Thus says the Lord, your redeemer,the Holy One of Israel: I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go.
Isaiah 48: 17
To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places who call out to others, saying: “We piped for you, and you did not dance. We lamented, and you did not mourn.”
Matthew 11: 16-17
It isn’t difficult for us to understand what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel to that “generation” that refuses to recognize and learn from a reality that is different from their own conception of it. Throughout the world today we find ourselves increasingly separated from each other and the wider world and more and more encapsulated in worlds and relationships of the like-minded. We are not only children who sit in the market-place and demand of others that they dance to our tune. We are also frightened and angry adults who believe that our security depends on our ability to force others to submit to our perspective and demands. Often this arrogance takes the form of religious, ideological, and political fundamentalism. We do not want to look out on the world with humility and docility for what we see or hear might reveal the limits of our current knowledge and perspective. So, we close our eyes and our hearts to anything which challenges our own and our tribe’s certainties.
Isaiah promises that the Lord, our God, will teach us what is good for us, and will lead us on the way we should go. How does the Lord teach us, and what is required of us if we are to receive that teaching and direction?
Adrian van Kaam says that we come to know our life direction through the experience of violating it. It is an affront to the arrogance of our egos to realize that it is by recognizing and learning from our mistakes that we discover our true life call, yet, that is the human way. In a sense, human consciousness expands and develops by means of a feedback loop. As we act in the world, the world reacts to us. This is true both at the interpersonal and cosmic levels.
In every single daily interaction with another we exercise our capacity to give and receive form. We speak and act toward the other, but we also receive the responses of the other in return. Often we do not attend much to the latter. Then, we are like the children in the market-place who demand of the other that they dance to our tune or mourn to our dirge. We “project” our desires, needs, demands on the other and insist that they participate in our world. When, however, we equally encounter another with our even deeper capacity for form reception, we attend, listen, look in such a way as to receive the experience and the life of the other. We do not demand that they enter our world, but rather that we participate in each other’s worlds We begin with the truth that the other is a stranger to us, and we then detach from our controlling and manipulative demands and wait to learn from them who they are and what they are going through. We then, with this new knowledge and understanding, creatively respond to this new and mysterious world which we encounter. We realize that we are truly a capacity to learn from God, through the experience of the encounter with the other, what is really for our good and the way we should go. We begin to learn, in the words of Pope Paul VI that have so formed Pope Francis, that dialogue is the new word for love.
We are a similar spiritual capacity in terms of our relationship to the cosmos. Perhaps in our time the most striking experience of this is the reality of human-induced climate change. There may be no greater and more life-threatening example of the human arrogance and refusal to attend to Divine instruction than our contemporary ecological crisis.
This morning I read a short piece, in TEDFellows by photographer Camille Seaman. She writes of her last photographic expedition to the Arctic and what she encountered there.
When I left the Arctic after my last photographic expedition there in August 2011, I knew — I could feel it, I could see it — that the “tipping point” we’d all been talking about had been breached. I knew it was no longer about whether we could avoid it: humanity was already living within a new paradigm.
We were fewer than 500 miles from the North Pole. There was no snow. It was, most days, 60 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no ice, so polar bears roamed the land, so hungry that they just went from nest to nest eating the eggs of birds that had traveled thousands of miles to lay their eggs and raise their chicks. I watched as one bear, in a couple of hours, destroyed an entire generation of eggs. Glaucous gulls, kitty wakes, eider ducks, king eider ducks. It was a devastating scene.
Our behavior as human beings has had an enormously negative impact on what Pope Francis reminds us is our “common home.” Yet, with, of course, some exceptions, few of us in the developed world have really altered our life direction in response. There is little doubt that, in our global environment as well as in our increased levels of stress, distraction, fearfulness, vehemence, and anger our world is calling us to recognize that we have violated our life direction. Yet, we still keep piping the same tunes, demanding not only that other persons but that the very cosmos submit to what we blithely term “our way of life”.
What does the reality of our world and our relationships ask of us today? In them the Lord, our God, is trying to teach us what is for our good and the way we should go. What is required of us is to still our fear, agitation, and arrogance and to listen not only with the ears on our heads but also with the ear of our hearts.
All persons who have been raised above their creaturely state into the contemplative life are one with the divine resplendence and are this resplendence itself. Through this divine light—and as regards their uncreated being—they see, feel, and find themselves to be the same simple ground from out of which the resplendence shines without measure in a divine way and in which it eternally abides devoid of particular form according to the simplicity of the divine essence. For this reason interior, contemplative persons will go out in accordance with the mode of their contemplation, above and beyond reason and distinction and their own created being. Through an eternal act of gazing accomplished by means of the inborn light, they are transformed and become one with that same light with which they see and which they see. It is in this way that contemplatives pursue the eternal image to which they have been created; they contemplate God and all things without distinction in a simple act of seeing in the divine resplendence.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, III, iii, B