Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Homework for the Day…

I want you to try something. I think it will be worth your time.

Go to a mirror. Or place one before you. Preferably by yourself and in a fairly quiet setting.

Now just look at yourself.

Look in your eyes.

Do not pose or move.

And do not speak.

Just stand (or sit) there and look at yourself. For about 30 seconds. Or a minute.

After about a minute, ask yourself, out loud, this question: "Who am I?"

Now just look in your eyes again.

Say nothing.

Now repeat the question.

"Who am I?"

You will most likely feel the urge to answer, "I am a doctor." Or "I am a husband." Or "I am a teacher." "A student." "A cancer survivor." "A man." "A woman." "Handsome." "Short." "Tall." "Poor." "Angry." "Alone."

And the like.

But I want to suggest that such responses are off the mark. Or at least not deep enough. For all such answers are just terms other people might use to refer to you, to pick you out of a crowd. That's why such answers are no more profound than just saying your name. "John" or "Evelyn"––these are just terms, like doctor and poor and handsome, which help rational agents place you in a mental reference system.

So who are you?

Look at yourself again. Ask yourself again, "Who am I?"

You are not what you do. You are also not what you fail to do. Nor are you what people call you. Nor even what you call yourself.

Who am I?

The only answer I can find which resonates with the deepest strings of my being is this: I am loved.

My very essence is defined by my-being-loved.

Not by how well I love others. Nor how well I love myself. Nor how well I understand the world. Nor how well the world understands me.

All I am is that I am loved.

From eternity. Loved from a vantage point beyond my own capacities. And loved despite my own incapacities.

All the earlier answers you might have felt inclined to offer––a doctor, a husband, someone by the name of _____––are but contingent features of the way in which you are loved. They are no more the substance and ground of your being-loved than the swirls of icing on a cake are the ground and substance of that cake's being-given. You are not loved because you are a husband, and the like: you are a husband, and the like, because you are loved. You are not loved because you are angry, or happy, alone, and so on: you are any and all of those things because you are loved. Your biography––your literal and concrete curriculum vitae––is nothing less than the unique shape of how love has shaped your existence. Consider the words, curriculum vitae: the course of your life. The course of your life is in fact the life of love coursing through every inch of spacetime which you happen to enjoy. What we call "ordinary experience" is nothing less than the look-and-feel of love expressing itself to us. All that you 'are' and all that you 'have' and all that you 'do' is not the basis for feeling you are loved. Rather, your being loved is the substance of all your other feelings about 'having' and 'being' and 'doing'.

It goes without saying that I write these words as a Catholic. But this is not an apologetical post.

It is a homework assignment.

Which you are to write on a mirror and read on your own face.

Ask yourself, "Who am I?"

If your answer is not, "I am loved," why not? What evidence do you have to the contrary?

As far as I understand the Christian faith, the answer I propose for this homework assignment––that your be-ing is being-loved, that you-are is that you-are-loved––is simply another way of saying "the Gospel." For that is all the Church can offer the world: a relentless, restless refrain that "I am loved. You are loved. We are loved." The Church's "outer mission" is of course to make that fact as broadly known as possible. All her moral haranguing and lofty exhortations and practical services and labyrinthine piety are fundamentally just ways of removing obstructions to a global consciousness of being-loved. When the Church says, "You are sinning by ____," she is saying, "By ____ you are crimping the flow of love in your own life and, consequently, all other lives." This is why the Church is a Mother to her own and a Bitch to those outside her. The outer mission of the Church is a torch-bearing: and alas, the light of joy that torch-bearing brings also entails the smoke of penance which her enemies so revile.

While the Church's outer mission is torch-bearing, her "inner mission" of the Church––the obligation which the Grand Fact of our-being-by-being-loved places on her from within––is more like fire-eating. The Church's inner mission is to make her outer mission as compelling and as credible as possible. If the torch of the Gospel is waved aloft as salvation, the wary, being beckoned, must see the torch-bearer herself can brave the fire herself. The Church's inner mission is, then, to swallow the fire of Being-Loved so that she may become all-light within. Hence, just as there is no better argument against Christianity than Christians, so there is no better argument for the Gospel than those whose entire being is a self-giving fountain of being-loved. As Hans Urs von Balthsar said, "Love alone is credible."

