Tuesday, December 21, 2010

on the great contexts

"I owe this book to ten years of conversations and company with extraordinary men and women. While we made use of the guises of student and teacher, therapist and client, researcher and subject, colleague and colleague, in order first to meet, I want to thank them here as the persons they are, before, during and after all these roles - persons who let me learn with them and from them. ... If I cannot always say who is speaking I can at least identify, and gratefully acknowledge, the person and arrangements that make up the context from which I speak."

I am reading Robert Kegan's book, The Evolving Self. I am reading this to push new questions into my ponderings, to extend my understanding of how people grow and what matters, to expand the context in which I think about human formation.

And then I stumble across an acknowledgement at the beginning of the book - and I sit here, stunned and full of thought. (At this rate it will take me months to read this book.) With a small bunch of words Kegan has cracked open my sometimes selfish sense of 'me' and given me words to express the real experience of life as I have known it.

We meet people using guises. We come to each other as pastor and seeker, as teacher and student, as colleague to colleague but we are, first and last, people. The learning is passed from one to another especially when we let the other see our true humanity. Getting beyond the guises is something I have long pursued. But they serve us. They bring us together in the beginning and if we are wise, we move beyond them.

And when we speak we speak from our own experience or what we have heard and learned and very often we do not know who is speaking, if we are honest. If there had been no rich context of so many other lives we would have nothing to say. That is fact. So who can say who is talking? We can say, though, that we are part of a rich context that is so tightly woven as to be part of our very souls.

Right now, I know I am speaking and Robert Kegan is helping me speak. And you are part of my words. Part of the understanding and experience that makes my thought possible.

So ... I put these lines out into the stream ~

What does this say about 'the great cloud of witnesses' who provide the context for our faith? What of my faith is really their voices speaking? And how can this understanding give us courage to do our small part in participating in the lives of other people, in their faith journey, in their journey to find meaning and courage to live?

And how can we learn to use and discard guises that bring us together and enable conversation? I don't mean that we throw off all roles and responsibilities to and for each other. That would mean chaos. I just mean - how can our actual interactions (flowing from our deepest understanding of the sacredness of a person) be changed simply by how we see people. (Every one of us knows when we are not considered valuable - no matter what the other person is putting on or saying.) The human person is a profound treasure. Things we measure that person by - from lines on their face to the girth of their panus (waistline, so Vincent tells me) - these are like mud caked on a diamond. Or things like possessions - even possession of intellect, special knowledge, abilities - functional development - these might determine a person's contribution but not the value of what they bring as a person.

I am also reading Thomas Keating - Foundations of Centering Prayer. I know - what happened to reading a good novel? On the pages I am reading he is talking about the humiliation that true self knowledge brings. Self knowledge is about a ray of light shining on our hidden darkness, the place of our greatest self deception. Self knowledge brings humiliation at first, and then a proper humility of knowing our true selves - in the glory and the darkness of being human.

These two books are being served to me out of one cup. I feel a well of gratefulness swelling up in my heart for all the wonderful and exceptional people who have been part of my life for a moment or a year or decades. I know that you are my rich context of learning and growth and joy and pain and all of this together is the gift enabling me to speak.

Merry Christmas my friends - my great cloud of witnesses - my people for life and my people for a moment.


Sarah said...

I love this. And it fits into ponderings of my own. Or are they my own?

Krissi said...

You and I met under a guise. And look at us now--we're friends. :) Pretty great, I think. I learn a lot from you; I hope you learn things from me sometimes.

John Wesley Leek said...

Merry Christmas.

amberly said...