Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What do you see?


I think a lot about birth during the month of April, but rarely about my own birth -- or about what it means to be born.

There is a moment for each of us when we aren't there and then we are. What does it mean? And why?

I have a pair of eyes, through which I see the world. No one else has my eyes, or my mind, which tries to understand what I see, or my heart, which holds all that I see and think together. So what is the point of these eyes, this mind, this heart?

It seems that all the factors that make up our the universe have conspired, through millions of different and seemingly chance events, to bring my own unique point of view into existence. Many ingenious twists of fate had to take place, in a particular order, according to very particular steps, over billions of years, for these eyes, this mind and this heart to come together in the one person I am. This is true for everyone.

What are eyes, in combination with a mind and a heart, able to do? Well, they can see; and with help, they can perceive, penetrate, and even view the world with a loving gaze, a gaze full of love. Human beings are creatures who can recognize and appreciate where they came from. In all the universe, we have the unique capacity to look back at our total environment and begin to perceive our origins. With these eyes, I can return the gaze of the world that gave birth to me. Of course, the same is true for blind people -- only the method is different.

When I was a kid, I used to think a lot about how rich and complicated the world inside of me was. I would wonder at the thought that every other individual person probably does -- no -- has to contain the same richness: a universe of memories, emotions, thoughts, and imaginings. Because the world inside of me seemed so vast and convoluted, I would sometimes feel overwhelmed in a room full of people just imagining all the life that was present in the room. And because I lived in different countries as a child, I was aware that the whole earth was heavy with individual people who each carried a wealth of life within them. During any given half hour, while I was living my own perspective -- my own pleasure or pain, triumph or tragedy -- there were billions of others, who were, each one, living their own, equally real perspective.

Why should there be so many points of view? If someone were capable of hearing and deciphering the words and images that bubble in the hearts of each and every person at any given moment, what would the whole look and sound like? Imagine being God -- with all that noise and all those images! Surely, from a human perspective, it would be a huge, tangled, cacophonous mess. But perhaps there would be recurring themes, leit motifs that would surface from the general babble? Perhaps, from the proper distance, one would be able to discern patterns that would have shape and substance? Still, we know that the divine perspective is not one of great distance, no matter how far away we care to imagine heaven. God is no further away than my own heart is from my body. Far from being detached from my life, he busies himself with counting all the hairs of my head! That goes for you, too. Thinking this way gives me a greater sympathy for Jesus, when he prayed, "O Father, that they all may be one!"

Still, as difficult as it is to understand, it seems that he actually wants to have all these voices, all these eyes in all their own particular positions, trying to make sense of his world, all at once. What is it that he wants us to see?

What do you see?

Before ever a word is on my tongue you know it,
O Lord, through and through.

Behind and before you besiege me,

your hand ever laid upon me.

Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.
For it was you who created my being,

knit me together in my mother's womb.

I thank you for the wonder of my being,

for the wonders of all your creation.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Already you knew my soul,

my body held no secret from you.

When I was being fashioned in secret

and molded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw all my actions,

they were all of them written in your book;
Every one of my days was decreed

before one of them came into being.

(Psalm 139:4-6, 13-16)
One final thought:
If the human being were to come into the world solely through the biology of the mother and father, as a mere brief instant in which all the flux of innumerable prior reactions produced this ephemeral fruit; if the human being were only this, then we really would be talking about something ridiculous, something cynically absurd when we use expressions such as "freedom," "human rights," the very word, "person." Freedom, like this, without any foundation, is flatus vocis, just pure sound, dispersed by the wind.
In only one case is...this single human being free from the entire world, free, so that the world together and even the total universe cannot force him into anything. In only one instance can this image of a free man be explained. This is when we assume that this [person] is not totally the fruit of the biology of the mother and father, not strictly derived from the biological tradition of mechanical antecedents, but rather when it possesses a direct relationship with the infinite, the origin of all the flux of the world..., that is to say, it is endowed with something derived from God.
...There is a "something" in me which is not derived from any empirical phenomenon, because it does not depend upon, does not originate in the biology of my father and mother. It directly depends on the infinite, which makes the whole world. Only this hypothesis allows me to proclaim that the world can do what it wants with me, but it cannot conquer, possess, grasp on to me, because I am greater than it is. I am free. (Father Giussani, The Religious Sense, p. 91)
So, why did I reflect, in my last post, on the factors that brought me to birth? Because, even if I cannot be reduced to my material antecedents, I am so very grateful to them, because without them, I would not be here. They are the means by which God has wonderfully and fearfully made me.

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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."