Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Living with....

Can you live with that?
It’s a question a friend of mine is fond of asking.  It’s usually directed at pushing me in the direction of faith, asking me whether I can live with the uncertainty that is inherent in faith.  And it’s usually coupled with a blatant statement that I’ll never be good enough to make God love me for my goodness alone.
Most of the time I growl back at him, I guess I will just have to. It’s grudging acceptance at best, an unwilling submission to a truth I know but cannot quite bring to the deepest parts of my heart and reconcile.  Given my druthers, I prefer certainty.  And I prefer perfection.  Who doesn’t?
Can you live with that?
Intellectually, I know that certainty is not faith--if anything, it is the enemy of faith.  That which we know does not require us to believe.  
On the other hand, there is very little I really know.  Most of my life, when I get right down to it, is lived in belief, even the part I call science.  I know the sun will rise because, based on what I have experienced before, it always does, and some bright folks in this world have figured out some pretty impressive equations to define it and predict it.  I rely on those predictions, but I couldn’t possibly figure them out.  I know only because I believe a reliable source.
And so it goes through all the proofs and arguments that I use in my everyday scientific life.  I manipulate facts and situations according to expectations garnered over my lifetime and countless others and call it fact.  Fact it is, perhaps, but in the physical world, I assign it much more importance and value and certainty than I should.
And to the things I cannot demonstrate, to those invisible forces and unseen truths, I tend to assign paradoxically less, wanting more certainty than there is, and more “proof”  than I demand elsewhere.  I tend to view my religious life as akin to the fellow who believed a tightrope walker could ride a bicycle across a tightrope strung between two buildings, having seen him do it, but refused the offer to climb on his back for a ride.  
In reality, religious life is a lot more like climbing on a Delta jet to Miami.  I am in good company, the track record is great, there’s excellent cabin service, autopilot and instruments to aid the flight, and the physics of the whole thing don’t depend on the vestibular apparatus of just one mortal man.  And I get on jets with a great deal of regularity and pleasure, with out a second thought.
Can you live with that?
I almost reverted to tightrope and bicycle form this week, when I got the news a friend had committed suicide.  I’m getting used to the fact that I have reached the season of my life when deaths will be a constant companion, at least until my own, but the sudden ones are so hard.  And in this case, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain that my friend must have been in to take his own life.  In my darkest moments, I have not been there.
But Christ has.  In His agony, in his assuming our nature and ultimately our sin, He knows the very depths of all that sin and despair can do to a human being.  My soul is sorrowful even unto death.  I usually read that to mean sorrowful for Himself, for the passion He was facing, but now I am not so sure.  Perhaps it was sorrow at knowing all that we face, knowing it from the inside out, within the very real confines of a human nature, knowing it in away that only God become man could know, and taking it all for us, from us, with us for all time.  At any rate, He knows my friend’s agony, for He has been there before.
Can you live with that?
I am surprised at the number of my friends who assume my Catholic faith means that I am having more trouble dealing with this death than they are.  I suppose this stems from the strong stance of the Church against suicide, its recognition that taking one’s life, objectively imputed, is the ultimate rejection of Him who is life.  They don’t seem to know that the Church also teaches we cannot know the state of the soul of anyone, even ourselves--the source of my usual discomfort, the tipping point my friend regularly prods.  
Not knowing, fearing I am not good enough--which, of course, I am not, and never will be on my own.  Liberating, once that thought finally works its way into one’s heart.  Liberating not to give up and to despair, but to open up to the promised, reliable presence of God at work in my life--even when I am not aware of Him.
So it seems odd that in working through sorrow for my friend, his death would lead me to a new place of peace in my own life.  As I have prayed rosaries and chaplets for him, one verse from the Stations of the Cross we use at our parish keeps surfacing.  It deals with the promises of redemption, and though I can recall the phrase, good Catholic that I am, I cannot cite chapter and verse: I have said it and I will do it says the Lord.
And behind that flood all the usual statements of comfort, that none consigned to Christ’s hands will be lost, that God wills all men to come to Him.  Not unmindful of the fact that there is a mysterious dance between God’s will and ours, and that our freedom means ultimately the freedom to reject Him at the last, I pray for the gift of final penitence, for my friend, for all those who despair, for myself.  And I trust another promise: Ask, and you shall receive.
I do not know the steps of my own dance of will, and certainly do not know the dance of my friend.  There are days when I am lucky even to hear the music.  But Christ knows.  He knows the dance and he knows the steps and He knows the despair and He knows my friend.  And He came to love and heal and break through our darkness and bring us to Light in a wonderful dance of abandonment to love.  
Do I know what has happened, do I understand it?  Of course not.  But in a way unfamiliar and welcome, I am learning to trust, and keep dancing.
I have said it and I will do it, says the Lord.
I can live with that.

1 comment:

  1. Ezekiel 24:14

    There is no certainty in our life, my friend. Nothing is certain. No, the certainty is in His life, and in His promises. Our faith is in His certainty. There is certainty in His promises, for He is God, and can do anything. So if He says He will do it, He will. In that I am certain.

    Beyond that, the most certain thing in my life is that the bunnies will again pester my garden, but in a way, I like the certainty of that.