Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Getting Personal

In his book, Blessed Simplicity: The Monk as Universal Archetype, Raimon Panikkar makes a fascinating distinction between an "individual" and a "person."  An individual is an abstraction, an arbitrary delineation of identity as bounded by one's corporeality.  An individual is coterminous with his or her body.  Such an identification removes the individual from the nexus of relationships - interpersonal, social, cultural, ecological, cosmic and spiritual - that defines the "person."

This more extensive relational field extends the boundaries of personhood in a (nearly?) unlimited fashion, and underscores the contingent, dynamic, and interdependent nature of reality - including the human.  The individual as an isolated, independent, autonomous existent is a conceptual conceit, requiring the vivisection of the human: cutting it into pieces to understand it.  Doing so may foster a certain kind of knowledge, but it doesn't foster the realization of human being in the world.

In a sense, getting "personal" opens us to the deepest and most expansive human potentialities.  It cultivates our sense of being in and of the world, rather than being alienated from it.  It points to the truth that we are a constituent part of reality, intrinsically related to everything that is, expressive of the harmonious complexity of life that is at the same time a blessed simplicity.  In Panikkar's terminology, it is to realize the advaitic (non-dual), trinitarian, nature of the real.

As persons, we are so much more than individuals.  We may think of the Body of Christ, then, as the community of persons, who are embracing their identity as co-extensive and mutually interdependent with reality.  To be united with that Body is to embrace a larger identity than that provided by the concept of the individual.  It is to come home again.

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