Wednesday, May 15, 2019

gospel of guffaw

How did Jesus respond, I wonder, to the feeling of sitting down next to the wrong person: in the subway car with the smelly homeless man sleeping, next to the albino teen who reeks of weed, next to the father blasting trap music over the stroller of his giggling toddler daughter, sitting in the empty church pew specifically chosen to be far away from the other freaks at Mass, to be a safe distance from anyone who could qualify as "neighbor," with a safe proximity of space, only to find that that pew happens to be the favorite of the Ignatius Reilly-type character straight out of A Confederacy of Dunces in the long trench coat and woven Crocs, talking loudly to his mother, while ensconcing himself right next to you and enthusiastically ringing the Eucharist bells at consecration.

I try to situate myself so that I am surrounded by those who are not lost: the subway car of manicured faces and shoes, the pew that's bedecked with no other offending stench than my own.

But we are a religion of the lost and losing.

I was reflecting on this: that there's a joy that comes from the Christians who are comfortable with loss and losing, with being in the train car of losers and not of winners. These Christians I know who embody this the most, I think, are those who have worked with The Poor—through teaching, through activism, through motherhood and policy. Evan said that phrase "The Poor" was strange—it is, potentially othering—although biblical. Because, he pointed out, we are all the poor.

Which is true, the radical dependence which the Eucharist initiates us into is a truth, however, which is very easy to intellectualize, to imprison in the abstract and to neglect to incarnate. It's easy to pay lip service to dependency and carry on doing your damndest to ensure you will never need to cash in on that dependence.

But to encounter the poor—those currently cashing in on their dependence—is to encounter the contingency that keeps you in your bubble of independence and not yet cashing in your check for aid. And to encounter the contingency of fate, to encounter the fact that our efforts cannot stave off our need for others, that we are actually born into this need, we inherit this dependency, is to encounter a relief, a surrender, as Rilke writes, to the hum of a story already in motion and to world in which we have a place and a role. Such a surrender leads, of course, to peace, to joy.

I noted that the humans I have found this joy in in spades in New York are the Franciscans. They, like the original Francis, really do find the freedom of Lady Poverty, in being able to laugh freely, guffaw loudly, and delight in the world as Francis did—a man who was free to love what he was radically dependent on, and loved because he cast himself upon the mercy of others, lavishly.

No comments:

Post a Comment