Tuesday, December 12, 2017

tepeyac roses

How would Sufjan write a song about you? asked Evan, as we drove through the Michigan snow, gliding over the icy roads to the snowflake-crystal strums of "Tonya Harding (In Eb major)."
(Never one for understatement, Evan chose the Titanic as a motif. I imagined a single entitled:
"April 14, 1912.")

Instantly, my mind fixed on that moment of transubstantiation in West Bengal. The host lifted, the clear light, the din of AJC Bose road fading into this moment of pure happiness.

Snow begins to fall as I deposit my gift at the foot of the cross, baptizing the frozen world, sprinkling a blanket of grace on all the mud of November, the dead leaves, and the tired earth.

It is strangely fulfilling, I thought, as I ran to deliver the flowers to all the different shrines of what has just passed, to love even when one is not loved in return. If this strange doctrine of Trinity teaches us anything, then it is certainly that at the core of the divine life—which is the ultimate source of all our reality—is love for another. Only through loving another will we be able to become who we are—who we truly are, in our deepest heart of hearts. Only through loving another will we able to discover what it means to be real (an old story about a Velveteen Rabbit comes to mind). To respond to hurt with not mistrust or anger, but with love—that must be living in reality, must mean becoming truly real.

If heaven is sharing in the life of God, then it would follow that to love another and to be loved in return is indeed sharing in the life of God. For two others, loving one another with the love between them, is the divine life of God. I suppose, if we believe in a trinity, then it is not such a far cry to say that to love another person is to see the face of God. When that person sees God in our face, God is perhaps that much closer to being all-in-all, which, I'm told, is heaven. To participate in that, through loving an other and being loved by them—that must be heaven. Or at least, a taste of that heaven, the beginning of the kingdom here on earth.

I thought of that moment of transubstantiation, that moment that contained all other moments, as I knelt at the base of the foot-less statue of the most sorrowful of mothers.

I prayed here so much summer weather ago; and I knew, as I prayed, that this moment would happen.

For just a moment, I am at the center of the storm, the world melts into that peaceful snow-quiet, and I know that I am alright. Here is peace, amid a winter snow storm warning. I will leave this moment, and be hit with millions of doubts, because to be beset by doubts, insecurities, and fears is the plight of every human being. Peace beyond all understanding does not preclude our broken psyches plaguing us.

In this moment, though, I know with that sort of eucharistic clarity that this is the point of living. This is the real work of a lifetime, a permanent vocation. This is life lived to its fullness, lived in abundance—learning how to love generously, to love recklessly, without calculation, to love what is intimately and gloriously Not Me. Not yet able to love perfectly (God—and all other Thous—forgive me), I must learn to love fully. This is adventure enough for a lifetime, or eternity.

Monday, December 11, 2017

scarred resurections

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” —John 20:27

The cross in the cemetery was a beautiful ebony signpost in the snow in the morning grey after dawn. Throwing snowballs into the woods, I wondered how heaven will work, what it means to be unified completely in God with those who have wounded us?

Instantly, I feel silly posing such a self-pitying question, asking it directly under the gaze of the one who invites us into union, who actually desires us to be with him, even as he suffers the wounds of our rejection. How many times have I hurt him? (Answer: countless.) And has he yet once said: "Yeah, I'd prefer if you didn't show up for the beatific vision, because it will be really uncomfortable and unenjoyable for me with you there, because you're a grade-A piece of $#*% and have unforgivably offended me a countless number of times and these scars aren't going to go away, hon. See ya." (Answer: no, he has never said that, although I would find him completely justified in doing so.)

Perhaps this is what it means to have wounds on a resurrected body. I am constantly befuddled by wounds on the risen Christ. Why are Jesus' wounds glorified? Why are they still present in his glorified state? It must be because, as representatives of his story—the story of salvation, of God's love in the history of the world—they have attested to the power of love in overcoming sin.

I don't imagine crosses are present in heaven, but what more perfect testament to the love of God for the world than the wounds on Christ's body. How can glory and perfect beatitude encompass worldly pain and hurt? Through Jesus' wounds, it might seem that the brokenness of our world and of our lives is not negated, erased, or annihilated when they come into union with God. Somehow, it is still remembered, it is still present. Does the Incarnation mean that God is somehow able to incorporate into his own self that which is fundamentally not-God?

What must Thomas have felt, sticking his finger in the wound of Christ? Was it guilt? Fear? Remorse? Terrible, terrible grief? Wonder? Forgiveness?

What will each of us feel, seeing Christ's wounds? Being eternally reminded of the wounds he suffered for our sake? What will feel, seeking the wounds we have inflicted upon others? What does it mean to be declared forgiven, not innocent? What does it mean to inexorably guilty, yet forgiven—and still loved? I do not know. I experience this every day, every confession, every "I'm sorry," and I still do not know what reconciliation can look like. Does reconciliation mean expunging the past? Or is reconciliation something stronger, sterner, deeper? Something that reaches into all our guilty, sordid lies, and reconciles them with the glorious symphony of truth. It transforms our discord into harmony. How is this possible?

Any answer to those questions would be pure speculation. But, perhaps the point is that the action of heaven is somehow continuous with the action of earth. The whole point about faith and works means that what we do here matters. What we make of ourselves here on earth is not going to be forgotten, but glorified, it will be shown to be what it truly is: great and terrible beauty.

Somehow, the stories of our lives will be remembered, considered not through our eyes, but through the lens of love. And will that love redeem what it sees? Will it somehow transfigure and glorify those memories so that they can be present among the blessed?

I imagine so. Because to believe in cross and resurrection is to believe in the power of love to triumph over even death, lies, broken relationships, or wounds that cannot heal. Love, like memory, does not annihilate what has been, but ponders it in her heart. Perhaps it is by this very act of pondering, subjecting the sorry subject matter of human history to a gaze of love, that we are able to begin to transform even swords that pierce our hearts into signs of love's presence in a broken world.