Thursday, January 17, 2013

Detachment vs. Connection

We keep a garbage can right next to our mail slot, because a lot of what comes in the mail goes straight in there. Some of it sits on our mail table for days, weeks, or (ahem) months, until I get around to either pitching it or looking at it, and then pitching it.

But I picked up something today and read it, and two quotes contained therein hit me right between the eyes. First:

In the Child Jesus, God made Himself dependent, in need of human love. He put Himself in the position of asking for human love -- our love.  (from Pope Benedict's Christmas homily of 2011)
Then this from Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) -- words to a philosopher who had asked her advice:

You cannot be helped with arguments. If one could liberate you from all argumentation, that might indeed help you. And as for advice, I have already given you my advice: to become like a little child and lay your life, with all its pondering and probing, in the Father's hands. If you cannot manage to do this, then ask the unknown God, in whom you doubt, to help you to do so. Now you are staring at me in great astonishment, for daring to respond to you with such simple childish wisdom. It is wisdom, because it is simple, and all mysteries are contained within it. And it is a way that leads quite surely to its goal.

Today is the feast of St. Anthony of the Desert. He was a guy who simply gave up everything and went to the desert and sought God for the rest of his very long life. He's the origin of the Desert Fathers and pretty much the first monastic in the history of the Church.

So, I was praying early this morning with St. Anthony on my mind and really feeling this theme of detachment. Sometimes my most profound inspirations toward prayer come literally the instant I first wake up in the morning. (God has been on my case about rising early and giving that time to Him. For good reason. That's for another post.) And I say when I "first" wake up in the morning, because I often wake up more than once. ;) (Where do you put the punctuation mark when using an emoticon, anyway?) Anyway, when I first woke up this morning, my first thought was: What if right now is as good as God ever intends External Difficulty in Spiritual Trial to get? What would be my response to that?

I have a pretty standard knee-jerk reaction to questions like this. And it is, "Ok, Lord. If that's the way you wish it, then OK." That sounds great, I suppose. But time and experience has taught me that it is actually a problem for me. Because in giving this response, I am, in a way, hardening my heart. Steeling myself is perhaps a better way to say it. I steel myself a lot. Two things happen with this. First, I toss my heart out the door like a kitty that's being annoying and I try to relate to God without my heart, as if He is all about my productivity and not my person. So on the one hand, I get a modicum of emotional relief, because pain is not there to annoy me. But I simultaneously get spiritual confusion, because there is no honest prayer without one's heart in play. All the knee-jerk reaction is about is pain avoidance.

A while back I was discussing detachment with my confessor, and I stated that other than the inconvenience of it all, I don't get upset with the idea of losing things. But as soon as God puts His finger on the people in my life, I start losing it. I know that the generation that grew up in the Great Depression in the US, or in war in other countries, tended to horde and worry about material essentials, or be weirdly frugal, etc. Well, I'm a Gen-Xer. I came home from school in 2nd grade to an empty house, experienced the divorce of my parents and the diaspora of my siblings. We had no family friends, unless you count my mother's couple of boyfriends. (That never turned out well.) I had one best friend up through adulthood. I remember one day we were discussing the problems "normal" teenagers had (not like drug addiction and things like that that "they" wanted to tell us our problems were). I was shocked at her honest revelation when she said, immediately, "loneliness." Yes. That was the pain of our generation. Or, is.

So, my non-knee jerk reaction to that early morning question. At communion this morning and afterwards, I was meditating on connection. Yes, God wants this deep connection with me. And yet, He established this Church, this ecclesia, this people called out to be together, and this is where He meets us. Connection between Christians is His idea. I often commented that I don't like people. While I know why I've said it, it is actually because the opposite is true. I don't like people because I love them too much. I crave them. I crave connection, and maybe it is like the woman who keeps 150 cans of green beans in the pantry because she's afraid of starving to death. It boils down to a simple reality: I'm scared. Do I need 150 cans of beans (proverbially speaking)? No, of course not. But to be honest, I don't always know how to dial back my heart from those 150 cans of beans to anything but completely empty shelves and starvation. The two things I know how to know are: I love these people so much that they mean absolutely everything to me, or, I am an alone, forsaken wretch, dying inside.

But at least with this painful realization of the truth of my interior life, I can actually pray. I have my heart, mess that it is. And no pain avoidance. But the only prayer I can really offer, which I did this morning in so many words, was what Edith Stein counseled her friend: "like a little child ... lay your life, with all its pondering and probing, in the Father's hands." Man, am I good at pondering and probing. This morning I spent a good long time gathering myself up and telling God I couldn't make sense of any of it. I want His will, I choose His way over my own, I trust His power, but I have no idea how to even begin thinking about how to "not love people so much." Believe me, I've been through every nuance of good and evil that's buried in that phrase a million times. There is nothing left for me but laying my life in the Father's hands, and letting Him make of it His thing.

And then there was that quote from Ben XVI. In Jesus, God made Himself dependent on human love, needing and asking for our love. Oh, man. And I know the response He most frequently gets. I know it first hand. I've been the giver and the getter of it.

Detachment. Connection. The pain inherent in dependence and need. The dysfunction guaranteed by pain avoidance. All four of these press me like some kind of a mega-vise.

Ok, now I will say it: whatever you want, Lord. I cannot make my own way, because I don't know how. I'll choose to be the little child. You make it work the way you want it.

No comments: