On the Necessity of Forgetfulness
Recently my friend Ben returned to town as a brand new priest, and I got to go to mass when he celebrated. In his homily he talked about how his journey into the church began in that very same parish, and how this felt coming full circle. He also talked about how we weren't there to congratulate him on being such a good guy to follow God's call, or to congratulate us on helping him hear that call. We were there to give thanks and praise to God for his loving plan and gentle lead. And it got me thinking, because a lot of what I do is teach folks the skills to follow, and I often praise them on their following.
If someone were to ask me what the point of dance was, I would tell them it is to contemplate your partner in the spirit of the music. It means to take in all of the goodness that is in my partner. As a good leader, all of my focus, in a certain sense, is on my partner and on the music. The less focus I can have on myself the better. My goal is not to think of myself, but only of my follower. She has the same goal.
Of course, rarely do we reach this point. Most dancers never reach the point where they can actually fully contemplate their partner. Most have too many flaws in their technique, and can only contemplate their partner in part. For those who do reach the ability to fully contemplate the other, reaching a state of mind and body that is focused enough to allow this to actually happen is pretty rare. But it is what we aim for.
This is the basis for attributing everything to God, even though our cooperation is indeed a necessary part. Though what God contributes is infinitely more than what we do, it does not change the fact that what we contribute is “equally necessary.” The fact that one partner is far more powerful and glorious than the other does not mean that the less glorious partner is any less necessary for that particular and unique partnership to happen. If we have a part, no matter how small, should we not take some pride in it?
The answer is clearly no. Because for contemplation we must forget our self and focus on the other. The second we stop focusing completely on God and start to focus even a little upon ourselves, we will fail at union with God. Only with the supreme self forgetfulness will we reach full exaltation. This exaltation is not something we can ever look at or see, because we are not looking at ourselves.
"isn’t that like man!” exclaimed Mother Dimble. “There’s not a mirror in the room.”
“I don’t think we were meant to see ourselves,” said Jane. “[Ransom] said something about being mirrors enough to see another.”
CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength
The invention of modern mirrors, along with photographs and video, has given us something our ancestors never had- the ability to know what our body looks like. What is has not done is given us the ability to see our whole body. It’s true you have seen the tip of your nose, and the back of your hands and your chest and belly and knees and feet. But you have never seen your actual face. The thing that most defines you, you can never see the actual thing, just the image of it. Your body, in its totality, you have never seen, just the image of it. We are not made, by the laws of the world, to contemplate our self. We can only contemplate the other. And as nice as is to have a mirror to see my face, there is something inherently romantic about the idea of living in a culture with no mirrors and no videos and no pictures, of always being in the dark about the exact look of your face. This romantic notion comes from a desire God himself has put into us; to forget ourselves and contemplate the other.
It is for this reason we think nothing of our good deeds, but only of God’s. God’s good deeds do not need our help to be raised, but we are raised in looking upon them. Our deeds, which do need to be exalted, cannot reach any meaningful heights by our own effort, but can brought next to the deeds of God by his contemplation of us. When we understand this it is only natural we should forget ourselves and focus upon God.
The benefit for us for is this forgetfulness does lead to the loss of our identity, but rather to the fullness of our identity. By forgetting ourselves and focusing on God, we put our identity into the hands of the one who made all. Like the skilled leader whose pattern shows off all of the beauty of the follower, if only she is faithful to the lead, God's will exalts all who humble themselves to follow him.
Of course, we can’t be this forgetful all the time. We need to think about our self, if only to remove the failings inside of us and to instill virtue. Without this purgation we cannot achieve this kind of union necessary for contemplation. Yet we must always be working toward that goal when we can forget about ourselves and focus on God.