Friday, June 13, 2008

Responsibility


Over on Cahiers Péguy, Sharon posted a question about blogging that has generated several interesting responses. Most of all, I have been thinking about responsibility. To whom and to what am I responsible?

God, obviously! In fact, everything I do or say is a response to God, whether I am aware of this fact or not. I don't remember how old I was when it occurred to me that if God sees everything I do and hears everything I say, then prayer cannot be contained between the parentheses of "Dear God..." and "...Amen." Folding our hands is not like picking up a telephone; when we say, "Amen," the line doesn't go dead. What I say to my children, I am saying in the presence of the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. What I do or don't do happens under the watchful gaze of the one who counts all the hairs on my head.

What does it mean to respond to God? Unlike Samuel, I don't hear any disembodied voice, calling my name. Unlike Mary, I have not received any strange greetings from the angel Gabriel. God summons me with the voices of my children, my husband, my friends and neighbors, and even with the voices of strangers I meet. Everyone he places in my path bears his face.

What is my responsibility, in light of this awareness? First, I must discern what God is saying or asking. What he requires of me doesn't match up neatly with the requests and demands that those around me are making. In many cases, a "no" to the person in front of me constitutes a "yes" to God -- and sometimes it's cruel to be kind.

So, the regular responsibilities that I have in front of me come from many places -- many of them are things that I've said yes to, and now I need to follow through. Other things are spoken or unspoken expectations -- some of which I ought to question, or even neglect.

Do I have a responsibility to this blog? Only to the extent that it requires certain of my capabilities that I don't or can't exercise while carrying out any of my ordinary duties; in other words, I have a moral responsibility to use the gifts I've been given or risk burying them in the ground.

In fact, an example of an activity that eats up a significant amount of my time and carries no duty, whatsoever, is gardening. How can I justify the time I spend gardening? Anyone who visits our home can see in a moment that the plantings have gone way beyond what is necessary to keep the property maintained and attractive. There is a riot of flowers out there! What's the point? My house (on the inside) is messy and disorganized, I'm using family funds to support this habit, and most importantly, my children have all sorts of interests that don't involve digging in the dirt.

And yet, I learn valuable things from watching a plant start from a seed and develop into something miraculously other. Weeding and pruning resolve inner dilemmas that no amount of talk or thinking can seem to touch. But more important, something inside of me blooms when I spend time with my plants. These benefits spread to all other areas of my life and become an inseparable part of the way I approach my duties -- with greater joy, openness and perhaps even wisdom. Before I began to spend time in the garden, I was a different, poorer person, and this poverty was evident in how I lived all my responses in daily life. By fostering this relationship with botanical life and with beauty, my heart has become richer. Am I not responsible for seeing that my children and the life that I encourage within my house will grow and bloom?

Likewise, time spent with this blog has expanded my horizons, helped to deepen and enliven the questions that accompany me as a parent and a person, and made me happy.

I think that the adage, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," is a cop out, and most of what parenting entails is sacrifice -- deeper and deeper sacrifice with each passing year. But I also know that sacrifice made without joy is a dead thing that kills whatever it intends to build.

If I look at the blog (and my garden) this way, there is no dichotomy between my responsibility in front of God and my "responsibilities."

And thinking, "Well, if I were a better person, I could take care of all my duties and not need blogging or gardening..." is like insulting God, who gave me this life, this self, these needs. Why did he make me this way if he didn't want me to learn and live in this way?


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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."