Christ in me more than myself

If God loves me for Christ's sake, doesn't it mean that God doesn't really love me? When He looks at me, if all He sees is Christ, then how am I seen?

Christ in me more than myself
When the trumpet sounds, oh may I then in him be found.

On this Good Friday I'm sharing something a bit more meditative, perhaps more mystical and intimate. However, as I hope this piece will make clear, the path to the inside is really the road to the outside, for what is most truly us lies precisely outside of us.

We stood in the parking lot as I accosted him with questions --

"If God loves me for Christ's sake, doesn't it mean that God doesn't really love me? When He looks at me, if all He sees is Christ, then how am I seen?"

I fumbled around with my words, trying to express something that went much deeper than I was truly aware of. I had never dared to ask these questions out loud before. I was treading on new ground.

God bless him, he tried his best, but I made the long walk back to my dorm dissatisfied, feeling that the conundrum had still barely been broached. As I trudged uphill, winding along the college's stately brick-lined paths, I wondered what it meant for God to truly love me, in all the full breadth of who I thought I was.

I don't think I've stopped wrestling with that question, even as the exact phrasing has fallen away from my mind. However, as I've since taken up the work of Slavoj Žižek and Jacques Lacan to process through my experience of faith and community, I think I've finally started to glimpse something of an answer to this deeply felt problem.

It's perhaps a peculiarly Protestant question, hinging on a precise understanding of what it means to be forgiven by God. Luther's great recovery (and innovation) of justification by faith alone with its juridical dimension of Christ's substitution for us raises a unique question of how the individual relates to God.

If on the cross Christ pays for my sin, and in the courtroom drama of justification God comes to accept Christ's righteousness as my own, where does that leave me, the poor supplicant who stands clad in the deeds of another? If God sees Christ when He looks upon me, so as to not be outraged by the ugliness of my sin, what space is left for me?

The fallacy upon which this question was predicated, and the premise to be questioned if we have any hope of escaping it, stems from an erroneous understanding of myself. When "me" is my ownmost inner experience, the private corners of my mind and heart, of course this "me" will remain infinitely receded.

But what if "me" is really out there, and not wholly in here? What if the deepest part of me is not me at all, but the loving operation of Christ's grace at the core of my being? What if at my deepest point I am a lack, a lack where Christ also dwells?

Žižek talks about that which is "in me more than myself," and in doing this he draws upon Lacan's account of subjectivity which portrays our experience of subjectivity as inextricably entangled with objective structures out there. The division between me in here and me out there is far more porous than previously thought, and indeed the priority in determining who I "am" may be exactly reversed.

A few examples from Žižek may help us here – he points to the laugh track on a sitcom. Although we sit and watch television in silence, perhaps expelling a little breath from our noses, we do feel as though we have laughed ourselves because through the external mechanism of the canned laughter we have indeed enjoyed.

Or let's not forget his other example of the Tibetan prayer wheel – when the supplicant ties the prayer flag to blow in the wind or they turn the prayer wheel, the machinic rattling of this apparatus prays for us, accruing karmic blessing.

This religious example may lead us closer to home, back to the question of liturgy in the Church. Must we feel something in the liturgy for it to have been real? Must we make the liturgy our own for it to "count" as worship, or is it precisely in the steady and external function of saying the prayers, hearing the Word, and receiving the Sacrament that we genuinely say that we have faith?

Is not what I do more real than what I feel? Are not my actions more determinative of who I am than any regime of affects which I may cling to as my own?

This idea of "extimacy" which runs through Lacan's work cuts against the radical individualism which defines our culture in which the inward and the personal is more determinative of our selves than the objective and the structural. Sometimes we can come so close to the sacred realization that what is most intimately ourselves lives outside of us, moving and shaping our world.

Lacan wants us to see that human beings have their center outside of themselves. My inside is my outside, and my outside is my inside. What has happened when I am seen and loved by God precisely because He sees Christ in me is that I have traded a fantasy of who I am – separate, sovereign, self-existent, hidden – for a true insight about the nature of my existence.

At the point where I think I have found the thing which is the most me, I find only a hole, and this lack is inexorably bound up with what remains forever outside of me. The void which I am appears only through finding myself in some objective chain of objects which include me only as the point of their failure to fully close.

I am the point where the system falls apart, which means that I am both included in the system but also exceed the system as its immanent impossibility. Right there at that point of profound failure, we find the cross of Christ. We find God's grace bathing everything in love. We discover how a lack is, from a simple shift in perspective, an excess.

In this oversaturation of the void, I find myself walking out of the empty tomb.

I hope you will take some time to contemplate the death of Christ today – how in this brutal and grotesque image of the man hanging on the cross we come into a stark confrontation with the constitution of our very being.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May He lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, has been, and ever shall be. Amen.

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