Finding Your-Self in Communion, Part One
“We will always make lives—we are not free from that inevitability—and they will always be specific, focused, and limited. Through making them, we develop powers of agency and powers of relation, powers that can help guide others through the inevitable project of life-fashioning.”1
Am I my brother’s keeper? Such a question can only be answered in the affirmative. We are, in fact, our brother’s keeper. Just as Adam was given the responsibility to tame, tend, cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden (“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.”2), we are responsible for the taming, tending, cultivating, and the keeping of our brothers and sisters and the people around us. Implicit in our relationship to them is our responsibility for them. There is something about the relationship that without us they cannot become themselves and without them we cannot truly find ourselves. It is in our communion with our brother, with our sister, and with our neighbor that we find ourselves. As Reformed theologian, James Torrance says, “The human person is someone who finds his or her true being in relation, in love, in communion.”3
The Eastern Orthodox monk, St. Siluoan the Athonite, was right whenever he said, “Our brother is our life.”4 For, our brother provides a contrast to our very being whereby we learn what it means to be ourselves. In contrast to him, my Me-ness is drawn out all the more and his His-ness makes my Me-ness all the more special, unrepeatable and utterly unique. In the face of my brother I find myself, not because the relationship which I share with him makes me identical to him, but because the relationship that we share draws out the distinctiveness of us both. Whenever my brother pursues being uniquely himself with me I learn how to be uniquely myself with him. It is in my relationship to him that I learn that, even though we share a common human nature, we are in fact different entities; differentiated persons in that nature. Even though we are composed of the same biological stuff, our characteristics, personalities and defining qualities are radically different. By allowing my brother to be and to become himself; by seeking to tend to his selfness, I find my own personhood drawn out in my service to him. By granting him space to be himself with me, my own Me-ness becomes all the more actualized. This is precisely how our brother is our life. To humbly tend to him is to tend to our own souls.
Whenever we are immature in the faith we have this tendency to believe that we are self-made, self-cultivated, self-tended and self-kept. We tend to believe that we exist regardless of love, not realizing that it was out of love for us that God brought us into existence to begin with. We fail to recognize just how much our own parents and family members have loved us into existence. We neglect recognizing just how much the church that we grew up in (if we grew up in church) actually fostered our very being by providing a relational communion for us to grow up into. A large part of transitioning into fulfilled humanness and maturity in faith is the recognition of the fact that we do not exist as autonomous wholly self-made individuals but that people have been contributing to who we are all along. As the Apostle Paul says: “What do you have that you did not receive?”5
Yet, unfortunately, individualism still reigns at large within the Church. As the Serbian Orthodox bishop, Maxim Vasiljevic, says:
“We live in an age of individualism. In our so-called civilization, everyone thinks only of himself; this attitude is not limited to the ‘secular’ world, but is also present among Christians. Individualism has crept in and each one of us tries to be reconciled to God by himself, on his own. He forgets his brother or looks at him as an object of his criticism and blame and forgets that the meaning of the spiritual life, the fulfillment of our salvation, exists in this very act of receiving our brother.”6
So, how do we begin to overcome the individualistic tendencies and sway within our own hearts and our communities? We don’t have to go anywhere new or create a new philosophical system. We simply need to recover what is traditional and creedal. We need to recover and reestablish the essence of Trinitarian theology once again and its subsequent outflowing theology, that theology which addresses personhood. This is what I am planning on discussing in my next segment on this issue.
- Hoff, Shannon. “Rights and Worlds:The Political Significance of Belonging”. Filmed January 2014. Youtube Video. Duration 43:35. Posted March 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94KYDLdNs7c
- Genesis 2:15, TNIV
- Torrance, James. Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997. 39.
- Archimandrite Sophrony. St. Silouan the Athonite. Crestwood:St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991. 47
- 1 Corinthians 4:7, TNIV
- Vasiljevic,Maxim. History, Truth, Holiness. Alhambra: Sebastian Press, 2011.