Small Person, Great Self

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A blog from Deacon David.  Burna Dunn and I saw our east coast granddaughter in Shakespeare’s play MacBeth last weekend, reset in a modern-day women’s prison. A 21-year-old, 4’10 3/4” actress, she played the lead role, MacBeth “herself,” and was killed in the final scene. The performance by 13 young women and one young man included intrigue, fight scenes, mayhem, assassinations, spilled blood, and really difficult Shakespearean English.

How does a 4’10ish” young female actress pull off an ancient, embattled Shakespearean Scottish king? The answer is as simple as it is profound: selfhood. A small actress portrays a large monarch by summoning up her own inner power. But what is this “inner power.” Understood in the Christian sense, our self is the very core of who we are—the inner dance of the way life offers itself to us and the way we decide to offer ourselves to life.

The traditional theological description of the elements of the Eucharist offers a useful analogy. How can bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? The image offered in answer is that the bread and wine are merely “accidents,” while in the Eucharist, their “substance” becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Without joining an argument or getting off into the weeds of debate, I can offer a simple description of my experience in the Eucharist. At the heart of this celebration, I have known the presence of the Christ in my felt experience of connection, embrace, and invitation to discipleship. As John Wesley put it, “My heart is strangely warmed.”

To follow the analogy, a young actress’s stature, age, and gender are all accidents, while the power and presence she manifests are the substance of her self. The energy of creation was offered and she decided to embody and project that energy. In her offering, I was invited “to suspend my disbelief,” embrace her story, and connect with what she was living out in front of me. The event became engaging, moving, and life giving.

The movie Wonder, that opens in theaters this weekend, offers another example of selfhood. Auggie Pullman, a fifth grader with a disfigured face, goes to public school for the first time. He is challenged by bullying and hostility, but is eventually embraced by his classmates. In my narrative, disfigurement was an accident of his birth. His power to embrace his challenges and connect with his classmates were the substance of his selfhood.

We all choose who we will be and how we will live in every moment. This “self” that I’ve been writing about is the very core of who we are and what makes us human—the dance of my sense of myself and the potential and energy to become myself that is offered to me by Life Itself-Creator God-Ground of Being. Our self is a living partnership of a local me and the universal life-giving power of Being.

Choosing to be that partnership and deciding to become the greatness of the self we are invited to be, is the challenge and opportunity of the life of faith.


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