Sunday, January 10, 2010

Our yearning for originality

There is within each one of us, a pining, and sometimes, even an obsession for originality. We don’t like it when our things are copied, or when we see things being copied. What we prize is creativity, and we see this evidenced in various ways.

There was an article in the paper sometime back that featured ways in which couples getting married strive for originality in their wedding photos. Lavish ones even brought their photographer to idyllic locations like Paris for the photo shoot. One couple were so "original" by having their photo taken in a hotel bathtub, with the both of them shoulder deep in a foam covered tub! Apparently this was so "memorable" that their friends and relatives were still talking about it years later. Youth are know to establish their original identity through their dressing and adornments. In the realm of the arts, originality in writings and composed music is far more respectable as an art than to do ‘cover’ versions.

Where is the basis of this need and this yearning?

It is deeply rooted in our humanity, to want to be remembered and not forgotten. I believe that our reason for wanting to put our stamp on the world, be it in the form of wedding photos, music, writing or dressing, ideas, inventions or for the esoteric, our thinking, is so that somehow, we become ‘preserved’. We fear being forgotten, and we are terrified of being seen as an ‘also-ran’. Even Olympic medal winners are loathe to have their records beaten because they want to be remembered at least for a long time, if not, forever.

Why is this so? I believe that every one of us are somewhat plagued with an insecurity that makes us want to preserve ourselves. It’s part of the original sin in each of us. It has at its deepest roots, our failure to believe that we are loved deeply by God, and not for anything that we can do, but for our very being. If we know that we are truly and deeply loved by God, the one who is Eternal, whose love for us is Eternal, then we will not need to put our mark on anything that ‘preserves’ us. We will live in a new freedom without fear of being an unknown, because we are never unknown by God.

Does this mean that we should not be creative, or ‘original’ in our work? Certainly not. It is also part of our godly nature (remember that we are made in the image of God) to participate in his creative-ness. What we need to do is to purify our motives and be conscious of why we are doing what we are doing. When it is out of vanity, for the ego, or for a self-centered act of preservation, we could be saying that we don’t believe that God loves us, and that we have to love ourselves more. But if it is an act of an extension of our God-given created-ness in us, we know that it is alright if our work is not given any human recognition. And the peace that we experience despite our non-recognition helps us not be frustrated, hungry and needy.

But at our core, we encounter an admixture of both drives, don't we. I know I do. While we know that we are loved unreservedly, there will be moments of human weakness and insecurity that finds us wanting more. But I believe the more we learn to encounter the God of love and mercy, the more we will be re-minded, re-modeled, given a new mind to love not just God, but our deepest and yes, flawed but still lovable selves, and from there, begin to love others who are just as 'also-ran' as we are.


  1. Like Jephthah's daughter bewailing her virginity.... , p'haps we too need to bewail our mortality - for LIFE in all it's profoundity & absurdity is such a precious commodity & needs to be perpetuated (this need already mapped out in Divine DNA) ! We see this in all creation - if you want a plant to flower - remind it of it's "mortality" by depriving it of h2o for a while... it will be jolted to remember to put out buds,blossoms & fruit - for it must needs to leave behind a part of itself in the young seedling...and so the cycle of life goes on.H'ever it may not only be just vanity or egocentricity that made us 'grasp' tightly each beautiful/meaningful moment, wanting to pro-long, to savour, to linger just a may be because we recognize our 'finite-ness'...the in-exorable tyranny of time - we ' pass this way but once...' - we are indeed to be pitied then- don't you think so ?

  2. Thank you Tessa for your profound comments. Maybe not pity, but look fondly at. I think this must be the way that God looks at us, what with our inner struggles of getting it and losing it. God bless you for your sharing.

    Fr Luke

  3. Dear Father

    Someone recently remarked "Imagine what the world would be like if there were 10 Mother Teresas!" How is it that this wonderful woman who never craved attention and fame, managed to inspire so many around the world and over 4,800 nuns to follow in her footsteps? I believed she constantly seeked the will of the Lord and fulfilled it with great love. This must then drive us to earnestly seek the Lord's will and hopefully have the courage to fulfill it. Then perhaps like as you wrote above, that we will find peace and not be so concerned with leaving our mark in history.

