Sunday, July 29, 2018

root of resurrection

The Divine Persons’ joy penetrates deep into all the world’s suffering; they share the experience of its misery, but their joy proves deeper than all sense of abandonment.—von Balthasar, Engagement with God

Gratitude is a challenge, because I generally imagine that if I say “thank you” for anything, God will notice that I’ve gotten off with more luck and less suffering than I have any right to. The challenge of gratitude is that I must begin to slowly pry my hands off of whatever it is I treasure, noting that it’s presence in my life is not due to my own earning of it, snagging it from the divine lottery through chance, luck, or a lapse in divine oversight, or being born into it. All that I have is simply given. To be grateful (at least today, at 2:35pm) means to acknowledge the contingency of all we have and are. 

What we are (smart, cheerful) can be shattered just as easily as our possessions (job, house). But it seems that if I never allow myself to acknowledge, if I am never brave enough to realize how close my treasure is to slipping out of my grasp, if I never embrace just how fragile the good is, if I give my heart or place my joy in that which I can hold onto, then I am never going to be able to enjoy or love whatever good is available to me in the first place.

I flip open Deuteronomy and am reminded that the God I try to thank for the good things given is a jealous God. It is odd to profess on one hand that God is a creator, who provides everything good and made all things good, and on the other that this same God reveled the divine self as one of extreme jealousy, like a “consuming fire,” in fact. Will not this consuming fire burn up all that I have that is not God’s own self? Jealous persons do not brook competition, there must be no other good thing than they themselves. To a jealous person there is not enough talent, or intelligence, or humor, or love to go around. They must have it all for themselves.

How does one offer gratitude to a God who is jealous? To say: thank you for this thing which I love a great deal and brings me so much joy, that is not you? Isn’t it only rational to fear it’s imminent departure?

A gift is visibly a gift, because its giver is transparent in its giving. God, the hidden giver, runs the risk of being lost in the joy of the gift. Perhaps gratitude allows us to understand the essence—the soul—of what it is that we have received in the first place. And only by truly understanding what it truly is—a gift, a sacrament of love from one who cannot help but lavish us with beauty—can we begin to love it.

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