One should not offer what one has, but what one is

The above title is a phrase from a book called, ‘The sacrament of love’, by Paul Evdokimov (1985, p. 62).  Paul Evdokimov is one of my favourite lay theologians.  He was a Russian immigrant to Paris after the revolution, a Professor of Moral theology at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute and the author of several other books that are well worth reading.  I often turn to his writings when I want to be reminded about what it means to be a Christian human being, who we become when we are oriented towards Christ and gradually learn to participate in the life of God, and what we/can we offer our world, so broken and in need of healing?

Today, the words of this title were a timely reminder.  In fact, the words could easily be rephrased to say, “One cannot offer what one has, but only what one is.”  Parker Palmer said the same thing – that the “who of teaching” is the most important question educators should ask and continue to ask.  All acts of teaching are mediated through a person and offered to persons.  This mediation imparts a quality of spirit.  It is not possible to be disengaged in the act of teaching, because even when we are feeling disengaged ourselves,  our disengagement is an engagement.  Who we are being impacts our students and the content we teach.  Our being is revealed in the faces we turn towards our students.  St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “Humanity is composed of men with the face of angels and of men wearing the mask of the beast.”  We cannot separate what we have to offer from who we are.

It is good to think about the face you offer your students, your colleagues, your family.  You realize how important faces are when you say good-bye to a loved one straining  for a last glimpse as they walk through security at the airport, or when you sit for long minutes holding the gaze of a newborn child, or when a stranger smiles at you for no particular reason, or when you see the eyes of a beloved parent close for the last time.  You realize that all that matters to you is the ability to see their faces and to know they are seeing you.  Somehow you are saved by that one look and experience great loss when the gaze is absent.  I remember my son saying to me once after he knew that he had done something hurtful, “Mom, please, just look at me.”  He knew that somehow all would be restored if I would look at him with love, see him into being with love.

What is the face of an angel?  Angels are unceasing prayer, they are rejoicing and gladness, they are ‘criers of splendor’ as St. Gregory Nazianzus said.  They exist within a full awareness of eschatological fullness.  They are in communion.  They don’t need reasons to be good or loving, they create their own reasons – their adoration for God and all others.

It is Monday morning, it is dark, it is raining, I am already tired and a little overwhelmed by the week that lies ahead.   I can only offer what I am.  Lord, have mercy.

6 responses

  1. Thank you, Kim. Someone once said that it is very easy to become a Christian; it is very difficult to be one. In a sense, being is all that matters; it is the light that shines in the darkness.

    • Yes – we all need to become ontologically brilliant as Evdokimov says. 🙂 He also says “the revelation of the person is THE EVENT of Christianity.” St. Paul said the same thing…”For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God..” (Romans 8:19) We can only become by overcoming, though, and that is why we need the Holy Spirit so much. I know separating doing and being is somewhat of a false dichotomy…we all have to do so much and our overcoming involves some doing…I just think we/I sometimes get confused about what it is we have to offer that is of value to others and to the world.

  2. The part of your post referring to the importance of faces reminded me of the Zulu greeting, “Sawubona.” Translated into English it is, “I see you.” The response, “Ngikhona” which means “I am here” also reminds me of Isaiah 6:8.

    • Thank you, Neil, for that reminder. I’d read that greeting in books, but had forgotten about it. I have been thinking a lot about the word ‘behold’ lately and I think the Zulu greeting you mention is a special kind of seeing – similar to beholding. There is a reverence and a peace in being truly seen. I’ll save the rest for a future post :). Nice to hear from you and I hope you are well.

  3. Wonderfully welcome writing on a bleak morning, Kim. I used to mull about the undercurrents of the funny speaker – about the intrinsic flattery of being valuable enough to this stranger to be offered a treat that suits me so perfectly. Your article is a perfect reflection in the same vein. I guess if we bother to communicate at all, we should add some of our own skin and soul to the song. (I do miss talking to you. Someday.)

    • Thank you, Irene, wonderfully put – “adding skin and soul to the song”! We are so stuck in our heads most of the time, we even forget that our song is for those with skin and soul. I’m glad we at least have this connection and hopefully some day will come soon. BTW, I was listening to CBC recently and heard a woman talk about how she always reads the end of the book first – thought of you!

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