Self, Self-Image and God

Say that I take a picture of you, and set it next to you. Now I have you and an image of you.

wild violets near the apple trees where to mow would be to refuse the gift attention offers

If I want to feed you – bake you bread, make you tea – I will not place sustenance before the photograph.

If I want to hold you or walk with you, I will not cradle or sidle the photograph.

You are not the image of you.

If we throw the photograph into a fire, you do not burn. If we throw it into a lake, you don’t drown.

This is clear to the point of silly, right? The photograph is an image of you and you are not the image.

Now say that the embodied self – the one I feed and hold and walk beside – is also an image. On this view, the photograph is an image of an image.

But if this is so, then what is that image – the embodied self – an image of?

That is, the photograph is an image of your body, which is your external appearance to an observer (who could be your own self). But if your body is also an image, then of what is it an image?

Here I am going to dodge a little, but playfully. Here I will say that your body – that vivid, three-dimensional, pulsating loveliness – is a distinction which arises when any observer (which must include you) distinguishes “you” from all that is “not-you.”

{in this way you bring forth – for me – love}

On that view, you – your body, your appearance – is a cleft in the void, a brief seam in the indivisible wholeness that is God, pure emptiness and plenitude, not-one-and-not-two, one-without-another and not-one-without-another . . .

Of course, this is all experienced as your body (as an image, an appearance) by my body. “A cleft in the void, a brief seam in the indivisible wholeness that is God, pure emptiness and plenitude et cetera” is poetic wisdom or nonsense, according to whether it helpfully points in the direction of – facilitates, really – entering directly intimately this experience of image-intimating-God.

If I have a photograph of you – an image – I will tend to the image with love, because it reflects you, right? I don’t throw it in the fire or in the lake. I don’t desecrate it.

But I don’t confuse the image with you, the embodied you, the you that I walk with, bake bread with and sit quietly before the fire with.

In the same way, given the actual you, the embodied you, the sit-by-the-fire you, I am patient, gentle, helpful and kind (according to my limits, which are legion), again, because the embodied you reflects – indicates in its partialness – God.

{for our partialness is holiness, our appearance itself is Christ forever indicating the generative God out of which all appearance rises}

The image hints. It points at what gives rise to it. Appearances, too, hint. They arouse a desire to know fully, wholly, directly, intimately the other, who is our own self, which is also a hint, an appearance longing for the other. The world is constituted, is brought forth, by this mutual reflexive longing, the self forever seeking itself in the other – the multiplicity of others – all of whom are intimations of God, Wholeness, Generative Emptiness, the Divine Et Cetera and Holy Et Alia et cetera.

{for the world is always the brim, always spilling, always the horizontal refulgence, the eclipse that never eclipses, the shirt that never fully falls to the floor but hangs suspended in half-light, angel and ghost, holiness and haunt, here and not-here both}

At the level of the image – the appearance – which is the level of distinguishing, of distinction – there is only ever longing, the existence of which is contingent on never being fully satisfied, fully met, or fully given and received.

Yet by entering longing – by giving attention to its moisty circularity – one glimpses – tastes – God, which is both void and plenitude, timeless and formless, before and after and outside language and also the radiant essence always speaking, forever bringing forth the joy and peace that surpasses understanding in love: this love: this you, always you.


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