"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Waiting in the shadows

The day or so after Jesus' death was one of near-despair for the eleven disciples who had not committed suicide. They did not yet understand his prediction of the Resurrection; they understood only what they saw, which was their dreams brought to nothing in horror, mockery, and shame, along with the person of their master. They did not yet understand that such was how it had to be—at first. So, they assumed, it was time to hide from the powers that be, mourn, and resume earning a real living; perhaps the ugliness and shame of the disappointment would wear off if they went back to being sensible adults living in an ever-promised land reduced to an outer province of the Roman Empire. The feeling was only temporary, of course; they saw the Risen Lord and, nine days later, would be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. But we are not so fortunate. Much of our lives as believers is lived in the shadows between death and resurrection.

The death in question is the death-in-Christ that our old selves undergo in baptism. The resurrection in question is the real point of such death: the gift of what we shall be if and when "we see him as he is." But in between are the shadows: the countless little deaths of ordinary life which could be, but so often are not, joined to the Lord's Passion in order to to acclerate our remaking in his image. If unflinching, reflection calls forth a cascade of them: the pains and negations involved in growing up, some of which are needed for growing up in a fallen world; the psychological and spiritual wounds we carry from then, and often intensify by our own ignorance or fault as we mature; the random distribution of misfortune, which few escape without further wounds; the enervating disappointment of that "certain age" when we learn, with inescapable certainty, that we will never be all that we wanted to be or even could have been; finally, the years when our bodies begin to fail us regularly and when, if we are wise, we count ourselves lucky that our minds don't fail us too. How much of it could serve, in prayer, as that self-emptying whose purpose is to let ourselves be filled with the Lord, to let him live in us! And yet so few even among believers get beyond the disappointment, the questioning, the dull ache; in the less sanguine, they readily entrench depression, even despair. So much suffering remains senseless, thus breeding that "quiet desperation" of which Thoreau so truly spoke.

He immediately added, however, that even the quietly desperate die "with the song still in them." If we have not let our sufferings become senseless enough to make us bitter and cynical—inclined, like Ivan Karamazov, to "return God the ticket"—the eternal song which accompanies the Risen Christ is not dead within us. Instead of desparing in the shadows, we can offer them, wait, and hope. This Triduum, my prayer is to learn anew, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, how to suffer well enough to hear the song clearly once again.
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