Monday, October 16, 2006

It's not your fault.

In my life, there have been a handful of what I can only call religious experiences--moments of the infinite love of Christ ripping into my dark and cramped world, pouring on it an almost shocking release that ultimately leaves me in tears of joy and thankfulness. The last time this has happened to me was the summer of 2003 in Salamanca, Spain. I was deeply depressed while I was there. Isolation is never so keenly felt as by a cultural and linguistic foreigner, and I was internalizing the grief over the decay of Christianity in western Europe. Yet one afternoon I was in the Iglesia de San Marco, the small, ancient church off the southwest corner of the Plaza Mayor. Something happened--some small, quiet interruption of my negative thinking--and momentarily everything that was darkening my perspective broke apart and floated away. It was emotional, physical, and spiritual; it was as if I had been given a glimpse of the End when all things would be restored, and nothing would remain in its current broken state.

But anyway, these experiences that I have had have not been without content. There is a datum. There is something communicable about them, even though the experience and the datum are not the same thing. I can tell you about some of the meaning that these moments had for me, but unless you have experienced something similar, you will not be quite able to know just how amazing it is. Sorry for the esotericism.

So what is it? It is complex. But there is one strain in it I want to point out. It is almost as if someone with absolute authority said to you, "This (the evil, in the world, in your life) is not your fault. It is not your doing." Now, a human being could tell you something similar, and if you're like me, you give a half-hearted assent, because though factually obvious, it doesn't solve any problems and does nothing vis-a-vis your helplessness before the evil. This "whisper" is different. It is an Authority. It is a Messenger of God. And it says: All of this Evil is not yours. You are not its originator. You are not its savior. It is not your responsibility. Stand Aside.

Let's consider this for a moment. Social justice minded folks might be the first to object. This is spiritualized complacency! Some cartoon of my childhood (was it the "My Little Pony" movie?) had these strange little sentient creatures on another planet, who yet had failed to solve some great problem because each one chanted its mantra: "It's not our job."

This is quite different. This experience did not inspire complacency in me; rather, its opposite. "It's not your fault." The world is losing its faith. People turn to casual sex and passing fads, political movements for meaning, and all wind up in the same place: despair, or else more feverish grasping. "It's not your fault." The churches are decadent, here substituting a philosophy of niceness for the gospel, there spreading division through sectarian preaching, so many of them driving away people who lack patience. "It's not your fault." People are hungry in the third world and despondent in 1st; futures are destroyed and the world laughs. "It is not your fault."

There is something absolutely necessary and healthy in these words; something to shake my internalizing psyche lose from the heavy debris of concern for the world; something to kill the creeping despair. It is NOT your fault. You were born into this world broken by sin. It was broken and suffering before you were born, and your lifetime will not appreciably roll back its destruction. Thus you are not its slave. There is no ledger of the net sadness your life has caused the world. This earth is not your judge.

I made this world, and I made YOU, and I put you in this world, just the way it is right now. What will you do? Turn back the Holocaust? Undo the 30 Years War? Uninvent the nuklear bomb? Erase Martin Luther? Stop the sexual revolution? Ha. I gave these things to you. And I will deal with them. Your purpose is small--so very small. I gave you only the most meager of tasks, and it is so easy. Love my children. Love them with my love. As I have loved you. Do you not see that I have only given you one thing to do? Do not mind the Evil. It is not your fault.

Of course, "It is not your fault" is only one part of the message which seems delivered to me on the crest of this flood of emotions. It comes hand in hand with St. Julian's "All will be well, and all will be well, and all will be well." Related to that is God's own supreme assurance that He is history's author and he does not need an editor.

I cannot tell you how little what I have written here approaches what I am trying to convey. I suppose I could be accused of sentimentalism; of perpetuating more banal pseudo-Catholic pop-slogans, of retelling that awful "footprints" story, or the "serenity prayer," or that thing that goes "Work as if everything depended on you, and pray as if everything depended on God." All of these things are contemptible--and perhaps, even my own scribblings--because they fail to be vehicles of that fundamental truth that only God can communicate directly. Only he can tear aside the thick lie that pervades our senses, that the world is damned and we ourselves are the ones upon whom its evil fate rests. Only God can personally explode the conceit of our depression, by recalling forcefully (yet so breathtakingly pleasantly) our insignificance.


Br. Thomas said...

Good post! I think that we live in a self-centered mentality so much that we don't notice it, and we can even believe that we've overcome it.

That is, until God, who is other, totally other, and scarily BIGger than me, reveals a tiny part of this otherness. Suddenly I'm no longer the center of the world; which, like you said, is obvious, but we don't believe it until God speaks it to us.

It's natural to feel yourself at the center of the world and therefore responsible for everything, because we are at the center of our experience. The strange experience I had knocked me away from even the center of my experience. For a few moments it was no longer me talking at the presence in the tabernacle. Instead, I felt that was just a part of this room, of this experience, and that the Other's presence was out of my control. Maybe these posts prove how altruistic you are, and how narcissistic I am. In any case, maybe someone will read this and find words to their own experience.

Matt of C G said...

Three years ago, while living in Sylmar, CA I would frequent St. Didacus church. I was compelled to do so out of the sheer neccesity for relevance. This predominantly spanish-speaking community yielded for me no sense of place or belonging since I didn't know and still don't know spanish. Whatsmore, the family I was living with was mostly Protestant and the household consisted of my three uncles. The oldest of which sought to strike me at first with faux pas and after a while with heated theological confrontation.

The only place where this sinner could find solice was in church. I held fast to her in those days. She was the only thing familiar to me, the only place where I was no longer an alien among the peoples.

I was kneeling in front of the tabernacle telling Jesus how my day went when I looked behind me to find no one else there and I thought, "It's 6pm on a Tuesday with no devotions so why would anyone else be here? Nonetheless, where are all my peers? Where is all my generation? I always see much older or much younger than me in here on the regular days. Lord, don't you incline the hearts of all mankind to your will? Then am I the only one left who cared to listen? This cannot be! At best, I'm a poor excuse for a man. There must be others more deserving of you than I, there must be. If they're not here, then where are they?"

However, my lonely little heart secretly yearned with an infantile trepidation for an elligable and hopefully attractive female to magically walk in and pray. And to my surprise two of them did! In the way of an elderly Mexican woman and her two-year-old grand daughter.

And I watched them as they knelt in front of a life-sized photograph of the Virgen de Guadalupe on the other side of the church. The abuela (grandmother) began to sing a song to the Virgin Mary in spanish that went something like, "...something, something, Madre Dios, something, something, something..." and the most poignant and endearing thing that I have ever experienced to date happened. The little girl began to mimic her grandmother with her gaze fixed on the picture.
She would occasionaly look over at her grandmother for approval while singing, as was expected.

It seemed like my entire being breathed a collective sigh of relief. "Thank you Jesus, I love you for allowing me to see this." I prayed. "I would assume you would say, 'see there, it's just as your father paraphrased the Pope. There is always hope."

So they left before me and my faith in the world at large was restored never to be shaken again.