Great and wonderful are your works, / Lord God almighty. / Just and true are your ways, / O king of the nations. / Who will not fear you, Lord, / or glorify your name? / For you alone are holy. / All the nations will come / and worship before you, / for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Rev. 15: 3-4
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Luke 21: 17-19
“Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name?”When all has been revealed, when we come to know the actual truth of things, then it will be impossible not to fear and glorify God.Fear of the Lord, as we know, is not to cower and hide in terror from God’s power and judgment.It is rather to know our proper place in regard to God.It is to live out of what Adrian van Kaam calls “the primordial human disposition of awe.”In Psalm 8:3-4, the Psalmist gives voice to this disposition:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is humankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
From the first mythic moments of human existence in the Garden, we human beings have contested with our place before God. On the one hand, we can know only true peace, joy, and love in the living out of that primordial human disposition of awe, an awe that opens inevitably to gratitude. Yet, on the other hand, we are always feeling a compulsion to assert ourselves falsely, to despise what can feel like our lowly place and to invert our awe onto our own creations, including our creation of our false self. So, the answer to the question of who will not fear the Lord is most of us much of the time.
In our workplace we have just obtained a wonderful new tool to serve our work, especially to enable us to collaborate more fully with each other. It allows us, wherever we are, to see and to respond to the work that our colleagues are doing. As we participated yesterday in a very well done in-service training on this new technology, I felt haunted by two questions. The first was personal: As I give time to learning how effectively to use yet another new technology, what about the thinking that will not happen. Martin Heidegger says that “thinking is thanking.” As I continually expand the control and management aspects of my personality, I risk diminishing my life of awe, thinking, and thanking. As my and our “productivity” increases, is our spiritual potency decreasing? How do we keep our “tools” in service to our distinctive human capacities rather than becoming the object of our inverted awe?
The second question which arises in me as I try to learn how to use this new tool is that while it increases the possibilities of our collaborating, it doesn’t effect a change in our personal obstacles to working with others. The primary obstacle to collaboration is not the lack of techniques but rather the lack of will and willingness. In awe and thanksgiving we are aware and mindful of our common source and destiny. We are aware of our poverty and of the communion we share that points to the ultimate reality of which Revelation speaks. Yet, in the mode of comparison and competition we are unwilling to collaborate with others, to have our self-assertion dissolved into a common task.
This takes us to the passage from Luke’s gospel. Why do the good works of Jesus and his disciples evoke the hatred of others? This is the question that Jesus poses to the crowd in John 10:32: “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?” How was it possible for Jesus’ sworn enemies to recruit hatred of him from others. He had done nothing but good for them. One of the great mysteries of human life is how violent our reaction to the truth can be. Or, perhaps, it is really not so mysterious after all. It’s root, perhaps, is the same as those obstacles to collaboration: comparison and competition.
We come into the world as the seed of the “ordinary” self God has created. In the understanding of Jan van Ruusbroec, the ordinary human being is the authentic person. It is the person whose life and character, whose words and actions spring from a heart developed in an awe and gratitude directed to God for the beauty of creation, that is, all of creation including oneself. One would think that this would be the least threatening of human beings. In practice, however, the ordinary person, the one who lives out of his or her original calling, is experienced as a threat to all that is false in us. In John 10, the crowd responds to Jesus that they do not stone him for his work but because of his blasphemy. His blasphemy is to proclaim that he is a Child of God. it is his insistence that God is not to be put in the place we give God, but rather we are to know our place in God and to live our lives in consonance with that unique relationship that is our proper place.
Because of the nature of human formation, however, there is always a distance between who we take ourselves to be and our ordinariness, our primordial identity. Our cultures and our ways of living do all they can to dull our awareness of this distance, of this gap and lack in our lives. And then, a truly ordinary and original person enters our field, and we are threatened and afraid. What does this person and the truth she or he represents ask of us? How might our lives be disrupted if we respond to the call to live more authentically?
Many times I have quoted Adrian van Kaam’s understanding that “the primordial act of violence is the refusal of our spiritual awareness.” If we are unwilling to face our own truth and to change, then we must eliminate those who are reminders of our original calling. Van Kaam says that what is false in us immediately envies the originality of others. Jesus did not threaten others. If they didn’t want to follow him, they were very free to go about their business as before. Yet, that seemed not to be the case. He had to be defeated because, if he wasn’t, then those who encountered and rejected him would have to, as the Rich Young Man, go away sad. He had to be proven wrong because to allow him and his message to be would mean also living with the sadness that, as Merton would put it, we are our “own mistake.”
What is authentic and true in us experiences that we are all one, that we share a common life and live in a “love common to all.” What is false in us lives in constant competition and conflict. It feels alive only in its exercise of power and control over others and the world. These demands of our egoic selves are insatiable in their search for mastery and control. As any true artist knows, the work “to master” one’s craft is intense and all-consuming. And yet, at some point, the truly inspired artist realizes the need to abandon him or herself to that work which is being done through him or her. Every significant act of human creation is a participation in the “great and wonderful works” of God. As our original calling in God, our ordinary self, increases in us, the one we have taken ourselves to be decreases. This is what Jesus means by the losing of our life in order to gain it.
The degree of our violence is the measure of our refusal of our spiritual awareness, our awareness that we are not self-made but rather a call from God. We are always the potential to know and respond to that call. Yet, we live much of our life in refusing that awareness. The thinking that is a thanking is not mere cognition; it is our awareness of and response to the truth of our ordinary, original life. That is a life that, while original, is also shared in common. It is from that life that we are enabled “to work together.” From that place we realize that true collaboration can be facilitated but not created by our own technologies. We must first devote ourselves to true thinking and thanking, to living in spiritual awareness, and then learn to master those tools which can serve that awareness.
I stood beside the high cupboard that covered
the radiator in the hall (inside the drawers: the odd pencils, and pins
we couldn’t find when we needed them)
near the front stairs that rose up and turned by the high windows.
What did we call that space? The landing.
All the pills had brought me to that place
And I understood that if I kept it all up. . .
no one would know me.
A dim light far in the distance? No
To love—I had to be there.
I had to be there to be loved.