Wednesday, November 30, 2016

salvaged egos

Dear Little Old City:

I am always surprised to find you full of peace. It reminds me, in many surprising ways, that I continually forget and remember, of Kolkata, a sweeter gift than I deserve.

 The other day, I was passing one of the janky halal food trucks that line your streets, and the vendor was playing some Bollywoodish music on his little boombox-radio. Suddenly, I was back on AJC Bose Road, being serenaded home by the chanting of the Quran from minarets. That fuzzy, winding sound from the boombox radio became the haunting, droning call to prayer. Living right next door to a mosque had its fair share of faux pas (like the time I almost walked through a crowd of men on prayer mats praying in the street. oops). But the enchanting drone of Arabic floating through the chaos of honking bus horns and clanging tram bells that sounded day and night has left an ache inside my body. I miss that urban mysticism.

You, too, Dear City, make a lot of noise. You hide your pain and vulnerability in the dull roar of the subway, but your bruised welt is clearly throbbing underneath the pounding of train. We can hear it screaming loud and clear between your glib Spanish phrases and sardonic, self-effacing parentheses. Your sirens wail. We all know what that means.

You seem so stiff and formal between your skyscrapers. It seems that you are embarrassed of being imperfect. Stop that. Let down your façade. Embrace the August trash smell that blankets the East Village in the late summer twilight, delight in the peeling paint on old Harlem mansions in the bright morning sunshine. The process of becoming is not neat.

Look, there is a girl reading about death on the subway car, and weeping for the beauty of it. There is a man with a sterling silver wolf-head ring sitting across from her. There are two children--strangers, now friends--watching the lights of passing trains flash by them. There is a man flirting with the woman next to him. She is tired, but not too tired to flex that flirting muscle that has been limp and unused since April. None of them are much together, but on their own, they are each towering monuments of humanity.

Dear City, you are unkind to all the failures. And not to the glossy, resume-ready sort of failure. You are all about the failures who are candyfloss failures, who spin their losses into gold. You are cruel to the failure that is not just a saccharine, sentimental homage to "failure" but a real failure. We pray and yet our words fail. Somehow even this death can become Resurrection.

Rahner describes death as “the infinite fall into the liberty of God,” still shrouded in the mysterious darkness that has accompanied death since the first human breathed her last. But the Resurrection has changed all that. In death, Christ entered into the darkness, and "descended into hell", which Rahner reads as Christ descending into "the deepest level of the world," into the fundamental principle or unity. Christ has descended down into the fundamental unity, and transformed it, transfigured it in some way, so that now Christ is there. Christ is throbbing there, in the deepest reality of the world. Now, when we descend into that dark, deep loneliness of death, through our throbbing wounds to that dark, fundamental unity, now there is only light. Because Christ has brought it there for us.

Our entire lives are preparations for our death, which is really the final act of our entire life: a triumphant act of surrender and obedience in our life which is nothing else but a perpetual attempt to surrender. A woman dies a good death by living a good life, as she attempts to die to herself each day, she actually creates space inside of herself for life--real, true life, life in abundance, John's zoë--to take root. Now that Christ has gone before us, our self-offering is not a separation from God, but an entering in more deeply into his mystery. Perhaps this is not what death looked like before Resurrection. If so, how terrible and dark the world must have been before Christ broke into its fundamental principle.

Dear City: you tug at our hearts, you bamboozle our heads. Those of us more comfortable living in our head you demand our hearts; and those of us who would rather occupy ourselves with feeling you provoke our intellects.

Dear City, your noise drives us to silence. Silence leads to attentiveness. What can we understand about the world if we do not attend to it, listen to the sirens wailing, the toddler crying behind his mother, the pained look of the elderly man by the liquor store. Attentiveness. Listening. Virtues of the contemplatives. The more that we are alone in the heart of the world, the more we find others there. The more we are alone with Christ, the more we realize we can't shut out the rest of the world, that the love that floods our hearts simply has to break out of our small souls into the cosmos, or else the Eucharist is fragmented.

What gapes inside of us is a hungry need-love, seeking for gift. In that Eucharist, the God's first Gift descends into the fundamental unity of our being. He descends into our little hell, then that ravenous, grasping part of ourselves--that gaping hole inside of us that sucks in everything like a black hole--becomes the very font of life through which he sustains us. The journey of the Eucharist is the daily attempt to fill that yawning need with gift, and offer it as gift for the world.

The deepest mystery of our creaturely state is that we creatures, who do not even belong to ourselves,  can give ourselves away as gift. We dependent, needy, grasping hearts can become gift. That is what it means to share in the life of the Trinity: to give and receive, truly.

If our love were but more simple, Dear City, as the hymn sayeth.

You are a mystery tattooed on my heart. And I wish I could sear away the wound you scratch upon my skin. It is an obvious wound, hanging open in the wind, unsubtle and inelegant. I am quite embarrassed of the pus, so I shroud the lovely lines in gauze, for now. The design is too raw to contemplate without a small sting pricking my stomach. The ink leaks a small spurt of blood. There really was an injury here. The skin is really broken. But--
there is a lovely pattern emerging from the swollen scar and bleeding ink. And, that Dear City, is the gift you didn't know you gave me.

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