Saturday, September 8, 2007

When passions get thrown beneath a train

Somehow my mind and heart are drawn to radically different thoughts and ideas, often at the same time. I'm currently experiencing some difficulties that seem to call for both dispassion and perhaps even separation from people and things I hold very dear, putting self and self-interest aside [see "East and West" below], and, at the same time, speaking out of my deepest passions and asserting my true self. Paradoxically, both seem required.

Here is what struck me deeply this week from the speaking side:
I do not know how or where I learned it, but I had learned not to say what I really thought or truly believed or most desired. I internalized Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: women who express their deepest passions get run over by trains. The way of safety is to say what others want you to say, to repeat the words of those who hold power. And if you do that well enough you might gain a modicum of control over your own life.
* * * *
Throughout church history, however, the words of women and children, of the poor, the sick, and enslaved, have often been silenced by words of the wealthy, learned, and powerful. And if no one listens, you learn not to speak. When such voices are lost, the Word is diminished. I could express few genuine words. I needed to find my voice. Poet Marge Piercy writes in “Unlearning Not to Speak”:

She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with We
starting as an infant does
with her own true hunger
and pleasure
and rage.
From Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community by Diana Butler Bass (Jossey-Bass, 2002) (From "Unlearning not to speak" at Speaking to the Soul.)

These words seem to cry out what the dignity of every human being requires, the "I" that will not be thrown to the rubbish, will not be dismissed and devalued as something less than the "I"'s or "We" in power. The problem is how to speak with dignity and pride, not in one's self but in one's humanity, created and loved by God, with the spark of his divine image, without inflating one's self into a monstrous, fiery, steam-driven engine of power that seeks to dash others beneath the rails.

Update: Read an excellent essay today on control and letting go by Tandaina at Snow on Roses.

2 comments:

Tandaina said...

Unlearning not to speak. That is where I am. I grew up in a church culture where we didn't speak, we kept our heads down, we had no voice. It is very, very hard learning to live differently but I know what you mean. I have to, I don't have a choice.

(And thank you for the mention, I am glad those words made sense to someone else as well.)

-Tandaina

eileen said...

The way of safety is to say what others want you to say, to repeat the words of those who hold power. And if you do that well enough you might gain a modicum of control over your own life.

Whoa. This is so very true in my own life.

It's scary to learn to speak your own opinion, and set it free, to be heard by the world - to open it up to rejection and criticism - which feels to me like rejection and critcism of my self.

Of course, if you don't set it free, you can't get it validated, either.