Part ONE: Here I am
“I am here.” In these words, the Nobel Prize winning poet Czeslaw Milosz claims, contains all that one can say. As fearful as it may to say, I am not sure he is correct. “I am here,” declares our stand, but not our relationship to the life and God. “I am here,” dominates our contemporary world. As a declarative clause, it locates us as an individual to our place in the world. It is both modern and post-modern statement in that it focuses on the “I.” The center of the statement is its beginning, the “I.” It announces the arrival of the self in the “here,” a particular point in place and time. A declarative proclamation, it demands the world to take notice of this “I,” even if it is an enigmatic “I.” The “I” is both the subject and object, and the measure of experience. For moderns, this “I” identifies its self by its capacity to reason. For postmodernism, the “I” is defined by the amorphous individual. They are both on the side of the individual as opposed to the “here.” For both stances, the “I” as the measure of experience. “I am here” forces the rest of creation into reacting to the “I.” Where is God in “I am here”? God can only be within the experience of the “I.” Within this stance, is there any wonder why the religious imagination has fallen into such ruinous reputation? We have lost the relationship to God where we are in God’s expression.
I went to seminary with a friend, who would show up to events and classes in various color clashing clothes. Orange and purple would combine to broadcast his need to flaunt social mores, or so he would say. He wore skirts. He wore leopard-patterned top hats. Most of his classmates accepted his eccentricity. It was just Brent being Brent. (not his real name) The social mores of fashion he was fighting against had disappeared. He wanted to express his individuality, and uniqueness. “I am here,” was his constant cry to his fellow seminarians through how he dressed. He was mostly ignored. He naturally gravitated to the artists, or those who wanted to be artists. Was he playing the clown for us? I do not know his motivation. But through his clothes, through his demeanor, and through his speech, he was continually crying, “I am here,” and take notice of me.
His problem was simple. The rest of his crowd was also attempting to declare, “I am here.” To draw attention to themselves, they could not pay attention to anything else. Most of his outlandish costumes would go uncommented on. His group would be too busy constructing their own methods of grabbing attention. Some used the telling of their life stories as a soap opera to declare, “I am here.” They would complain about how their mother and father ruined them, and how they are now slowly healing. When they would take a breath, the person listening would jump into their own act to declare, “I am here.” They would share monologues, ignoring and buying time to when there was a break and they could speak. It was no wonder that Brent could never achieve his aim. He wanted to make a statement to people to busy making their own statements to listen. Listening becomes a lost art.
There is a second related problem to “I am here.” There was poet at the seminary would act as a jukebox with his troubles with women. Put a nickel in and he would play how his latest love interest oppressed him. The newest woman could see him just as a friend, while he wanted more. He would not ask for more, he only wanted more. When questioned if he asked the girl out, he acted as if you just wounded him. He thought you did not understand his suffering. His suffering, as insignificant as it was, was his “I am here.” He did not act to make his romantic life work. If he did, he would lose his personal, “I am here.” He trapped himself by thinking his “I” was his identity. His “I” became his prison. The saddest aspect of his world was that his “I” was a mere illusion. Many of the women he forced into the role of rejecter would have given him a chance romantically if he could see past his “I.” He could not give up his story and see something new. “I am here” robbed him of freedom, and impoverish his imagination.