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Monday
Aug172015

The Torn Flesh of Love (in "Weavings" [May/June/July 2015])

An excerpt from the beginning of this essay:

Shame is among the first human experiences described in the Bible, and persists throughout its many and varied stories—and in our lives—with a stubborn patience.  In the second creation story of Genesis, we come upon Adam and Eve after their disobedient feast of the forbidden fruit:  “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3. 8).  To be sure, this is a story as strange and marvelous in its metaphorical shape as it is familiar—in some form—to our own experience:  shame belongs to the old story of our attempt to avoid being exposed to indictment for our misdeeds, real or imagined.  Its origin, bequeathed to us from the Old English scamu or scomu, its more ancient derivation apparently comes from the proto-Indo-European root kem, which meant “to cover” or “shroud.” 

Shame is a form of hiding.  Whatever its cause, it triggers in us a need to “cover” ourselves from the view of those whose judgment we value and often fear—a parent, spouse, colleague, even the one we call upon as God.  In the Genesis story, as the story unfolds, it is only as Adam and Eve recognize their nakedness, when “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked,” do they attempt to cover themselves.  The image is a primal one, suggesting how shame operates within us, on a psychological level at least:  we try to shroud ourselves, to cover our nakedness from exposure to the penetrating views of others—or, in the case of this account, of God.

What is frustrating and finally debilitating about shame is that understanding how it functions in our own lives does little to help us overcome it.  What we fear is the very question posed in the story when God calls out to the woman and man caught in hiding, and asks them:  “Where are you?” as if to say, “Why are you hiding your face from me?” . . .  

 

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