15 October 2007

Magnificat: On the song Which IS the Hermit

Theologians often think of the human being as a "word event," that is, we are responses to the words and being of others, crafted and shaped by those words and persons and creating ourselves (or being created) in response to reality around us. We can wander lost through the world, unformed and unknown, we can even impinge on others' lives without the dynamic of dialogue, or address and response, but it is only in response to another person's address that we actually have a personal place to stand, or that we come to be the persons we CAN be. More fundamentally, theologians recognize that we are each the answer or response to a divine word of address and summons spoken in the very core of our being. We speak of this reality variously: "God calls us by name to be"; "we have a vocation or call to authentic humanity"; "the human heart is, by definition, a theological reality and the place where God is active and effectively present in the core of our being", etc.

Of course, the definitive image of authentic humanity is Christ, Divine Word-made-flesh. Theologians reflect that each of us are called to be "Word made flesh" --- though not as definitively as that incarnation accomplished in the Christ Event, still with coherence and cogency, articulateness, truth, and power. Throughout our lives the incarnational word we are is shaped and formed, redacted and composed, in response to the Name or summons God speaks in the core of our being, and which ALSO comes to us (or is sympathetically sounded in us) in a variety of forms and intensities from without in the Scriptures, Sacraments, other people, nature, etc. And of course, it is also distorted and falsified by our own sinfulness, and by our defensive responses to the sinfulness and influence of others in our lives. While we are called to be joyful and coherent embodiments of the Word of God incarnated in our world, we are as often cries of anguish, snarls of anger, sobs of pain, and the lies of insecurity and defensiveness which so lead to the falsification of our being.

Ordinarily, of course, the responsive composition we each are is a mixture of true and false, real and unreal, coherent and incoherent, articulate and inarticulate, anguished and joyful. Only in Christ are we rendered more and more the response we are MEANT to be. And yet, deep within us God speaks the Name we are to embody, the vocational summons we are to incarnate in all of its uniqueness AS our own lives in this world. It is an unceasing, unremitting hallowing right at the core of who we are, and when we are truly in touch with this and truly responsive we become the Word event which God wills us to be. If, as Fr Robert Hale, OSB Cam, once remarked, it is true that "God sustains us as a singer sustains a note," then we are each called to become a song, a particular fiat witnessing to the grace (that is, the powerful presence) of God in our lives. God is the breath which sustains us moment by moment, and we are the song which embodies this breath.

The hermit's existence is paradigmatic of this reality. She really is called to be the song at the heart of the church. Birthed in silence and solitude, shaped by obedience to the Word and breath of God, exercised in the singing of psalms daily --the regular chanting or recitation of the divine Office, the reading of scripture both aloud and in silence, held in the heart of God and steeped in the formative rests of contemplative prayer and shaped by the stories of all those persons she holds in her own heart, the hermit moves day by day towards becoming the articulate and coherent expression of God's creative providence we recognize as a magnificat.

Of course, gestation and birth are both (or together) demanding, painful, and messy businesses. So is the composition of a truly responsive life. Those cries of anguish, snarls of anger, defensive lies, and sobs of pain we ALSO ARE, don't simply "go away" of themselves without the hard work of recognition and repentance. Healing, sanctification, and verification (making whole and true) is God's work in us, but it requires and involves our active cooperation. It is this dynamic that makes of the eremitical silence, solitude, prayer, and penance a therapeutic crucible or editor's desk where we are --- sometimes ruthlessly --- revised, redacted, and recreated. Evenso, at bottom eremitic life (indeed ALL christian life!) is a joy-filled reality; we incarnate the merciful love of God which heals and sanctifies, enlivens and sustains. We become a coherent articulation or expression of the breath and word of God spoken both in the core of ourselves, and in so many ways in our church and world. We ARE the songs which God sings in the heart of his church, magnificats of God's love and mercy sounding in (and out of) the silence of solitude.