Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A child is a gift from God...?

So, why the question mark?

One of my favorite presentations in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is "The History of the Kingdom of God: The Gifts." How enchanted I was as I first watched the trainer introduce this material! All of history, and all it contains, can be viewed as a series of gifts from God -- and what a beautiful meditation it was for me when I made this material -- the text on the long strip is so beautiful -- and then collecting all the small items: rocks and minerals; seeds; leaf samples; photos of stars, planets, animals, and persons; the crucifix, paten, chalice, candles -- and then creating the small symbol for Parousia... It was the work of weeks, a time of wonder and deep concentration. I am still astonished when I present this material to the children, or when I contemplate its meaning on my own. Everything I see, hear, and touch, and everyone I meet, are gifts for my life -- gifts that I did not and can never earn or merit.

But lately I have been wondering about how my children, and people in general, are God's gifts to me. They are not gifts for me to possess or to think of as "mine." Though God has given them to me, they remain his possession first, but they also belong, in a very real way, to themselves.

In Learning the Virtues that Lead You to God, Romano Guardini writes about how all the virtues find their source in God -- that God himself practices these virtues in perfection. When it comes to reverence, though, how can we begin to imagine how God could be said to be reverent? Guardini ventures that God shows reverence toward us, in our littleness, by offering us freedom.

...all true culture begins with the fact that man steps back. That he does not obtrude himself and seize hold of things, but leaves a space, so that there may be a place in which the person in his dignity, the work it its beauty, and nature in it symbolic power may be discerned. (Learning the Virtues...)

So, God "steps back" and allows us to be. Not only can we have reverence for the great and mighty -- for God who is breath-takingly beyond us -- we can also have reverence before what is little, weak, in our power. We can imitate the reverence of God by stepping back and leaving a space, so that there will be a place where the other's dignity may be discerned.

We can show lack of reverence toward children in so many ways: treating them as extensions of ourselves, ascribing motives to them, speaking for them, forcing or manipulating them to hold our views, enjoying them as projections of our own need, etc., etc.

Though having children has been one of the greatest gifts for my life, I prefer not to think of the children themselves as gifts, given to me. The life of a child is first and foremost a gift to that child herself, a gift that she is invited to give, in its totality, to the One who breathes her into existence. The honor of witnessing this holy exchange is the true gift that I receive in living in close proximity to others, including children.


Dcn Scott Dodge said...

Thanks Suzanne for this post and your last one. Both have given me some succor and, as we approach Pentecost, reminded me that the first fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy. Life is not just good, it is also beautiful, even in its awfulness and awesomeness.

Suzanne said...

Thank you for this thoughtful response. It is so helpful to know that the things I fumble with are also meaningful to others.

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."