Confusion of Face

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Coincidence, Fate, Luck, Karma or God’s Sovereign Plan….we humans have many ways of looking at how timing plays a role in our lives. When I experience something that seems to have been timed to go together into some sort of theme or pattern, it catches my attention. This happened again recently.

The day after I wrote this blog post about seeing my face in the mirror, I read a chapter in a book that talked about how inaccurately we see our faces. When we moved to Japan, I brought a few books from our home in California, the rest were put in storage, and a few weeks ago I chose the Frederick Buechner book “The Hungering Dark” to begin reading.

The name of the second chapter is “The Confusion of Face” and the Bible passage on the first page is Daniel 9:1-8 from The Revised Standard version. This title and the theme of the chapter is taken from the 8th verse: ” To us, O Lord, belongs confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.”

Some of the quotes from this chapter that struck me follow here:

“You catch sight of your face in the mirror….and often you say, in effect, ‘Well, there it is again, the same old washed and slept-on thing I saw yesterday…’ But sometimes, I believe, there is another response which is deeply jarring and which involves your asking in effect, ‘Is that really me? Am I my face?’…..Beneath the face there are many layers of self, and the deepest layers are for the most part hidden from us.”

He quotes a poem by a Japanese poet named Yagi Jukuchi, I don’t know the title of the poem but it starts with “I first saw my face in a dream….” and ends with “About the face was a gold-tinged blackness. The next day when my eyes opened, the fever raged no less, but in my heart was a strange calm.”

Buechner talks about the need of looking into the depths of our true selves and the difficulty in doing that.

“The voyage into the self is long and dark and full of peril, but I believe it is a voyage all of us will have to make before we are through. Either we climb down into the abyss willingly with our eyes open, or we risk falling into it with our eyes closed – a point on which religion and psychiatry seem to agree. And I believe that what is said in the language of the Japanese poem is true also in the language of fact; that if we search ourselves deeply enough, we will begin to see at last who we really are, we will begin to see, very dimly at first, our own true faces. And then, although on the surface the fever may rage still, I believe a strange calm does begin to come, a peace that passes understanding.”

“Selfhood in the sense that you are one self and I am another self begins to fade. You begin to understand that in some way your deepest self is the self of all men…You begin to understand….as a reality, an experience, that their pain is your pain, their need your need; that there can really be no getting ahead at their expense, there can be no joy for you until there is joy for them.”

“I believe that by God’s grace it is our destiny, in this life or in whatever life awaits us, to discover the face of our inmost being, to become at last and at great cost who we truly are.”

And then Mr. Buechner ends with a prayer, it’s too good to shorten so I will add it here…it’s a prayer I would like to pray for myself.

“Thou God in Christ,

There is no ground anywhere that is not holy ground, for in the cool of the evening thou has walked upon it and in the heat of the day thou hast died upon it, and at the coming of the dawn thou hast returned and art always and everywhere returning to it and to us who walk upon it too, this holy ground, though heedless of its holiness. O make us whole. Set us free.

Thou didst shape us each in the darkness of a womb to give us life and thou knowest us each by name, and not one is forgotten by thee, not one but is precious in thy sight – the ugly and the beautiful, the criminal and the child, the enemy with the friend. Lord give us eyes to see each other and ourselves more nearly as thou seest us, to see beneath each face we meet, and beneath even our own faces, thy face.

Help us to know that for each thou hast died as though he were the only one.

Amen”

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