Monday, January 14, 2008

Forgiveness

I had to recopy, by hand, the entire text of "A Mystery of Hope, Forgiveness, and Resurrection" in order to be able to even start writing what I want to write about mercy. That article is so amazing. I've read it over and over in the past several weeks. I am reminded of something someone said in School of Community last week: "Without being able to forgive, we would be walking corpses." It sounds a lot like what Father Giussani says in "A Mystery of Hope, Forgiveness and Resurrection" -- "without forgiveness we could not exist, we could not continue living." Of course, Don Giuss means this phrase to carry at least two meanings -- that our life, when we do not participate in the divine (of which forgiveness is the greatest sign), is swallowed in nothingness, but also that forgiveness itself is what breathes me into existence: "that forgiveness which comes from without me, i.e. from the mystery which makes all things and invests me and embraces me and gives me courage and renders me capable of continuing until the next time. The presence of this factor, forgiveness, which has a name - Jesus..."

Remembering again Father Giussani's definition of forgiveness as the capacity to tolerate difference reminds me of a time in my life when it was impossible for me to forgive others. What a painful time it was. Back then, a very wise friend told me that I was like a homeless person who had to wear her entire wardrobe all the time, even in the heat, because I had no place to put my things. She said that to me before she even knew just how "homeless" I really was -- that all the travel I had experienced as a child (and it enriched my life tremendously and I wouldn't trade it for anything, even a history of stability) had left me with a feeling that I didn't belong anywhere. No matter where I went, I was out of place.

But so, I couldn't forgive, even though I wanted to do it and I knew it was the right thing to do. I did not understand that it was my inability to tolerate difference that made me so radically not at home in the world. I didn't even realize that I was intolerant of differences. The great criterion for friendships in those years was for the other to be "like me." No one could be exactly like me, but the way in which many of my friends were like me was that they shared, with me, a certain kind of melancholic, ruminating incapacity. Most of my friends were like me in that they were self-absorbed, insecure, subject to depressions and anxiety attacks, and often judgmental of others who were more "together." We would often discuss our suspicions that our more stable and consistent and morally behaved acquaintances were papering over some awful secret. Our thesis was that we, who appeared to be far more lost, were actually living honestly and with integrity while what passed for integrity was just a sham.
Now, from a vantage of over twenty years, I can see that what made me intolerant of difference was fear -- fear of rejection and abandonment, fear of misunderstandings, fear of being undervalued and dismissed, and just plain old irrational fear. Of course, there was more than a little jealousy acting as a motor for this fantasy that people who seemed happy were faking it.

So, how did I move from that positionless position to this Rock I now inhabit? When you look at a life, there are so many factors to consider, but the one thread that seems to have been my lifeline is acknowledging my lack of control over anything while recognizing that there is too much I do not understand about everything. Lack of control and lack of understanding have led me to search for help and to risk trusting -- trusting Christ and also the world he animates and inhabits. "The mind unlearns with difficulty what has long been impressed upon it" (Seneca). But the mind must unlearn what is false when faced with overwhelming evidence.

The overwhelming evidence struck me like a boulder to the chest when I became a mother. When I held my first child, I was overcome with tears of amazement and gratitude for the mystery of this new life which had been placed in my hands. It was really as if I myself had been born. I knew I was completely unworthy of the gift I had received. The wonder and fear of the Lord I experienced in that moment gave birth to a love that was completely new and unlike any love (even for my own mother or my husband) that I had ever experienced. It was in that moment that I began to learn about just how much of my own comfort I was willing to sacrifice so that life could be beautiful, truly beautiful. When one's own incapacity comes face-to-face with the gratuitous gift of a love that has the power to regenerate one's soul, Christ finds a way into that life.

Every day I beg to be worthy of this life I've been given, and of the five daughters whose lives have become so great a part of my own, and of a marriage that can continue to generate so much beauty.

It is only because the Almighty has looked with so much mercy on my own littleness, nothingness even, that I am able to tolerate differences -- even love them. Whenever I experience myself holding onto a hurt, I just remember who I am -- little as I am, I am a child of God -- and that I lack understanding; and I remember Who has given this life to us all -- Who resides at its foundations and Who holds the key to the meaning of everything. I leave it in his hands, because he is mercy and love. To see the other through the lens of His preference is to see another being altogether -- one who is loved as I am loved -- something breath-taking!

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."