Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Praying in a Pretzel: The Difference Perspective Makes

Today is my youngest daughter's birthday and I was hit by an image of my wife during her delivery. The delivery process greatly hastened towards the end, past the point of an epidural, and I watched horrified as my wife's agony. My wife never really brings it up or over-dramatizes it: it happened and it was hard but parenting is nonstop and the pace of life only quickens from there.

As I walked towards my office at work, I also realized that parents never cease bringing their children into the world. The delivery is a moment but it's as much a symbol as it is an action. In this way it's even sacramental. But it's not like we ever stop bringing them into world. She came into the world four years ago in a very big way, but we also bring her into the world everyday. We bring her to school, back home, to get groceries, and to parks. We also bring her to encounters with her sister, to other family, to friends, and new encounters. Hopefully, we also bring her to a right way to live. The only thing that will change is that she increasingly participates in this process more and more throughout her life until she one day carries most of the responsibility herself. By that point, she may even accompany a life that she brings into this world.

Life might move along a linear path and we do experience time as a successive sequence of events but memory can allow us to weave in and out of past experiences in and out of order (even though, of course, that happens within the regular flow of time). My memory of the day she was born is strong enough to feel at least somewhat present to those moments even now. The significance of those days leading in and out of it was something I couldn't grasp at the time but time and perspective have shown us that what once felt like a lot of chaos is now ordered. Beautiful. Providential. Intentional.

The multi-dimensionality of life can't be discounted. I think we tend towards myopia and seeing things in terms of perspective or breadth or depth is a matter of contemplation. It's hard enough sometimes to describe "what" is happening, never mind "why". But seeing our experiences as multi-layered can betray a sense of Providence and the interconnectedness of things. To realize that I am who I am because of key moments in my life is really a bit much to take in. To further realize that those moments were composed of factors beyond simple measurement or control all the more overwhelming. The truth is that each of us our profound mysteries in all of our parts, in each moment of our biographies, in each decision that we make and in each impulse that passes through our brains. That there is any order at all is mysterious but compounded with the tension that exists between what is ordered in me with what is disordered with me, what is a matter of will and what is a matter of what exists beyond my control, and to even understand these things as facts of the matter in no way diminishes the mystery.

I can be impatient with the idea that the question of God or faith can be reduced simplistically but only because I do not find the concept of mystery at all diminished by a better understanding of mechanisms. We understand the world around us and we will one day understand so much more, but the simple question of it's existence ("why is there something rather than nothing?") remains a profound mystery. Knowledge of the mechanism cannot erase the mystery if appreciation abounds. 

God is the greatest of mysteries. There aren't consciousness exercises that can put into a box the mystery of Being in its fullness, of pure act, of reality much realer than I will ever comprehend. That God would say something to to His Creation, to make Himself known, to use human concepts and language to arrive at a mystery is still a far greater mystery. That I engage the ground of my own being in prayer requires an infinitely greater gulf in understanding. 

I'm regularly in touch with Mystery and that Mystery manifests in the multiple dimensions, in layers of understanding, of practiced and spontaneous contemplation. It's also an art and it also takes practice. To weave in and out of the many, many moments that led to the presence of my daughter in this world through memory lets me see things that I miss in the regular unfolding of time. It's even more so with God. In Catholic theology, the concept of "revelation" is God's initiative. God makes Himself known to His creation and accommodates Himself to their understanding. He makes Himself known and He makes Himself knowable. For us, revelation happens exclusively within the realm of time. History is the medium God uses, be it world history or personal history. 

To see His work (especially in your own life) for what it is, walk around it a few times. See it from a few different angles. Understand that there are things that you bring into that viewing, coloring your perspective. Examine the contours and the lines, the depth and dimension. Comment, criticize, appreciate, and engage. See His fingerprints mingle with yours, where you chose to take things and where He responded. Let your fingers retrace old lines and pathways or imagine new points of departure. The work, it seems, isn't rigid but living and always renewing but you can't appreciate it for what it is unless you take the time to do it properly.

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