Sunday, August 5, 2018

metaphysical beggars

“Sir, give us this bread always” is the most plaintive of Gospel pleas. This abject address of absolute  dependence, “sir,” is the cry of creature to the only one who can heal them, who can raise them from their helplessness and misery. We are at your mercy, sir, and we beg for you to do the only thing you can do and we cannot, which is to give in the midst of lack, to create abundance in the midst of desert, and eke water out of rock.

This bread—a linguistic reach towards a symolic reality that is dangled in front of us, but of which we still have no conception. This bread, promised by a God we do not understand, is the vague object of our request. What is “this bread”? It is a gift beyond our comprehension, an offer we cannot apprehend, yet is the shape of our salvation. The request is made with the confidence of children asking for what the adults in the room know is impossible.

Always is the sort of word someone uses only when they do not know its meaning. Only when they have never been tested by the long, slow march of time and the assault of its storms. It is a word of faith used when that faith has never been tested. No one wise or cunning says “always.” The wise know that the world is stitched together of particularities which vary with each moment and each breath, and the cunning know that “always” is a recipe for a bad bet.

To ask for “always” risks eternity in the midst of time. And if there’s one thing we know about time, it is not friendly to the stable. Time is an agent of corrosion and erosion. Time buries cities and wears down mountains to sand. Time does not believe in “always.”

And we, for all our freedom and our willfulness, are simply caught in time’s current, and are rudely rushed forward, despite our own desires on the subject.

What can be for us an “always”? We have never known an “always.” We use a word whose definition is inaccessible.

But this deep desire for salvation—whose vision is still vague, whose shape is an “always” we have never seen—comes from the deepest corner of our hearts, from the only place where desires truly matter, but simultaneously far above and beyond us, a challenge from outside the borders of our imaginations.

We ask for what we cannot see, what we have no proof even exists. Perhaps this bread is just a dream, it is wishful thinking of a few optimistic idealists.

Or maybe there is a bread that can sustain us in the thick of time. Maybe there is a gift that history cannot bury. Maybe there is a god who will hear us—and give it.

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