Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More Thoughts on that Advent Retreat

Saturday's retreat has helped me in so many ways. Here are just a few more of them. Some of them are more specific to following CL, but all of them also serve to simply make great sense out of life.

First, I understand what an abstraction is. And I see the difference between holding "God" as an abstraction on the one hand, and the acts of thinking, reasoning, pondering, and contemplating truths about God as I meet Him in my experience on the other hand. Big, huge difference. For some reason, I felt that what was being proposed was constant activity as the way to meet God, or at least constant social interaction. However, the use of my reason (because I am me and not someone else) requires a lot of time spent scrubbing floors, washing dishes and folding laundry. My mind generally requires this kind of activity of me for good thinking to kick in. But that has nothing to do with ignoring God who is in my reality and preferring instead abstract thoughts about Him with no connection to my lived reality at all.

Second, I understand the nature of how and why I have recoiled from the idea of meeting Christ in other people. I think this is big, because this goes way beyond my contact with CL and Fr. Giussani to my earliest days of contact with the Catholic Church. The Scripture where Jesus says "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me" started to be a very big problem for me when I started attending Mass. I saw that Catholics took this very seriously, and I most certainly did not. I see that my Lord has been gently trying to coax forward my trust in Him on this point. I had no problem, after awhile, with the concept of seeing Christ in someone who is overwhelmingly holy, or innocent. But without being fully conscious of it, I have taken this idea of seeing Christ in others very literally. Too literally. Actually, I took it most literally before entering the Church, even though I would not have used these words to think about what I was doing. Here's my mistaken concept: If Jesus is my Lord and Master, and I meet Christ in others, then every person becomes my Lord and Master and my will, my freedom must be subjugated to them. Ouch. Really, the first mistake there is believing that God makes slaves out of us, rather than our ultimate freedom being found in pursuing complete unity with Him.

Third, I understand more that "happiness comes through, not from." (This is a quote from my notes from Fr. Roberto's talk. I'll transcribe them in another post for what it's worth.) There is a sacramental, an Incarnational principle at work when we speak of Jesus being present in others, or my meeting Him there. Missing that is a fruit of the misuse of reason. So, if someone tells me "Go jump in a lake," or "Why don't you shut up," I dare not take these commands at face value as the manifest will of God! But, I am called to see what need the speaker has, what desire. As misunderstood or as inappropriately expressed as it may be, there is some desire being expressed that God put there. God desires that this desire be well understood, well discerned, and met in a way that draws that person on to Him, to destiny. I, as God's servant and as one who loves with His love, wants this too. My call is to use my freedom, my intelligence, and my affection to respond to the meaning of that desire -- or at least in some way that acknowledges the truth about that person's unpleasantly-expressed desire.

See, instead I've always thought I was just truly supposed to "shut up" or "go away."

Fr. Roberto spoke of something very concrete for me, and I love this: boredom being a problem of faith, a lack of responding to God who proposes Himself to me. I've been thinking about this a lot. To live, to truly live, is to be one with Christ. And to be one with Him is to see Him active in my life. To see Jesus everyday, present, interacting, proposing, speaking, however you wish to phrase the "active" bit. This is to live in Him and hence in His love and grace. It reminds me of a song we used to sing at Risen Savior: "When you walk with the Lord, you don't get bored!" When, for whatever reason this dynamic stops -- courage fails, doubt overcomes, trust costs -- life, living, can degenerate into merely existing, mere biological operations. (This boredom of course needs to be differentiated from the physiological problem of depression.) As Father told us, when we complain, we are not recognizing Christ. When we are not happy we are not recognizing Christ. "If I'm not happy, it's because I'm not seeing the love of my life." Precisely.

The retreat has given me a grasp of what Advent is: a time when we look closely for the deeper realities in the things around us. A baby. A search for shelter. Visiting shepherds. Angels singing. What does it all mean? Is it all to just give Hallmark nice ideas for cards? What about the things in my life? My son's desire to do everything his own way. My aging eyesight. Wonder at colors. What do these things mean? I have always loved Advent (well, not always, but in recent years at least.) And I love to look for "deeper meanings." I realize this blog is primarily a means for me to carve out and share the deeper meanings I see as I encounter Christ in the every day. The glorious becomes commonplace, thereby requiring the commonplace to be glorious!


Laura A said...

I'm not sure I'm understanding everything just right, but I did read this and the "abstraction" post you linked to, I think I get some of it at least.

I struggle a lot with the idea of social interaction as a way to meet God, too. In theory, I understand it, but the reality is that my thoughts often scatter in a group where lots of people are talking at once, so then I have to reconcile my disparate social experiences with my spiritual life when I'm alone again (4 a.m. seems to be a recurring time for this). So when my pastor talks about Christian community and accountability, I tend to get tired just thinking about it.

Add to this the matter of being on the streets of NYC every day, and trying to see Christ in mentally ill people, even when I'm trembling because one of them just came up unexpectedly and screamed in my ear or something. I can see it easily enough in Flannery O'Connor, but at the moment I'm not likely to react well.

And lastly, I think I see a connection between what you said about seeing Christ in others, and Jane Eyre's reaction to St. John Rivers. (I don't know if you've read the book recently, or whether you want any spoilers, so take it for what it's worth.) I think he means her to take him as the literal voice of God, but she uses her freedom, her intelligence, and her affection to respond to the meaning of that call. It can be hard for a young woman, who has always been taught to equate obedience to God with obedience to godly men, to do that. But I don't think "seeing Christ in others" means that you subjugate yourself to the St. John Riverses in your life!

You wrote somewhere (the abstraction post, I think) that you admire the diversity within the Catholic Church as represented in the different orders, though you used to not get it. I think this hits at what I'm talking about, and I'm glad there is room for so many different kinds of people. But I'm speaking as one who is ill-informed on the Church, so I'll be quiet now and go back to listening ;-).

Marie said...

Hi Laura,

If I ever did read Jane Eyre it was so long ago that I remember none of it. But perhaps I should give it a go!

I realize this post is sort of cryptic for people who either weren't at the retreat or who don't follow CL (or who don't have a clue what it is, this description perhaps fitting a few people who do follow CL as well, like myself a year ago when I was brand-spankin' new). One of my greatest desires with this movement is to be able to communicate the heart of it without resorting to lingo for which you basically need a dictionary to make sense of.

Nice to hear from you as always :)