21 December 2007

Emmanuel, Naming the Communion Which is the Human Heart

How many of us are completely convinced of our need for God? For how many of us is he an occasional visitor we may or may not make time for, but not really someone essential to our own humanity? We are human, we think, without him --- not AS human or enriched as we might be otherwise, but human all the same. We are "just" or "merely" human without him, we think --- poor perhaps, and beset by this sin or that maybe, but still human all the same.

But no! The truth at the heart of our faith is otherwise; the truth which undergirds our prayer, worship, hope, and destiny is otherwise. The option before us is not to be religious people or non-religious people. It is not a choice between a merely richer or more impoverished existence, both equally human. The option before us is really to be human or not, to embrace the truth at the heart of ourselves and to be the responsive word event we are called to be, or to reject this truth, and our deepest selves as well. Mary's response to this call was "FIAT!" and it is the response, the ongoing hearkening which God seeks from us as well.

The image of God coming to us from outside us is a true one. Christmas is indeed a celebration of this kind of coming. But Christmas is also the fulfillment of a young woman's hearkening to the Word spoken deep within her, uniquely spoken within her, yes, but spoken within her just as it is spoken within each of us as well. The nativity of the One who would definitively incarnate God's logos is what we will celebrate at Christmas, but this event is rooted in the altogether human "yes" to God's proposal to wed his destiny to ours; it is a yes which is expected from each of us, and which was uniquely accomplished in Mary's own heart. It is the yes we are meant to be, and which our hearts are meant to sing at each moment and mood of our lives, the yes which will allow God's merciful love to transform the barrenness and poverty of our existence into fruifulness and new life.

The image of the human heart as a communal reality has been very rich for me this Advent, and I cannot let it go at this point (this blog has taken on the shape of a theme and variations, I know). The sense that I am not human alone is a freshly startling insight for me. It is not simply that I need others, nor even that my being embraces others as threads in the weaving which is my life. These things are true enough, and I can recall the times I came to understand these things, and the theological quandries they resolved. The truth goes deeper, is more profound, however: I am myself ONLY INSOFAR as I am a communion with God (and with others in and through him).

Communion with God is not simply something I am made for in the future --- as though I have the capacity for this relationship, but could, if I chose, forego it and still be myself. Communion with God is the NATURE OF my ESSENTIAL being. I AM --- insofar as I am truly human --- communion with God. My truest I is a "we".(Remember e e cumming's poem, we're wonderful 1X1? cf post for October 26, 2007 to reread this poem) To the extent God and I are a we, I am truly myself. This is true for each of us, no matter our vocation or state of life. For us, the choice is between a false autonomy which is really inhuman, and (as Paul Tillich would put the matter) a theonomy which constitutes us as truly human. Unless this exists, and to the extent there is no communion with God, there is no "I" --- not in the truest sense of that pronoun.

The circumcision of our hearts, the making ready "the way of the Lord" is not only the making ready for Christmas. It is the preparation for our own continued nativities as well. With Mary, we learn to say "Fiat" to the God who would be God-with-us as part of our very being. Prayer is indeed not something only specialists or the really religious do; it is the essence of being human, the activity which allows the God who would REALLY join his destiny with our own to be the One he WOULD be, and to be the persons he makes US to be as well. Therefore, we pray for two reasons: 1) because we are MADE for it and would not be authentically human selves without it, and 2) because GOD needs us to do so if he is ALSO to be the One he wills to be. Once again, our's is a God who has chosen and determined not to remain alone; he has chosen and determined that his lfe and our own are to be intimately linked, inextricably wed, in a Communion of shared destiny.

God-with-us certainly refers to the infant in Mary's womb as we approach the baby's nativity, but it also very much refers to the Communion God desires be born in our own hearts. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is the name given the truly human heart. It is the name given to anyone who fulfills their truest destiny, by allowing God to be God for, with, and within us.