Saving Face

This week I began reading a book I may have never come across if it weren’t for my PhD supervisor. It’s a book entitled Saving Face, which our cohort will be discussing together over the next few months.

This is the the thrust of the book, taken from the Amazon abstract:

Faces are all around us and fundamentally shape both everyday experience and our understanding of people. To lose face is to be alienated and experience shame, to be enfaced is to enjoy the fullness of life. . . This pioneering book explores the nature of face and enfacement, both human and divine. Pattison discusses questions concerning what face is, how important face is in human life and relationships, and how we might understand face, both as a physical phenomenon and as a series of socially-inflected symbols and metaphors about the self and the body.

The blurb continues:

Examining what face means in terms of inclusion and exclusion in contemporary human society and how it is related to shame, Pattison reveals what the experience of people who have difficulties with faces tell us about our society, our understandings of, and our reactions to face. Exploring this ubiquitous yet ignored area of both contemporary human experience and of the Christian theological tradition, Pattison explains how Christian theology understands face, both human and divine, and the insights might it offer to understanding face and enfacement. Does God in any sense have a physically visible face? What is the significance of having an enfaced or faceless God for Christian life and practice? What does the vision of God mean now? If we want to take face and defacing shame seriously, and to get them properly into perspective, we may need to change our theology, thought and practice – changing our ways of thinking about God and about theology.

I’ve personally never thought too much about face. I’ve looked a little at the Hebrew for face (panim/paneh) and how it is also translated as presence. This becomes important when speaking of the presence (or face) of God. But that’s about it.

As I dipped into the introduction this week, I was deeply struck by a poem found on the final page. It’s entitled “Saving Face,” written by Charles Strietelmeier. It speaks to our shame.

Have a read of the poem below. See what you think.

When you’re so poor
you only have one face
to wear out in the world,
you hope yours pleases.
(Looks like I slept in mine
last night – see all the creases!)
And though we rinse it in
the morning light,
who has the time
to scrub off the remains
of each disgrace,
or mend the tears?
With face uplifted,
we wear it with its stains
and face our fears.

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