January 31st, 2007

the-gi het-gi gi-het(heat) get-hi hit-eg

COURAGE TO BECOME

The critical step into responsible selfhood, or learning to live at the level of the soul, is an act which re-quires great courage. There is no way to take this step which does not demand the total passion of the self. It is a long leap and a desperate one, from easy conformity to inner freedom. Few take it, and all who do, gasp at the risk involved.
For when the issue is faced, it means that freedom is no longer the vacuous flippancy but a vibrant terror of real change. The ground of one`s being is not longer static, but surges like the tides of the sea. The heights are as frightening as the abysses. To become a soul is to reckon with the continuous crisis of becoming.
It is not strange that Jesus` rejoinder to Nicodemus that he must be born again set the man back a bit. To be born again, to change one`s self, to live life from a different personal center, is naturally a bewildering suggestion. The question of changing one`s self even slightly stiffens our backbones and touches a hard center of resistance in us. The truth is that it takes considerable courage to initiate any course of action in which we may become something other than we are; it takes courage to become!
Decide to be a doctor, for instance, and then begin to imagine what you are up against. There are thousands of names to remember-of bones, nerves, muscles, organs; there are the infinite number of symptoms, making different pat-terns with all sorts of variations; there are dissection and autopsy and dying; there are bloody emergencies and heart-breaking tragedies; there are even mistakes and helplessness and senseless pain; and being at everybody`s beck and call leaves little leisure. It takes a pile of courage to fight your way up to the place where you are the kind of person fit to be a doctor.
Or take any becoming. Becoming a newsman or a mother or a scientist. Can you measure the drudgery, the training of muscles and mind, the focusing of easily distracted atten-tion, the discipline of the wandering imagination, the tempta-tion of ease and sloth, the grinding away at preliminaries day after day with no one watching and no encouragement, the fumbles and mistakes and discouragement, the anxiety that maybe you`re on the wrong road, the inevitable criticism and doubt, the risk of ridicule? It`s a long way from a boy taking his first violin lesson to the Master Heifetz; a long way from the little girl with dolls to the mother with her first baby; a long way from the fractions to Einstein`s field theory. It takes courage for someone, standing at the foot of Everest, to ven-ture that high an ascent.
It takes courage to answer the call of any profession and thus to rise trough self-discipline and rigorous training to mature and dependable competence; but in more elemen-tal human sense, it takes courage to become. You must stand our at the edge of yourself, push your foot into the darkness, and step into the unknown. You have to try the ground, per-chance to xstumble or be blocked. You have to risk the little patterns of your comfort in order to pick up larger syntheses of meaning. You have to leave behind the props and protective pieces for a larger life. Changing is painful; to become means to enlarge the scope of your experience. It means digging deeper, clim bing higher, stretching yourself on all side. It inevitably involves rick, pain, anxieties, and the hard pressure of discipline.
Rilke says it nicely: “That which would remain what it is, renounces existence.” This is the nature of a live human beings, namely, to become. This is the mark of freedom, the imago dei. Jaspers defines it similarly: “Experiencing limit situations and existing are the same.” But it takes courage precisely be-cause we are most ourselves when we stand at the limit, ready and willing to become, to be born again.
Students ought not to enter college unless they seriously and courageously intend to take on the arduous job of chang-ing from what they are to what they might be someday. There are discomforts ahead of them, studying when they do not feel like it, examinations when they are not altogether prepared, papers to write when anything else in the world would be preferable; there are lectures all around the clock, and when there are no lectures there are books, and when there are no books there are issues, dilemmas, controversies of all sorts raging through heart and brain. There are changes in their direction and conviction which will surprise their friends and their parents and sometimes leave them behind or at least shocked and saddened. There are “dry” times when the zest goes out of everything, and they plod through a dry and weary land; there are frightening times when they turn a corner and they think they`re lost, and they are; there are gruelling times when they hammer away, line on line, book on book, paper on paper, and they can`t see what`s happening to them. But for all that, they will be changing-as men change who have the courage to climb Everest, or to outwit disease and death, or to stretch their souls against the world`s need.
If we have to courage to become, there are three things we presume will occur. First, we will discover who we are; second, we will explore ourselves-profoundly; and finally, we will keep ourselves open to God. The simplicity of these statements is deceptive, so let us look into them more carefully.
What do I mean by discovering who we are? The truth is, it is possible to live through a whole lifetime without identifying one`s self, merely by changing from role to role without getting to the essential core of our existence. We have many masks but no face of our own. Hamlet may have been the first heroic nonhero struggling with his identity of self, but he was not the last. The pages of recent literature are populated with a painful succession of bewildered human beings in search for some kind of a self. Musil`s novel, The Man Without Qualities, is a contemporary classic precisely of the anonymous man, busy, self-critical, sensitive, conscientious, well-intentioned, but without color or substance. A human something-or-other floating about in a neutral culture! This is the anguish of Hemmingway`s Americans, and from another world the terror of Kafka`s nightmarish tales. Can I find a center or am I, like Peer Gynt, merely like an onion-all layers with no core?
There is a tremendous difference between what I would call secondhand dealers and craftsmen. Both classes are to be found among teachers, preachers and students. The second-hand dealers are purveyors of materials or data which go through their brains without being changed or even retouched. The craftsmen deal with the raw materials and shape them by their own dreams of beauty and skill of design. The beatniks have an expressive phrase which gathers my meaning into a sharp focus-they ask, “Are you with it?” That’s`s the differ-ence between reality and fakery, between a man with data and a man with a soul. In the corner of one of Goya`s terrible and beautiful engravings of war`s unspeakable cruelty, he has scratched the words, “I saw it!” Somewhere in our work, if it is to be worthy of our critical time, there should be mani-fested the unmistakable sign and signature of our personal identity-“I saw it.”
Do not think for a minute that this simple task is easily accomplished by a pledge to be honest and sincere. It means a search for that personal center from which you can organize the varied contents of history and experience in such a way as to give them color and quality. It means a search for personal identity, a severe and arduous pursuit in a climate of anonymity, attested by the arts of literature of our time. It is reached when you learn how to

