2021 — The Year of Being Known
“My Vocation is Love” / Lindsey Weishar
New years are often times of reorientation, of reset. We make resolutions, update our goals, give ourselves permission to dream about change in ways that fill us with anticipation. This year one of my personal hopes is to allow myself to be better known.
To say 2020 was a hard year would be an understatement. For some of us, the pandemic’s effects have utterly altered our lives, if not for the long-term, at least for now. 2020 was a year of suffering, and, as Caryll Houselander meditates, “It is quite impossible to suffer anything, no matter what it is, and not be affected by it. . . . It leaves a stamp on the soul. . . . It may disfigure; it may make beautiful; one or the other it will do.”
If ever there was a year to take stock of our mental and spiritual health, it is 2021. A resource that’s opened up this holistic view of tending to ourselves is Curt Thompson’s “Anatomy of the Soul.” In this book, Thompson utilizes neuroscience and the study of the brain to explore our spiritual lives. He shares that though we desire to be deeply known by others, many of our stories come with memories, emotions, and attachment styles tied to experiences of not being fully received by others, of being wounded.
MIND, BODY, SPIRIT, GOD, OTHERS
Thompson’s work has invited me to more fully view myself as an integration of mind, body, and spirit. In examining the neural pathways in our brains that have shaped our ways of thinking and being in the world, Thompson says, “We cannot experience being known without knowing the body” (31). He shares that the beautiful thing about our brains is that even as adults, we are able to create new neural pathways, new ways of understanding the stories of our lives.
I don’t know about you, but the suffering of 2020 brushed against old wounds I was better able to ignore in busier times. One is the persistent frustration of my desire to draw closer to God. Amid the crowding of worries, altered plans, and isolation, he’s felt so incredibly distant. Thompson would say that this makes sense: “I think we are often surprised at the ways we don’t trust Jesus, simply because he frequently contends with those shards of ourselves that are either too wounded or too asleep to trust him. He wants to heal and awaken those dimensions, but we are often just as loathe to trust him with those parts as we are to trust others with them.”
Drawing closer to others, then, is drawing closer to God, and viceversa. It’s all of a piece.
In December, Pope Francis published his apostolic letter “Patris Corde,” reflecting on the fatherhood of St. Joseph. In speaking of Joseph as a tender father, Pope Francis says, “Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us.” To this theme, Pope Francis references the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who “comes out to meet us, restores our dignity, sets us back on our feet and rejoices for us.” In a word, he knows us.
TELLING OUR STORIES
So important to drawing closer to God and others, Thompson says, is telling our stories and having them received by others. This is tenderness in action. To know ourselves as received changes how our brains interact with our stories: “the manner and context in which you reflect on your story (in your mind) or tell your story (to others) become part of the fabric of the narrative itself. In other words, the process of reflecting on and telling others your story, and the way you experience others hearing it, actually shapes the story and the very neural correlates, or networks, it represents” (77).
And in this telling of our stories we can also turn to St. Joseph, who, as Pope Francis says, “set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history.” This acceptance is important not only to ourselves but to our relationships with others: “Unless we are reconciled with our own history, we will be unable to take a single step forward, for we will always remain hostage to our expectations and the disappointments that follow.”
My hope for you, dear reader, is that 2021 is a year you can rest more peacefully in the gentle arms of others, the year you give yourself in new ways to those around you and to God. The gift of a piece of your story is a great gift indeed.
LINDSEY WEISHAR is a freelance writer and member of St. Matthew Parish in Champaign who has a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.