February 6th, 2009Balking at Becomingby Jef Murray
In the staid sects of Asia, there abounds a balking at “becoming”. That is, there is a curious notion that to engage with the cosmos is conceit, and that the noblest of one’s actions must, of necessity, be inaction. The individual is an illusion, and only dispassion leads to divinity; only renunciation leads to true rest.
A model for monks, methinks. But what about us worker bees?
“All that we see is a lie,” opines the lotus eater. “All is a mask behind which is the face of the infinite.”
There’s something to this, of course. From my horribly politically-incorrect platform as an orthodox Catholic, it seems to me that the face of God _must_ be masked, lest we all go up in smoke at His glance. But this isn’t what the Orientals have in mind.
Here’s the heart of the matter. Can we change ourselves and the world around us, or not? Is “free will” fact or fantasy?
If all is God, as the Asiatic asserts, then God’s got a lot of explaining to do. Because starvation, eviction, ruination, holocausts, torture, and war then just become the baubles of some benighted brat. There are names for such a being, but the Transcendentalists will thump me roundly if I were to suggest that their Providence was, in fact, the Prince of Perdition.
But we believe in “becoming” in the western world. If it were not so, the sages of Self-Help would have to work for a living like everyone else. But there’s something wrong with the way we worship “becoming.”
“Let me buy all of my paints and brushes,” says the would-be artist. “Let me then take lessons, and practice, and learn all of the skills I think I need,” he continues. “And then, after great trials and tribulations, I shall become an artist!”
Sounds about right, yes? It sounds reasonable; even sagacious.
The problem is that it never works that way.
In fact, it goes in the exact opposite sequence. “I am an artist!” proclaims the wise man. “Once I acknowledge that God has made me what I am, then I throw myself into my work with a vengeance, trying different tools and techniques to achieve the vision I hold inside; only gathering the tools I need as my vision expands. But, I am what God has made me…it is mine to accept and use His gifts, and mine to give back to Him and to my fellow men.”
In this sense, I agree with the inscrutable Brahmin; there is no becoming, only epiphany. But I do not agree that acting on that epiphany is pointless. In fact, it is the very action that is the point that disproves pointlessness!
In “Til We Have Faces”, C.S. Lewis poses the question of masks and of who we really are. The answer to the riddle of why, perhaps, we do _not_ “have faces” is found in the observation that, to face God, we must embrace God. We must embrace who we are, and who we are meant to be. Until we do this thing, we are not what God intended.
Embracing is the opposite of rejection. Embracing is the opposite of dispassion. To embrace, one must love, one must leap at life, one must take a risk. To drop the mask of illusion is to become what God intends…to take on Christ.
With baptism and with my assent to God, I become a child of God. Not after gathering prayer books and attending Rosary Rallies, but instantly. And, like the artist, I will spend the rest of my life trying to live out my Son-ship as best I can.
But, all of this begins with an embrace, not with indifference. It begins with romance, not with renunciation.