Playing a part and Being who we are

Every person is not just what he actual is, but is also the actor playing himself. We can be more than we see, but we can also seem to be more than we are. Then we present ourselves as we should like to be but aren’t, or put on an act in order to appear differently from the way other people think of us, and adopt a poker face.

And if we ourselves don’t know who we really are, and have either lost our real selves, or have never found them, then we seem to ourselves like actors in a play which we don’t know, and in a role which we first have to invent.” To say that ‘all the world’s a stage’ sounds convincing but the image is untenable, for if there is no other reality, a theater is no longer a theater. But where, then, is this other reality to be found, the reality which puts an end to the play?

Is there a completely different reality in the face of which we lay aside our masks because we have been seen through, and so try to know ourselves as we are known? Or do we in principle remain so hidden to ourselves that we never arrive at an endpoint when we can put aside our masks, not even when we die, because we ourselves can never get through to the foundation?

Some thoughts from Jürgen Moltmann. Which resonate for me for a lot of reasons, one of which was seeing Inception this past Saturday. Another is because I’m reading through, for the ??th time, Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi, which probably ranks as my favorite book.

What is real? What does it mean to live in true reality rather than in a dream, or playing a role, or existing anonymously in this world–putting on the mask of everyone else who is playing a part, trying to be real? What is it to be a true person in this world? It is not a life of selfish absorption, making the world bend and bow, asserting self upon others. This leads only to emptiness. For we are left, then, only with the emaciated self we are in the moment, not really aware of the world, or the reality as it truly is.

Moltmann continues:

Egomaniacs move everywhere only in the hall of mirrors where their images of themselves are reflected. They talk only about themselves, they only quote themselves, in other people they seek only the endorsement of their own picture of themselves. Today we call that cultivating one’s image. It makes people unapproachable, and bores everyone else because they feel ignored. To exist only ‘fact to fact’ in these reflections of one’s own self means deadly self-isolation.

Then he gets to the good bit:

But lovers and friends know each other ‘face to face’. They look one another in the eye. Trustfully, they expose themselves in their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and find mutual protection in each other. Each gives the other the human space for living which they need to develop themselves.

In this way they do not just live side by side and together, but in each other too, and in mutual affection and reciprocal respect they keep their future open for themselves. Love does not invent an image of the other person and does not tie the other down to the preconceived judgments which always go together with the pictures we make of someone else.

When lovers see each other ‘face to face’ they need no pictures; pictures would be detrimental. For pictures are representations of people who are absent. If they are present, we don’t put up pictures of them. In mutual recognition we accompany the transformations of the other in the ongoing process of a shared life.

Not just true for lovers. This is, I think, the essence of what the church was supposed to be about — “the broad space in which there is no cramping”. Where we can be among others who are. Free to find our true self in the power of the Spirit who brings not only life but also uniqueness to every one who has breath. In unity we find a true diversity.

But this is indeed true for lovers as well. We lose this — the freedom, the expectation, the hope, the honest-self — we lose the bond and real freedom of growing into becoming our true self. We put on the mask. Lose our self. Become anonymous among others who are anonymous. We lose the Way.

But there is always hope. Hope to live and continue to live, hope to turn back and find new life, hope to be free to be who we truly are.

Sometimes, however, we might need a kick. Sometimes, though, we’re asked to take the step on our own — off the boat, away from home, or however it might look to let go our selfish demands of living the ‘dream’ life, where all is seemingly possible but is, ultimately, a trap keeping us from the truly real.

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