In the origin there was the Logos, and the Logos was present with GOD, and the Logos was god. This one was present with GOD in the origin. All things came to be through him, and without him came to be not a single thing the has come to be. In him was life, and this life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not conquer it.John 1: 1-5
One of the great struggles of human consciousness is that we most often tend to see ourselves as separate from the rest of reality and creation. One measure of this fact of our “self-consciousness” is the degree of loneliness we experience. The great wisdom traditions of the world all teach that this experience of being separate and alone is an illusion. Each of us is truly original and unique, and yet, we all have the same origin.
At least in American culture, the Christmas season is often the most emotionally difficult time for so many. Many of us carry a nostalgic memory of either our own childhoods at Christmastime or else of the Christmases when our children were young and their joy and excitement filled our experience and familial environment. As we age, however, and as the preceding generation passes on and the following generation is now involved with their own children, we can find ourselves feeling increasingly lonely and bereft. Our memories, rather than consoling us, tend to highlight our current sense of isolation and our anticipation of our increasing diminishment. As any psychotherapist can attest, the Christmas holidays are for many a time that is more melancholic than merry.
We tend to motivate ourselves and to work our way through life by means of comparison and competition. Our identify takes shape in our own consciousness in terms of our likeness to or difference from others. If we can self-identify as knowing important people or doing respected work, of holding a recognized title or having desired possessions, we feel significant. When we lack these, we tend to feel insignificant and marginal. In a culture that represses the spirit in favor of the gods of affluence and ambition, there is little wonder that aging and diminishment are often a source of fear and depression.
Of course, this experience is not limited to the aging. As an only child, I both felt lonely and feared being alone and forgotten much of the time. In so many ways, what was focal for me was how different from others I felt and how those differences seemed to be to be unacceptable to others. In a society that so values conformity to cultural norms, what was unique in me did not seem like a blessing but more like a curse. Thus, the experience of being alone was almost always an experience of loneliness and disconnection. As I knew no deeper sense of connectedness than the social level, I could only experience being alone as disconnection, under which always lurked the fear of abandonment.
In short, as a child I had no sense of the truth of the teaching contained in the prologue of John’s gospel” “All things came to be through him, and without him came to be not a single thing the has come to be.” I could not at all know that uniqueness is not merely “difference.” It is also a manifestation and incarnation of an aspect of the Logos that is the common source of us all. Even today, when someone speaks to me of the loneliness and abandonment during the holidays, I first want to problem solve and try to help them find a place to be with others. This is not at all a bad idea, as it is in “going out” to others that we begin to feel a sense of connection. Yet, there must also be an invitation to “go into” the experience.
As a child who was often alone, I learned to cope with the desperation of my loneliness by separating myself from those feelings, which meant dissociating from myself. I created imaginary worlds where I was with others, reading with them, teaching them, entertaining them. I would, for example, read aloud to those imaginary persons who were sharing this story with me. Perhaps my interest in teaching was a reflection of my desire to share the stories I loved with others. Even my earliest years in religious life were spent in a prayer in which I had to be busy either speaking with God or reading prayers or texts rather than being still and merely present to God as myself and with all I was experiencing. The latter was, for many years, much too difficult for me.
Over time, and with the help of others who provided a safe “holding-environment” for me, I slowly learned how to live, at least for some moments, in “self-presence.” Rather than fleeing my own feelings and experience, which I had felt I would be unable to bear, I learned that not only could I live with and be present to myself, I could even begin to find peace and joy in that presence. As my own self-presence grew, I slowly began to see the world outside of myself in a very different way. The other was not an object to be anxiously feared or accommodated, but rather to be related to as one with whom I share a common origin and life.
Today’s first reading from 1 John speaks of those who have gone out from the community because, as the author writes, “they did not come from us.” The community is, in fact, universal because “all things came to be” through the same Word. Not a single thing, or a single one has come to be but in that Word. Yet, through the influences of culture and society, we are often distanced from the truth. We readily lose the level of presence that recognizes and realizes our communion. When we do so, we become something of the “anti-Christ.” We foster comparison and competition rather than community and collaboration. We suggest that human fulfillment and satisfaction must come to some at a cost to others. We become so dissociated from our true selves that we can willfully poison the very air we, as well as all others, breathe.
The celebration of the Incarnation is a call both to give and to share with others, but it is also an invitation to enter more deeply into all the feelings and experiences that we undergo during these days. We get lost in life when we become distant from our origin, the source of our uniqueness and originality. The great mystery and truth is that what looks at first glance to be the great differences among us are, when seen more deeply, just facets of our common origin. The “Logos” or Word is spoken in countless languages and dialects, but it is manifesting the same truth. All comes to be through this Word that gives expression to God’s love. Perhaps the loneliness that overcomes us, even in the most joyful of times, is but a passionate urging to enter into a deeper communion with self, others, and God, of which our social encounters are but a dim shadow.
In Thomas, then, the “good news” is not only about Jesus; it’s also about every one of us. For while we ordinarily identify ourselves by specifying how we differ, in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, background, family name, this saying suggests that recognizing that we are “children of God” requires us to recognize how we are the same—members, so to speak, of the same family. These sayings suggest what later becomes a primary theme of Jewish mystical tradition: that the “image of God,” divine light given in creation, is hidden deep within each one of us, linking our fragile, limited selves to their divine source. Although we’re often unaware of that spiritual potential, the Thomas sayings urge us to keep on seeking until we find it: “Within a person of light, there is light. If illuminated, it lights up the whole world; if not, everything is dark.” Emerging from a time of unbearable grief, I felt that such sayings offered a glimpse of what I’d sensed in that vision of the net. They helped dispel isolation and turn me from despair, suggesting that every one of us is woven into the mysterious fabric of the universe, and into connection with each other, with all being, and with God.Elaine Pagels, Why Religion: A Personal Story, pp. 176-177