Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Unveiling

We can imagine the actions of God in a rhythm of two movements, the out-breath, and the in-breath.  The out-breath gives life to the clay, while the in-breath returns Adam to mere dust.

We can further describe this action in terms of hiding and unveiling.  God hides himself--and where does he hide himself--except in Creation.  When God unveils himself, he removes himself from Creation.  Life and Death, the polarity of our world.  The Greek word for this unveiling is the Apocalypse.  Often, in popular culture, the view of the Apocalypse is one of negativity, it is not something we desire.  And we know from the Bible, no one looks on the face of the Lord and lives.

But if we are to be reckoned among the faithful, should we mourn or should we celebrate this unveiling?  Is this a funeral, or the wedding of the Bride to the Bridegroom?

When I was a boy of twelve, I was pedaling my bicycle on a country road, all by myself on a peaceful summer day.  I felt the world, life, freedom, and sense of security and well-being.  Then around the corner came a car.  It left its lane, crossed the yellow line, and came directly at me.  I was riding an over-sized bike, and the shoulder of the road was low, and full of loose sand.  If I went into the shoulder, the bike would get stuck in the sand, and I would fly over the handle-bars.  Moreover, there was nothing to prevent the car from striking me down, helpless, in the sand.  So, while riding as close to the edge as possible, I held my ground, and approached the car.  At the last minute, the car pulled away.  It struck my leg, and I took the driver side mirror off the car with my wrist.

During this experience, my entire perception of the world changed.  All the peace and security and happiness drained out of me, with the realization "Oh my God, I am going to die."  Of course, I didn't die.  I was bleeding profusely, I could barely walk, my bike was smashed, I was alone in the middle of nowhere, but I didn't die.  The next motorist picked me up and graciously brought me to the hospital.  I got stitches, a sprained wrist, a hurt leg, but no broken bones.  But I was broken, set apart, my world had unraveled.

Was this experience bad?  From one perspective, I suppose we would say it was.  It is certainly not something I would wish on someone I loved.  Moreover, it wasn't the first time I was broken, but neither was it the last.  This is our lot in life, big or small, strong or weak, we are broken in the course of human events.  It is part of the rhythm of Life.

When we are young, we believe in the fundamental goodness of our world, of our parents, our caretakers, strangers, everyone and everything.  Then, some experience comes along and shatters this experience.  One possible way to look at this phenomenon is that the world simply sucks.  It is bad, and these experiences we have as a child are simply illusions, perhaps necessary illusions if we are to survive.  I would like to suggest an alternative interpretation.

What we perceive as a child, as an innocent, is nothing more than the out-breath of God, giving us Life, giving us conditions that allow us to grow and thrive.  We interpret this motion as the property of the world, of its inhabitants, of our parents, of strangers, yet these are merely the mode for its expression.  From the beginning, we mistake the Creature for the Creator, and thus we inevitably fall, we are broken, shattered, disoriented.  The world, often quite suddenly, becomes divested of love and security, even sometimes any kind of value.  We see that the world ultimately lacks any meaning or worth in itself, it is nothing more than a carnal butcher shop, life feeding on life in a seemingly eternal cycle of conflict and misery.

I don't believe these experiences are ultimately bad ones, because they reveal the truth of the world.  Our childish view of things was an error, but not because there is no fundamental source of goodness, but because we mistook the world for that source.  The unveiling is an opportunity to view that source of goodness and love more directly, if we are only capable of noticing.  Because the source lies outside the world, rather than despair, we can have hope, because Love can never be destroyed, even if it passes through Death by Dying.

I would like to say that the concept, really the Being of God, cannot be understood divorced from trauma.  God is unveiled in trauma, and in the myriad tales of wars and betrayals and bloodshed, we can discern the Revelation of God, paradoxically, the affirmation of love, beauty, truth and resurrection.  It is only in ourselves being broken, that we can ascertain the unshakeable foundation of the world.

I fear that as a culture we have forgotten the meaning of trauma.  We perceive only that the idol in which we formerly believed has been smashed, irreparably.  We perceive that even if we construct a new idol, and delude ourselves into believing it had value or power or goodness in itself, that in the course of time that idol too would be smashed.  Because God cannot be contained in the world, and the hands of a person cannot construct an image of God.  Unfortunately, instead of jolting us to look upwards, these traumas seem to send so many of us down into the abyss.  Yet evil is only the corruption of the good, just as lies can only be the corruption of the truth.  If the world were wholly evil, there would be no birth, only death.  The word would be divested of all meaning, rendering us mute.  The universe is perpetually winding down from a state of Order to a state of Disorder, with no known physical principal which can restore Order to the universe.  How could the initial conditions of the universe then be possible?  They can only represent the most improbable of miracles.

How do we as a culture deal with trauma?  It seems as if we want to eliminate it.  Yet how can it be so?  Nations war against Nations, that is simply what they do.  Groups fight with other groups.  Individuals do all kinds of cruel and wicked things to each other.  Do we really suppose that these things can be stopped, and stopped without recourse to even greater brutality than that unleashed in the ordinary course of human events?  We fear trauma, and rightly so, and we seek a world where the lion will lie down with the lamb.  Yet what we seek is essentially the re-making of the world in the image and likeness of the Divinity.  It is this endeavor which is completely hopeless from an anthropocentric perspective.  In fact, the world must be destroyed, everything must die, so that the order can be restored to perfection.  Although terrifying, this is a good thing, the best thing, the restoration of our hearts with the true and only source of Love.  The breath must blow in, so that our life force can return to our true homeland.

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