Wednesday, September 12, 2018

how to heal a hurricane

"First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not [the first monks'] intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. 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. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. It is sometimes said that they were “eschatologically” oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional."
—Benedict XVI, Address at Collège des Bernardins, Paris, Friday, 12 September 2008

Today is the feast of the holy name of Mary, whose name refers to the sea (mare, maris, as you will remember from your childhood latin flashcards). Today I am thinking of the sea. Of the hurricane that is barreling towards this weekend and Denise’s wedding.

Today I am meant to be pondering the woman named for the sea that is currently swirling itself into a giant storm, preparing to unleash it on all sorts of people and their lives, one of them a bride.

Hurricanes are funny critters. Their wide swaths of raging wind, torrents of water, flooding are all the chaos of the surf hitting the sand, writ large over an area less hardy than the long-suffering beaches. The sea is never kind to land, but generally it stays in its limits and the vanguards of the shore—cliffs, sharp rocks, and tidal pools—are made of sterner stuff than the delicate flora deeper inland. A hurricane just plows through all the careful borders terra firma has erected to protect her holdings.

But at the center of this storm is—what? An eye of stillness. An impenetrable fortress surrounded by a thick, foreboding ring of thunderstorms. At the epicenter of this whirl of destruction is something dead and lifeless.

The heart of a hurricane is not something vibrant and life-giving—a hurricane is not a surplus of energy—it is fueled by something dead. It is the revolt of nature against stagnation.

But not matter how much the hurricane roars outside, it can never bring to life the air inside its eye. Destruction, tearing down whatever is around it, cannot bring what’s dead back to life.

I wonder: how can you heal a hurricane?

Can you talk it down, reason with it, help it see whatever lie—sung to it from the depths of the cumulus banks hanging above the far reaches of the Atlantic—it’s running from is false?

Can you weather it? Can you bear the brunt of its lashes season after season, and hope that one day its energy will cease. But the hurricane is powered by all sorts of currents, winds, and jet streams invisible to casual coastal observation. How do you reach to the heart of the hurricane, unwind its windy origins, and follow the tides back to their source?

Does it respond to love?

Can you love a creature into wholeness, slowly bringing back to life what’s dead inside them, assuaging fears, healing hurts, and knitting together the breaks life has cracked in them?

What if the storm does not want to be a spring zephyr, but would rather be a hurricane?

It seems to love something like this, that insists on being dead and making death, is impossible. It will end with injury on one end an a deeper entrenchment into the eye of its own misery on the other.

Indeed, one ought to respond to the hurricane’s intrusion with stronger seawalls, with clear guidelines, and with forthright instructions to darken our skies no more.

But, there is another way, and I am fascinated by it, because I do not understand it:

When one person submits themselves to the creatures who reject him, seeks them even when they hide their faces, and searches for them in the backwater corners of the earth where they thought no trace of divinity could ever penetrate, it seems that the same God who breathed over the waters is present there. To love the sand with the unabashed persistence of the surf and to love the surf with the kind patience of the sand is to love as this creator does, who made gale force winds and quiet rains.

The love that moves the stars and stops the clouds is not a love that’s quid pro quo nor even, truly, rational. It is a love greater than I can fathom, that springs from a source deeper than the seabed.

It takes a great act of faith to believe that our daily life has sprung from this sort of love, that this gratuitous giving is the logic of the world. It doesn’t seem correct, it doesn’t seem right, according to my calculations, it won’t work to love that way.

What will work (and I've crunched the numbers, so I know), is to surround your inner self with an impenetrable fortress, so that, your sense of self and worth intact, you can move through the world as you please. You will not be beholden, you will not be breached or mistreated or misunderstood.

In my head, that looks so graceful, fruitful and idyllic. It is a clean picture, a portrait with one subject. But nature demonstrates to what horrors that portrait eventually devolves.

In love, there is no middle ground. There is no safe plateau in which you can stall, planning one day to love, but, for now, hoping to get away with staying in the bay and never setting out for open water.

There is only one choice: self or other, soul or world, life or death. And it is made each day, day after day, in the midst of hurricanes and heat waves, in the thick of destruction and in times of plenty. We are always making it, even if we do not know it, even if we would rather not know it.

I think today of this hurricane and Mary. One a cautionary tale of the havoc unleashed into the world when a creature encases its cold self in the thick defense of stormy self-protection. The other a shining image of the abundant life that is be poured out into the world by choosing this love which knows itself so well it thinks not of itself. This love that is grounded in the definite, that is rooted in a world beyond the weather patterns of the provisional.

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