Throw away the lights, the definitions
And say of what you see in the dark

That it is this or that it is that,
But do not use the rotted names. . . .

Nothing must stand

Between you and the shapes you take
When the crust of shape has been destroyed.1

1 From “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, p. 183.

Let us take our second step into the exploration-the pro-found exploration-of the self. There are extant many ways to explore the self; many of them extend no further that the accidental roles of social behaviour at their most public and superficial level. Self-identity is bound to be paper thin, fraught with spurious securities and devious oversimplifica-tions, if we do not courageously put ourselves up against the full magnitude of human mystery articulated in the legacy of western though. Let me put it this way: what you will become depends in large measure on the depth and cour-age with which you share the enigmas and myths of this world`s meaning.
The difficulty again is obvious. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to elicit the meaning of these ancient myths of humanity by setting the ratlike reason to gnaw holes in them. Their vast interiors cannot be illuminated from the outside by observers standing at a condescending distance. Whether it is the story of original sin in the Garden of Eden or the atonement of Christ, one has to go inside, so to speak, to open himself up before the truth can be opened; literally, one has to allow the total self to be open to the total myth. Per-haps this is the point at which the old and now seldom used term “surrender” has empirical reality. It is plainly evident that myths are not built by reason to match reason; they are built by the whole self, and if the whole self intuitively ex-plores them, both the self and the myth begin to disclose their common dimensions and design. Each is a mirror reflecting the other. To be sure, if portions of the self are repressed, covered up, put out of sight, disguised, then to that degree the myth will make no sense. It takes courage to come to terms with the seemingly illogical structures in the myth by which the ineluctable agonies and embarrassing realities of human experience are articulated.
William Faulkner was not popular among church readers, but a few writers in America have explored with such great boldness and poignancy the ancient biblical myths in con-temporary terms. In the most violent novel of his career, Sanctuary, telling of the degradation of a college girl, Temple Drake, he portrays the slow initiation of Horace Benbow to the reality evil. From the time he sees Popeye the gang-ster spit in a clear spring till he hears his own sister perjure herself and send an innocent man to be hanged for a crime he did not commit in order to avoid implicating Horace in a scandal, he is reliving that seriousness with which the Bible confronts the mystery of sin.
It is one of the strange anomalies of the situation that minis-ters often know with encyclopaedic thoroughness the biblical material but fail to identify the inherent meaning when the same material occurs in the strange or intimate terms of contemporary witness. They may be quite expert in the methods of biblical criticism, but somehow fail to be initiated into the holy realities of those profound experiences which hide behind the sanctified symbols of biblical history. Indeed, I suppose it should be said that we see in symbol and myth only what we are strong enough to endure. Those who discard them as children`s tales or mirages or primitive ages actually protect themselves from recognizing in themselves what they cannot endure.
I cannot say how you manage to get inside a symbol or a myth, how you open your heart and match its mystery with your own, how you identify in your own pain and freedom and joy the very shape and sound of Homer or Adam, of Oedipus or Isaiah, of Christ of Faust. The way is marked by many names-reflection, imagination, remembrance. It is a much more uphill climb than gathering information or re-peating formulas. To reflect-in an unreflective age like ours-goes against the grain. It takes too much time, focuses all our energies upon one thing, and makes us look as if we`re not busy.
But beyond finding our selves and exploring our selves until the great dimensions of our inner lives come clear in the light of human mysteries articulated in the simple vastness of myth and symbol, we should remain open to God.
Again the phrase is simple and deceptive; what do I mean “open to God”? I mean “openness,” a courageous and confi-dent hospitality expressed in all directions. I mean an open-ness between all ages, all experiences, all level of life, all lands of truth-between religion and art, between faith and reason, between self and community, between man and God. I mean an openness which is in the deepest sense a creative and dynamic receptivity-the ability to receive, to accept, to become. I mean an openness which is decisive, deliberate, and destructive of all fearsome closures. I see this openness cele-bratedd in Rilke`s verse:

