Wednesday, May 14, 2008

what to do?

Sometimes I don’t know how to ask the questions. Then I turn my mind to wondering why and am further distracted from what it was I wondered in the first place. Often I am not even aware of what I’m thinking at all. This seems terribly wasteful. I waste a lot of minutes too; lurking facebook, waiting for my opponent to move in scrabble, looking in the cupboard when I’m not at all hungry, reading without paying attention to the words, acting without paying attention to the acts…these minutes melt into hours and days and isn’t it a wonder how much life is lost like leftover food dumped down the disposal.

One thing I have been reading and paying attention to though is C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra. In the chapter I recently completed, this entity, like our devil, that had overtaken the antagonist, Weston, was arguing against a seemingly arbitrary command of Maleldil (God) in order to convince the green Lady (a kind of Venetian version of Eve) to break it. Ransom, the hero, was there to protect the lady from our world, the earth’s, first error by defending Maleldil’s command. He spoke of the pure love made manifest in obeying even when the good is not evident:

“I think he made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them indeed because they are his will, but not only because they are his will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless he bids you do something for which his bidding is the only reason?”

I remember Simone Wiel saying something to this effect in her book Waiting for God (which I’ve never finished reading and cannot, for the life of me, find), and Bonhoeffer too in one of the first excerpts found in his collection of prison letters and papers. To obey is the highest good as it supersedes our own idea of good and falls into an act of pure trust and love. I used to adhere to this way of thinking. I recall being a particularly passionate advocate of it. When I lived in an apartment in Winter Park, FL, I desperately wanted a kitten. The very thought of it sent me skipping and singing. I was going to name it “Obedience,” or “Scroll.” But lucky kitten, it didn’t get a name from me. Pets were not allowed and though many a tenant of that complex had one, I decided to abide by the contract I’d signed. During that time I was diligent in the reading of scripture and in prayer. I embraced the law and found energy and life in devouring and digesting it.

My thinking has turned somewhat in the past couple years. Turned away from what some term “blind faith” toward a more critical view of the bible and of Christian traditions and social mores. Have I grown “older” as the green lady says of herself in moments of enlightenment, or am I being broken by the “wisdom” of the world? Part of the difficulty in discerning how to be obedient comes in the extraordinary number of commands the bible and the church deliver to us. Then there is the process of distinguishing the commands contrived and heaped on by man and those that are actually of God. I tend towards the belief that we must examine the context and intention behind biblical mandates. Yet, in doing so, in asking “did He really mean that” I fear the awful resemblance of that question to the one the serpent asked Eve in the garden, “Did God actually say…”

I believe Jesus gives what is called the greatest of the commandments, and I recklessly paraphrase, “the law is summed up in this; love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Then again, Jesus does say other things in commanding ways and there is too that follow up question, “how do we love?” As a personal response to this question my colleague, Larry, calls himself a “Matthew 25 Christian,” referring to that passage where those who meet with Christ are told with approbation;

“I was hungry and you fed me,

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was sick and you cared for me,

I was naked and you clothe me,

I was imprisoned and you came to me…”

though they did not know it was him, they did it to “the least of these.”

Still though, this seems to fall into the category of obeying what already seems good. Perhaps part of the complication of being obedient to love is when you have to say “no.” When you have to point out to a person that they have the ability to meet their own needs so you are not going to do it for them. Is obedience being willing to look less than amiable to perform the truly loving act? I am not entirely satisfied with this conclusion.

I do believe Jesus is the ultimate example. Through him and with the law and the prophets we can come to a better understanding of the nature of God (if we use these resources and accounts wisely); who he is and what he’s about and to align our lives to his principles if we so desire. Three things I am aware of as recurring themes: life, light (this I take to be synonymous with truth) and love—and these three are as one, though they are distinct, not on is whole without the other.

I am perplexed.

No comments: