In Christ we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.
Ephesians 1” 11-12
Jesus began to speak, first to his disciples, “Beware of the leaven, that is , the hypocrisy—of the Pharisees. There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.”
Luke 12: 1-3
As an only child, I was always combatting the encroachment of loneliness by inserting myself into my parents’ relationships and social life. When people would visit, or when there would be talk of this concern or that, I would usually either lurk about the edges or even insert myself in the middle of whatever was occurring. As a result, my mother often said to me, “You’re always afraid that you’ll miss something.”
I have never ceased to remember and to ponder the truth of that remark, not only as a description of my childhood but of a continuing disposition in the present. Throughout my life I have often had to contend with my tendency to evade the solitude and responsibility of my own life, with its attendant feelings of loneliness at times, by minding others’ business rather than my own.
Often in the gospel, including today’s, Jesus summons his hearers to recognize and to live from an identity that is different from our social identity. He consistently teaches that there is a Reality that transcends our social constructions. Much of the task of what we call the spiritual life or our human and spiritual formation is dis-covering and living from that deeper identity, and so Reality. It is to pass beyond a life of conforming to the the “present age” and its demands and ways of constituting our identity, and to live in the truth of who we are and whom we are called to be.
As we attempt to reveal to ourselves and to others what has been concealed by our life of conformity, we discover that the task is a difficult one. We are social beings and so we crave a place in our socially constituted world. We need to be recognized and accepted, and we all carry within us a distorted sense of shame about our own originality. We also carry a fearfulness about it. As often as I have read or heard today’s gospel and its reminder that what we have whispered behind closed doors will one day be proclaimed on the housetops, I never cease to tremble at bit at its truth. That trembling is a measure of the distance between who I am and the one I present to the world.
In day to day life we live in the presumption of knowing. We act and we judge as if we know others and why they do what they do. And so, based on that presumption of knowledge, we judge others and the world; we act and speak in ways intended to justify our perspective and partial understanding as if it was all there is to the world. This is what leads us to slander others, to misuse our authority and power over others, to even seek ways to remove or destroy the obstacle that another presents to our own project of self-justification. We find the ways that others do not conform to our social standards, and we bring these to the attention of others. Much of what we whisper behind closed doors is motivated by this attitude. If someone has hurt us, we want to bring him or her down. If another’s differing perspective threatens our life project, we want them to be an object of social ridicule.
Recently the “culture” of privileged and affluent males has been brought into scrutiny. Yet, we have witnessed the power of that culture as it has been able to maintain itself, even in the face of its blatant dishonesty. For all the raising of consciousness that the #Me Too movement has ostensibly created, we have seen the continuing domination of the privileged affluent male-culture. All evidence to the contrary, the affluent, white, private school, ivy-league educated, upright, suburban male must be justified, and the society must continue to victimize its victims. It is only now and as a result of a history of unspeakable horror that we are experiencing the dismantling of the dominant clerical culture in the Church. There is, inevitably, a falseness and in time demonic evil at the heart of any social construction that becomes all powerful and dominant in human society.
The reason for this is that any of our contstructions can never fully express the mystery of the human person’s originality. A helpful and authentic culture, social or religious, will always contain the self corrective of humility and the realization of its tentative nature. It will thus always be open to correction and change as the Mystery at the heart of our lives becomes more manifest.
It is this humility and tentativeness that makes authentic living difficult for us. For, it is also the nature of social reality to help us live habitually, and so somewhat arrogantly, by tranquilizing us. We, who are in our originality an openness to God, find ourselves settling for living by conformity to convention and habit. We let our society tell us who is more valuable and trustworthy. We let our Church tell us that a privileged few have access to a truth that is not available to ordinary “lay” persons. We even allow policies to be enacted by national leaders that will make life impossible for our grandchildren. Who we really are, as Ephesians reminds us, exists for the praise of God’s glory, a praise we give in our unique image of God. And yet, we live as if some level of comfort, affluence, and tranquility is all we need and desire.
Often in our time, we reduce the “spiritual life” to something that will be yet another source of tranquility and comfort for us. Yet, in truth, it is very different. To truly open to the truth of who we are requires of us that we learn to bear our unique life in the solitude such presence requires. That is probably too much to ask of a child who fears his own loneliness so much that he behaves as if he is afraid he will miss something. But it must not be too much for an adult, if we are ever to cease whispering falsehoods behind closed doors and to begin to proclaim the truth on the housetops.
If one would describe the confusion of the modern age, I know of no more descriptive word than: it is dishonest. Young people, even children, are aware of how fraudulent everything is and how everything depends on clinging to their generation, following the inconstant demands of the age. Thus the life of each generation hisses and fizzes uninterruptedly. Although everything is a whirlwind, a signal-shot is heard, the ringing of the bells, signifying to the individual that now, this very second, hurry, throw everything away — reflection, quiet, meditation, reassuring thoughts of the eternal — because if you come too late you will not get to go along on the generation’s next whirling expedition, which is just pulling out — and then, how terrible! Ah, yes how terrible!
Everything, absolutely everything is calculated to nourish this confusion, the unholy taste of this wild hunt. The means of communication become more and more excellent, but the communications become more and more hurried and more and more confusing. And if anyone dares, either in the name of originality or of God, to resist it — woe unto him! Just as the individual is seized by the whirlwind of impatience to be understood immediately, so this generation domineeringly craves to understand the individual at once.
Soren Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers, I