Self-Absorption vs. True Communion.
By Jim Park.
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the sales inside are delightful! Let them come, let them come, let them buy!!
"And so this temptation to self-adorning and self-adoring has the potential to lead to a deeper and deeper self-absorption."
With the weather acting wintery and school delays and closings at times surprising, I’ve had more than ample opportunity to visit our local indoor shopping mall these past few months. It’s not because I love to shop or that I enjoy crowds (both of which I don’t). Rather, I’ve been taking my younger daughter, who has significant special needs, on mall walking expeditions, as she enjoys getting out and seeing the human activity and the bright lights she finds there.
As I’ve repeatedly strolled the upstairs and downstairs circuits at the mall, I’ve been struck more and more by the excess. Hanging on the racks are hundreds of thousands of shirts, pants, dresses, and other clothing items; in boxes and on shelves are tens of thousands of pairs of shoes; hung from hooks are thousands of hats; gleaming from within locked cases lie thousands of pieces of jewelry, from watches to earrings to diamond rings. And that’s not all! You can visit shops where you can get your hair cut and styled, your eyebrows plucked, your hands manicured and feet pedicured, your face made up with a myriad of products, your skin perfumed and henna-tattooed, and your ears pierced. When that’s all done, next come the various eateries, where you can first snack on pretzels, gelato, regular ice cream and cinnamon rolls, then move on to one of the main entree selections, be it hamburgers, Philly cheese steaks, fried chicken, kung pao chicken, lasagna, or something else.
Rather than making this blog into a jeremiad against the ills and woes of capitalism, I think instead that there is an often-not-so-subtle “lesson” that all this excess “teaches”: that somewhere amongst the clothes, shoes, hats, jewelry, personal care, and food, is the “real you.” If only I can find the right designer (blouse and skirt / Air Jordan shoes), have my hair (coifed and highlighted and perfectly / topped with an LA Lakers hat), and savor (a pistachio gelato / a microbrew), will I be complete. And so, this temptation to self-adorning and self-adoring has the potential to lead to a deeper and deeper self-absorption.
Is this all we are called to be? St. John Paul the Great certainly didn’t think so. In the first five years of his pontificate (1979 to 1984), he spoke nearly every Wednesday on the meaning and purpose of man and woman in God’s creative eyes. And to spoil the ending (so to speak), it wasn’t a call to separateness and isolation but rather to togetherness and communion. For “from the beginning,” God created us male and female as His crowning gift (Genesis 1:27), imparting to each one of us the call to be “gift” to the other, to make of our lives a continual giving and receiving, living as in a “mirror dimly” the reality of the communal life of the Holy Trinity that we hope to see in brilliant clarity one day “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).
This brings me back to the mall walks with my daughter. It is somewhat ironic that we’re there amongst all that opportunity to “self-adorn.” As I said above, I would much rather be elsewhere, and my daughter doesn’t even recognize her “need” for these material things. And yet, we stroll back and forth, sharing the simple gift of ourselves in looks and smiles, building communion quietly. We also have less of what Jesus warned could be consumed by moth and rust or what thieves could break in and steal (Matthew 6:19)
Jim Park grew up in Springfield, Virginia, one of eight children born to John and Rita Park. He attended Catholic grade school and high school, before heading off to Virginia Tech for college. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Geology, and two years later, was awarded a Masters of Science in Structural Geology and Rock Mechanics by Imperial College, in London, England. Jim currently works for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he manages environmental reviews. He has been married to the love of his life, Geneva, for 12 years and have two beautiful daughters with them on earth, and one child with God in heaven.