Archive for March, 2016

Transforming Victories

Christian love aims beyond “this world.” It is itself a ray, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God; it transcends and overcomes all limitations, all “conditions” of this world because its motivation as well as its goals and consummation is in God. And we know that even in this world, which “lies in evil,” the only lasting and transforming victories are those of love. Alexander Schmemann, in Great Lent

schmemannThere are times when I doubt the power of love and grace. I don’t think I’m alone. I doubt it when violence springs up in airports and train stations. I doubt love’s power when conflicts seem intractable and endless. I doubt it when more people are hurt, and become afraid. I doubt that there is any love strong enough to pierce the darkness of it all.

I think that is how we must feel as this week, Holy Week, progresses. As we walk with Jesus who arrived in Jerusalem out of love as the religious leaders conspire to take his life. Jesus is willingly giving it up, laying down his life. Perhaps, we must feel hopeless to let such love in.

That is what happens as Jesus goes to the cross. He puts love to the test. Is love strong enough to provide forgiveness for the worst that we can do? Is love enough to staunch the flow of wrong and bring healing in the face of generations of division? Is love stronger even than death?

Jesus’ answer is the cross and the empty tomb. The cross shows us that there is no place God will not go to love. The empty tomb proclaims the victory of love, God’s love, and it invites us to live this new way of love that can only come from Jesus. This is the love that can love one’s enemies because we were God’s enemies and he loved us. This is the love that lives beyond death because Jesus came from the grave.

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Who am I?

 

Perhaps, you heard the news that Pat Conroy died last week in his native Beaufort, South Carolina. Pat deserves mention because of his popular searching novels such as South of Broad and the Prince of Tides. Like me, you may love the southern reflections in his work:

Pat ConroyI would like to walk his southern world, thanking God for oysters and porpoises, praising God for birdsongs and sheet lightning, and seeing God reflected in pools of creekwater and the eyes of stray cats. I would like to have talked to yard dogs and tanagers as if they were my friends and fellow travelers along the sun-tortured highways, intoxicated with a love of God, swollen with charity like a rainbow, in the thoughtless mingling of its hues, connecting two distant fields in its glorious arc. I would like to have seen the world with eyes incapable of anything but wonder, and a tongue fluent only in praise. ― Pat ConroyThe Prince of Tides

Pat died of pancreatic cancer. His last Facebook post drew my attention:

I celebrated my 70th birthday in October and realized that I’ve spent my whole writing life trying to find out who I am and I don’t believe I’ve even come close. Pat Conroy

I love the honesty of Conroy. How many of us share that feeling?  The project of our lives has been to discover who we really are. We use our relationships, our vocation, all of our energies for that singular purpose. Our lives are journeys of self-exploration. One wonders if Conroy is not, by creating and developing his characters, by noodling out their stories, really exploring his own passage, the tide of his own life.

As human beings we have long lived with this question. The Psalmist asked: “What is man that you are mindful of him?” Solomon explored his identity by attempting to unravel the meaning of life. John Calvin opened his opus The Institutes with two parallel statements:

There is no knowledge of yourself without the knowledge of God.

There is no knowledge of God without the knowledge of yourself.

Calvin tied these two together more closely than bread and butter, up and down, salt and pepper. You cannot have one without the other. Perhaps, that is the fly in the ointment of our present world. We want one without a willingness to consider the other. Even Jean-Paul Sarte said:

No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.

So, who am I? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestled with this from his captivity in a Nazi prison. He wrote tellingly what he discovered. In part, he said:

Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They also tell me
I would talk to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself,
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat…

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others…

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

Seeing his own life, Bonhoeffer cannot answer the question of his own true identity. He sees the mess of all he has been. It is only in God, being God’s, that his life is rooted, that he can know who he is. Whoever I am, I am yours.