those who have taken their own lives and for those whom they have left behind.  In your charity, pray especially for my beloved Katherine. who took her own life 13 years ago; and for all those whose identity as a parent, ended – in relation to that child – with the death of that child,  especially those for whom the anniversary of the loss or for whom a significant – missed – milestone occurs at this time (my Jojo would have been a First Communicant this year).

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