Friday, October 30, 2009

Sympathy for the Humanity Within Me

"To meet Christ we must first formulate our human problem seriously." ... Precisely because Christ took my human problem seriously, I can look it in the face -- now, yes, because I am no longer afraid of it -- and truly begin to formulate my human problem. It is not because I have become a philosopher... but... because He brought out into the open that need that was confused.... [T]he encounter (with Christ) does not close the human problem; on the contrary, it is precisely here that the adventure truly begins.
Looking on the Humanity Within Us with Sympathy, Notes from the synthesis by Julian Carron at the CL University Central Equipe, Feb., 2007, quoting from Luigi Giussani's The Religious Sense.
The adventure truly begins.

I am attempting to draw into writing a synthesis I am experiencing. Writing usually helps me to understand, if I am really doing the work of writing. We'll see.

The article from which I quoted is found in its entirety here. Reading it again shows me that the thoughts Carron was sharing nearly three years ago are in many ways the same things he is repeating to us now in the movement of Communion and Liberation.

What strikes me from the article is this: a prerequisite for meeting Christ is to formulate our human problem seriously. I want to help people meet Christ. In Him is all the riches, all the everything, that any person needs, wants, desires. If I love people, if I have the slightest regard for them, what I want for them is Christ.

But what good is my desire for others if what I perceive in them is a disinterest in Christ, or in going deeper in Christ, or in even being open to the possibility that there is more to a relationship with Christ than they already know? (Is there anything more discouraging than to hear a Christian say they already have all the Christ they are interested in, thank you very much?)

Carron tell us that if we desire to meet Christ, we must "look on the humanity within us with sympathy." He goes on to say that we do this by "taking seriously everything we experience, to discover every aspect, to seek the complete meaning."

Now, this man speaks my language, because I am all geared toward digging out complete meaning and taking things seriously. In the last year, though, I've benefited most from turning this tendency toward my experience, because I have exercised my "gear" more comfortably on an intellectual level. I think that in the past I have spent more time avoiding the pain I expected to find (and therefore, generally did) in my experience. I use the term "experience" as it seems to me, that is, inseparable from relationships and interactions with people, an area about which I have been admittedly guarded and hesitant. This year has been an experience of stumbling over guardedness and hesitance and tremblingly seeing about having this sympathetic look on my humanity.

What I'm learning, I think, is that there is but one humanity. There is this thing, this essence, that we call humanity, and it is within me and within you. This is what we mean when we say we are "all children of God." Some children of God live an enmity with Him, and eternity apart from Him is a clear option for all, but these are still His creation, and in this sense, His children. What I think I have grasped is that as long as there is another person upon whom I can look and say "I hate this person, s/he makes me so infuriated that I wish s/he would burn in hell; s/he is a worthless, rotten slimebag," there is a degree to which I myself cannot look at myself, at my humanity, with true sympathy. I actually loathe myself as well.

Conversely, if I have learned to have sympathy for the humanity within me, it is only because I have met Someone who is filled with compassion for me. God in Christ has given Himself to me in such a way that I become human. I am redeemed. I am shown the value with which I was created. I discover God's original intent for me, which is my happiness. And at some point, I begin to look at myself with this same sympathy, born of the compassion I have experienced through Christ, through the Body of Christ.

I'll tell a story of something which has been happening for me over the last many months, even though I thought I was too old for it. I have been reminded of my father. In being reminded of my father, who was a very problematic figure in my life, I was faced with reconsidering some very foundational assumptions I had made about myself. There is a way in which we are enveloped in our generative past that is automatic and effortless and even at times seemingly against our conscious desires, like the way standing near a fire causes one to smell like smoke, even after moving far away from it. The reason I thought I was too old for all this was that I'd already run the gamut of responses one can have to an alcoholic parent: hatred, blame, disdain, avoidance, shame... but then also by God's grace, forgiveness and an attempt at reconciliation as well. This was all many years ago. But this year, I've been wondering at and pondering over a person I know, who sort of sparked this memory of my father in me, and this pondering has been part of a graced chain of changes in me.

I'll tell a different story to illustrate this story. When I was 19, I had a friend named Mary with whom I met to pray occasionally because I was desperate for someone to pray with. (Why would be another story, but I can only handle so many stories with a story.) One day I arrived at Mary's apartment and after Mary greeted me, her 3-year-old daughter Tina, a bubbly and outgoing little girl, came to greet me, too. She grabbed my legs and hugged them. I will never forget my response, nor hers. I stood stiff as a board, unmoved, looking down at her and wondering what in the world just happened. What was this little thing doing to me, and how was I supposed to respond? I had no clue whatsoever. I was frozen. I remember Tina's laughing, happy smile dropping off her face and her mouth going agape just a bit, and her eyes going big. She slowly backed away from me, I think truly frightened. She did not know what to make of an adult that acted this way. In contemplating that exchange, I can see that Tina's reaction to me allowed me to see the dire state of my heart. In contemplating what she exuded, and how she recoiled, I glimpsed what I lacked.

So this person that has become a part of my life has been like Tina for me, except our exchanges are far more subtle, and on-going instead of a one-time thing. In the process one specific area of change in me has to do with allowing the grace of God to supersede some of those smoky-residue-like problematic things. Like, for example, how if I had a physical need for food, water, a restroom, etc., I would judge that it wasn't important because, after all, it's only me. Honestly, what do my needs matter. Demanding, or even thinking about, justice for myself seemed wrong, arrogant. But I have sensed the Lord teaching me that these attitudes about myself have to go, out of obedience to Him and His law of love. That this law of love has to extend to myself.

As I embraced that truth, I saw something else that amazed me. I saw that as I struggled to do the best I knew how in relationship with this person, I found myself recognizing in my own behavior some things I had feared and judged harshly in my father. Only suddenly, I could imagine what it felt like to have been in his shoes, and instead of fear and judgment, I was overcome with compassion, and an awareness that my judgment had been wrong. I saw that my father's humanity and my humanity are one and the same. In order to truly look on myself, my humanity, with sympathy, it seems I had to have this experience of both justice and mercy (which are inseparable).

Now, this metamorphosis has ramifications for all of life, even political life. Sympathy, fear, justice, self-loathing, love, mercy, myself, others. It is too simple to just slap a Jesus bumper sticker over it all and say "let's all love one another and be like Jesus." I think there is nothing more sickening than turning what is to be a deep, inner, personal, passionate experience and turning it into a niceness slogan. No. We have to start with our guts. What rips apart your guts? What makes you feel like the raw, aching need that you are -- that we all are? I need to experience Christ taking my human problem seriously so that I am no longer afraid to look it in the face. Then the adventure can begin.

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

As a post script, I encourage you to take 20 minutes to watch this short film. I watched it while I was in the midst of writing this post. It is the story of my redemption, just like yours.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Sophie loves this film and tried to tell me about it -- I will watch soon! Thanks for this post -- I will read it again (and again).