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Becoming human

Posted by Simon Parke, 15 June 2017, 5.57am

A conversation about being human with the former Bishop of London, Rt Rev Richard Chartres. 

And why the need?

Well, we’re all trying to be human in a difficult world; but there’s the insidious feeling, felt in the gaps, that we may not have actually started yet.

Do you recognise that?

We feel as if we’re playing on the edge of something important, certainly, but remain unsure as to whether we’ve touched very profoundly or what it actually means…what it means to be human.

And we’d like to get there.

‘It is a huge creative act to become human,’ says Richard, ‘but it doesn’t happen until well into life.’

And the agent of transformation?

‘The agent of transformation is the refusal to be god.’

I ask him to explain that a little bit more.

‘We all start out by wanting to be superhuman. We begin with a project of aggrandisement and accumulation.

We experience perhaps thirty seconds of innocence and surprise at birth, but then the cover story begins, the negotiations with the world.

We build up our personality and accumulate for fulfilment. But strangely, the more we aggrandise ourselves and accumulate, the more the little voice whispers and the more hollow our crown appears.’

I adjust my hollow crown awkwardly as he continues.

‘The first step to becoming human is refusing to be god.

We embrace our transience, accept the painful piercing of the inner crust which forms as life passes, and ironically, it is from this position, with defences down and vulnerable, that our feet touch the ground of the source of life.’

So the crust which, in our youth, protected us from the chill winds of disappointment and fear has now become a less-than-helpful friend?

‘Indeed. It was formed to defend us, protect us, position us…but it becomes our undoing.

The breaking of the crust, which sounds like the destruction of the personality – and it is undoubtedly painful – is the indispensible first step in reconnecting with our humanity from which we have wandered.

As I say, when we refuse to be god, we have begun the journey home.’

(This conversation took place when Richard was still Bishop of London.)

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