Lately I have been thinking on the matter of attraction. Three different strands of awareness have sort of joined in chorus to get my attention on this. First, I've been re-working a paper I wrote during my graduate studies. My professor suggested that I cut it back a bit and submit it for publication, and I'm just now revisiting that idea. It is interesting to me to re-read this paper. It's not like re-reading my blog or journal, because I'm well aware of the hard work I did to synthesize thoughts that were not my own. The paper is on St. Thomas Aquinas' Treatise on Law and the New Evangelization. So, I'm learning all over again, but with several years' greater Christian experience under my belt. So this time it actually feels like learning.
Ok, all that said, the point in the paper about attraction is basically this: "The New Israel is to be the embodiment of hope on earth, witnessing to the availability of God's transforming power for everyone who embraces the obedience of faith. As we are beacons of hope to the world, we are to have the effect on others that the law was to have on Israel -- to render people open to God's gracious action in their own lives." In other words, part of God's plan of salvation is that people are to be able to look at the Body of Christ and say "Holy Cow! I want what they have!" That is attraction.
A few days ago I attended Mass at Franciscan University, and it was a particular Franciscan feast day. The reading was from Revelation 21: "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband." This immediately sent me pondering the experience of the beauty of a woman and the attraction of a man to her. Attraction. If you have experienced this kind of attraction you know any elaboration I could make on this point would be but irritating noise. Unless of course pondering this attraction leaves you feeling dirty, used, or guilty, and therefore with a disconnect between the notion of attraction and the purity of heaven.
Now, for a bold assertion on my part: I believe all attraction, all of it, is an attraction to God. God is the only One in the universe who is attractive. Everything we experience as attraction is a call from Him. If we can believe that and own it, then the fear in attraction dissipates. When we do not believe it, we are open to seduction by the Evil One, who cannot himself produce anything to lure us away from God. He can, however, inject our attractions with our guilt, our unconfessed sin, and our woundedness and resulting fear -- anything we leave around us that is his domain -- and he can blind us, drown out God's call to us with the clamor of our own pain, convincing us that we are alone in a closed universe. That God is not bothering to call us. That our attractions are useless, or evil, or such a pile of disintegrated mess that God could not possibly be in any of it. Lies, lies, all lies!
Let's go back to that bride and groom for a second. Perhaps you also have seen two people so attracted to each other that it is clear neither of them sees or knows anything else going on around them just at that moment. Perhaps you've also then had the experience of looking at such a couple and then looking at other people around them, and sharing a smile, because everyone realizes that wild horses couldn't separate these two. This is the sort of gaze of attraction, I think, that Christ has for us, and we return to Him, that causes that cry of "Holy Cow! I want what you have." It need not be romantic or sexual attraction. I recall once soon after my return from living abroad being introduced by a mutual friend to a man who had been a missionary in the Philippines. He spent some relaxing time in Japan and had loved it there. I had the inverse experience, having roughed it out in Japan and loved my month spent in the Philippines. As we both processed our experiences and pain as the three of us had dinner, our mutual friend sort of cleared his throat and commented "Ok, I'll leave you two love birds for a minute and go over there..." I remember being jarred by that comment, because I certainly did not see the exchange as romantic, but it was only his noticing of the intensity of our exchange that alerted me to the amazement that we had found such a mutually needed sense of shared experience in each other.
I've also had the experience of being "within" the dynamic of the gaze of attraction, too. I saw a friend interacting with other friends and smiling. Watching his face made me smile, and then he saw me smiling at him smiling, which made me smile all the more, which brought out a sort of "next level" smile of amazement from both of us that what each of us saw was coming from Someone else. This happens so frequently with my children that I sometimes fail to notice it. I think of this kind of smile as a true release of joy from my soul, because it is taken up only in consciousness of the one I'm looking at, and not myself.
I'm asserting that attraction, this thing of God calling to us, is self-understood, if pondered. The Love of God is the underlying Fact of the universe, and most of us can recognize its tug on us, if but only in our disconnect from it. Those who cannot say "my heart is drawn" still understand "I feel dead inside. I feel nothing." How could we feel that "nothing" if we did not intuit a place meant for Something?
Ok, third point. The other day I was praying for my kids and my interior struggles birthed from our life of not participating in institutional education. I was reviewing, rehearsing in my mind, how force is no way to "teach" and no way to parent. And yet there are so many good things that I want for them, and it can cause me some pain to me to want these for them and for my children to be oblivious! As I prayed this word came back to me: attraction. My prayer then turned to becoming alert to how they are attracted. I admit, so often they are attracted to me, or need me for something they are attracted to, but I'm busy, and so they settle for something else. This sobers me. Whose voice do I wish to echo? "I am calling to you, to your own soul, in a way that is precious, intimate, made just for you. Respond to me" or "Your attractions are useless, evil, or such a pile of disintegrated mess that I don't want to waste my time on them"? Because I am no longer a child, nor have I ever been any child but myself, it takes a great act of trust and humility to both observe how my children are attracted and to try to discern when they are merely complying or "zoning out" and not engaging any attraction at all. To propose the kingdom of God to my children may be a simple as digging in the dirt together, or hanging up laundry. It used to drive me mad to hear Catholics saying that very kind of statement . It's not about digging in the dirt! It's about preaching and teaching the gospel! and prayer! and discipleship! Well, it is first about love. It presumes the Gospel, the Church, but it requires the Gospel, the Church to be lived. And sometimes living with someone means digging in the dirt with them.
Which brings me to yet another thought, because of the memory of the (seemingly) utter impossibility of my becoming attracted to Catholicism or Catholics at one point in my life. We have a word, for women especially, who go all out to try to make themselves attractive to others... and it's not a nice word. Desperate is a nicer word. At the heart of all that hard trying is disbelief. I will never be attractive... unless maybe I try really, really, really hard! No, at heart is the belief I will never be attractive. Ok, fine. Accept that you will never be God, if you need that step. But accept that God made you for Himself, to be attracted by Him, and that as you respond, you will be imbued, bathed, flushed with the light of his countenance, radiant in the glory uniquely designed to be reflected through you. It is not about trying and striving; it is about letting go and receiving. It's not about passivity, either, for receiving does take hard work, but it is work oriented toward opening to the Other, and not "improving" myself. For my children, it is not about pressuring them, it is about responding to them. Providing formation of who they already are, not designing them. For my heart it is about hearing the God who is always speaking, responding to the God who is always there, always working, always active. Always attracting me, always purifying me.