Monday, December 8, 2014

well how CAN this be?

"Once we see this clearly, we realize that for Jesus, the problem is quite a different one. He sees the mystery of suffering much more profoundly--deep at the root-tip of human existence, and inseparable from sin and estrangement from God. He knows it to be the door in the soul that leads to God, or that at least can lead to him; result of sin but also means of purification and return."
--The Lord, Romano Guardini

The first reading of Mass today is one of the top 100 Bible Passages that is in the most danger, I think, of becoming rote.
This passage, which is the moment in the third chapter of Genesis when God encounters Adam post-fall.
If you listen to the actual story, not just letting the words sweep over you, but actually sink into you, you'll hear something so tender and tragic and moving that today's feast will be brought into high relief.
So: first we have the call of God to Adam. The Creator of the Universe, calling out to His most beloved creation, this man into whom He breathed His own life, into whom He imparted such a great deal of Himself. This man has gone missing, has intentionally hid Himself from God.
When called, Adam steps forth, and tries to explain why he was hiding. Despite trying to create an elaborate excuse that rationally explains his actions, the reasoning behind his actions that Adam shares is a damning account. Well, Adam stutters, I hid because I was naked. One can't just walk around naked. Aren't I wise? Now I know that being naked is Not a Thing.

I don't know about you, but I find myself mimicking this particular action of Adam's far too often. Instead of just simply owning up to a wrongdoing, admitting to myself: "I did this. This was wrong and I freely chose to do it", I come up with so many excuses, elaborate arguments to hide my own actions, by own being from myself. Sometimes self-awareness is too daunting a prospect for our souls to take on, so we, like Adam, hid the real reason for our avoidance of the Lord. Why were we really hiding? We stutter, like Adam, for some reason trying to pretend that our selfish grasping was not actually that. It was something wise of us, really, wasn't it? Wasn't it? Or,  at least, natural?

But God gently asks, patiently, with kindness, leading Adam out of his lie, into the truth, even though it is painful: "Who told you that you were naked?" Poor Adam cannot escape: the truth is always there, confronting him. In his attempt to excuse himself, he has just given himself away. In one last desperate attempt, Adam tries to pin the blame not only on Eve, but on God. "The woman whom you put here with me." The utter childishness of such an action ought to make us cringe; not only out of embarrassment for our first ancestor, but because we see these actions echoed so painfully in our own lives.

There is something embarrassing and illogical that lies inside of all humans. It usually is most visible not in the large, epic crimes of nations and grand historical figures, but in the petty, daily sins. Our petty sins are so horrific, because they reveal something petty inside of us, something mean and small, something miserly and greedy. Our daily struggle to do right reveals to us an unattractive instinct inside of all of us for grasping and grabbing that rears its head in these small margins of possibility each day.

How all too ordinary it is to say to ourselves: "If this person/car next to me tries to squeeze into this crowded subway car/budge me in line/merge in front of me on the highway, I am going to lose it/honk at them/elbow them in the ribs," or has felt gladness at another person being the company scapegoat rather than ourselves, or has ever worried about there being "enough for me," or has taken something for their own that was about to be given as a gift anyway. There is a point where we are actually illogical: if we operated on pure logic, then Lady Logic would lead us to do good. But we are not. We are led by logic up to the point of action, then it is up to us--up to our courage and our virtue--to take the leap from abstract known goodness into goodness-in-action. And yet we don't. This is where it gets me. Although it would be logical to do good, we do not do it. We chose our selfish desires of the moment. This ugly pettiness of ours is most unattractive, but we usually cover it up so well, we rarely have to confront it. But it is the impetus that drives most of our wrong-doing.

This absolutely illogical bent of desire is what the Theotókos did not have. She was, somehow, free from this basic instinct towards pettiness. And what a great glory. Imagine the Joy that would be hers at receiving a gift with no whiff of anxiety or selfishness. Imagine the great love and charity with which she would rejoice in the goodness of others. Imagine the complete, utter, total gift of self that was Mary's fiat. While I can say: "Yes" over and over again, I am still held back: by my own limitations, the my own borders of selfish desire. These limitations did not exist for the Theotókos. Her "Yes" had no limits: it was complete, pure, total, quite willingly and knowingly uttered. If there ever was a yes so ready and able to bear Christ into the world, it would truly be the "Yes" of Mary.

And today, we celebrate this "Yes", and the sweet grace that allowed her to utter it, not just for her sake, but certainly for ours. And for Adam, poor Adam, still stuck in his own small, mean, grasping. Mary has uttered his "Yes" for him again. She has re-taught our first ancestors what it means to walk with God. And soon, as she takes his small little toddler hand in hers, she will teach the little God-man what it means to walk.

It was as if the human race were a little dark house, without light or air, locked and latched. The wind of the Holy Spirit had beaten on the door, rattled the windows, tapped on the dark glass with the tiny hands of flowers, flung golden seed against it, even, in hours of storm, lashed it with boughs of a great tree-the prophecy of the Cross-and yet the Spirit was outside. But one day a girl opened the door, and the little house was swept pure and sweet by the wind. Seas of light swept through it, and the light remained in it; and in that little house a Child was born and the Child was God.
--The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander

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