This morning Fr. Walter preached on this theme: perseverance as adventure. If divorce from our state in life, once we are bound to it, is unacceptable, then we must face the people God has given us to deal with as they change us and force us to grow. And what will these relationships have in store for us? In what ways will we be different on the other side? This is, I believe, where the element of adventure comes in–not that it is always exciting, but that it is always something risked.
And what about those of us who lack solemn commitments? I do not know that life is any less adventurous if we are committed to the moment and to a deep love of those around us, whoever they may be. Last night at my formation meeting for the Third Order, we spoke of the Dominican understanding of prayer (as it differs from, say, Carmelite and Ignatian) as an opening oneself to a God who is immediately present, even in your very soul. And so, perhaps, for those of us who feel like we’re playing the waiting game, or have some deep source of discontent, it is time to allow ourselves to be joyful in the Lord and to allow ourselves to be found by him. Anxiety is endless and consuming; it never stops feeding upon its prey but instead creates more and more to devour. Renounce it! Instead, fall in love with people again, and fall in love with God again. Let your life be adventurous; take on risk! I think that by admitting the possibility of risk–admitting that I cannot lay out a plan for my life or my relationships–we give God space to work and we let him out of the box to which our minds have confined him.
When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethsaida,
people brought to him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.
He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.
Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man and asked,
“Do you see anything?”
Looking up the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.”
Then he laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly;
his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.”
Fr. Walter preached about the ability to “see through” someone. You can see through them in cynicism or in malice. But you can also see through them to their human neediness and longing. It is the latter sort of seeing through that grows as an effect of the Christianization of our lives. A few words about this:
1) It does not reduce or patronize the other, for in recognizing the other’s neediness we also admit our own needs and weaknesses.
2) It applies to our enemies and our friends alike. It is not used to simplify problems but rather to treat others with the respect they deserve. In order to respect someone properly, you may need to insist that that person stay out of your life. You may only be able to interact with that person in prayer. This is a humble and honest reaction to a destructive relationship.
3) This requires infinite patience, which we honestly just don’t have. It’s a stretching of the soul toward greatness. It’s a predisposition to kindness. Sometimes it can feel difficult, if not impossible, to go back to this “square one” of human dignity in a relationship. Yet it’s worth attempting, even if you receive no tangible satisfaction.
This morning I watched my companion roll out of the top bunk at 5:55 a.m., having set her alarm on the other side of the room because, for her job as a teacher, “you just can’t be late; there are actual consequences.” I was left in her fairy-tale studio, where I stumbled out of bed at 7:50 and could still make it to morning Mass–I was within walking distance of church and work for the first time since college. I brushed my teeth while staring at an Italian poster for Roman Holiday. Gregory Peck and I locked eyes as I tried to scrub away the post-bourbon dryness. My friend and I had fallen asleep discussing the various choices that had brought us to this place: single, working, religious, deeply critical. As I tried to gather up my belongings, excise what was mine from what was hers, it all seemed to blend together. We are one in this strange project: that of the modern Catholic woman, the intellect, the ambitions, the deep anxieties that seem to fuel more fervent prayer, more wonderful love. Oh, I admit, I do not love this life! May God make me more grateful. And yet as I looked over her lotion, her duvet, as I scribbled a note to her on a post-it, how could I but love the simplicity she represented, the dogged faith? Who is not delighted in finding a soul-mate? Another young woman who is wiser than her alienation, who prefers books and sleep to the appearance of an organized life, who pours you almost straight bourbon and lets you stay over and says things that get her labeled as “intense,” as if we care, as if we’re still trying to please anyone but God.
For Hyacinth, on his birthday:
“It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. With Americans, it is a national trait, as native to us as the roller-coaster or the jukebox. It is no simple longing for the home town or country of our birth. The emotion is Janus-faced: we are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” -Carson McCullers
“She stood in front of the mirror a long time, and finally decided she either looked like a sap or else she looked very beautiful. One or the other.” -Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter