Sunday, December 2, 2018

in lumine tuo videbimus lumen

And when I gave into it, it did not exult over me, and trample me down in its raging haste to land on its prey, but it carried me forward serenely and with purposeful direction. —Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain

Submission is an interesting word. At the end of the final verse of Charles Wesley's hymn, Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending, after a string of perfunctory filler alleluias, Wesley ends on what shouldn't be a jarring coda, but if you're a self-respecting, egotistical human, is: "Thou shalt reign and thou alone."

It's jarring, because, practically speaking, I do not imagine God's triumph at the end of all time as my own abdication from the throne of my own universe, but that's exactly what this small line is suggesting to me. I have no temporal frame of reference for how that eschatological de-throning of myself might go.

It's difficult to know what submission means in human relationships. Because humans are bound to abuse any person who enters into their sphere, because it's difficult to always choose someone else's good above your own: it is essential to do this to be who and what we are made to be, which is made in the image and likeness of God. Submission, to us, is usually mapped onto a variety of power dynamics, many of which are flawed with some injustice in their pattern.

If we're interested in the word meaning anything positive, or being a word that's not simply a synonym for another human asserting their will at the expense of another, then submission is not meant to be a subduing or a silencing. Submission, surely, can perhaps only be understood after all the imbalances of sex, gender, race, material means, and social status are understood. Perhaps it is impossible to find a true submission between two members of the human race. Then how are we to know what it looks like?

The quote above of Thomas Merton's is such an excellent example of what true submission looks like: it is a quiet giving oneself over to the voice inside of us that we know is most deeply us and not-us, that is surely the voice of God, of our conscience, speaking to us, urging us to do what we know is best. Once he gives himself over to that, he is not trampled.

This submission is not self-negating, which is exactly what we are afraid of when it comes to submission: we are afraid that we ourselves will vanish and disappear. We are so full of raging haste, we know ourselves and our lusts so intimately, it is difficult to imagine that this will not happen to us if we give ourselves over to that voice of God that demands from us.

The penultimate verse of Wesley's hymn goes like this:

Those dear tokens of his passion
Still his dazzling body bears
Cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers.

and, as I sang them, I began to cry, mostly out of anger and frustration. I do not want to exult in his wounds, they are not dear tokens to me, right now.

But "thou shalt reign and thou alone."

It is no good railing against reality. It is terrible to know that even resurrection doesn't resolve into a saccharine happy ending. But it is deeply consoling—if not always obviously so—to know that there is a God who takes human history so seriously, that what happens to us—and to him—in this life is so serious and permanent and real that those events live on past death.

I suppose I want a God who can overcome what's real—who can overcome what I have made real. Perhaps what God does with reality, with the wounds, is bring to it meaning, simply because it and they are now his.

This is not a fully satisfying answer—at least not yet. I find myself, as I end the hymn, in the strange position of submitting to something. Even though I have on hand the evidence that this glorified wounds things is not a wholly satisfying answer, I proclaim that his body is dazzling, wounds and all. And it is precisely those wounds that make it so. I can feel my entire self resist, even as that whole self knows those words are real and right—as right as anything in this world possibly can be.

If true submission is found nowhere else, it is found certainly in prayer. We learn what true submission is, this submission to that quiet voice of beauty that saturates us in serenity through practicing our submission to God in prayer. I am not fond of the word "submission," I find myself repulsed by the designation "master" for God. I suppose men and women who have been abused by their fathers might have similar qualms about that name for God. The world is rife with examples when the words "master" and "submission" have been used to wound and oppress. Certain groups of scholars would argue that these terms ought to be used for God, as it reminds us that God is the true locus of power, that God is the true master, that God is both the sole source of true power and also the true exemplar of how to use said power.

As we submit to God we learn who and what we are made to be. As I say: fine the wounds are cause of exaltation because they are evil made over into love, I do not feel despondent, I do not find myself suddenly diminished. There is, in place of strife, peace.

Prayer reveals us not just God, but ourselves—the peace of ceasing (at least for a moment) war within ourselves so we can see ourselves. Prayer is perhaps not just the first step in loving God, but loving our neighbor. How can we offer them ourselves if we do not know that self? Perhaps in the moments we cannot submit to them, we submit instead to God.

I suppose, at the heart of what submission means, the content of the word, is the miracle of the Trinity, and perhaps happens only perfectly there: where two people give themselves over to each other and find that neither will exults over the other, but brings an entire world into being out of it.

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