42 SUDDENLY OUTSIDE THE VILLAGE
IT IS evening, before the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I continue my meditations on the various teachings of Pope John Paul II given this Christmas as he inaugurated the Jubilee Year.
This is from the traditional Urbi et Orbi ( to the city of Rome and to the world ) message before the Pope gives his blessing. This special message and blessing is given only twice each liturgical year: Christmas and Easter.
We turn our gaze to You, O Christ, Door of our salvation, as we thank You for all the good of the years, centuries and millennia which have passed.
We must however confess that humanity has sometimes sought the Truth elsewhere, invented false certainties, and chased after deceptive ideologies.
At times people have refused to respect and love, their brothers and sisters of a different race or faith; they have denied fundamental rights to individuals and nations.
But You continue to offer to all the splendour of the Truth which saves.
We look to You, O Christ, Door of Life, and we thank You for the wonders with which You have enriched every generation.
At times this world neither respects nor loves life.
But You never cease to love life; indeed, in the mystery of Christmas, You come to enlighten people’s minds, so that legislators and political leaders, men and women of good will, may be committed to welcoming human life as a precious gift.
You have come to give us the Gospel of Life.
We lift our eyes to You, O Christ, Door of peace, as, pilgrims in time, we visit all the resting places of the victims of brutal conflicts and cruel slaughter.
You, Prince of Peace, invite us to ban the senseless use of arms, and the recourse to violence and hatred which have doomed individuals, peoples and continents.
“To us a son is given.”
You, Father, have given us Your Son.
And You give Him to us again today, at the dawn of the new millennium.
For He is the Door.
Through Him we enter a new dimension and we reach the fullness of the destiny of salvation which You have prepared for all.
Precisely for this reason, Father, You gave us Your Son, so humanity would know what it is that You wish to give us in eternity, so that human beings would have the strength to fulfill Your mysterious plan of love.
Christ, Son of the ever Virgin Mother, light and hope of those who seek You even when they do not know You, and of those who, knowing You, seek You all the more.
Christ, You are the Door!
Through You, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we wish to enter the third millennium.
You, O Christ, are the same yesterday, today and forever (cf.Heb.13:8). [cf]
OUT OF the blue one day my companion announced he had accepted a job in another city and would be moving out.
The emotional impact upon my narcissistic being was pretty severe.
Yet at the same time, deep in the garden enclosed, I was aware this was indeed Jesus offering me in my sin induced wilful dark ignorance blindness a chance to take His hand and be led outside the village.
Perhaps this time I would walk even further with Him from the village and not hesitate at the nearest outskirts.
However, as shall soon become clear, I was to make a pretty common mistake and in so doing compound the error by failing to truly listen to my spiritual father.
The graced event, though not recognized at the time as an occasion of grace, which had motivated me to get off drugs had been that traumatic experience when I almost overdosed; a similar experience had started me on the road of overcoming my heavy drinking, again not understood at the time as an occasion of grace, namely, I was so drunk one night in a disco that I had danced for hours within inches of large speakers with the resulting damage to my eardrums, which took weeks to heal. During that time the pain, and constant ringing in my ears, was a salutary reminder of the stupidity of the inebriated.
This departure of my companion, and the necessity therefore of my finding my own place to live, and a more secure paying job than free-lance work, was itself a graced moment.
However, as mentioned, I did not take time to be still in prayer and listen to the Holy Spirit before formulating a plan. Once formulated I did not trust or accept the concerns expressed by my spiritual father, but forged ahead, literally, on my own.
Freud speaks of a ‘flight into health ‘, which is not a healthy journey at all.
In the spiritual life, the life of faith, there is a type of ‘ flight into holiness ‘, which rather than being a true pilgrimage towards union with Christ is in actual fact a flight from the necessary conversion ( metanoia ) and abandonment to the Father (kenosis-emptying of the self ) which the Holy Spirit seeks to achieve within us.
Instead of using the time available to me for job hunting I used it to plow through the stories of the Fathers of the Desert. Filled with romantic images of desert life I decided I would instantaneously transform myself from a man who was barely returned to the practice of the faith, and still living in the dark ignorance of his addictions, into a desert dweller in radical emulation of those heroic saints — true saints radically wiser than I, then, OR now!
Unwittingly, and this is something I have only discovered in my heart as I write these lines, I was duplicating my very ‘flight’ pattern from when I had first arrived in the city a decade before after being ousted from The Community.
Then too I had sought to, frankly, assuage my fears, placate my God, through plunging myself into a way of life which, it seemed to me, would by its very construct, militate against the disordered tendencies within me — namely atheism and hedonism.
Sanford speaks of ‘performance orientation’ and May speaks of ‘autonomous willpower ‘.
…soon after the glow of conversion dies down, performance resurrects with a vengeance……Many come into the fullness of the Holy Spirit only subsequently to crack up because that un-dead area of flesh throws them into an inner striving no one can live up to! [cg]
For the power of addiction to be overcome, human will must act in concert with divine will. The human spirit must flow with the Holy Spirit.
Personal power must be aligned with the power of grace….It is surely impossible by autonomous willpower alone; the addicted systems of the brain are too numerous and overwhelming. It is also impossible if there is only an intellectual attempt to align the will with grace…The alignment of our will with God’s must happen at a heart level, through authentic choices of faith that are empowered by God. [ch]
It would be a painful process of accepting failure before I would begin — by grace obviously — to accept the truth of those statements.
In the meantime, as a performance oriented personality in full energetic flight towards I had deluded myself, conversion and holiness through the effort of my very sharp intellect and strong autonomous willpower, I ignored the recommendation against the move from my spiritual father and forged ahead on my own.
So, in spite of the clear, profound concerns, yet not an outright telling me not too, (here I used a type of rationalization common when we ignore the will of God expressed through a spiritual father) I managed with the help of friends, to find a very tiny basement apartment in an old building on the edge of the inner city.
The little apartment was across a narrow hall from the furnace room of the building. The apartment had a small bathroom, a ‘main’ room which was slightly more than four feet wide and about ten feet long. In this room as a small refrigerator and an old fashion electric stove. Then there was the bedroom, which was even smaller. There was no window in it. There was a window in the main room. Just up near the ceiling, which itself was just over a foot above my head.
The window was two feet long and a foot high and covered in coloured paper.
The place was as close as I could get to a desert cave without actually being in a desert.
I moved in there with my books, typewriter, some holy pictures, icons and statues given by friends, some of whom thought I was doing something holy and some who thought I was just nuts.
However both groups in their kindness helped me move.
I had just enough money to cover first and last month’s rent, buy a little bit of food.
Once everyone had left that first night I sat in the semi-darkness.
The little window gave onto the alley, at ground level, so even though it was not yet sunset, only weak light entered.
Suddenly I knew myself to be terribly alone.
Later that night, and only now, in light of the words from Sandford and May, plus the maturing, healing, effect of grace over these decades, do I understand that, alone with a tender miracle from Our Lady, it was also an acute experience, psychologically, physically, with a spiritual component to it, of withdrawal.
As May notes:
In Scripture, nothing portrays our vulnerability to grace more profoundly than the imagery of the desert….Humanity’s struggle with addiction is a journey through the wilderness of idolatry where temptations, trials, and deprivations abound, but where God’s grace is always available to guide, protect and transform us. [ch]