And yet, I still struggle. Lord
I believe, help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24). Faith does not give you the kind
of certitude that you have when you learn something from a book. Why do I
confess Christ, but wrestle to trust Him, and to obey Him? Why do I know that
He is who He says He is, yet I do not love Him with all my heart, and I do not
do as He commanded, and love my neighbor as myself? Why could those men of the
High Middle Ages raise a matchless cathedral for the love of God, but I can’t
even raise myself up out of bed early to pray as I should?
I have no answer, other than that dying to oneself takes a lifetime. ---Rod Dreher, "The Rose Window and the Labyrinth"
The great fault of our age (as of every age, from my reading of history) is pride. A lack of humility poisons everything, across all segments of society. Our political arena alone is so bereft of humility that any admission of human doubt or weakness is a death sentence.
Here's a news flash: we're all full of crap. Every one of us. Those most self-assured are, most assuredly, the most full of it, but even the few saints among us, while they might have less than the rest of us, are not completely spic and span. One critical difference between a saint and "a man in full," however, is that the saint will recognize and confess that fact.
Rod's right, I think. Dying to oneself does, indeed, take a lifetime. I wish I'd understood this sooner in life. I wish more people, particularly those who propose to lead us, understood this now.
To catch the train. The maples lining both Sides hang with leaves turned soft but brilliant reds, Oranges, and umbers that will make their beds Soon in the unmown grass that lines my street, And crumble at the weight of passing feet. The people who just moved in three doors down Have ringed their banisters in black and brown And hung a skeletal child from a swing, Its eyeless stare a dark and menacing Reminder to pray for the dead and of those Horrors the coming darkness may disclose. We haven’t met the tenants yet, and don’t Want to. A glance into their yard has sown Nightmares already in my children’s sleep, Shaking them teared and screaming from its deep. We’ve heard them crush their beer cans, out to smoke Late at night, and guffaw at some crude joke. A few doors farther on, the lawn is spiked With signs for candidates I’ve long disliked. Just seeing their names induces in me fear Less supernatural but much more near At hand than those that haunt the children’s dreams. But then, I see that new foundations, beams Of smooth pine pitched high in the sun, where two New homes are rising, promise something new; And hear St. Monica’s bronze bells in her tower Govern our hillside as they toll the hour, Chastening us that though our time seem dire, Much has endured through beating rains and fire, And good can still be made in this dark season. I read a book last week that says our reason No longer sees the world as from God’s eyes; Where the ancient mind saw signs, ours now denies To it all but the most material meaning. I’m not so sure. It seems that thoughts are leaning Up against every fence post, and the earth, Stared at, stares back and quietly brings to birth Between us words, morals, and promises Which we might overlook but can’t dismiss. I worry, as a father, that the year Ahead will bear out omens all too clear Such that my children, grown, will only know The clash of good and evil’s fiery glow. I stop to let the speeding traffic pass. The gutter’s tiled with tins and broken glass. Across the way, the Veteran’s Memorial With polished granite, stirring flags, and aureole Of silver guards the entrance to the station. Its plaque says, These gave their lives for our nation. I wait, clutching my ticket in my hand, For what the rough voiced future will demand.
What is dying I am standing on the seashore, a ship sails in the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she
fades on the horizon and someone at my side says: "She is gone." Gone! Where Gone from my sight that is all.
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw
her, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its
destination. The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, "She is gone" there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout: "There she comes!" and that is dying.
Several years before she died, my mother told me that she stopped believing in the existence of God the day my brother Jeff died in July 1989. I told her that was the day that I started to seek again the faith in which I was raised, though I didn't conceive of the search in that way at that time, and though it took me 16 more years to rediscover it.
"Well," she stated, "I think it's all a myth. You live and then you die and that's the end."
"I'll pray for you," I replied, tenderly, and I meant it.
Each of us grapples with the age-old questions in his or her own way. I am convinced by now, especially after recent experiences, that none of us can accurately get inside another person's head and see the world through their eyes, no matter how close we think we might be to them, and no matter how much we think we share in common. Even those of us who share the same DNA and the same close family history are often as different as if we had been raised by different tribes. All we can do is try to explain the world as we see it and hope that what we say strikes a common chord in others, or that others can, by sharing their perceptions with us, shape and inform our perceptions in positive ways.
By the way, I have honored the immediately preceding paragraph in the breach as often, or perhaps more often, than I have in the observance. It doesn't lessen its truth, if it has any.
As to death, I've come to the conclusion that if there is no ultimate justice, if the wicked are not punished and the righteous are not justified, then life is simply a matter of personal opinion and, objectively, ultimately meaningless. I don't want to get into an existential debate with anyone, I'm merely communicating how I personally perceive life and death. I choose to believe that my brothers Jeff and Dan, my sister Kathy (Kate, as she named herself), my mother Marjorie, and my father Joseph, exist in some conscious form in some other realm where truth, beauty, and the good are fully realized. If I didn't believe that, not only could I not proceed to perform the mundane tasks that I must perform today, I would be compelled to take a flamethrower and meet out mankind's notion of justice here and now.
A former friend, who is a close friend of a brilliant neuroscientist, used to tell me that the neuroscientist said that human beings' brains were hard-wired to desire something more than they had, which "evolution" had programmed into the brain as a survival mechanism. It gives us our motivation to plan and anticipate the future. She offered this as an explanation for human beings' seemingly constant search for something more from existence than what they experience with their five senses, and as an alternative to the existence of God. I asked her, assuming that her friend was correct, who or what had created a process of evolution that includes rules and possible outcomes that led to the ultimate result that human beings have the need to anticipate the future through a feeling of discontent as means of survival, but that Rhesus Monkeys do not? Who is the "programmer"? Frankly, she didn't know and didn't care.
Well, I do care.
My belief is close to what a whip-smart (and since-fallen) Franciscan once asserted to me: that we are discontented because we are not made for this Earth. We are all pilgrims, marooned in the land of the enemy, making our way to what we hope will be our true home. It's a common view, not at all original, and I think that makes it not one iota less "true" than my former friend's friend's view that it's all random atoms colliding and reacting in accordance with laws that were created by random chance or an impersonal force.
To me, we're all ships sailing on often storm-tossed seas, struggling to stay afloat until we reach home. There, we'll find our true safe harbor. Until then, we'll never be calm, never at rest, never at peace. In this life, our ships cannot rest at harbor because this world does not provide one, although many of us believe that our faith provides passage to one in the next life. In that next life, I pray that I'll sail with those I once loved and love still, on an ocean more glorious than the mind of man could even hope to imagine.
Droll thing life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile
purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself -- that
comes too late -- a crop of inextinguishable regrets. --Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"
I grow old ... I grow old ... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown. --From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot