Thursday, April 13, 2006

Easter I

6:50 am ~

The day started a few hours ago when the cat and dog, usually immovable lumps at the foot of our bed, distubed me with a sudden and frantic chase around the room. Thoroughly awakened and uncomfortably hot, I decided to go downstairs, where it would probably be cooler, to read for awhile and, I hoped, drift back to sleep. When I got to the living room and turned on the light, I discovered the object of the animals' frenzy: a newly dead mouse in the middle of the rug. A very plump mouse, meaning that it has probably been living expansively inside the house despite the onset of spring, and that it has relatives still doing the same. Sigh.

After I disposed of the mouse, I settled down to read for a short time, skimming through the material that I'm using for the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. I was feeling restless, too. My director had suggested that I read the scriptural passages for Holy Week with an eye toward the role of God in the events thereof, thinking about how engaged and involved God is, and how Jesus is able to do things that God cannot, because he is a human being.

I don't know exactly what any of that means yet, and I had tried to solve the problem last night by buying three books. (Obviously my 12-step plan with respect to book purchases is a total failure.) I wanted some poetry for the week, so after a short debate from which I thought Emily Dickinson would emerge the victor, I decided on Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins and read The Wind Hover before I went to sleep -- just in case I needed further images of restlessness in my life. I skimmed through a Eugene Peterson book: Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life. Eugene Peterson is a Presybterian pastor and prolific writer, and the title indicated that he had already figured out how to do what I'm attempting. And I took a quick look at a new book by Marcus Borg and John Crossan: The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jersusalem, because it sounds suspiciously like it was written by people who have followed a path similar to that in the Exercises; because Marcus Borg is one of my heroes as a Biblical scholar, someone whom I have read and heard many times; and because I am already reading an engaging and persuasive book by his theological adversary N. T. Wright.

In other words, I had returned to my usual feeble and ineffective attempt to address the question of Christ in my life: read what someone else has to say and avoid the personal encounter. As I have made my way through the Exercises, the futility of that approach has impressed itself upon me, but the habit is a hard one to break.

Feeling someone more, um, "authentic," as the Jesuits might say, at 3:00 am, I went back to the Exercises themselves and started asking the question I had been told to ask. It will take more than a few pre-dawn minutes, but I do have four days, and I think I'll use them to make a thorough exploration and keep track of it while I'm doing it.

A lot of people wonder about Christianity. Many of my friends (and my three children) are somewhat hostile skeptics, and I suppose that's not so surprising. I'm sometimes a hostile skeptic, too, and I've certainly spent more of my life in various states of unbelief than conviction. Yesterday I listened to Diane Rehm's recent interview of Frederick Beuchner (yet another prolific Presbyterian pastor-writer) and he quoted someone impressive, I forget whom at the moment, as saying that "Doubt is an element of faith." Definitely my own experience. And Christianity often emerges from the media as the province of those inclined to judgment rather than generosity, to supersition rather than science, to simplicity rather than complexity. That portrait often has more to do with the general ignorance of the journalistic community about virtually all things religious, theological, or faithful, but ignorance on the part of its chroniclers does tend to damage the credibility of an enterprise, whether it's ours of God's. Toss in the imbecility, rigidity, and violence that many people count among their youthful experiences in the name of religion, and it's no wonder that they greet the word "Christianity" with unbridled skepticism.

For whatever reason, it's been a long time since I've found that response adequate. I'm in a place in my life -- and it does feel like a place, almost like a geographical nexus -- in which the Christian message makes the only real sense in the world that I know. In some ways, becuase it makes no sense. What would be that point, after all, of a god who fit easily within the average human experience? If that were all we had, we might as well turn to ourselves. We would be an easier and less demanding source of religious experience than a God who insists on embodying love.

I don't have astonishing or profoundly worded insights to offer. I have only my own, those of a middle-aged woman who lives in the midwest, has to dispatch mice in the middle of the night, and is, no doubt like many other similarly unlikely adventurers, trying daily to find the way of Christ in an otherwise unremarkable existence.

Let's see where the last few days of Holy Week go.


Lisa :-] said...

What WOULD be the point of a God who fit easily within the average human experience? Ask all the born-again Christians who call god "Father" and Jesus "brother." They have shrunk God down to a manageable size. And done him/her, themselves, and the world an enormous disservice.

Kathryn said...

"I've certainly spent more of my life in various states of unbelief than conviction."

The people with unwavering conviction are scary. I think God is so big, diverse, and dimensionless that no one person can understand or define God.

I admire your work on your own spirituality. The Ignatian exercises are a rather rigorous exploration of self and relationship to God. You are giving me lots to thing about during the Triduum.

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