Sunday, December 3, 2017

Preparing The Way: A Revived Rumination

     [The following Advent Season Rumination first appeared at Eternity Road on December 17, 2006. -- FWP]

     A few years ago, there was a charmingly poignant movie, K-Pax, starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. If you haven't seen it, the plot concerned a man committed to a mental institution, who claimed to be a visitor from another planet. K-Pax (Spacey), however, was far and away the sanest and most insightful person in the asylum, including all the psychiatrists, therapists, and hired staff. Throughout the movie, the other patients with whom he's confined grow saner and more stable, unquestionably due to his influence. Near the end, K-Pax counsels one patient, who's followed K-Pax's direction and now expects him to dispense a final, ultimate lesson of liberation from helplessness and malaise, to "be ready."

     "Be ready for what?" the patient replies.

     K-Pax's smile fills with serene, optimistic anticipation. "Anything."

     "Ready for anything" is a phrase once used to herald the lurid slam-bang adventures of larger-than-life fictional heroes, the sort that charged in where angels fear to tread, could take anyone's best shot and return it doubled, and always got the girl. It has a sound of whatever-it-takes willingness to confront any opposition on any scale, and to triumph. But clearly from the context, K-Pax didn't have that sort of thing in mind. The exchange ends at that point, leaving the viewer free to speculate about what he did mean, if anything.

     Anything. Even torn from all surrounding supports, the word has an expansive feel to it. We use it a lot, albeit more often than not in a dismissive sense. "What would you like for dinner?" "Anything." "What would you like to watch?" "Oh, anything." "What should we bring as a hostess gift?" With a helpless shrug of (usually male) shoulders: "Anything?"

     Big word. Big scope. Very fuzzy meaning in practice.

     Yet, for an adult, "ready for anything" is an ideal to be striven for. More than that: it's a presumed condition, at least here in America. If you're not "ready for anything," or at least for anything in the common run of American experience, then what the BLEEP! is wrong with you?

     Are you "ready for anything?" I don't think I am. Twenty years ago I might have claimed to be, but not these past few years. Doing my best to cope, though.

     But what does "ready for anything" mean?

     Possibly nothing...and possibly everything of importance to a human soul.

     Every life is visited by trial and loss. If the tabloids and gossip rags do us any service, it's to remind us that the "beautiful people" are no more immune to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than Hamlet or we. Reese Witherspoon has lost her husband; Tom Cruise has lost his mind; Britney Spears has lost her underpants. Wealth, fame, beauty, talent, strength, swiftness, mental acuity, and popularity are no armor. Indeed, as Nachiketa said to Yama in the Katha Upanishad, these things endure only until tomorrow. We gain them with toil, enjoy them for a brief time, and surrender them with much regret.

     If the annals of Man have anything enduring to say to us, it's that nothing endures. "And this, too, shall pass away." Like it or not -- and we won't -- we must be ready for it.

     No one knows what form his own trials will take, nor what they will cost him. All we know is the certainty of sorrow; nothing else in human life is certain. We must be ready for anything.

     Many persons see this, a rather roundabout survey of the Problem of Pain, as a refutation of God's love, and indeed, of His existence. A loving God, they assert, would not have condemned us to lives fated to end in deterioration, loss, suffering, and death. If we are indeed creatures of a greater Being, He must be a fiend to have burdened us so. Better that He not exist at all; to deny Him is actually a greater courtesy than He deserves.

     Such persons have not thought seriously about the nature of temporal existence in a realm ruled by natural laws. Time itself is the traitor. No universe with stable laws, no matter how its Creator might tune them, could be otherwise.

     It's the inexorable forward march of time that brings us low. In a dynamic universe with stable laws, all events converge upon equilibrium. We whose efforts go to creating little pockets of order, in which we might dispose ourselves as we prefer, are up against forces that cannot ultimately be defeated: forces that will fill every valley and bring all mountains low. Order as we see it is an affront to equilibrium. Time levels, and we are all in its path.

