Tuesday, November 14, 2017

our joyful duty

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

All throughout Dante's Commedia, even in the Inferno, the fire which fuels this poet is praise. Dante writes to praise the love which harrowed even the deepest depths of hell, to praise the virtuous woman who led Virgil to guide Dante, and to praise for the love which burns with purifying fire in on the mountain of Purgatory. Finally, in the glorious flames of light that is the Paradiso, praise becomes the impetus, material, and form of the poem.

I think, perhaps this is one of the reason Dante's words have such staying power. And, along with Dante, I believe there can be no worthier task for words than to offer them in praise of what we see in creation and the God who is creator. No higher achievement than to offer them in praise to the God whose beauty lies above all our language to express it, and the people who we meet who exemplify that beauty.

Crawford and I are currently on a tear about commitment, and all the dour depictions of marriage perpetrated by ~~the patriarchy~~ and by lots of faulty, fearful theologies. Theologies which seem to think that we are meant to be miserable, and virtue means accepting our miserly misery.
Essentially, we have cocooned ourselves in a happy echo chamber of two Romantics railing against these sort of grin-and-bear-it, "virtue means proving you can endure anything and like it" ideas of matrimony. As though marriage is some sort of military boot camp, where you prove your strength by proving how much hardship you can endure, like a man. Love is for wimps, marriage is for men. For folks whose mental willpower can overcome anything, even mind-numbing boredom and existential despair.

Neither of us have ever been married, so forgive us this day our daily snap judgments and what I am loathe to write off as our youthful idealism. But commitment, I believe, at its root, is simply a commitment to delight. It is a commitment to see the face of God in the other, and to fall deeply in love with the divine beauty that radiates through them.

For if we do not love the brother we can see, how can we love the face of God we do not see? If we do not learn to turn our entire selves into a hymn of love for our human lover, how will we ever learn to become nothing but wonder, love, and praise, for the Divine Lover, our eternity and the fount of all our existence?

Balthasar describes the Father and the Son as eternally surprised at the other. And the best of human loves I have experienced feature this constant surprise. Even as our expectations of the other goes out from our heart in hopes of meeting them, we are consistently surprised by how they are full of a beauty that surprises us. They are what we expect and somehow infinitely beyond it.

It may be that this God who makes each daisy separately each day hopes that we can learn his appetite for wonder. If the world, with its marvelous and endless miracles, its lavish and plentiful species, its ridiculous abundance of roses, strange insects, bizarre rainforest creatures, and waterfalls carved into mountains, reflects in but a small way the creativity and beauty of God, it would seem that it is our vocation as creatures to learn to appreciate each part of it. And by learning to love it, we can learn to love its maker.

Perhaps this is best exemplified in sunsets, which is why they are not a cheap nor meaningless expression of the glory of God or God's beauty. We are meant to have our breath snatched away by their beauty each day; and it is our only duty to never grow tired of doing so. It takes effort, a sublimation of ego, an askesis of attention, to notice the beauty around us and praise it. It is easier to take it for granted and to ignore it. But we are presented each day with an event that demands awe of us.

I would imagine this is also why affirmation ought to flow from us so easily, for that does not cheapen it. It is a terrible side-effect of economic humanity that restricted supply increases demand, driving up price, therefore driving up value (we think). But value is not commodified, and is in no way related to price.

That which is abundant is that which is truly valuable. Affirmation of the beautiful creatures and creation that surround us ought to flow from us like water, we ought to effuse it like light, for is that not our ultimate vocation, is it not? To turn our entire being into praise. Into praise of the creator, yes, and now, in this vale of tears, we cannot see the creator, except via creation.

Next to the Eucharist, Lewis would remind us, the holiest creation which mediates the creator to us is our neighbor. So I would imagine that the best way to practice love of God and the praise of God which will subsume our entire existence after death, is to praise that neighbor. To learn to love our neighbor well, to see beauty even in their difficulty, is this not a school of love which prepares us for the final life of love? Catherine of Siena says that all the way to heaven is heaven. If we learn to give out love and praise to our neighbor so freely, is this not already beginning to sing the final song of praise?

Thus, I would imagine that marriage would be the difficult, challenging, and glorious task of learning to praise the supreme and glorious beauty of another creature each day. A creature to whom you are close enough to see all of their bullshit, their ridiculous posturing, their insecure scheming, and their vulnerabilities.

I imagine marriage is learning to praise them even in their careless cruelty, praise them even in their thoughtless chore-shirking, praise them even in the midst of their selfishness and stubbornness. Praise the goodness present in their small sacrifices, praise the beauty which shines from their eyes each morning, praise the love which flows from them to you, and out into the world. Praise them for the sweet memories, the sad memories, the silly conversations, and the sharing of thoughts, the fights and the kisses. Praise them for the rich tapestry you weave together, building something strong, shining, and eternal, which will itself endure into eternity, and offer itself in love to that love that moves each star and us.

For if we can learn to see the face of God, love it, take deep delight in it and offer it a constant stream of praise, in the hazy thick of daily life, I imagine the result is neither boredom nor monotony, but rather, joy.

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