Talk to yourself? I do. It may not be as ditsy as some think.
It occurred to me recently that perhaps talking to myself is not so much something to be ashamed of but an occasion to feel blessed. I say this because the first time we meet God in the Bible, he’s talking to himself. Of all people! And when he speaks, it’s not sotto voce, but a resounding voice of command. For someone who is all talk, he’s remarkably creative.
Consider this: “In the beginning when God created the universe, God commanded, Let there be light.” And there it was light. It continues; God enjoyed what he said so much he went on to, “. . . name the light, ‘day,’ and the darkness, ‘night’.” God continued –– as though on a roll ––commanding that “the water below the sky come together in one place so that the land will appear.” And on and on it went. No one was around to hear the foundations of the earth as they were being laid, or more accurately, talked into becoming. it’s clear from Genesis that these commands were issued verbally and in this manner a whole universe was created but created by someone who was comfortable talking to himself. If you’re antsy about this habit yourself, take comfort; you’re in good company. Talking to yourself is next to godliness.
When God says to himself, “Let us make man in our own image,” he really does mean man since it’s Adam who appears following the command. This might have caused God grief –as even to this day feminists can take umbrage –– but not to worry; God quickly recognizes that without women, the entire universe would fall apart. Thus, Eve arrives on the scene, but, curiously, this time not from the commands God has been issuing while talking to himself: she materializes very differently. Perhaps the first scientific miracle before cloning ; Eve shows up through some kind of divine orthopedic procedure. Good call, I’d say. Best not to start off by telling our first woman what to do.
I certainly mean to be playful here but not disrespectful or impious; reading scripture with a legal mind leads only to a scramble for the high ground, creating the stultifying trap of who’s right and who’s wrong. A fanciful mind is open to nuances and seeing other possibilities. Being literal would trivialize and marginalize the spiritual depths of meaning implied in the ancient story. Genesis is a parable, a myth that our ancient forbears devised as they struggled to understand our essential nature and the nature of God and the universe. That we were created in the image of God is particularly vital, here. If Genesis is only a static description of original prototypes it wouldn’t teach us much about our essential nature. The product here is less the issue, than the process. Great acts of creativity begin deeply inside of us, and often when we’re alone, as they did for God.
Artists of all descriptions will often speak of this. Some, like my wife, an artist, when painting by herself hums instead. A brilliant preacher I know told me once that he first goes into his study In solitude, walks the room talking thoughts out loud. Soon latent creative energy of significant magnitude is released. Inspired thoughts are brought into being, like imaginative images in art are, or music, writing, sculpture, medicine, architecture and new strategies for the practice of compassion. All of these contribute to the healing of our world. I understand the Genesis story as shaped in such a way as to show that we are and can be co-creators with God and active participants in the divine force that inspires creative goodness. The same creative forces operative in divinity also operate in humanity. That’s the image of God within us.
It grieves me to see how religion loses its way, today, while its scriptural teachings are coopted for secular power and gain. Religion has allowed political values of pride and dominance to define its mission. Politically driven, religiosity is necessarily divisive. I see this divisiveness as a perversion of the inspiring myths of historical scriptures and particularly the implicit message of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Genesis story, with various interpretations, some, admittedly troubling, has nevertheless been a formative myth in western thinking and has at its core this primary vision; that goodness is greatness are connected and that humanity was conceived in divine love.
When creation is finally completed, as one account in Genesis reads: “ God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” According to the account, God, does not articulate this while talking to himself. Some editor of Genesis wrote this, convinced of the creation’s fundamental goodness.
And maybe that’s the point; After the creation is established and evolves and we make our transitions from the innocence of Eden into the complexities and paradoxes of life east of Eden, it remains our responsibility, and the fundamental task of our humanity to revere the goodness in each other and act with gratitude toward the planet that sustains us.
While making a case for the creative potential of talking to oneself I should add a couple of caveats. On those occasions when I strike my thumb with a hammer, I speak commandingly, and loudly and to myself. Fortunately, no one hears it. It’s typically one word, hardly redeeming and never creative.
Grumbling is another variation in this business of monologues. Grumbling is usually a direct response to someone who irritates me and with whom I have unfinished business. To the extent that my grumbling may resolve the matter happily, it can be redemptive. I’ve noticed when I grumble a lot, I’m really not resolving anything. I’m only fueling the indignation with my sense of my righteousness.
I say if the true spirit of creativity seizes you and you find you are talking to yourself, go for it. You really can’t go wrong. After all, It’s next to godliness.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.