Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Tour of Me

As I have mentioned before, I am a fan of Natalie d'Arbeloff's series "Augustine Interviews God." We're now up to part 15 of this impressive series, and it is as thought-provoking as each preceding part.

At the end of part 14, God asks Augustine to take him for a walk. In a teaser for the series while it was in production, Augustine promises to take God someplace he has not been before.

Now, there's a logic problem if there ever was one.

There's a lot of theology we've inherited from the Greeks; terms like omniscient, omnipresent, and so on, come from Greek thought. If those concepts are true, there is no place God has not been, and nothing unknown to God.

It turns out that Augustine has chosen to take God on a tour of her inner world. But, while we might want to pretend otherwise, God is already well acquainted with our inner world. Thomas Cramner's prayer sums it up: "God unto whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid."

But God is polite. God acts as if Augustine's inner world is new to him. He's even playful: they begin their journey by entering Augustine's eye, and he says, "Entering the 'I' through the eye. That's good."

Augustine's image of her inner world looks pretty familiar to me, and I bet it resembles yours as well. The control center is in the head, which Augustine perceives to be a chaotic dump. "If you think this is chaos, you should see the real thing," says God.

The next room is filled with Augustine's future plans. "This is what I'll have," she says, "when I've done all that's necessary." The room is filled with grand schemes for world peace and the meaning of life. I'm very familiar with these ego dreams. God makes a very telling comment: "So this is what they call a virtual reality."

This is the second hint, after the I/eye pun, that there's something else going on with this journey.

The next room displays the objects that control Augustine's life. It looks very threatening, and God expresses gratitude that he's immune. As we saw yesterday, it doesn't take much for our possessions to posses us. And that's what we see in this dark picture.

The next room is the self that Augustine shares with her world, as represented by her blog page. That room is followed by her basement, "things remembered, forgotten, thrown away, hoarded, unfinished," she says, "I'll never get to the bottom of it."

"Tell me about it." says God. Another hint - for isn't she telling God about it already?

The tour ended, Augustine seeks God's approval. Rather than addressing the particulars of what he's been shown, God speaks to the process: "A very interesting fantasy. And you worked very hard on it."

The next sequence (9) is very interesting. The last two panels are silhouettes of their two heads. The comic strip norm in this situation would be for dialogue associated with one character to appear over that character's silhouette. Yet, in this sequence, the words appear over the hearer's silhouette. I think this is another clue.

In the final frame of that sequence God asks where their interviews take place. "I give up. Where?" "Elsewhere!" Not inner, not outer, not upstairs, not downstairs. In other words, exactly that place the Greeks tried to define with all their "omnis". That place which is beyond placeness, whereness, or time.

In seeking to show God her inner self, Augustine has indulged in a classic western dichotomy, that there is a distinction between the inner and outer self. The whole series, in a sense, assumes there is a distinction between us and God. But God does not make that distinction.

If "the possibilities are endless", as the last panel says, then Augustine participates in God's infinite possibilities. We are created in God's image, as the ancient myth has it, and participate in God's creativity. We already have the tools to do "what's necessary" to achieve our dreams of self-actualization and harmonious living.
[Up-dated, 6:55 am, Friday, Nov. 4]
In her comment below, Natalie points out I failed to note the panel on page 9 (linked above), in which God asks which room he lives in. Augustine reluctantly admits that God doesn't live in any of them.

Natalie suggests this means that Augustine hasn't made a space for God in her life. I agree, yet I think another reading is possible.

I think Augustine has been moving toward making a space for God from the first interview. Although God knows us intimately, even the secret fantasies we have about ourselves, he does not force himself into our lives. He waits to be invited.

From day one, when Augustine's primary motive was to generate hits for her blog-site, she has invited God into her life. And God has been the perfect guest. God meets Augustine right where she is. He tries, primarily in gentle ways, to help Augustine see existence as he does.

In the third interview, God says he's looking for collaboration to help actualize love in the world. "What would that involve," asks Augustine. "What have you got to offer," asks God.

Of course, God already knows what Augustine has to offer. But the offer is meaningless unless made freely, without coercion. In sharing these interviews, Augustine shares a rare and special gift, and begins her collaboration with God.

I love the comments for the series. One person said it seemed like God had bedroom eyes. Indeed, a case could be made that this whole series is God seducing Augustine. As she becomes more comfortable with him, she shares a little more of herself.

And this latest installment is the most intimate to date: sharing of her inner self (as she perceives it). God doesn't come out and say she needs to make room for him - he lets her realize it on her own. This is the only way she can begin to clear out the clutter.

Given time, she might clear a space in that command center ("You know me," says God, "I always want to be in charge"). This is where the most effective collaboration can begin.

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