I write, speak, invest, network, and question to stimulate fruitful conversation. Let's talk about human flourishing! It begins with freedom. Holy leisure is the key to human being, freedom and generativity. Please join me in the adventure of realizing Christ!
If I present myself to you as a human person with emotional vulnerability and a claim to your attention, your honor, your gratitude, your response, I am perceived as being needy or demanding, or as trying to make you uncomfortable. The demand you feel, the pressure to respond with due consideration, is not of my making.
My free act of communication, invitation, gift, is free to the extent I am free of any demand, or unattached to any expectation for results. But the origin of a truly free act is outside the plane of mere action, gesture, information, or exchange. It is this Source whose image you have a duty to honor, Who places you under the obligation of freedom.
The highest freedom is the capacity to freely do what you must, what you should. The forms and courtesies by which we guard the holy ground of encounter with human beings made in the image – to veil and so to reveal – God are not empty, old formalities, or meaningless human conventions. They are, at their best, deeply rooted in the highest reality and so generative of the greatest freedom.
By the free and conscious act of courtesy, we may fill a simple human form with the glory of God and help to reweave the context of human being. Free gift means ‘no strings attached,’ but in freedom you discover that all strings attach to Gift.
Here is a passage from Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake. My heart sang when I read it, feeling that finally, someone understood what I knew to be true about our obligations to one another to refill the emptied signs and forms all around us. I wrote to thank him for his book, and though he had begun the journey of ‘dying of cancer,’ he stopped on the way to write back and to encourage me again in my own work. Not only did he write these words, he lived them:
The elemental courtesies of conventional etiquette and good manners are the vital channels for preserving this spirit in everyday life. …an education that actively cultivates such modes of behavior will begin the process of building a society that is liturgical to its very core, in which the ‘air’ of grace can circulate. Harmony of soul can only be restored through effort, and the restoration of manners and kindness is an important beginning. Without it, little else is possible.
I know that my presence, my vulnerability and neediness, my pain, and even my free gifts to you may make you feel uncomfortably obliged. Please know that my intention is to be an invitation to freedom so as to delight in sharing the Great Dance of freedom with you.
I love Mary’s phrase, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”
Like the aligned lenses on a microscope, which boost its seeing power, devotion to Mary magnifies Christ to me. Her perfect alignment and transparency do not obscure Him, but as Scripture teaches, magnify Him.
I want my soul, also, to “magnify the Lord” to the world around me. I need to work on that transparency and alignment. Mother Mary offers lessons in her little ‘home school,’ so I’m moving in that direction!
I can be in unity with anyone, at some remove. Perhaps I’m not your cup of tea, or we just don’t sync well, or you’re just ‘not that into’ me, or a little bit goes a long way in our relationship. It may just not be our time yet. We both will continue to grow and change, and maybe the Great Dance will find us, someday, back in phase for a few steps. Or maybe not.
Ultimately, in the kairos of the Eternal present, we’ll reconnect. Meanwhile, we are held in the Spirit’s tether – his net of relationship. It’s a dynamic tension that generates a context between us – a space that we (or even just one of us, with the Spirit’s help) can fill with love.
In the comedy movie Hallalujah Trail, one character tries to keep step with others surreptitiously. The name he gives this maneuver is “maintaining detached contact,” and it’s what I love to do when I feel you’ve dumped me, abandoned me, blown me off, ignored me, or otherwise let go of our unity.
I know from experience that I don’t need your cooperation to hold you in my heart, to fill the space between us with love, to let my yearning for you become a prayer, to offer the pain of separation for your blessing.
If I’m maintaining detached contact with you, watch out! The Spirit is ever at work drawing us closer. One of these days, you may be surprised to find yourself wanting to see me, write to me, touch base with me, or remembering me fondly. I wish you well, and look forward to our reunion.
Prodigality has two meanings:
to fritter away your riches and to give generously of them.
The Father of the Prodigal Son actually exhibited prodigality that pours itself out to provide. The Son fulfills that generous impulse in both the abandoned (if impudent and imprudent) spending, and in the trust implicit in showing up at his door empty handed.
Emptying the Self
I want, in a sense, to show up at my heavenly Father’s door ‘empty-handed’. I hope to be purged of my pickiness, crochetiness, self-centered-ness, defensiveness and pusillanimity, among other things. These are all problematic for anyone, but are especially nasty in old people. We don’t suddenly acquire the qualities, but they show up more in old-age ‘relief’. I want to let go of all that I carry, all that I’m attached to, all that impedes my opening to receive Him.
Empty Money, Impotent Money
The Prodigal and his older brother both had lessons to learn. One refused to own the greatness of his Father’s house and move its riches generously into celebration and licit enjoyment. The other abstracted money from its context in home, community, and responsibility, to ‘move’ it impotently. Whether merely spilled, or merely saved, money (as token of the Father’s character and intentions) is useless.
Two Sons, Two Lessons
The word ‘prodigal’ came up in a writing group recently – focus for an off-the-cuff 5-minute writing flow exercise. Here’s my take:
He gave it all away, yes…squandered it, maybe…lost it, no – because in the waste was the wielding of what was his. In the prodigality was the essence of the Father’s generosity. In the life with the poor and lowly was the movement of the Father’s heart: out, through his son, beyond the bounds of place and property, his yearning, his watchfulness, his hope filing the newly enlarged space between the sonship of pure love and the sonship of pure law; of begetting and begging; of justice and mercy. In that space between the Father who gave all and the son who spent all was a world of hurt and need, now reunited in one embrace to Comfort and Fulfillment!
Oh, long-suffering son of the house, how the Father longs for you to know the joy of prodigality!
It might seem hostile to pepper a live atheist with so many questions, but these are things I’d really like to know:
- Is it possible to live so immersed in atheism, so aligned with its principles that they become a life support system to you in alien, or hostile environments?
- Is atheism so important, or helpful to you that you can’t live without it, can’t stand without its support?
- Is it possible to live so fully in correspondence with atheism that your life does not make sense without it? Nothing else makes sense of YOU. Atheism is the key to your coherence, without which every aspect of your being falls apart into incoherence. Is that true for you?
- Does the word ‘atheism’ live so richly in you that it shapes and colors and fills your every word, act, gesture and work of art?
- Does atheism bond you to other atheists in a community that extends from generation to generation and to every corner of the globe? Does it give you a kind of real unity with other atheists that irritate you, disagree with you about everything but atheism, get in your way, or make demands on you?
- Do you find yourself wanting to express atheism in works of great beauty, profound joy or hopefulness? What works by atheists do this? I would like to experience their works of art.
- Does your atheism overflow to immerse and influence people around you?
- Does your atheism enliven and ennoble and edify people when you share it with them? Do they feel more hopeful if they convert to atheism?
- By the light of atheism, can you examine the natural world more deeply, understand interpersonal dynamics and mental illness more fully, or perceive paths to renewing the world more clearly?
- What would it mean for someone to adopt a distorted or malformed atheism? Are there ways someone could know if their atheism was becoming deformed, dangerous, or confused with other beliefs?
- Can you be a ‘fundamentalist atheist’? What would that look like? How ‘bout an ‘orthodox atheist’? A ‘non-practicing atheist’? A ‘cultural atheist’?
- Are there any obligations imposed upon you by atheism?
- What are an atheist’s guidelines for getting along with non-atheists (and answering their questions)?
- What, for you, is the most compelling argument for the doctrine that there is no God?
If you substitute your religion for ‘atheist’ in each question, then answer them all, it will be good for you and for our future dialogue! Here’s a contact form in case you want to share your answers with me. I’d be honored!