Sunday, November 23, 2008

Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating...

About a month ago, I asked the following questions:

How did Mary Magdalen describe what it was like to have met Christ? What words could Peter use to explain to someone else what happened to him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when Christ cooked him breakfast and asked him three times if he loved him? How did Matthew account for himself when his tax collector friends asked why he'd left the customs post?


The questions were conceived as rhetorical, but evidently the Mystery saw fit to confront me with answers I hadn't anticipated.

Now, I can tell you, roughly a month later, that the word that best answers the above questions is "uncomfortable."

There was joy, certainly, and an overflowing of wonder in front of Beauty; but that was followed by a shock. I don't think it is an overstatement, nor is it melodramatic of me to say that I have been experiencing a kind of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome during the past several weeks. At least, all the symptoms have been there. But why should experiencing Beauty bring on something like a sickness, accompanied by so much pain?

All of life is a journey, a pilgrimage; and by paths, sometimes winding, we hope to reach our destiny. We are being made in each moment, by Another. How we process this knowledge (or not) determines our course. But when Someone suddenly steps into our path and points us in a new direction, it requires strength to tear oneself from our past course and follow this indication. Something inside actually rips. At least this has been happening with me.

Yesterday I found words for the particular change in me that this new direction will require:

So what is friendship? Friendship, in its minimal state, is the encounter of one person with another person whose destiny he or she desires more than his or her own life: I desire your destiny more than I desire my life. The other reciprocates this and desires my destiny more than his or her life... Those who do not experience this must humbly ask the Lord and the Blessed Mother to make it understood to them, because without this, not even the relationship with God is true.

[...]

But the more you have affection, the more you're tempted to stop there, to grab, to possess. That's the way you lose both the thing and yourself: you lose. The symptom that a friendship is wrong is that the others are extraneous... Only you and I exist. It is egoism assembled into a system. And not only is this deadly, it's suffocating (the third day, I can't take it any more. I need some air. I need to see a horse galloping!).

*Luigi Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way? Volume 1: Faith (pp 146-147)

Reading these words, one can imagine the theoretical possibility of being asked to give one's life for another's destiny, and we can hope and pray that if we are ever given this test, we will pass it. But in fact, what we're often asked to sacrifice is our point of view, our opinions. My point of view is not something that I can easily relinquish. I work very hard, throw all my intelligence and passion into its development. When I meet someone who seems confused, lost, or simply wrong, it has always been an effort that springs from a deep affection for that person when I share my point of view with him. But it is precisely this point of view, no matter how correct, that my friend doesn't need -- that could, in fact, be a negative distraction for him. I never understood this before. Partly why I haven't understood it is that I am always hungry to hear others' points of view. But that's me. Most people do not share my hunger. I am trying to satisfy their hunger with the food I myself crave. They need something else, and they will ask for what they need.

When I say, "They need something else," I don't mean that they need something other than Christ! I mean that they need something else besides what it is that helps me to see his face. They need whatever it is that they need so that they can see him.

I get this to some extent, especially when dealing with children. It is in adult relationships, in which I feel great affection, that I feel this need to "be heard," or to have what has been helpful to me be likewise helpful to the other person. And when I discover another person who finds my solutions to her problems useful (and likewise supplies me with solutions that help me), the result is usually what Fr. Giussani describes -- a friendship in which the others are extraneous. Here is someone who "understands" me, whom I can also "understand;" and surrounding us is a huge ocean of persons who don't "get it."

Since this is true, and has been proven in my life again and again, then I know that my wanting to share my point of view with others is born from a love for my ego, for my self, for my point of view, conceived by me, me, me. It's narcissism!

To love another's destiny more than my own point of view, opinions, wise conclusions is, I'm tremendously sad to say, an experiment I haven't tried much. Oh, I thought I was loving their destiny by sharing my passion for solving their problems, clarifying their confusions, pointing out their errors! But no. Giving advice, particularly when it hasn't been requested, is just an attempt to shore up a weak, frightened ego.

I must take a step back and respect the other person's need to meet the same Christ I've met -- let others confront him when he steps into their paths.

I can't tell you how painful it is to sacrifice something that I have depended upon and admired in myself, something that has served me as a crutch and a solace in difficult times. I wouldn't do it at all, except that the new path indicated represents a promise, one of great hope.

3 comments:

clairity said...

This is very lucid. I do understand what you mean, and even if I don't get it all at once, I see how I have changed that same way a little over a long period of time. It is finding something truer than true, and then discovering through observation that even the best plans in the world are somehow flawed if the Answer is not *the* plan.

Justine said...

Suzanne, I understand too! I realize this about myself sometimes, but then forget all over again. Thanks for the reminder.

Suzanne said...

I'm not alone! Thanks, both of you.

What has been such a surprise is how painful this realization is.

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."