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This feels awful, and it’s only partially helpful to know that someone’s inability to love you is their problem, not yours. The only real cure is to love. Find somebody you can love hugely, with open affection, with words and deeds, with generosity. As you give, so it will be given back to you, but a hundredfold! Fill your love bucket by pouring out love wherever you can.
It’s an uncomfortable thing to become aware of your own lack of excellence. The only cure is to work at and to give of your less-than-greatness. The work may improve you, and the giving-anyway will help teach you humility. Humility is a plus for the greatest and least of artists, learners, mothers, or whatever your area of weakness.
Being in Pain
Whether your pain is emotional, or physical, you’ve got a real burden to bear. The only cure is to suffer creatively. There’s no good way to avoid pain entirely (distraction and drugs may help, but one doesn’t want to go too far in that direction). To suffer it creatively is to release it to Christ as whole-heartedly as possible, turning it into a prayer for your intentions, or asking Him to use it as He will.
Hard things often need a simple, direct approach. When you’re suffering, a complex one may make things worse.
I love this movie, and only regret that it’s not quite appropriate for young kids. It’s an extended metaphor for coming to grips with life’s terrible daily-ness. The main character – a jaded, worldly bachelor doing the obligatory annual report on the groundhog for his TV station – finds himself inexplicably trapped in one day – living it over and over with, apparently, no way out. As the horror of it dawns on him, he tries suicide. When even that doesn’t effect his escape, he turns to despair’s other alternative, hedonistic abandon. When it seems nothing can ever enter his alternate me-verse to lighten its burden, something does.
The human beings around him – formerly mere objects – begin to awaken him to the possibility of finding himself in the unending day by stepping outside himself for their benefit. As he purposes to fill that day with responsiveness to them, the day becomes more bearable. The one thing that can change from day to day, is the self. He gets to retain experience in memory, learn to play the piano, memorize poetry. Whatever else happens in the cramped limits of that day, he is becoming and cohering in increasing dimensionality outside the reach of the trap that holds him in time.
Love for the station’s beautiful producer awakens his desire not merely to serve, but to know and love another person. To plumb her mystery, to be worthy of her, to love her for her sake and not to manipulate or use her, become the goals that lift his unending day into something that approaches transcendence. Alas, though their time together partakes of eternity, it always ends with the day and is lost to the one who has no memory. Two kinds of ‘newness of life’ are in contrast: a horrible, memory-less, ever-new-ness which traps a person in an endless, impotent, fruitless childhood, and a marvelous freshness which by the power of memory coheres within a person, as person.
Into the now moment of chronos he seems fated to endure, kairos bubbles in through this person, in this person. The actuality of a love from beyond enters time, raises itself up within the very being of a man, and in his willingness to detach from all but love (all expectation of reward, fulfillment, future, pleasure) becomes the power that breaks through an awful magic that sought to unmake that man by tempting him to despair. Self is seen and followed to its destiny in the gaze of an Other. Life is acknowledged to be a gift, however hard it is to bear. Mystery breaks in through personhood to trump a lower and limited reality with its super-reality.
Sounds Catholic to me!
Why, you might ask, do I have my friend Jenny’s Iron Man Triathalon photo-finish hung over my desk? She’s young…doesn’t that make me feel old? Oh yeah. She’s physically fit and strong…doesn’t that remind me painfully of my bum knee and my overweight? Uh huh. She’s wearing a triumphal smile…doesn’t that rub my nose in all my failures? You bet. She’s been focused, disciplined, and well-trained. Yes, that makes me feel a bit ashamed of my shotgun, sometimes lazy, and amateur approach to reaching my own goals. She’s victorious – and boy, did she ever earn that victory! – and my big win has yet to happen.
Not what you’d call an uplifting image, right?
Wrong! When I look at that photo I see a gal the photographer couldn’t catch. Her youth has made my ‘old age’ a mentorship that has made a difference. Her teachable spirit has soaked in everything I’ve wanted to give, in a world where most young people don’t have time to listen. She’s physically strong, but that’s nothing compared to the emotional and spiritual strength I’ve watched her grow into. Her sufferings have made my better-body longings seem trivial. She’s joyous in triumph, but I’ve seen her joyous in defeat. That smile of victory speaks to me of victories no race course but the eternal one could test.
She’s relished the opportunity for focused discipline, and recognized in it a luxury and a privilege. I’ve had the privilege of more leisure and thanked God for the different race He’s letting me run. She’s got spunk and talent, an eye for beauty and poetic depth, resilience and faith and passion and honesty and goodness. Together, we have a friendship that doesn’t need the other to look exactly like the self – a friendship that leads us together to the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Jenny’s beauty breaks my heart, but not with jealousy. The picture of her crossing the triathalon finish line after fifteen hours, thirty-nine minutes and twenty-five seconds reminds me of the power of one minute of life to make a difference, of one more hour of work, struggle, or discipline to make a difference, and of one Christ-filled, free, beautiful woman to make a difference.
An inspiring image? You bet!
It is not always a pleasant thing to come to Christ. All around us are women in varying stages of hardened self-defense against the pains of un-love, abandonment, violation, fatherlessness, abuse and sin. To such women, from another, these poems have been written. The pair can be read individually, or back and forth from verse to verse, as a dialogue. ‘Cacophony’ is the cry of a woman’s heart to be loved, purified, and husbanded. The journey she has begun, of trusting her wooer, has become extremely painful as her vulnerability increases in response to his love. She feels betrayed and frightened as her self-protective cover drops away, revealing sin and pain. ‘Euphony’ is the response of Christ to this woman. His calm resolve to love and have her as his own is not upset by her self-loathing frenzy. Unperturbed even by her seeming hatred of him, he sees through to the deep need of her soul for healing through faithful love. [Read more…]
How can I become small enough to ‘fit’ the narrow range of perception of a person with whom I share so little experience, philosophy, language, or understanding. Only love can make a way where there seems to be no way, no bridge of commonality. And what does that look like?
I often say, “Love condescends,” as shorthand for this process of smallifying the self in order to be in unity with someone younger, or with less receptivity for what is being given, being communicated. Our example? Christ’s own condescension when He “emptied Himself of all but love” on the Cross.
Chiara Lubich and her Focolarini had a huge influence on this teaching, for which I’m grateful.
- First, I love because God first loved me. I cannot go into a ‘tight spot’ without awareness of my dependence upon His loving mercy to carry me, to make up for all that is lacking in me as I try to communicate with and engage them.
- Second, I must do only what I can do in true freedom, otherwise my gesture may violate the other person and will not be an invitation to freedom. If I do what I feel I must, do it with an interior demand for a response, or act without consideration of my own reality (limits, aspirations, resources), I may (sigh…how often have I done this!) clunk in like a bull in a china ship instead of slipping gently through the crack in their defenses.
- Third, I need to empty myself of contempt, resentment, irritation toward this person. I must erase all the mental labels by which I have distanced myself and protected myself from identification with him. I must open myself to the mystery of this person and approach his delicate being with reverence. Loving condescension is not looking down my nose at him, but descending toward him in love, believing I will see Christ through this encounter.
- Fourth, present and attentive toward this person, aware of but not impatient about my hopes for him, attuned to God’s love for me that wants to pour itself through me into this ‘smaller’ vessel, I wait (Yes, actually stop and wait; be still and wait upon the Lord!) for the dawning of creativity. When the Spirit moves upon the whole of the factors I am embracing, some form will take shape as a response, a gesture, an act of freedom by which I can love this person and, thus, invite him to freely respond.
- Fifth, I will know the mot juste, the Right Thing, the perfect gift, the path to take, because it will be beautiful!