April 7, 2013

Future Passive Indicative

St. Augustine, preaching to the newly baptized, grabbed me in the Office of Readings today:

This is the power of the sacrament: It is the sacrament of new life that begins at this moment with the forgiveness of all past sins and which will come to perfection in the resurrection of the dead.

Baptism sets us on a journey, initiates in us a process.

I remember the time around my own baptism, how some of my imagination around it was shallow and magical. I thought that I could just decide to live a different sort of life from that moment on, be a new person--and that the sacrament would give me some kind of power to do just that. Part of me was genuinely surprised to find myself making my first confession a week and an hour later, the same lukewarm sinner I was before.

At that point I hadn't learned--and indeed, perhaps I haven't yet figured out--that faith and prayer and devotion and holiness weren't like identities you decided to adopt or activities you decided to do, but were like the ground you were always walking on but never really stopped to feel under your feet, or like the air you were always breathing, but never really stopped to notice on its way in and out of your body, keeping you alive, quietly and humbly repelling death.

In my vainglory I thought that my alleged conversion made me special, gave me a new, privileged identity--"God, I thank you that I am not like other men"--because I didn't realize that instead of making me something more than merely human, the faith was supposed to heal me of what was keeping me less than human. I didn't see clearly (and I pray to see clearly even now) that the mind and heart were made for God, that the body was made for charity and holiness, and so all I have to do in order to be the creature God has restored in Christ is let go of illusions, distractions, and attachments.

And yet these things that I find myself called to let go of, they go deeper and deeper inside, closer and closer to the core of what I always took to be myself, my identity, my history, my personality. To even think of continuing to let go, much less to actually do it, makes prayer into a kind of interior vertigo, a place where the Other is forever retreating into Mystery and the 'I' becomes less of anything to stand on, at least in the ways previously cherished in pious imagination.

Nevertheless, I can almost hear my first spiritual director suggesting that the vertigo is an experience of God, and an invitation to abandon myself--whatever 'myself' is--into the Mystery.

1 comment:

Sara said...

Ha! I love the phrase "alleged conversion."