Personal But Not Private

16 Jan

When the tsunamis hit Indonesia a few years back, I remember being glued to the television because I had lived there for an entire year. What act of haphazard put me there at a time of no tsunamis while other people suffered tragically? I felt deeply connected to the experience and yet oddly removed living so far away.

And now as we look at the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, I feel a similar phenomenon, although I don’t have the personal connection to Haiti other than that my relatives visited there a number of years back. We can look at the images of tragedy on the television and feel deeply moved – we can pledge money by texting on our cell phones and giving to our churches – but then just as easily turn our thoughts to the NFL games this weekend. 

How then do we have our personal experience but stay connected in community? Have a personal but not private, insular experience? 

I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been reading about the apostle Paul who catalyzed the formation of the early Christian church. For Paul, the Gospel was indeed a personal message. (Gorman, 2004, p. 110). In Gal. 2:19-20 he writes, “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” But despite this, Paul believes the good news is for all humanity (ibid, 2004). For Paul, “realities like ‘justification’ and ‘salvation’ are social or corporate realities; we experience them with other people” (ibid, p. 110). 

I am struck by this because for years, I thought my spirituality was something between God and I alone. It was PRIVATE. Not something to be shared with others. Yet Christianity is a corporate experience. A fundamental tenant is that the body is shared and experienced with other people. While serving and having compassion for others in not new to me, being part of a spiritual community presented a unique concept. That my relationship to God is personal but not private continues to astonish me. And yet not. 

I look back at my experience as a psychotherapist and realize that for years I have been more drawn to work in hospitals, nursing homes and schools than in private practice because in the former you can give people a sense of COMMUNITY. You can create an environment where the marginalized have a place. Have connection. Have community. All my life I’ve been drawn to this notion of bringing spirit to people and people to spirt and community. I just didn’t know that it was called Jesus. 

So yes. I am about as private as Greta Garbo. Half the time, “I just want to be alone.” But not really. I long for a not private experience. I long to be connected to those across barriers be they geographic or symbolic. And I long to praise God not just in my head but out loud. With my brothers and sisters and behind a pulpit. I guess this love of mine for God is indeed personal but it is no longer private.

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