Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Perpendicular Pronoun

Narcissus (JW Waterhouse, detail): the first selfie. And we all know what happened to him...
HALO often tells of a former colleague who was very fond of talking about himself.  He also had a piercing voice and a strong regional accent (I won't say which) so that anyone walking past his office would hear a stream of "I, I, I..."  Fairness compels me to add that HALO will often go on to say in the same breath that I'm doing exactly the same whenever I post on this blog.  It's true, isn't it: the temptation to write about what I've been doing (translate that as: aren't I wonderful doing all these great things? See how in demand I am) or what I'm going to do (i.e. please, please come and boost my ego and tell all your friends so that more people know how great I am...)

I've never much liked that Sunday school thing about the Cross being "I" crossed out. I'd rather think of the Cross as the ultimate living mirror where I see myself reflected in the loving, truthful eyes of Christ. But I do need to watch how I use that perpendicular pronoun. (Spot the irony: five of them in this paragraph so far, not including the one in quotes. I am, though, deliberately using it rather than "we" to own what I'm writing as applying to me. So that's all right, isn't it..?). See, the danger isn't just of being turned into a pretty flower by a pool if I make myself too much the centre of my attention and my universe. It flows into how I use the word "my" too. And yes, here's Screwtape:

We teach them not to notice the different sense of the possessive pronoun - the finely graded differences that run from "my boots" through "my dog", "my servant", "my wife", "my father", "my master" and "my country" to "my God"... And all the time the joke is that the word "Mine" in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything.

The monastic tradition reminds us to consider speaking of "our" rather than "my".  In his early diaries  Thomas Merton wrote about putting on "our" socks and shoes after wading through a stream. That's the "our" of community - and also the "our" of "I and Thou"; the "our" of the Suscipe again - "everything is yours; dispose of it according to your will."  Love, reminds Ignatius "consists in a mutual sharing of goods" (Spiritual Exercises #231). And lest we think this might not be a joyous thing, read this:

It used to be
That when I would wake in the morning
I could with confidence say,

‘What am ‘I’ going to
Do?’

That was before the seed


Cracked open.

Now Hafiz is certain:
There are two of us housed
In this body,Doing the shopping together in the market and

Tickling each other
While fixing the evening’s food.

Now when I awake
All the internal instruments play the same music:

‘God, what love-mischief can ‘We’ do
For the world
Today?’

- Hafiz





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