Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The Kingdom of Dog, the Kingdom of God

As has been the case for the past few weeks, I've been doing so much living I haven't had much time to reflect on it by writing. What of all this living? First, last week was very invigorating, until Friday. I had been full of energy all week, but began unraveling (or raveling) Thursday night. I stayed up much too late Thursday night catching up on the election and went to bed kicking myself. (Yes, the next morning I was sore.) Despite all the sleep I got Tuesday and Wednesday nights last week and Friday and Saturday nights this weekend, I have been oppressed by a constant low-grade fatigue with a nagging sore throat. I've avoided the gym so as not to "over do it" in my "weakened state," but have decided to go the other way tomorrow and smoke out my unhealthful torpor with exercise (my usual method). I’ve also been busy with a few teaching assignments on the burner, but managed to put them off until Sunday night and tonight.

Happily, Fr. Ramon was able to stop by Saturday afternoon. We had a very good talk, as usual. He called me a "classic example" of someone guided predominantly by my intellect. The brain is marvelous, but it is a marvelous machine. It must be put in the service of the whole person being put in the service of God. As any regular readers should have noticed, very much of my RCIA process has been a pastoral and emotional "inner pilgrimage." This inner regress is vital to my theological progress, since I can never really give my self to God in His Church unless I can actually give ALL of my self – emotions, intellect and body – to Him. This inward journey to God involves peaks of self-awareness and valleys of utter confusion, prairies of acceptance and deserts of shame. It also involves the subjugation of my mind to a rightful position in the tripartite balance of healthy personhood. In English, I've been learning to listen to my emotions and imaginative hopes as valid means, or modes, of knowing God, even at the expense of my rational hemming and hawing.

The most bizarre epiphany I've had on the journey is that I am afraid of, or at least very skeptical of, happiness. No joke: I fear happiness. This is not to say I don't like happiness as an intensive sensation brought about by particular events or things. It is to say that I fear making happiness a pervasive, sustained feature of my life. I evade accepting happiness, even construed most highly as spiritual joy, as a real blessing from God. The easy way to look at it is that I'm all too stoical. I need to lighten up; not take myself so seriously; learn to smile at the smiling, not analyze them. At a deeper level it means I am petrified about the lived, incarnational, rooted and concrete rhythms of enjoying life as a continual encounter with God in Christ. I studiously, albeit not always so consciously, avoid acknowledging my needs as a mere mortal; and then even when I acknowledge my needs, I just as carefully avoid taking paths that would fulfill those needs. This is, to put it mildly, a problem. To live is to live in Christ and to live in Christ is to live as Christ. He is the Resurrection and the Life because was first the Loss and the Death. Christ did not fear happiness; He loved it so much, in fact, that He died on the Cross to attain it for Himself and us. I, on the other hand, fear happiness so much that I take up a thousand smaller crosses to avoid that one life- and joy-giving Cross of Christ. Hence, my problem.

But this weekend I took a step toward solving it. Friday night as I walked to the English Corner, I saw a tiny black and white puppy in the window. I of course asked how much that doggy in the window is. Expensive. Move on, I told myself, even though the scent of sheer, transcendent and literally gratuitous happiness kept clutching me. I rejected the puppy as a silly extravagance and tried to get on with getting on. Then, that evening, I had a crippling experience exactly about my fear of happiness and forgot about the little dog for the night.

The next morning I mentioned the little dog to a very good friend of mine and expressed how much I'd wanted to buy him. "Don't do it," she told me, knowing me better than I'd like to admit, "you'll regret it. He'll take away from you Internet and reading time." Eureka! Life comes by giving; giving means giving up; and caring for another life means giving up your own. The dog was an adorable cross of Christ and I knew I needed to take him up, daily. My time with Fr. Ramon a few hours later only reinforced this principle. I need a concrete living expression of God’s goodness as well as a living, concrete outlet for my egocentric energy. I need to empty myself, of intellectualism and navel-gazing, even if only on a puppy for the time being.

So, immediately after Fr. Ramon left Saturday, I ran to embrace God’s gift, the happiness of emptiness. I withdrew some cash, returned to that dog shop and bought my new little friend, Dane, without a second thought. (His full name is Lesser Dane.) He’s a miniscule and outrageously cute two-month old Chihuahua puppy. I’ll have pictures up insh’allah as soon as my other blog server lets me post them.

That’s right. I, Elliot Bougis, bought an expensive (!) two-month old Chihuahua puppy. Because he makes me happy. Because he makes my friends happy too. Because he is one of the countless good things in God’s good creation and deserves to be enjoyed for that reason alone. Because he forces a structure of giving into my life. Because I have to wake up and go to bed (i.e., get offline!) a little earlier to feed him. Because I have to “waste” time giving him love.

I’ve never been much of a pet person, but owning this dog is not about being a pet person; it’s about being a disciple of Christ. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but buying and owning Dane is an act of faith. I needed something to take care of. I needed more life in my life. I needed to empty myself on something that only understands taking. Little Dane is a strange symbol of myself these days, of what I’m learning to do: grow down. He is a puppy and he merits the Kingdom of Dog for that very reason; I am a wizened young man and foreclose the Kingdom of God to myself for that very reason. God opened His Kingdom for humankind by becoming a baby; I believe He can open it for me by giving me a puppy.

Dane has led me to some deep thoughts – among other things, about the accepting and rejecting goodness as doing the same to God Himself, about the flaws of most teleological and intelligent design apologetics, and about God’s various angels – but those words will find their place here at FCA in due time. Dane has eaten and peed. He’s now sleeping. I’ve completed most of my teaching tasks. You’re now reading. It’s time for me to sleep. I must decrease that He may increase in me and in the world; and I must decrease that He may increase me in Him. Christ is now reigning. The Kingdom of God awaits me, a puppy.

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