Monday, July 2, 2018

les chiffres

“Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

“The notes of our existence are deciphered for us so that we can read them and translate them into life. God’s will flows from God’s being and therefore guides us into the truth of our being, liberating us from self-destruction through falsehood. Because our being comes from God, we are able, despite all of the defilement, to set out on the way to God’s will […] to live from the word of God, and so, from his will, and to find the path that leads into harmony with this will.”
 — Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

Finding one’s way in the world is never really a calculation which one puts in all the right facts and figures. To be calculating, here, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, identifies with being an adult. And rightfully so. The price of calculation is curiosity. Calculation leaves no space for mystery, for that which can inspire awe. Calculation demands an elimination of the variables, essentially, control.

Control, sadly, is a quality humans have in low stock. The world bucks wild out from under us, resisting our attempts to tame it with its wildness. To find one's way through it, then, is never guided by a formula or bullet-proof mechanism. Rather, it will be a regular askesis of trial-and-error, of scraping about, of disposing oneself to the truths which emerge from surprising places and persons, and letting one's hands open to receive what unfolds.

In such a world, the phrase "God's will," as Benedict writes above, takes on electrifying poetic potential. If God's will is something we cannot control nor access from a safe, exterior, vantage point —how does one find it? And what exactly is it? What is the content of the willing? What does God will?

It seems when I will something, say, I will myself to wake up. I am saying: this thing is good (being awake), and I will both give myself over to it (lift my body out of bed) and assimilate its reality (wakefulness) into myself. I am recognizing both the resistant reality of that thing desired (wakefulness, which is different from my current state of sleeping), and the separate reality of my own self (who is, again, trying to sleep). There is a space between the vision willed and my own self, and the will appears to be the mechanism by which I bridge that gap.

But does a perfect being, who contains no inch of becoming, who does not lack an ounce of any positive reality, will in this same way? Or is God's will radically different than my own?

Indeed it must, for what better good, what greater beauty or more radical loveliness could God will than God's own self? When God wills what God wills, God must will God. What greater good could be posited for our consideration. God's will then becomes synonymous with God's self.

When we seek "God's will," then what exactly do we seek? For it seems that we mean that it is not found in reading books (generally). Very few people think, I should imagine: "I wonder what God's will is for me? I know, I'll read Thomas' Summa." Perhaps some do, and perhaps I have not met them, because they live far better and too peaceful of lives to intersect with mine. Or rather, it seems that God's will is not contained in the Summa, although much about God is. God's will seems to be an intersection of my self (who is not God) and the God whose only will is God. The question of God's will is perhaps the following: what does it mean to seek the self-positing God in a daily life?

I think, perhaps we seek a trace of that divinity in the narratives we weave with our lives. We seek, as Benedict writes, that mountain top that liberates us from the hazy, confused "burden of everyday life, a breathing in of the pure air of creation; it offers a view of the broad expanse of creation and its beauty; it gives one an inner peak to stand on and an intuitive sense of the creator." We seek those moments of beauty, of transcendence, when creation arranges her shapes into an icon of some higher super-nature. We seek that quiet peace irrupting in our hearts when we have asked forgiveness for our lapses in love, when we say what was lying restless at the unexamined corner of our hearts, when we write what is not only necessary but true. We seek the joy that lights up another's eyes, the same which darkly suffuses a starlit night over Kansas prairie. There is no way forward, but to open ourselves to the God who comes to us in quiet prayer, in the honest questions of strangers. The God who demands of us our anxieties and prides, who dismantles our pet self-portraits and peeves. Who seeks to enter not only the quiet peace of air-conditioned car rides, but the loud music and exuberant dancing which accompany the ones in convertibles with tops rolled down. The God who will not rest until all that is not-God is assimilated into God's will, which is, of course, God.

This is a God who is not ashamed of the divine abundance of desire.

We seek the God who will not be out-risked. Each time we shy away from love that may lead us to disaster, each time we hedge our bets against a dream that might evaporate, each time we shirk from the boldness we know we must muster up to live well, the God who is not a tame lion after all, asks us: what can you lose? If all you seek is me, what risk is this or that?

This is what it means to love a jealous God, who hounds us with the same continuous query the Christ once posed to Simon son of John: do you love me? do you love me? do you love me?

Our search for "God's will," perhaps, is our fumbling quest to formulate an answer to that question, not with pen and ink, clearly articulated argument, or calculated formula, but in our hearts and wills, flesh and wine, blood and bread.

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