24 August 2010

A Paradox of Truth

Life and the world are full of contradictions.
One may also call them paradoxes.
We find them all around us, and not in the way that song that isn't really about ironies says. Things that seem to be rightside up are often upside down, and the other way around. It can be confusing!
For example - I love to be alone. I hate that I love to be alone because I know I shouldn't love being alone because it doesn't take much alone time before I hate being alone and only want people again. Yet, the more you end up around people the more you miss being alone... it's a vicious cycle, really.
Another great one would be suffering in general... love-hate relationship, of course. No one really loves hardship, right? Yet, we love the fruits. We appreciate the formation, the growth, the lessons learned that come from hard times. Then, we begin to love the experience of the hardship because we understand what comes after it. We don't love the pain, but we love what it can bring to us. So there is often some balance of appreciation and loathing that work together in our minds and hearts when we endure trials.
Among the million and one things I need to write about, and the other million and two that are based solely on reflections drawn from things I have read (for that is when my mind most often explodes), in particular a recent excerpt from Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II caught my attention.
John Paul is reflecting on the nature of sin and concupiscence in humanity. The context of anything out of this extremely rich text is necessary for a full understanding, but I will dare to expound on a sentence and hope for the best. He says, "Concupiscence is to be explained as a lack, as a lack, however, that plunges its roots into the original depth of the human spirit."
I had to read that line over and over for a while to get the imagery down. The privation of anything is only a deep as what has been deprived. The depth of human goodness, of the original innocence man was created in before the fall of sin, sets the boundaries and limits for how far concupiscence, directly as the lack-of this innocence, reaches.
This should elicit a few responses from us. Immediately, it should be impressive. We are rather aware of the negative effects of sin in our world... clearly concupiscence has paraded its power all over our society and ourselves. Adversely, this should mean we were doing pretty well prior to the invasion of sin in our world. If it's black and white, and the black is dark and pervasive, it can only imply that the white is bright and stunning. This is encouraging! Despite the many failures we experience in the game of "being good in life" we should be both motivated and confident because according to this paradox, we were made for something much greater than what we have known.
Consider the fullness of the freedom mankind knew before the effects of sin! John Paul discusses how concupiscence deals with man's desire. It is the yearnings in our heart that are corrupted. We do not want the good, we want what we decide is good. We are not able to see clearly to know the true good from what appears good, and so we often are mistaken in our wants. Also, our desires, being thus blinded, become habitually more self-serving as we are given the dissatisfying gratification of what we had thought was best for us. Rather than building up a freedom for our hearts, we build instead a cave, that leads further and further down into disappointment. When we are looking for fulfillment outside of ourselves but allowing only selfish desires to guide that search, we aren't bound to get very far.
So rather, John Paul points to the glorious freedom we possessed when we were created and living without any lack. The purity of our hearts and our desires allowed us to simply be in the good. We were good. There was no need for yearnings for things which would not satisfy. We discovered ourselves in free-gift to the other. We found our capabilities, our glories, our joys through service and gift. These ways-of-being were the culminations of freedom, for since we possessed ourselves so fully through such pure intentions, we were able to so fully give ourselves over, and through the gift rediscover the affirmation of our individual self in its fullness. Again, this is all much easier to understand if you sit through the many pages of the Pope's entire text.
As it is, the point is simple. This paradox, just as the Incarnation or the Cross and Resurrection, contains such depth precisely because of the power of the original good. The understood "lack" of good ought to set our imaginations free to create the idea of just how full of good we must have been. This imagining should simultaneously set our personal goals and hopes for living in authentic freedom. Clearly we will never be able to be completely free from sin - yet, we certainly could make great progress towards that beauty that first dwelt in the soul and body of man.
If nothing else, the symmetry and consistency of such truth - that the lack is only as deep as what was once present - whispers of recreation and hope that is absolutely overflowing with confidence and energy. Even that is a contradiction! Whispers of things that enthrall and eventually lead you to explode with the amazement at the promise God makes to us. That we could be so healed, so filled, so named, so remade, so broken and then so complete... it is worth the reflection.