“For now, oh my God, it is to You alone that I can talk, because nobody else will understand. I cannot bring any other man on this earth into the cloud where I dwell in Your light, that is, Your darkness, where I am lost and abashed. I cannot explain to any other man the anguish which is Your joy nor the loss which is the Possession of You, nor the distance from all things which is the arrival in You, nor the death which is the birth in You because I do not know anything about it myself and all I know is that I wish it were over – I wish it were begun.” – Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
We must get there else we will miss the whole point of God. By there, I mean believing and passionately living as if our ending is really our beginning. Merton said, “…all I know is that I wish it were over – I wish it were begun.” Can we say this intellectually and spiritually with honesty and sincerity? And I don’t necessarily mean our physical demise, either. What I mean is an end to love of self. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me…” (Galatians 2:20 ASV) Can I – must I – end in order to know God? I believe so. Yes.
I had a wonderful (at least, for me) afternoon conversation with my friend Karita yesterday. We talked about so many things but especially we talked about the responsibility we have to ourselves and to those we raise and mentor in teaching that our existence is not solely about making good decisions and bad decisions. Are you surprised? We might be able to demand and coerce our two-year old to eat her vegetables but what happens when she is twenty years old? She may not be eating her vegetables as a twenty-year old for any number of reasons – she remembers my threats, demands, and alleged horrible consequences for not eating her veggies. It is all too much for her now. Veggies and bad feelings go hand in hand so she stays away from vegetables. I told her that if she didn’t eat her vegetables, she wouldn’t grow up to be big and strong. Instead, she would end up being weak, puny, and silly.
Does she still not like eating her veggies as a twenty-year old in spite of somehow someone telling her the benefits of eating vegetables but she still hates them because of my negative influence on her when she was young? Did she do some research and discover that eating veggies is a really good thing to do but she still won’t eat them out of spite or anger at me? Does she not eat her vegetables now because she still harbors deep inner fears about the times when I would chastise her for not eating her veggies? To her, eating or not eating veggies was all about consequences and comparisons between good things and bad things and eating right or eating wrong. And she seemed to always get it wrong by not liking or wanting any veggies.
It gets complicated fast, doesn’t it? We all will have an opinion on this that is spotted somewhere in the spectrum that spans from “eating (or not) because of fear” to “eating (or not) because of intent”. So is this how we learn what is right and what is wrong? Is it always about what is good and what is bad? But more to my major thesis – should we pursue rightness and wrongness because of how it will affect our end or, rather, should we pursue a deeper understanding of God because any of my ends are all about God’s beginnings?
Let’s swap the veggies for faith in God. And let’s keep talking about our kids, ok? Karita and I talked about this an awful lot yesterday afternoon so it is heavy on my heart right now. We teach – demand, sometimes! – that our young ones need to “go to church” and do other religious looking and sounding things. The most common reason I hear for dragging the kids to church every Sunday – kicking and screaming – is this passage: “Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 ASV) Actually, this is a very appropriate passage for those of us who are parents and mentors. Training a child is very important, isn’t it? But what is involved in training? Interestingly, the Hebrew word for ‘train’ in this Proverbs passage is chanak. To chanak a child is to dedicate or consecrate a child. In other words, in training a child, we must stress the importance to them that they are being set aside or being made hallow (consecrated) or that they are being set apart for a special purpose (dedicated). To chanak a child is not to drag her to church, make her do or not do things solely because we think that they are explicitly or implicitly right or wrong, or somehow leave in the hearts of our little ones that looking right matters more than what is in their hearts and souls. Do any of us do this when we raise our children or when we mentor others? I’m afraid so. We don’t chanak – we lie!
And by lie, I mean that our actions compromise our words. If Junior is told to eat his veggies but I don’t, he will never eat his veggies for me. Likewise, if Junior is told to “go to church” but I don’t talk or act like I’m one of God’s holy people, Junior will never “go to church” for me. But even more important and to my stated thesis, we may tell our young ones and we sometimes share the Gospel of Jesus – the Good News – with people by saying that if they don’t do the right things and if they keep doing the wrong things, then God is going to damn them to hell and that will be their end! Our message often is that people need to be good and right and then they can draw close to God and this, of course, is the kind of ending that we aspire to and desire.
My friends, if this is how we intend to change our kids and change our world, then we are badly and sadly mistaken. We do not chanak by compromising Christ’s message with dares and living a words-instead-of-actions kind of life. And more importantly, we completely remove the will and power of God from any spiritual or physical endings that we might experience by making it almost wholly about us and almost nothing about God. It ends up not being about God but it selfishly ends up being all about me – what I did, what I do, when I did it, how I do it, who I did it with, etc., etc., etc. Shame on us.
To have a relationship with God, we must end! Only in our end, can God begin. To end is not to hoist rights and wrongs on others and on ourselves. Instead, to end for God is to give it all up. It isn’t a matter of getting it ‘righter’ or ‘wronger’. Rather, it’s a matter of ending it. And then God will begin.
As a final thought, I highly encourage you to read my friend Tiffany’s excellently written and very cogent response to one of my recent posts on the matter of beginnings and endings. You may or may not know Tiffany but she is a highly educated college professor. She’s a spiritual thinker but she is also a faithful doer. And she’s a very funny and creative person, too. She has helped me and encouraged me along the way a number of times. I hope that I have been able to reciprocate and that I have been able to do the same for her a few times. I’m very glad that she is my friend and a Christian sister of mine. Read her interesting and intelligent response here.
I’ll close with how I began. Can I end to let God begin? And as a corollary, do I understand and believe that when I end and God begins, God can and will do amazing things in this life and in the next?
Thanks for following along. Tell someone you love them today. Show grace, mercy, and empathy to those around you. Be thankful. Be honest. And start taking the steps to end.