The I and Thou of Caring

The Rev. Iain Gow

25 March 2016

The I and Thou of Caring

The Stoics of antiquity (2500 years) ago said: To know calmness in life, disengage yourself! Don’t allow yourself to know the extremes of emotions that beset humankind.

My understanding of Jesus’ life in contrast is ‘be open to the wounds of humanity’, and even more than that ‘be open to being wounded by humanity’s agony for in that you will become more fully human’.

We often accept the ‘other’, our neighbour, only if it does not threaten our own sense of individual happiness. Communion and otherness: a call into deeper intimacy and yet also the impulse to flee from the other. As John Zizioulas the orthodox theologian says in his book, “Communion and Otherness”, in Christ “we are called into a movement towards the unknown and the infinite” of the other, and also ourselves. This call into freedom is not only from what has held us captive, but also into what we both can become.

Is this not a paradox that is too much to understand?  For if this is true, then how do you carry another’s wounds without becoming wounded yourself?  Are our own wounds not enough to deal with, without having to reflect on another? If I offer all of myself to you, then who am I left to be?

This is an important question for us who work in a caring of others, whether that be to our family, our work colleague, or friends or even those we are not sure of, those who may be our enemies?

Well, first, in Christian spirituality, there is an understanding that unless I offer of myself, the “I’ in ‘who I am’, then I will never become truly ‘I’. It is in my meeting with your ‘Thou’, that I come to know the ‘I’ in me. But second and equally, if I give all of my ‘I’ away to ‘Thee’, then I lose my identity, that which is at the centre of ‘I’.

So can we remain truly objective in our care of another?  I think not for we are drawn into their story. We do not remain just a witness to their unfolding story.  Family Therapy, being anchored in the systemic tradition, suggests we will no matter what our inclination is, become part of the therapeutic circle, and cannot fully remain ‘meta’.

So back to this paradox that is too much to understand! How do you love so you bleed, but not become a corpse yourself? How do you love passionately, but be prepared to let go with that same love?

I really don’t know if you seek an absolute. But I offer this; first it must be to do with truly listening. In the meeting between ‘my I’ and ‘your Thou’, can I discover the God who connects us to the ‘unknown known’ in ourselves, my neighbour and in that who we have given the name of God to? In listening to each of these truly well, I may join a dance that allows me to hear the whole of life’s calls, not just one part. It does not have to be ‘me’ or ‘you’, but maybe ‘us’. Second, by forgiveness, of yourself and your neighbour who has hurt you! Forgiving yourself often for recognizing in life there is no perfect blueprint for your life; you are human and you already have enough to bear without carrying guilt that has long been forgiven by God.

“To listen deeply
to another is to care
To choose
to be so empty of self
what true communion may take place.
Who’s empty?
Few only.
To listen profoundly
is to be still inside
that you may hear
the flicker of an eyelid
or a heart
about to open
like a flower
in Silence.
The greatest revelation is stillness.[i]

©Iain Gow
Image Wikipedia Commons


[i] Lao Tzu, quoted in Snapshots on the Journey, Rod MacLeod, 2003