Sunday, March 16, 2008

Very strange

In 1996 there was a gathering of Christians and Buddhists at the monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. At the meeting were scholars and monks from both traditions, as well as the Dalai Lama himself. After days of intense conversation and shared prayer, one of the Buddhist participants spoke to an urgent point. What had been bothering him throughout the conference was the prominent display, in almost every room of the monastery, of a suffering man pinioned to a cross. To his mind, the crucifix represented the agony to which the meditation and practices of his religion were the solution. And thus, he asked his Christian interlocutors, what precisely was the point in showing this terrible scene over and over again?...
...I love that man's question. More to the point, I love the bother that prompted it. Christians have become so accustomed to seeing the crucifix -- in churches, in schools, on seasonal greeting cards, worn as jewelry around people's necks -- that they have long since lost any sense of how awful and strange it is...
...On both the human and divine side...there is a radical, even disquieting extremism about Christianity, and the best spirits in the Christian tradition do nothing to soften it; on the contrary, they intensify it. -- Robert Barron, from The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path.


Rachel said...

I would have loved to hear the response given to the Buddhist. I may have to pick up the book.
I really like that you called attention to this. I am a convert and always wore a plain, empty cross, when I was a Protestant. When I got my first crucifix I was really taken with the brutality and suffering of it. But then I realized it called more attention to the saving power of Christ, to my mind, than did my empty cross.
It is the sacrificial love that I see now and I find it oddly beautiful and compelling.

Suzanne said...

Thanks for visiting, Rachel! Father Barron doesn't give the response in the book -- instead he says that this question began a much deeper and more interesting conversation among all the people at the conference -- still, I would recommend the book!

I understand that some Carmelites use plain crosses in their cells because they are encouraged to picture themselves there. But I think this practice is only for true adepts! One parish I belonged to rented its empty convent building to students from a local Lutheran college. When I visited the convent chapel right after the students had moved in, I was confronted with a pile of crucifixes on the floor of the chapel -- they had taken them from their rooms and placed them there -- I imagine because the image of Christ suffering on the cross was too hard to live in front of. That says a lot.

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."