    Thank you Father for this reflection...we still miss you at IHM.

  4. To overcome insecurity and low self esteem, there are two core belief - intrinsic and extrinsic. Changing these belief is contrary to logic but is a must if we are to overcome insecurity and raise our self confidence.

  5. Dear Fr,

    Your piece on "originality" sparked deep emotions in my wife and I. As a "catalyst", she values freedom above everything else. A sore point between us has always been that she feels I have not given her "unconditional" love, ie to love her for who she is unconditionally without wanting her to change anything. I guess being a "helper / thinker" I feel that unless we are perfect, there will always be room for change.

    Often, we will be the last to be able to spot what we need to change unless we are very self-aware. If not, only our loved ones would deign it fit to incur our wrath to point out home truths about ourselves, which even close friends are wont to say out of politeness and fear of jeopardising the friendship.

    Coupled with a language of love that is "words of affirmation", it becomes almost impossible for me to say anything to my wife without it being taken badly.

    This has damaged our relationship in no small way. I do understand that my wife's past experience has also made her resistant to anything that smacks remotely of criticism.

    I have tried to love her as much as I can. But I am helpless against the oft raised sword of "unconditional love". Something which perhaps only God can give, and even then, does God never expect us to change our ways whenever we stray from His path? Who does He send to tell us that we have strayed except our loved ones? Or is it true that a prophet is never welcomed in his own house?

    My wife had also trawled the Bible in an attempt to track down where the words "unconditional love" appear. It is not to be found. But we always speak about God's unconditional love for us. And we hold ourelves and our loved ones to the same yardstick, be it loving our spouse or children unconditionally. What does it mean, Fr? Does it mean no change is therefore to be expected, otherwise the love is conditional and somewhat flawed or lacking?

    Our journey has its many periods and moments of joy and happiness, but on the occasions when it crash and burn, the issue is frequebtly the same. That seemingly irreconciliable twin terror of "change" and "unconditional love".

  6. Thank you for your comments and your question, which I cannot leave unanswered because this seems to be a very frequently experienced situation in many marriages and relationships.

    In your opening paragraph, I think you may have unknowingly given the cause and the key to the predicament that you find yourselves in. You mentioned that your wife is a ‘catalyst’ and values freedom “ABOVE ALL ELSE”. If I read this correctly, you may be saying that she values this MORE than she values loving you, and loving God.

    When we order our loves appropriately, we will begin to see that the root cause of many of our relationship issues somewhat revolve around our not having a common vision in our loves.

    Why does the Church uphold that when two baptized Catholics marry, that it becomes a Sacrament? Because what should be unfolding as a reality is that both parties, because of their undying and unified love FOR GOD becomes their source of loving each other. Together, with their eyes and hearts on God first, they look at each other as the one willed by God for them to live out their shared vocation to love God first, then each other, and then their children and the society. It becomes far more difficult to do this when only one party looks at God with dedication, while the other has another notion of God, or none at all.

    It becomes very common in many Catholic marriages that this God dimension becomes secondary or tertiary along the way. If God is no longer our number one love, the love which sustains all loves, then yes, I suppose it becomes easy for my love for “freedom above all else” to become my new god, while God takes a lower rating.

    As for scripture passages that speak of God’s unconditional love, you don’t have to look for it explicitly. It’s like the Trinity. Nowhere in the bible will you find mentioned the doctrine of the Trinity, but it is implicit in all of Jesus’ mentioning of God and his relationship with him, especially at John’s Last Supper discourse. Iconic of God’s unconditional love is found right there on Calvary, with Jesus on the cross. It is, as in Rolheiser’s words “unfathomable love, unfathomable forgiveness, a compassion and tenderness beyond understanding. In the cross, God is not just telling us. He is screaming at us – You can do this to me, and I will still love you.” Clearly, this is a testimony not just in words, but in real life.

    The struggle to love another even though he or she may be unrepentant, and unremorseful will always be there. But if we only wait till the other part is repentant and remorseful before we start loving, before we start forgiving, there’s nothing really Christian about us, is there? I believe that even the Pharisees do as much, don’t they?

    God bless you

    Fr Luke

  7. Thank you Fr Luke for reminding me of what unconditional love is:-"The Cross."It is our ardent duty to share this love with all!!!:)