I spent a long while yesterday evening riveted by the pictures in Time’s person of the year spread. I did also labor through the article which is basically not to be argued with, although at some point maybe I’ll try. There are the pesky details of cultural world view that I might like to quibble over–not what has happened but why, and certainly what should be done about it. But setting that aside, I want to offer my congratulations and even thanks for the beautiful photography, and for the way Time framed this incredible moment.
I am not, in general, much for pictures. But one cannot escape the ubiquitous photographs of the disreputable harasser in the daily perusal of who sinned today. The puffy and grotesque mug of Harvey Weinstein is there for me to contemplate almost every morning, lately joined by Matt Lauer’s pinched, angular, entitled expression. As for Roy Moore, I always click swiftly away. Their pictures are everywhere. Their names clang around as I suck down my morning oolong.
So the Time photographs are a lovely zephyr to sweep away the ugliness. First of all, I love how starkly each person is composed, and the intense stillness in each frame. I love each direct and straightforward gaze. I love the gray tones and the muted colors. I love the careful calibration of dark background contrasting with the clear, light expression in each pair of eyes.
Because each one in each picture is a person. I mean, that’s what I go on about all the time, mostly to myself. It has to begin with you being a person, and the person in front of you also being a person. And even more, your delicate, fragile, complex humanity was born of two other people’s personhood. But not only. Your very existence was sparked by the provident and mysterious divine light of God’s sovereign will. You are here because God wanted you to live, he gave you some strange undefinable mark of his own image. You are his created person. Whether you live out your brief days under his lightening gaze, or in the shadow of your own imaginations is another matter. But in the essence of yourself, you are only here because God gave you life.
Every time a man reaches out and wrongly touches, without right or invitation or respect or care, a woman who is not his wife, he is saying to her, ‘For me, you are not a person.’ But the woman–or in some cases the man–trying to get out of the room, trying to get away still has the eyes, the expression, the soul whether anyone but God sees them or not.
There has to be a true, a real going back several steps to the point we thought we all fully and completely understood. Are women human? Are men? If I am it’s only because I have been given my humanity by God. I have no business looking at any person and applying any other category or label than Person until I have deeply understood and clutched onto that knowledge. And that is hard, because it would need to include allowing myself to be a person–taking the trouble to know myself as God knows me– and then making the allowance for every single other person to truly be a person–the disabled, the unborn, the aging, the one who looks out of the window of the eyes and can’t any longer be oriented to the known self.
It would mean saying to the woman, before you saw that she was a woman, ‘You are a person.’ And so also the woman would need to see that in the man. It would mean looking at the alien, and even the stranger, even the one whose skin looked nothing like yours and saying first, ‘You are a person,’ before you said anything else.
But that’s what we do say first–we say everything before we say person. We identify ourselves all kinds of ways, averting our eyes from the light of God’s merciful gift that we live at all. But not that gift only. Who can really face the fact that God himself came to partake of the very humanity he gave us. He came, and we looked at him, and we demonized him. We treated him as we treat ourselves. We denied his humanity, his personhood. But even then God had mercy. It was by our very rejection of his person that he opened the way for us to be restored to ours.
I’m grateful for this moment, for these pictures, for the extraordinary light of the Incarnation, for the mercy of God in the midst of our shadowy darkness.