Self Awareness and the Archbishop

A moment of personal insight is one of those are real experiences somewhere near the core of our Christian experience, but it is hard to talk about.  Amidst a brutish world full of adrenalized violence and severed, double lives, self awareness seems like Barnes &Noble's corresponding cure peddled in the New Age section to many people.  Or worse, it becomes the badge of "spriritual ppeople" in church.  Of course,  it's also trendy for serious Christians to look down on such experiences as they require inward attention and presumably, ungodly self focus.  (I guess the appeal of embittered, faceless soul stripping seems more faithful if you more gets done...)

I put a lot of stock in self awareness, probably because of my own experiences, but talking about it is like dancing about architecture.  The more people talk about their self-awareness, the less I believe them.  Paul, of Romans 7, "I do not understand what I do" and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury have pressed me to rethink self-understanding not as a self-mastery, but as openness to revelation.  Williams writes about revelation:
...the claim made for a revelatory event is generated by the conviction that I have come to see or know myself at a new level.  To sense that you are 'seen' prompts questions about what there is to see, questions that lead to a different intensity of self-awareness, the change in your life that Rilke spoke of.  And to sense something like that is possible only in the world of difference, development and relationship.  The Rilkean awareness of being under someone or something else's scrutiny is part of a life story in which I encounter familiar and unfamiliar others, in which it is possible for me to be surprised into awareness.  I cannot generate such a sense for myself; it could not even be thought except in a historical world, a world of plural perspectives and images and the possibility of change.  In other words, if the transcendent freedom we have begun to imagine is to share who and what he is with the kind of minds we know, it must be within the frame of a history where human persons meet and change each other, where the way in which we grow is by language and exchange over time.  
This self knowledge isn't a graspable achievement, but an openness to revelation.  It comes as a gift from outside ourselves, particularly in that revelatory event in which God convicts, loves, affirms and challenges our own self perceptions.  (I should read more Levinas) Confession is a kind of exercise to shake up our images and allow different ideas about who we are to enter in. I feel like I've experienced it in some 12 step recovery veterans who have embraced the 1st step: I am powerless over my self. In perceiving how shaded and hazy our own insides are we are allowed to experience something new about ourselves.  In a funny way, it is our admission of ignorance that prepares us for the gift. 

William's point that self awareness is actually God's vision of us shared with us, strikes me as both wrong-headed and exactly correct, and it helps to understand how through other people, and directly, God constructs even our identities, without having to resort to a disembodied notion of the soul.


  1. Why do you think it is wrong-headed?

  2. Hi Plessey,
    I wrote wrong-headed as a nod to how tightly I would like to grasp and control my own identity; a self-made man so to speak. I like to think that I am my own creation, in control of the identity I choose. This is the myth Western society holds out for maturity, actualization, etc. Really though, I think Williams is profoundly correct, but living in this confession that I do not know myself is more humbling than I like to admit!


Post a Comment

I cherish your comments, but not vileness or wickedness. By vileness I mean Spam, and wickedness I mean hateful speech. Unless it's about spam.

Popular Posts