I promise to move on to other issues later next week, but I was so impressed with the recent articles in the Aug/Sept 2003 issue of First Things, I felt compelled to make a few more observations about the personal vs. individual issue brought up a reader this past week. This first quote is from Gilbert Meilaender's essay "Why Remember?"
"Exaggerating our own authorship ignores important characteristics of the story of a life. It ignores, for example, the fact that the first years of our life become part of our own memory largely through the shared memories of others. It ignores the fact that one's life exists not only in the privacy of one's own memory but also in the stories other tell about us. Perhaps, therefore, a certain modesty is in order when we think of constructing the story of our life."
This reminded me of the profound communion that exists between us and the saints. During the Liturgy, the priest turns and chants "Remembering all the saints, again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord." This is part of the communal amnesis, allowing us to enter into the collective memory of the family of God.
Because this memory comes through the uniting love of God in the Eucharist it is another example of how we have a personal relationship with the family of God and not an individual one. As Abba Isaias of Scetis, in his "Ascetical Discourses" reminds us, "The Lives of the Saints are holy testimonies of the miraculous power of our Lord Jesus Christ." The saints show us, by their example and continued intercessions, what the story of our lives should look like.
Meilaender goes one to make another good point:
"The triviality, even fatuousness, of many current ways of talking about "our stories" has led many thoughtful Christians to abandon the traditions of personal narrative or testimony as tokens of misbegotten "individualism." But such an abandonment is unfortunate. What we need is better and more responsible and more coherent personal stories, not the complete subsumption of all personal narrative into group narrative."
This is a nice additive to what I wrote before. While I did not make this clear, there is no doubt that much of what may appear to be rampant "individualism" is in fact, a desperate attempt to re-establish communal bonds, via the language of "individual testimony" or "spiritual journies."
In my emphasis on "personal/communal" I may have left the impression that somehow the story of our life is overshadowed and perhaps even obliterated by the communal experience of the Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.
More on why this isn't true as well as a nice concluding quote from Mr. Jacob's essay forthcoming in Part II.