Even today . . . existence is magical, pouring
freshly from hundred of well springs-
a playing of purest forces, which none can suporse
without humbly adoring.
Words shall melt into something beyond their embrace.
Music too keeps building anew with the insecurest stones
Her celestial house is unused space.2

2 Sonnets to Orpheus, Sonnet 11:10 (New York:) W. W. Norton), p. 106.

I hear it in Tillech`s plea for the acceptance of Gos`s ac-ceptance of the self, and in Luther`s blunt reference to wom-anly conceiving as the soul knows it, and in Freud`s admoni-tion to a friend that he must wait until the truth moves in him before he can speak. I hear it in Joseph Sittler`s argument that “faith comes to exist in the vast and complex totality of man`s life, that faith as engendered by the word of God works upon, re-illuminates and reinterprets the total geography of existence. The proclamation of the faith, and its transmission, must therefore within no nar-rower dimensions that the wild unsystematic of actual life. . . . Anything has covert or overt influences upon every-thing.”3

3 The Ecology of Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), p. 25.

You may think I am not speaking of openness to God. But actually I know of no openness to God which does not in-volve changing one`s self and becoming, and I think it can be said that there are no changes of the self which really do not involve God. God is both the limit and the one who breaks our limit. He is the agony of our birth and rebirth, and he is the healing peace of our becoming. He is our judgement, the enemy of our idols, the disturber of our false peace; and he is the source of the new life, the Shekinah of glory, the hope of our salvation. He presses us from within, he lures us from beyond. He shatters the crust of shape, he shapes the larger life.
In a sense, this openness to faith, the assumption and assur-ance that the living god is to be found in life; indeed, that nothing in life is outside his presence. The trivial and the sublime are related to him; thus the foundation of the sacred in the physical is established. The tragic and the redemptive are related; thus the cross becomes a sign of man`s salva-tion. To be open to God is not to turn one`s back on the commonplace, the ordinary, the world, but to find in them the mystery and mercy of the living God.
Martin Buber describes it well: “Only he who believes in the world is given power to enter into dealings with it, and if he gives himself to this, he cannot remain godless . . . if only we venture to surround it with the arms of our spirit, our hands will meet hands that grip them. . . . He who truly goes out to meet the world goes out also to God.”4

4 I and Thou (New Your: Scribner`s, 1958), pp. 94-95.

To be open to God is to be open to the world and all its happenings. It is to be accessible to its invitations, its intima-tions, its incessant creation, its breaking and re-forming of patterns, its probes and provocations, its restless movement and its clusters of events, its overtones, and its ponderous throb and surging cacophony. To be open to God is to take the world in your heart, to bear its burdens and suffer its mystery, to ponder its endless meanings even in the midst of contradiction and absurdity; and to listen, not only to the thousand echoes which reverberate between the heavens and the earth, but also to the still, small voice-the voice of still-ness itself, the very word out of which all words come and by which all things were made-and thus to know at last the exciting peace that passes understanding.
Put it altogether: begin now to sort yourself out from the anonymity of this world; to find out who you are and what you signature of soul is, what inexpungible reality rests as the first freedom of your destiny. But do not be deceived; you cannot discover your self without discovering what this world is. The depth and dark and duplicity of it, the torment of its magnitude, the subterranean cellars and the Himalayan heights-all these things are both the outside history and the inside of humanity. You belong to it as surely as Adam or Ulysses or Oedipus belonged; without it you will not know yourself. And finally, without yourself and the world, the question of God can scarcely be raised. This is the greatest risk of all, the final limit, the farthest frontier where the great gamble is made-either God or nothing. Painful, but forever the sign of our human thrust beyond the animal, the actual condition of freedom in which faith must confirm the sense of meaning or back off into an uneasy game of bluff and swagger. Come, have courage; set your faces to become!