Tuesday, March 4, 2008

O freedom!

I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a cousin, who asked me what I got out of practicing my religion. She had not been raised with any religion at all. At the time, I felt tongue-tied and nervous. What a great opportunity -- so often people don't ask, and one feels so sad not to have the chance to communicate the most beautiful things -- and I was unprepared! I mumbled something about freedom. My cousin was surprised. "Freedom?" she asked, "But I think of religion as something limiting. All those rules?"

Since I didn't even know why I had said the word, "freedom," I didn't know what to say next. I fumbled around for some way to explain myself: "A lot of people think that religion is all about rules, but actually...well, actually, the rules aren't the essential part..." Her eyebrows went up. And then I said something about how without infinity, we're trapped in a world of space in which the only thing that makes sense is to protect myself and look out for myself; and without eternity, all we have is a limited time, marching to an inevitable conclusion. And something else about how time and space weren't big enough for me, and I needed more room to breathe.

My cousin thanked me and told me that she would have to think about what I'd said -- that her impression was that religion was all about morality and rules, and that most of the people she knew who were religious weren't even very good people, so she always wondered what use there could be for religion.

A beautiful opportunity and I'd botched it! What about love, or hope? What about meaning? There were so many things I might have said. And so many better and truer things I could have said about freedom:

Complete self-fulfillment, this is freedom. Freedom, for the human being, is the possibility, the capacity, the responsibility to be fulfilled, that is to say to reach and confront one’s destiny: it is the total aspiration for destiny. Thus freedom is the experience of the truth of ourselves.
It is for this reason that the Lord says, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). If God is the truth, then I can say to God: you are my truth, you are my self, I am you; to paraphrase Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet “Thou art me, I am thee.” An Other is the truth about myself: this fullness of my being is You, my meaning is You. Therefore, freedom is the capacity for God. Much more deeply than a capacity for choosing, freedom is the humble, passionate, faithful, and total dedication to God in daily life. -- Father Giussani, The Religious Sense, page 92

I wish I'd said something like that to my cousin! But would she have understood?

3 comments:

kabloona said...

>>>I felt tongue-tied and nervous

Oy vey. Now you understand me how I felt when my niece asks me questions!

Suzanne said...

Yes, I understand only too well!

Marie said...

Hmmm.... but didn't your cousin already check out other religious folks and find them not so real? I think a real, bumbling expression is of far greater value than a polished, practiced and footnoted presentation that doesn't have the "smell" of a real person on it.

Seems like someone was telling me something about this the other day, Suzanne... :)

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."