My son’s request to be a “zombie batman” tonight qualifies as most creative Halloween aspiration thus far- not to mention a tough act to carry off. Somehow the two identities seem galaxies apart. I mean, an animated corpse in a Batman costume? Doesn’t that interfere with special Batman powers? Isn’t it kind of hard to be the savior of Gotham City with an iron-fisted determination to stamp out evil when you’ve got no will of your own other than some voodoo-like subservience to evil in the first place?
Fortunately for two parents who were unsure whether to celebrate without reserve our son’s free-wheeling creativity, yesterday Cam traded in the zombie gig with a simple shrug of the shoulders. “Okay, I’ll just be Batman,” he said matter-of-factly, with no hint of deep regret. I breathed a sigh of relief: our only job this Halloween would be digging out last year’s Walmart-bought Batman costume from the recesses of my son’s toy chest, in addition to finishing the pumpkin carving that our teething dog, Roosevelt, had already begun for us.
Wearing separate, often warring identities is not just a Halloween problem. Parker Palmer calls this sort of self-fragmentation or “divided life” an endemic issue in contemporary society. If as Thomas Merton claims, “there is in all things…a hidden wholeness,” Palmer writes, “dividedness often seems the easier choice.”
Palmer goes on to describe this condition of “dividedness” as he has experienced it: “A ‘still, small voice’ speaks the truth about me, my work, or the world. I hear it and yet act as if I did not. I withhold a personal gift that might serve a good end or commit myself to a project that I do not really believe in. I keep silent on an issue I should address or actively break faith with one of my own convictions. I deny an inner darkness, giving it more power over me, or I project it onto other people, creating ‘enemies’ where none exist.”
“Wholeness,” on the other hand, does not equate with perfection; wholeness means “embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
It seems to me that Palmer is right. We Christians especially waste much hot air on questions of right and wrong and conversations about sin, either in ourselves or the world around us. This sort of interpretive lens for the world is, I think, not just insufficient but at times unhelpful and even damaging.
A better language is that of shalom, or wholeness. The Bible in Genesis implies that at one point we all were whole: we all reflected God’s image with integrity, and lived in Eden at peace with one another, ourselves and our world. You might say that our lives were once truly integrated. Our decision to separate from that wholeness- our “self-division,” so to speak, when we were poor at arithmetic- led us down a path of fragmentation with devastating consequences.
Finding the hidden wholeness that resides within each one of us is, I suspect, the most important task for us as human beings. If there were ever anyone in the world who lived a fully integrated life, and was therefore a person of perfect integrity, it would be Jesus; so following Jesus is really about seeking out the unique, hand-stitched signature of God Himself on our souls, and then learning to let that pattern our whole life, not just compartmentalized sections.
When that happens, we won’t have to choose between wearing various costumes. We’ll be who God made us to be, regardless of the occasion. That will be plenty creative- and plenty risky!- enough.
If you haven’t read Parker’s book, The Hidden Wholeness, I would commend it to you.