Awake, sleeper

I have been sleep-walking through my spiritual life for a long time.  Or rather, slowly crustifying and crystallizing into a much harder and colder Christian.  The intent, or at the very least, effect of this has been to slowly fall away from Jesus Christ.  Inwardly, for many of the externals have remained.  Horrible doubts about the trifling details of faith all the way up to and including doubts about the major details.  Details like, do I really believe in God?  Is this just bread?  If not and if so (respectively), what then?  What to do under the crushing weight of final futility?

But of course, all of the old arguments for the existence of God remain, and the train of logic (maybe?) that leads (inexorably?) from God to Eucharist also remains.  So this turns out to not be much on an intellectual struggle, which is clearly a manifestation of the mercy of God.  At adoration the other night (see, the externals remain), I had the image of Jesus Christ as Alien Invader Overlord Guy (in a green suit) pouncing on me, pinning me on my back, and proceeding to suck the life out of me.  This is my struggle.  I believe in God.  And all that entails, intellectually.  But I don’t like him, nor do I like all of that entailment.  When my sin was revealed to me those many years ago, I was 18 years old.  I was hanging out with the Baptists because they were really friendly.  And they liked me.  I didn’t believe any of that nonsense, but I would have defended them to the death.  Because, in fact, they loved me.

But, mark this.  I was 18.  I had my plans for a debauched life.  I knew precisely what I would do when I got to college.  And then God showed me my sin.  And I immediately knew I believed in God.  But once the initial euphoria was over, and quite quickly, this newfound reality was perceived,  not as good news, but as an encumbrance.  Not the good news of liberation, but the bad news that I was going to have to, one way or another, make new plans for my life.  And I think that, all these years later, not all that much has changed.  God is the cosmic kill-joy.  That is what my vision of Alien Jesus is about.  He is pursuing me, and I am running away.  Because I don’t want anything to do with his new plans.

His new plans for me are most unwelcome.  They involve things like sobriety, responsibility, chastity, sacrifice.  They involve things that keep putting me at odds with a surrounding culture I desperately want to fit in with.  They involve constant choices of, “OK, if I say what I believe, they’ll never talk to me again, but if I say something else, I will be a wuss coward.”  His plans involve going without, sharing.  In a word, they involve the fullness of love, and quite frankly, I find that unappealing.  I like distance, ease, quiet and couches.

So, I’m at adoration, and I do recognize that, rationally, clearly this Alien Jesus Guy reflects a severe misapprehension on my part.  I know that he is otherwise.  I know what the Church teaches.  And I know what the New Testament teaches.  And I know what some of the saints say.  This weekend is the Feast of the Baptism.  This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.  Through baptism, I am that son in whom he is well pleased.  Because he has given us the power to become sons of God.  A son of God.  For he has poured out within us a spirit of adoption, which cries out Abba, Father.  And so we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.  A son, yes, but also a partaker of the divine nature.  Poured into our hearts, brimming with divine life.  For freedom he has set us free.

No, it’s not that I don’t believe in God because he’s not real.  It’s because he is too good to be real.  I mean, how can it be true?  How can the eternal God, all-holy, give so much?  How can he love so much?  How can he empty himself completely to fill me, when I want nothing to do with it?  How can one live in the light of so immense a gift?  How can one possibly respond to something so large?  How can one not live in fear of a God who would suffer so much for…me?  If he will go that far for me, then he has earned the right to ask anything of me, to the point of death (which he has asked of others).  But I’m not willing to go there.  And that is the crux of the situation.

My struggle with unbelief is not a struggle of the intellect.  It is a struggle of the will.  Will I?  Will I choose to completely lose myself?  Will I choose to allow him to completely annihilate me in his love?  To kill me and to raise me?  And to raise me as…who?  This is who I am.  This is what I know.  This is comfortable, predictable.  How can I choose to be lost, crucified?  Only to be found and raised as somebody else.  As who?  It feels a lot like physical death.  The Great Unknown.  How do I let go of the life I know in favor of something…else?

O my Jesus, I don’t trust you.  If I did, I would let go.  I would let myself be engulfed in your love.  Let go of the anger, the plans, the laziness, the hardness, the hatred, the greed, the fear.  These things that are so ridiculous, but that provide so much comfort.  Like those hideous pants I wore in the ’80s.

It all reminds me of the following sequence, from CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce:

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. “Shut up, I tell you!” he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then be turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

“Off so soon?” said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap,” (here he indicated the lizard), “that he’d have to be quiet if he came -which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit-an angel, as I now understood.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.

“Oh-ah-look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.

“Don’t you want him killed?”

“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”

“Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here-well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”

“May I kill it?”

“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”

“There is no time. May I kill it?”

“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”

“May I kill it?”

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

“The gradual process is of no use at all.”

“Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”

“There is no other day. All days are present now.”

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”

“It is not so.”

“Why, you’re hurting me now.”

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”

“Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by tonight’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.”

“This moment contains all moments.”

“Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.”

“I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?”

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

“Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams–all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent …. ”

“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.

“I know it will kill me.”

“It won’t. But supposing it did?”

“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”

“Then I may?”

“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialised while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man–an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinnying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.


~ by Rob on January 8, 2009.

One Response to “Awake, sleeper”

  1. Mucho prayers dude. You and Jen should chat sometime.

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