Scott’s blog for the third week of our “If Love Wins, What Now?” series at Darkwood Brew.
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
-Walt Whitman, first three lines from Song of Myself
Isn’t it hard to read that first line? Try to do it out loud. Give it a shot in line the Dairy Queen. Make sure you project clearly. How about a quick shout out at Starbucks. Or just dial up an acquaintance and share it with them. Maybe make it your Facebook status. Tweet it. I know, it just feels wrong. We are taught to keep our eyes averted and our heads down. Don’t stand out and certainly don’t like yourself too much.
The question “Who do you think you are?” is often self-directed. Maybe when we fail. “Who do I think I am, trying to do that?” The question seems to have a built-in commentary. Whoever we thought we were, we clearly are not. We fall short on every count. We compare ourselves to other people all the time. We’re social animals, so we like to know where we fit. Who is smarter, richer, happier, more fit or better looking? With the 7 billionth person scheduled to arrive on our planet some time this year, odds are someone is smarter, richer, happier, more fit or better looking than you. Sorry to be the one to have to tell you.
I wonder about recasting the question. “Who do you think you are?” Here’s my perspective on who I think you are, and who I think I am.
We are freaking amazing.
We have over 100 billion nerve cells in our brains and bones in our legs that are stronger than concrete. We write poetry and paint murals and make awesome movies like “Blade Runner” and “Napolean Dynamite.” We add, subtract, divide and multiply. We can imagine a future and remember a past. We can think about infinity and other dimensions. We are concscious. We know that we know.
And that isn’t even the most amazing stuff. The almost indescribably wonderful thing about us is that there are no two the same. Slightly less than 7 billion, and no two the same. Nature and nurture play their part. Even so, there is a third factor that seems to exist in a way that is unique and transcendent. Soul has an ineffable force of its own, unpredictable and independent of external factors.
Now, you may believe that a loving God knew your face before you are born, or believe that some divine force is our ground and guides existence in an ethereal sort of way or think it’s all science and probabilities and a kind of toss of the pixie sticks. It doesn’t make any difference to me. The result is just one you. Just one me. Ever.
When Jesus calls his followers to love God, and their neighbors as themselves, he is at that moment also living into his own uniqueness on this planet. I believe in those words he is being the absolute best Jesus he can be. However you view him in your personal canon, I don’t think you can argue that he’s at the top of his game with that call to action.
While Jesus surely doesn’t ask us to be arrogant or narcissistic, I think he recognizes that a healthy sense of your own worth and place in the world can only help you define you purpose and go after it. The new age self-help pantheon is replete with admonitions to love, respect and value yourself. I think Jesus would be pretty good with that as long as it’s a practice that doesn’t only point inward. He still urges us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick. So we don’t just stare in the still waters by the side of the pond and waste away. Jesus was about taking action and making changes. I do think that including a reference to self, and the fact that the idea has lasted 2,000 years, gives it some weight. We have to love ourselves or the other parts just don’t work.
Besides, if you really want to love your neighbors, broadly defined as your nearly 7 billion fellow humans, what’s one more? Might as well add yourself to that list.
So what about Walt Whitman and “Song of Myself?” I think he gets it. He writes, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” He celebrates our place in the universe and nature. He asserts that the very atoms of our existence coincide with the atoms of the divine. For Whitman, we are shot through with God.
“And what I assume you shall assume.” So what if we are to embark upon our journey in life assuming what the divine assumes? What then? What does the divine assume about us? Would the question “Who do you think you are?” have a different answer for us if even one tiny spark of divinity was lodged in our being? If we were charged with carrying that spark forward in our 1/7-billionth of humanity’s unique way?
Would we sing ourselves then?
Because I think that’s what Jesus is telling us to do.