Tuesday, September 11, 2018

fingerprints of god

Their goal was: quaerere Deum.  Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. —Benedict XVI, address at the Collège des Bernardins, Paris, 12 September 2008

The tea kettle boils, and I cut two slices of lemon to slip into the hot water. I grin as I see Charis’ sign on the attic trapdoor: "Workshop Open." The attic is no longer just a room with rafters, but it is her own private factory. She has stamped upon it an identity that it gave to her, amidst its boxes and Thomas Edison lightbulb on a string, and she gave to it a new identity, dignifying it beyond its station. Certainly not breaking the limits of what it could be defined as, but opening up its identity to something new.

Imagination is a childlike activity, in the sense that children do it naturally. For imagination is the necessary catalyst of growth. Imagination asks us to play with possibilities: what's this, we've never seen this before? Ah, but it reminds us of the thing we noticed yesterday—of an image in a book our father read to us, in a word our mother used and we did not understand—it is like the small thing in our private world, but there it is out in the real world, larger and more intimidating—expansive. If we never were able to expand into the world, we would perpetually be an hour old, and limited to sphere of understanding of that hour. But that hour contained all the raw material we needed to begin.

Adults are generally tired of imagination, for expanding expends a lot of energy. But the task of the adult is similar if not identical to the child: to pick up the pieces of what we are given—to receive what is in our environments, to pick whatever fruit is on the tree, and build it into something all our own.

I biked to work to the tune of Lotti’s Crucifixus in the crisp autumn morning and came home to the tune of stars in the cold night air over dark fir trees and the lights from patios still warm from being occupied all summer. 
On the bike, whose tires are so stingy I swear they are just painted on the metal wheels, my mind is clear and sharp, as I speed through the sweet September air. Something about the motion of the bike ride generates a perception and a perspective I have been lacking, I feel.

But here it is again: we are picking up what we are given—a home, an office, two miles that must be traveled to get to one or the other—and making something beautiful out of it. The commute is the task, but what I can make of it is the life. What I make of all these data points is life itself. In the task, I can either settle for the provisional, or seek that which is perennially valid.

This is not to say that biking is more valid than the bus. In the bus, I can notice the face of the woman reading the religious magazine, who looks like a standard New York City character—the elderly liberal, hippie woman who wears linen granola clothing, and is perpetually judging everyone else in the car for never behaving with the right etiquette. I can see the woman stumbling between seats until she finally decides to crash next to an unamused student in professional clothing, scrolling through her phone.

The bus is not provisional either, or at least the people who ride it are not.

That is to say, it is, just like the bike and the stars that hang in the pitch-black sky above the spiky treetops, it is contingent. But what we make of them is what is valid, permanent. To handle each small contingent factor is to treat them with responsibility—for each factor and facet of our day is encountered not for our or quite their sakes, but for something above and beyond the both of us.

The community the monks made was the community made up of one another, but above and beyond them all. Their task was nothing more than the ultimate, child-like act of simply making life. Not making a profit, or making a journey, or making something of themselves, but making whatever finite they found that day ring with something deeper and more essential, something definite and divine.

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