Saturday, August 18, 2007

Love, Faith and Life: On the Cross Road

What is faith? A question that quickly turns into flogging a dead horse. "To hear with my heart/To see with my soul/To be guided by a hand I cannot hold/To trust in a way that I cannot see/That's what faith must be". So sings Michael Card, who also sings:

"Could it be You make Your presence known
So often by Your absence?
Could it be that questions tell us more
Than answers ever do?
Could it be that You would really rather die
Than live without us?
Could it be the only answer that means anything Is You?"

Why do we seek God? How do we seek God? Where is God? Behind that tree, over the next hill, around that corner? Too often, as one my favorite novelists, Milan Kundera, wrote powerfully about, Life is Elsewhere. This dislocation of life to some place else is but a manifestation of our search for transcendence, for meaning. Christians, Buddhists, and existentialists agree that life is always already here, now.

To a large degree the expectations with which we begin- the fact that we begin with expectations as to how God will be encountered is unavoidable- largely determine whether we are apt to say we have encountered God. The bigger question for those who are seeking God- a nebulous phrase if ever there was one- is what happens when God doesn't let you dictate the terms of the encounter? When your expectations aren't met, do you give up?

I think that finding God- just as nebulous a phrase as seeking God- is, paradoxically (what else?), both easier and more difficult than we often think. It is easier because God is always already here, now. It is more difficult because God is not standing in the parking lot pointing at the empty spot when I'm late. To wit, we often have a lot of childish expectations as to what God should be doing, or how God should be encountered. As mentioned in my previous post, we have to overcome a lot of self-deception and self-centeredness, not to mention the insidious lie that God doesn't love us always. Perhaps our suspicion that we made up the story that God loves us stems for our insecurity which, in turn, is derived from our human relationships in which we are both givers and receivers of self-gratifying, conditional, and utilitarian "love". Put simply when we match up the fact that life is always already here and that God is always already present to us in these lives of ours, we can see that it is necessary to get real in order to get God- both in the sense of receiving God and in the sense of understanding God.

The intellect is a way of apprehending God that cannot be easily be dismissed as not faith. Even taking that into account, faith falls short of certainty and is not immune to doubt. When asked recently whether it is possible to "reason" one's self into faith, Norbertine Father Sebastian Walshe, a devoted student of the Angelic Doctor, replied:

"No, I don't think that's true. But you can dispose yourself to be open to religious truths, and you can remove impediments to the Faith. Grace builds on nature; if your mind is well-ordered at the natural level, you can be more receptive to grace."

Sound too theological for you? Sound kind of demanding? In my best jack-ass of a guru mode: It both is and it isn't. In the end, I think it has to do with the whole approach of "What's in it for me?" If we believe that it is in giving that we receive, in dying we live, then what I get out of it hardly factors in. On the other hand, that doesn't mean I don't matter, it means that I trust God because I love God and believe that, unlike every other person in my life and unlike me in the lives of other people, God will not let me down either now or in the end. God may not meet my present expectations, but my expectations are less than perfect and certainly not divine. In the end, God will exceed all my wildest expectations, at least that is my hope, which is distinct from faith. But, between now and the end I am committed to working toward the end for which everything exists, the Kingdom of God. Even in straight-up existential terms, forgetting about pie-in-the-sky, working for a kinder, more loving, more just world is worth my very best efforts, worth my whole life. What if this working to usher in the kingdom about which Jesus so powerfully taught amounts to nothing more than, to borrow from Camus, my metaphyiscal rebellion against the void? Of course, I do not believe for one moment that is the case, but if it were, so what? I'd still do it.

This brings us to the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do this in any and all situtations. We have such a tendency to try to talk others out of what they are experiencing in order to tell them what they should be experiencing instead. What we are called to is compassion, to suffer with others, to walk with them through the dark valleys and to rejoice with them on the breath-taking heights, not to deprive them of their humanity, their personhood by depriving them of the legitimacy of what they are experiencing, or how they feel.

Over to you Jude! Again, listen to her with a sense of irony.

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