One can never look directly at one’s own body. All we see are fragmented parts, disconnected limbs, but never the whole. We only come to understand our bodies, and therefore ourselves, as a whole units, as a totality, through other bodies, even if reflected in a mirror. Jacques Lacan speaks our need to find mirrors, our need to see idealized reflection of ourselves, to show us that we really are not just these disconnected limbs, that we really are not just broken, fragmented people, and without the “mirror stage” the process of subjectivity and the production of an ego is halted. It is only through other people that we imagine ourselves to be whole, and only through other people can we know our own bodies.
It is the same for the church. We can’t directly gaze at the unity of the church, the unity of the body of Christ. We can only see it through others, through the discernment of everyone. The body of Christ is not something available to be pointed out, “Hey. There’s the body over there!” And things are complicated because this body is not merely a physical body gazed at indirectly, but a social, even spiritual body, requiring more than sight. We need spiritual insight linked to the practices of confession, repentance, forgiveness, speaking truth in love, humility, compassion, and mercy. Isn’t this what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 11 when he speaks of discerning the body of Christ at the Table? That we must discern the unity of Christ in/through others as we discern his body at the Table?
But I’m not just saying something banal like, “It takes a community to know yourself.” That is patently true. But Lacan’s points is also that is takes a community to utterly misrecognize yourself, as you project on to it your hopes and dreams, and what you think you are as you lie to yourself about yourself. But the true body of Christ is always broken, it is never whole, and we can never claim to be whole until we follow Christ to the cross (the above image of Christ on the cross is interestingly called “Tree of Life”).
So, can you see your body? The body of Christ? Are you even looking in the right place? Are you finding unity as a defense against something else, or are you finding unity in the broken body of Christ?