Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"No, and that's it. Bam!"

icon of Christ

We face this no often. Even when it isn't articulated, we can sense that no is all around us. Even when we don't extend an invitation or make a request, the no is everywhere, in everyone, even in ourselves.

No nailed Jesus to the cross. No refused to accept the testimony of the witnesses to the Resurrection. No thought that St. Peter was drunk when the Holy Spirit gave him words to speak the truth.

No is the telephone that won't ring, the letter that goes unanswered. No tells us that we're not worthy of happiness. No says the promise of the hundredfold is too good to be true. And no is the source of all the pain and suffering in this world.

Do I say no? Yes, I do. There is the no that I can't help because it is impossible for me to be two places at once. There is the no that I think is a yes -- because I'm simply too stupid to see it's a no. There is the no that is given with an excuse: I'm not able, I don't know how, I'm too tired, let someone more talented have a go at it... There is the no that seems to just "happen" because of my limits: forgetting, losing the instructions, hurrying past a crucial step... But my own most frequent and shameful no comes out of me through the force of fear.

I am afraid of pain, afraid of failing, afraid of rejection and abandonment, afraid of being trapped, and afraid of being cut loose. I am afraid of speaking in public, of making phone calls, of offending or misleading others, of the post office, of fruit (it might be mealy and disappoint me), of both criticism and praise, of germs, afraid of being too early or too late, of parking lots, of fire, and of eating soybeans (I'm allergic to them).

For a time, I found that strong liquor helped me to conquer many of these fears -- until my fear of death kicked in. After that, I lived four years of almost constantly saying no. Sometimes, I said, yes, but... My journals from those years can be characterized by one adjective: boring. I was in a state of terrible depression. During these years I practiced my religion and I prayed. I did worthwhile work. I even got married! These were all, to one extent or another, yes, but...

Then something happened. Something that I did not plan for in advance. When I looked into the face of my daughter for the first time, I was incapable of saying, yes, but... Her face was, for me, the face of the Angel Gabriel; and looking into her eyes, my whole heart and mind were filled with just one word: yes.

Have I said no since her birth? Of course. I have even said it countless times to her face and to the faces of my other daughters. But that one clear, unadulterated yes still lives; and it set me on a journey, which day by day becomes a greater adventure, more positive and more certain. Yes is only possible for me within the life of a great love. The love that flooded my life on the day my first daughter was born did not come from me. It was something wholly other and completely astonishing. And it certainly didn't come from her -- so tiny and helpless! For this reason, I knew it could only have one source, and I pledged myself to the Source.

It happens different ways for different people -- that moment when love, or our desire for love, overtakes us and we know that Something Else, Someone Else, is at work.

This love does not erase my fears or mistakes, but it drains these things of their force.

A simple, human yes -- the simplest, most loving yes ever spoken by a mere human -- opened the world to the the coming of Christ. And Christ's Yes to the suffering and death of the Cross unlocked the doors of death, bitterness, and division. But even before Mary's fiat and Christ's Yes, humanity had uttered a series of yeses: Abraham, Moses, the prophets, David... to pave the way for Christ's one, most beautiful and powerful Yes. May we, with all our fragility, find this Yes and utter it ceaselessly.
icon of Christ Enthroned


clairity said...

This is so beautiful and true; you brought it up from the depths of your yes. This one will stay with me for some time.

Fred said...

Like Jonah, I want to say no to God when He sends me to work to bear Christ's mercy there. Why can I offer up my sufferings but cling to my flourishings? When Christ shows us something great, obedience means to do what we see — Like Jesus always does what He sees the Father do. The great things we see are not for us to hoard but instead to share...

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."