Monday, December 15, 2014

The Diary of a Country Priest

"Dear God, I give you all, willingly. But I don't know how to give, I just let them take. The best is to remain quiet. Because though I may not know how to give, You know how to take... Yet I would have wished to be, just once, magnificently generous to you."
"The Diary of a Country Priest" by Georges Bernanos.

I do not know how to give. The humility of this prayer is heartbreakingly beautiful. After all, it is not that I may give to Him, but that He might have me. That His will might be done, not that I might do it. That He may rejoice in making me what He wishes, not that I might become that.

Of course in actual fact the two are inseparable. He cannot make me what He wills unless I become that, and one of the things that He wills that I become is joyful, full of life. Nor is it wrong to desire fulfillment, to desire to be united with Him and to taste the joys at His right hand for ever more. As C. S. Lewis puts it, "A man is not mercenary for wanting to marry his beloved." Marriage is what the beloved is for (in a limited, human sense.) In a much deeper and more fundamental sense, Heaven is what I am for. It is not mercenary greed but deepest humility and gratitude to desire to receive all that God desires to give.

But it is very wise, and touching, and childlike, that this priest could see only his inability to give, and see the solution in God's utter ability to take. It is like the man who sees his lack of humility, and has finally come to realize not simply his lack, but his inability to supply that lack. He might be tempted to despair, but if he does then he has not learned the still deepest truth, that God's grace is sufficient unto us. God created us to receive everything that we are incapable of doing for ourselves. In other words He created us to receive Him. The proper response to that glimpse of our own powerlessness is joy, gratitude that we could provide God an opportunity to do what He delights to do, to give us what we lack.

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9b.

Anyway, read "The Diary of a Country Priest," prayerfully and with gratitude, and pray not to be made like the humble Cure', but made into whatever God wishes to make you.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tempted to Hatred

"Pray for me to be made more charitable: we're in the middle of a Faculty crisis wh. tempts me to hatred many times a day."
C. S. Lewis, in a Letter to Sheldom Vanauken,
Quoted in "A Severe Mercy," by Sheldon Vanauken

They provoked him at the waters of Meribah.
Through their fault it went ill with Moses;
for they made his heart grow bitter
and he uttered words that were rash.
Psalm 106:32-33

My wife and I are hosting a bi-weekly book club, in which we read and discuss Sheldon Vanauken's "A Severe Mercy." The C. S. Lewis quote with which I opened this blog is from last night's chapter. The two verses from psalm 106 were in the Office of Readings this morning. I have probably read Psalm 106 many dozens of times, maybe as many as a hundred, given its recurrence in the Liturgy of the Hours, which I have been praying daily for a couple of years. However, that particular passage stuck in my head this morning, as I prayed. It attached itself to that C. S. Lewis quote and refused to be separated.

It is easy to see how the two are related, but I didn't get the significance at first. Of course it is nice to know that C. S. Lewis was human and subject to the same petty temptations as the rest of us, but he made no secret of that. Indeed, for a careful reader, there is no doubt that he was not only tempted, but far more aware of the temptations than most of us are. 

He probably would demur my comparing him to Moses, but to me he has been a sort of Moses. He has been a prophet and a law-bearer. I thought about this for a bit, still not getting the significance. I felt that Moses should not have allowed the people to break his focus on God. He should not have allowed them to "get to him." Just like C. S. Lewis shouldn't let other people's uncharity tempt him to uncharity himself. 

But then a paradigm shift happened and I realized that what the Holy Spirit was getting at was not addressed either to C. S. Lewis or to Moses. It is addressed to me. I am not the one being tempted and tried by those under me, because I am not over anyone. I am not a spiritual leader or authority. I am not the tempted. I am the tempter.

For a brief second I saw myself, not as Moses being embittered, but as one of the children of Israel embittering him. I saw my grumbling, sarcasm, flippancy and nonchalance in a new light. How many times have I, by my behavior and words and attitude, or even just by my ignorance, tempted someone else to hatred? How often have my wise-crack comments, instead of enlightening or assisting someone, irritated them to the point where they thought unkind things about me? Probably far more often than I realize.

Doesn't that make me, in some way, partially responsible for their sin? How many times have I set out to share the great gift of Jesus; and gone from there to simply sharing "the Faith" which is facts about Jesus; to sharing "my faith" which is how I feel about those facts; to finally trying to force my views on others, or at the minimum looking down on them or judging them because they refuse to see things my way?

This is another example of psalm 90:8 "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence." Or Psalm 19:12a "But who can discern all his errors?"

To which our response must be, "Deliver me, O Lord, from my hidden faults!" Psalm 19:12b.

His grace is sufficient.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In the Beginning

Words have lost their music, or so I hear.
Perhaps they never had any, or so they say.
I will never forget a soldier to whom I said,
“What is the most beautiful song you have ever heard?”
He stopped his talk, and looked at me in quiet,
For a precious half-a-second, before he replied,
“It never occurred to me that music could
Be beautiful.” Perhaps that is the point.
Words retain the music, but we’ve lost the ear
Because we’ve lost (or chased away) our silence.

Our silence? As if it were ever ours.
The Word draws power from the Silence Before The World,
The only power that is, the power of Music
The Music which is the Lord and Giver of Life.
When we become quiet, we begin to do the same,
But neither the words, nor the quiet, are ours;
And certainly not the Music which Is between.
Rather, we are Theirs, or else we simply are not.
Our words are lego miniatures of the Word
And even in them we play with Holy Fire.

If there be not music, then let silence reign
Or at least the rehearsal, barely attended to
By children playing bagpipes, violins,
Trumpets, drums and flutes, in eager cacophony
Always sharp, or flat. Some are merely young.
Others are always trying to play the wrong tune,
Or play their favorite tune at the wrong time.
Some expect they will likely do well enough
When the time comes, so they distract themselves
With sidebar talk; And some just like the noise.

Dead men fill the air with the burden of talk
Zombie conversations about nothing
And I, being dead myself, am fully complicit
In filling and killing the silence with empty talk
Struggling to empty words of all their silence
Lest we find ourselves confronted by
The aweful reality of nothing to say.
So conversations deaden, bore and stultify,
Wilt the critical function and reconfirm
Me in my headlong flight from bright reality.

This is not the courage of the bulwark picnic
In the cancer ward; nor yet the Socratic libation
Poured out for the gods; nor even of shaking the hand
Of a pretty girl. This is only fear
Conspiring to (just-so-happen-to) look
Out the other window at that precise time
As we pass the camo jacket with the cardboard sign,
As if we fear that poverty might be contagious.
Of course it is, but what we do not see
Is that we are already infected, and quite terminal.

Against all this we raise our timeless chats
Over tea and toast around the kitchen table;
Amid beer and pipes of aromatic smoke
In the cool of the evening, when the ancient garden echoes
Softly in the mind, tingeing words with music
Older than fig leaves. Conversations reach
Backwards and forwards into the now and always.
Silence dives still deeper in the single point
Where darkness dwells in unapproachable light.
Humility alone can bring us to this place.

Humility requires, demands, the incarnation
Of ineffable word in flesh of mortal deed.
The scandal of the particular is never more
Strongly felt than when at last we turn
From words to music, in this specific act
Of encountering the Word in scribbled sharpie ink
On a cardboard sign; or in the aching void
Between the lines of empty zombie talk;
And offering bread, not bread alone but Word
Eternally uttered forth from the Mouth of God.