Posted by Kelly Deutsch, in formation with the Apostles of the Interior Life:
September brought something unexpected. On the plane ride back (always a prime place for good conversations: your seat-mate has no where to run) I had an intriguing conversation with a professional comedian-juggler-sword-swallower. Bill, proclaiming himself an “atheist with deistic tendencies bar one undeniable miracle that would make him a theist”, struck up one of those conversations that you can only have with your best friend or a complete stranger. I mean one of those meaning-of-life, what-are-we-here-for types. A very intelligent fellow, Bill had been a strong fundamentalist Protestant who essentially studied himself out of the faith. Once realizing that his strongly-held beliefs in the literalness of Scripture couldn’t mesh with science, he abandoned his faith in what he deemed to be “fairy tales” and set off to search for the Truth.
Or better, enter Holy Spirit.
What is the purpose of religion? Can reason prove God? Do you believe in the literalness of Scripture, like the world being created in seven 24-hour days? The conversation that started on that airplane continued in emails for weeks into September. How can you be sure religion isn’t just an invention of man? How can you believe in something that you cannot see, or prove with the scientific method? And, at the very base of it all, what is Truth?
I was struck to find someone who was so passionate on his search for the truth and who refused to settle for anything less. “Something like Santa Clause might make you happy and good, but if it’s not true, how can you believe it? Even if it seems to give you direction, I cannot base my life upon a lie.” His questions pushed me to formulate explanations that I haven’t had to give since Philosophy of Religion class, or Christian Moral Principles or Metaphysics or even that incomprehensible Philosophy of Nature and Science that I took last year at the Lateran. Many things that I took for granted had very high personal stakes for Bill. And seeking to explain them to a person whose meaning in life was on the line threw a new light on them for me–shouldn’t these be profoundly personal for me, too? I can’t just take for granted the fact that God exists, nor the joy and meaningfulness with which my life is full. But there was more; as “intellectually beefy” as our Catholic faith is, it is nothing if not an encounter with the God who is love. How to explain to a disillusioned atheist—whose buoyancy and smile rivaled that of many Christians—the miracle of a life transformed? The miracle of divine providence in my daily life? The way the Lord speaks and moves and delights me? Miracles abound in my life, but you’d have a hard time putting them to a scientific test. “Coincidence.” “Uncanny intuition.” – or are they?
The problem with rationalism is that it usually denies non-material realities. It may be able to prove incredible things in the field of science. But it cannot make sense of love, truth, goodness, beauty, nor even human thought. It doesn’t account for enough of existence.
Or of my experience.
It is precisely our experience of the person of Christ that changes everything. Reasoning is convincing to a certain extent, but when something engages both your head and your heart is when you know you’ve found the deepest Truth. “This makes sense objectively and subjectively. Reality and my personal experience speak to this truth. I would stake my life upon it.” For us, Truth is a Person, and this Person is Love.
How to make sense of my experience? The crux of my experience lately has been an awe at the love and desire the Lord of all has for me. Most of us are numbed to the platitudes of God’s love and the Father giving the Son for us. “Yes, that’s nice,” we say, and then go on eating our bountiful fried zucchini (or so it would happen in the Deutsch household in September). Yet do we realize the gravity of such a love? A love that is both agape and eros, that is both self-giving and desirous of the other—of you?
“He belongs to you, as the head belongs to the body. …He belongs to you, but more than that, He longs to be in you…” (– St John Eudes)
He desires you; He desires to be in you. He is obsessed with your happiness and those Dove chocolates you can’t get enough of and the way you smirk at your quirky neighbor who waters the garden in their underwear. (I can’t tell you how many things He places in my path just to make me smile.) And what’s more: He longs for you to long for Him. Just as we long (dare we hope?) that He longs for us—urgently, specifically—me.
Yet what to do when we come up short? Maybe we’ve experienced the boundless love of the Bridegroom. He continues to lavish gifts on us even when we’re not paying attention to Him (I think of all the little delights I so easily pass over: beds! What a marvel a bed is after a long day! The smell after the rain. He doesn’t just give necessary moisture, He just adds a little “icing to the cake” and makes it smell good. Really? He didn’t have to add scent to sound and touch and taste of water…). When I do actually pay attention, when He’s given me the eyes to see, I take a stroll with Him and receive waving trees as a gift from Him, and the smiling eyes of a child as something He specifically intended for me to see. He knows what makes my heart smile.
So how to love Him back? When we encounter a love so generous, so personal, so abundant we want to somehow return it. How can I express my love to You? I’ve got nothing. I mean, I’ve got my itty bitty heart with all its good intentions and usually poor executions… and I know I’ve got some twisted intentions with even worse executions in there too. That doesn’t seem like such a pretty gift. But nothing is lacking where everything is given. Lord, I give you all of my mixed intentions, my selfishness, my desires to love You and do great things: receive them all as my gift. My finger-painting that sure is no Mona Lisa, but that is my everything. And for that very reason, Jesus smiles wide, kisses it, and says, “this is the best possible gift you could have given me.”
I am inclined to think that anything is forgivable when placed within such a loving context. My finger-painted horse doesn’t even look recognizable, let alone like that wild stallion I had in mind. This horse’s hair is purple and his tail looks more like a fifth leg. Praise the Lord He doesn’t judge us according to our perfect form but our love. Maybe in the end it’s supposed to look more like a kaleidoscope: a beautiful array of colors given so as to delight. Spin your life a different way: what gifts and designs are there that you never noticed before? Give it back to the Lord as a gift; I bet you He’ll just smile real wide and say “This is just beautiful. Thank you for giving everything.”
“Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain. What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is this all to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, …burn bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently is to share the marriage bond.” (-St. Bernard)