     Which is why the arrival in our world, two thousand years ago, of a Being who possesses power over time itself and is unaffected by its ravages was an event of infinite importance.

     I've written before about the uniqueness and beauty of the Christian mythos. Indeed, I've rhapsodized over it so greatly that no doubt a few of you are hoping I'll move on to something else, so you won't have to read any more about it. Sorry! Eight days from now we commemorate the Incarnation, the event that brought the still point of Love transcendent and eternal into time for a brief while, so that we might taste peace. The Advent season, of which this is the first Sunday, is a time of preparation for that event.

     But how are we to prepare? How are we to know that we are prepared?

     In some sense, the thing is impossible. Time-bound Man cannot be fully braced for the arrival of God. We are too limited, too frail, too easily fatigued. But God is aware of that. How could He not be? That's one of the reasons His Son took human form to go among us. It might be one of the reasons He suffered His Son to be tortured to death: Even unto this, I am one with you.

     Perhaps the right approach is a program of foretaste. Though He never went more than two hundred miles from the place where He was born, spoke a language no one on Earth has spoken for centuries, was ultimately arrested as a common criminal and put to the most ignominious death ever devised, Jesus's proclamation of the Kingdom of God and God's New Covenant with Man shook the world. The wonder of that has inspired two millennia's worth of believers to efforts, achievements, and glorifications no other event has inspired.

     It inspires us still, and will do so until time itself has come to an end.

     To allow our hearts to fill with the joy that should attend His coming is the only imaginable preparation for it. It's the point of the Advent liturgy, which, you will note, is entirely free of references to colored balls and tinsel, trans-fat-free holiday cooking, or the next big sale at Best Buy:

     Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachontis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into the country all about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying: The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. [The Gospel According to Luke, 3:1-6]

     Perhaps with that preparation, we shall be ready.

     But ready for what?


     May God bless and keep you all.


commoncents said...

Audio - Rush Limbaugh: Liberals throw their hands up as Roy Moore pulls away in the polls

ps. would you consider adding CC to your blogroll?

Francis W. Porretto said...

No, "commoncents," I will not add your blog to the blogroll, but I will tell you why I won't do so.

For at least the third time, you have left an irrelevant, self-promoting comment on a wholly unrelated post of mine with a request that I link you. Your blogroll consists solely of blogs that link to you, which is about as narcissistic a feature as I've seen on any blog. Finally, your blog gives no hint of your identity and no way to contact you. You might as well be a "bot."

I've allowed your comment above to appear specifically so that I could deliver this explanation to you. All your future comments will be deleted unseen. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Col. B. Bunny said...

You mention equilibrium. Change is a constant in life but it occurred to me when you mentioned it that if there is anything that characterizes the last 30 years, if not the last 100, is the rejection of any notion of equilibrium. Anything and everything is on the table for "reform," change, disdain, rejection, ridicule, upheaval, reversal, distortion, and perversion. Modern Westerners have lived a life where the goal posts are shifted constantly. Perverts are celebrated and entrusted with the care of children. Ridiculous notions of sexual "identity" float around assaulting the common sense of normal people. Foreigners are invited to flood the country. Unbalanced people cover their bodies with tattoos and fishing hooks and insert ball bearings under the skin. Cities -- all of them -- hurtle toward decay, anarchy, and predation. Objecting to the absurdities is called "hate speech" and prosecution is assured if you are unfortunate enough to live in Europe.

And we wonder at the retreat from life -- childlessness, career, feminism, drugs, suicide. Collapse of borders, too. Just as a cell dies if its border is compromised, so too does the nation. Embraced as "normal" in our times.

Howard Nelson said...

Keep in mind and heart that 'the kingdom of heaven is within.'
That being the case, guess where the King resides? And when the residence deteriorates completely you are free alongside the King, and some would suggest that, That Art Thou, for how could it be otherwise given God's omnipresence, all-pervasiveness?