A Gathering Voices post by Lynne M. Baab
I have often pondered the kind of identity construction that famous people like movie and TV stars need to engage in. In the 1990s, Meg Ryan was one of my favorite stars. On screen, she cultivated a kind of girl next door persona, while at the time she was the mother of a young child. I’ve wondered about movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and famous people like Princess Diana. How much did their real personality, values and habits correspond with the public identity they (and the media) constructed?
This issue no longer affects only famous public figures. Anyone who has a Facebook page, a website, a webpage on business site, even a blog, deals with identity construction. How do I want to appear? Which photos shall I choose? What do I want to emphasize about myself? As we choose photos and words to describe ourselves, we not only reflect what we think about ourselves, we also shape what we think.
I find this overwhelming. Because I’m an author, I have a website. Because I live thousands of miles from many people I love, I have a Facebook page. I have a bio page on this blog, another bio page on the website of the university where I teach, and an amazon.com author information webpage. I recently got an email from amazon in the UK, asking me to create an author webpage on the amazon.co.uk site. I wonder how much all this self-publicity and identity construction is shaping the way I view my true self.
A few days ago a local radio personality, Nicky Rennie, wrote an article in the newspaper about Facebook. (The article was in our paper newspaper on August 25, but I can’t find it anywhere online.) She wrote, “It is a fine line however between communicating and performing.” Performing has always created the possibility of creating false personas that have very little to do with who we really are. And now most of us are “performing,” at least to some extent, as we create and present our online identities.
In the light of the pressure this creates, I want to advocate for Christian spiritual practices where we can rest in God’s love and allow ourselves to be ourselves without the need to perform. The Sabbath gives me that kind of space, as do various kinds of silent prayer. God knows who I really am, even if accessing that true self is a bit challenging for me. “Oh, Lord, You have searched me and known me” (Psalm 139:1).
When I engage in silent prayer, and when I observe the Sabbath, I lay down any need to prove myself, advertise myself, promote myself, or perform. I can just be.
I’m not sure that those spiritual practices make me more accurate in my self-perception. Perhaps they do, and I believe that would be a good thing. But even if all I experience in those moments with God is the freedom to stop having to create an identity, that alone would be a great blessing. And it is.
And I’ll enjoy that blessing tomorrow when my husband and I pray silently for 20 minutes, as we often do. God knows who I am. When I am aware of God's presence it's like taking a deep, fresh breath. I can rest in the wonderful reality that God knows me through and through and actually loves me anyway. But right now, I’ve got to go change the photo on my page on the university’s website. When I looked at the page and captured the link for this post, I noticed the photo is out of date. Can’t have that!
(The article by Nicky Rennie I mentioned was called "Facebook part of our daily routine," Otago Daily Times, August 25, 2012, page 48.)