Those who reject this Gospel––this good news of our true being––often ask for proof and evidence to support the Grand Claim. But to accept Proof of The Love rather than The Love itself is not to accept The Love at all. Likewise, to offer Proof of The Love rather than The Love itself is not to offer The Love. There is no more reassuring or convincing or coherent "account" or "demonstration" of the Gospel of Being-Loved than the existence of the Gospel itself. Its radical preposterousness––combined with its preposterous radicality––is its own authentication. The very idea! Indeed: the very idea! The very Idea of Being-Loved becoming Flesh like us! The Father the Composer; the Son the Lyric, the Song; the Spirit the Melody and the Medium in Love Plays. There is nothing else God would say to us––indeed, nothing else He can say to us––outside of the decisive Word spoken in the Incarnation. Those waiting for some other tune, some other performance of the alleged divine glory, are truly waiting in vain. The needle has touched down upon the surface of our world: the divine light has pierced our world and woven itself into the very structure of spacetime. The music is already playing: the only choice is to complain about its tempo or to join in and lose yourself in the Harmony. Jesus is not the 'instrument' of salvation: His cruciform Church is. While all of creation is a theophany, thrumming and humming with the tune of Love in Harmony with itself, the Church is the prime instrument by which God transmits His melody. The Cross of Christ is the 'pick' which constantly strums the fibers of the Church––fibers known as the faithful––and the light of His Resurrection are the stage lights so that we know where to look: forward, upward, not downward and backward. Sometimes, the best advice is the simplest: Shut up and dance.

What proof can be offered for the existence of the world which does not derive from the world itself? Likewise, what support can be lent to the Gospel which does not derive from the Gospel itself? None. To pronounce the Gospel is to demonstrate it, for pronouncing to everyone alike that "You are loved! We are loved!" is itself to saturate yourself and all of us that much more profoundly with being-loved. How would I know if someone secretly loved me? What proof could I have? Only two sources: one, others keep telling me so-and-so loves me and, two, I open my eyes and simply take stock of the countless tiny hints and clues and traces and whiffs of her presence about me.

Which brings me back to the question: "Who are you?" I mean the very same you in the mirror during this homework assignment.

Scan the room. Look at the books on the shelf. The flowers by the window. The drapes. The carpet. The shoes by the door. The dishes in the sink. Any of it and all of it. Each piece of existence is a piece of a puzzle held together by the same love which cut Being into distinct beings made for each other. Each and every item in your "phenomenological range" is an exhibit in the case for your innocence as a being-loved. We are not the judges of God's goodness: He is the judge of how transparent we are to our own being-loved. The "bad things" in our lives? God's love is deeper than them, and pervades even the hardest and darkest episodes in our curricula vitae. Insofar as evil is literally no-thing, we might best see "bad things" in life as the gaps between the puzzle pieces that make up our lives. Without those cuts, we would have no discrete pieces to call "moments" and "experiences" and "objects." In the trial of our lives, we are ultimately judged as either Open To Being-Loved or Closed Off in ourselves. Hell is not other people: it is no other people but the illusory idols we carve within ourselves from our own crumbling substance. Again, perhaps the best counsel is also the simplest: Shut up and laugh.

In any case, to return to the assignment itself, any concrete or transient answer you might propose––a doctor, a lawyer, a fighter, a writer, etc.––is itself just one of the countless clues and traces of God's love coursing through the course of your life. Open your eyes. What you see is an infinitely rich kaleidoscopic portrait of how God sees you and His love streams into your being like light through leaves in a forest. Open your eyes to opening your eyes. Having eyes to see––or not––your being-loved is itself a sign of your being-loved. Being able to answer, genuinely, this homework assignments question, "I am loved, and that's more than enough," is, as you know, proof that you are-loved. For those of you, however, who can't or won't answer like that, keep in mind that even that indecision––that freedom and pricked consciousness of just whether you might be-loved––is itself a gift of The Love trying to win you over. You have no proof you are not loved, so accept The Fact that you are.

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