Wednesday, July 25, 2012

in peace you have received

“Arthur, you mustn’t feel that I am rude when I say this.  You must remember that I have been away in strange and desert places, sometimes quite alone, sometimes in a boat with nobody but God and the whistling sea.  Do you know, since I have been back with people, I have felt like I was going mad?  Not from the sea, but from the people around me.  A lot of the things which you say, even seem to me to be needless: strange noises: empty. You know what I mean. ‘How are you’–‘Do sit down’–‘What nice weather we are having!’ What does it matter?  People talk far too much. Where I have been, and where Galahad is, it is a waste of time to have ‘manners.’ Manners are only needed between people, to keep their empty affairs in working order. Manners maketh man, you know, not God. So you can understand how Galahad may have seemed inhuman and mannerless, and so on, to the people who were buzzing and clacking about him. He was far away in his spirit, living on desert islands, in silence, with eternity.” (Once and Future King, 460-461)

That passage is from the novel Once and Future King, which I loved very much. I’ve saved this passage for years. The book is a re-telling of the Arthurian myth and in this scene it’s Percival speaking, after he and Galahad have come back from the quest for the Holy Grail. It’s a sort of classic example of the Hero’s Journey. I remember meeting a Jungian analyst once, and I was telling her about some strong experiences I had been having of late, but how when I tried to convey them or share them it either all came out flat or folks would just kind of shrug and walk away. And she said to me something like; “You’ve got to be very careful whom you share your experiences with when you’re on the Hero’s Journey. If people aren’t ready to hear what you have to say, it will ruin it for you, rob you of the experience.”

Some other examples of this could be, for instance, after a retreat experience, that phenomenon of “coming down the mountain,” sometimes literally! Or maybe in the throes of a conversion experience, still caught up in the initial fervor and excitement, expecting people to catch on fire just by talking to you. I’ve got a young friend who has been on several months’ pilgrimage around Central and South America right now, and I sent him this passage too. Or maybe it could just apply to our enthusiasm for anything, our passion for social justice or environmental issues, or our love for the liturgy or yoga or meditation or interfaith dialogue! Our exuberance for life in general! How often does that get beaten out of us? And sometimes it could simply be our own experience of the tender compassion of our God that has gripped us, like the Good News that Jesus sent his disciples out to proclaim on their Hero’s Journey. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 10, he tells his disciples first look for someone worthy. And if they really are worthy, share it. If they’re not––no need to call down the fire from heaven on them; if that’s what they deserve, apparently God will see to it. It’s one of those rare instances where Jesus is all but calling down the fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah. Actually, the harsh compassion that we hear in the prophet Hosea 11 is better. (We read these two passages on the same day.) God says instead, My heart is overwhelmed with pity. I will not give vent to my blazing anger. No, we have to have the strength to detach from the results and the fruits and not take it personally; we’ve done our job and we walk on, guarding that treasure and looking for a heart worthy to receive it. We have to accept the fact, sadly but without recrimination, that sometimes people are simply not ready to hear what we have to say or receive what we have to give.

And yet, if we’re patient with the journey and let it gestate in us, it will not go to waste; it can become something in us. One of the characteristic features of Jesus was his gratitude, his exuberance, his joy and his awe, his appreciation of the mirabili Dei–the wonders of God, which he received freely and from which he gave freely. Blessed are you Lord, God of heaven and earth! he says. And that awe becomes in him gratitude, thanksgiving; and that thanksgiving in turn became in him power, the power to walk on water, to heal the sick, drive out demons, raise the dead, to turn bread and wine into his body and blood. That’s what we’re looking for––that Eucharistic alchemy to happen in us, that wonder and that gratitude and ultimately that energy to be at work in us, for our experience of the wonders of God, the wonders of all creation, and the wonder that God made us, to turn into gratitude, and that gratitude is like jet fuel, that gratitude turns into power. That’s the energy of Eucharist, and that becomes our participation in creation and building the reign of God, in ministry, in creativity, in prayer, in community, in a heart broken with compassion for our world.

Let’s hope that the treasure would take root in us, that the Word would dwell in us richly, that the peace of Christ would control our hearts and become something in us, become the energy of the Eucharist, the energy of participation and creation and that we would become bearers of the Good News with hearts broken with compassion for our world.