Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Creator Has a Master Plan


I found myself in Toronto several months ago, alone in the city for the first time in many years. It used to be my home, but I was surprised upon returning to find how much had changed. Not how much had changed in the city: Toronto is pretty much Toronto, though I think that some of the buildings were different. The change was primarily a change in me.


When I first converted to Catholicism I recall that one of the major fruits of my conversion was that it conquered a lot of pent up frustration and judgement. I was a tremendous snob, intellectually proud, and habitually inclined to dismiss and condemn the thoughts and acheivements of those whom I considered to be my inferiors. When I became a Catholic there was a brief period where this changed. I was wonderstruck at the beauty and diversity of humanity: I would stand on an overpass, praying to my newly discovered God and I would marvel at the fact that every single car passing underneath me contained at least one entire human person, a magical being with breadths and depths and an immortal soul exactly like my own. Apartment buildings were fairy castles in which innumerable human dramas were playing out. The entire city was aquiver with the ever moving breath of the Holy Spirit.

This was fairly short-lived. One of the difficulties with religion is that it presents its own set of temptations, and the greatest of these are self-righteousness, judgmentalism and spiritual worldliness. As I learned what, exactly, my newfound faith demanded I increasingly realized that the wonderful world into which I had woken was full of terrible sins. The snake had slithered into the garden and was wreaking havoc all around. Catholics who had been aware of this state of affairs for a long time and who were battle weary from the Culture Wars gratefully welcomed me in. They shared with me their frustrations with the evils that they had seen grow up during their lifetimes, their disappointments, their fears. I served for some, I think, as a kind of beacon of hope: a young woman who had overcome one of the greatest threats to the Catholic Church in America in the late twentieth century. I was praised, and naturally I enjoyed the praise.

Which is where we come around to spiritual worldliness: the temptation to allow one's spirituality to become a means of gaining social acceptance, a ladder to betterment in one's own eyes and in the eyes of one's religious peers. Slowly, I began to accept the idea that I was one of the faithful few, the chosen remnant, the saved. Oh, I was a sinner, of course. Everyone is a sinner. But I wasn't one of those sinners. You know, the sinners who are traipsing down the road to Hell. I was one of the good sinners who knows that sin is sin, who is contrite, and who by the power of prayer and contrition and the strength of the truth is going to pull herself up into the ranks of the heavenly elite.

By the time that I moved out of Toronto I had come back to where I had been as an intellectually proud atheist. I was one of the few. I was surrounded by people who didn't know how to think or to reason. People who were living worthless and meaningless lives guided by stupidity and weakness. People who had been duped by the chicanery of the mass media and the commonplaces of an ailing and peurile culture. Walking down the street of my city I saw everywhere the stain of sin and the evidence of evil. Strumpets on billboards, ubiquitous commercial crap, people walking around like zombies umbilically connected to electronic gadgetry. Surely the end was nigh.

I had reached a point where my spirituality had made me like one of those critics who is so jaded and so aware of every conceivable aesthetic error that they are no longer able to enjoy any actual films. In my desire for a pure ideal I had come to despise the created order, and in my desire to acheive a theologically perfect and rarified love for idealized human nature I had come to harbour contempt for the vast majority of actual human beings. Eventually I realized the ugliness of this perspective. It struck me that I get a lot more enjoyment out of liking things than I do from feeling superior to them. 
 
So I found myself back in Toronto, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, surveying a roomful of works of modern art that I would have hated and disdained seven years ago but which are actually quite beautiful. Those of you who have been to the AGO will know that if you're on the top floor there's a lovely curving staircase in a sea-shell spiral surrounded by glass windows that juts out over the city when you come out of the upper gallery. I emerged onto the stairs and looked down at the city below me, with all of its grimy streets, and its crass commercialism, and it's cell-phone zombies. 
 
God said, “This is my masterpeice. What do you think?”
“It's lovely,” I answered. “Thanks for the view.”

8 comments:

  1. Francis of San BernardinoJune 26, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    But ma'am,

    How can we be lovely when we are guilty of so many sins, as individuals and as a society? Sometimes I wonder why God doesn't just smite us all down, us both included, and start over with a species not so prone to disobedience?

    I suspect that in those moments, however, I realize that it's easier for me to understand obedience to God than understanding love of God.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Francis of San BernardinoJune 26, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    By which I mean that I find it hard to see in others what Christ sees in them. The same, of course, to me. I don't know what went wrong, but it's as it it's easier for me to love ideas and rules and laws above people.

    ReplyDelete
  3. So nice to read a post from you. Your thoughts have had, and continue to have, a tremendous inpact on me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for the post Melinda! Today is a day when I needed a reminder of exactly this (and I've been missing your writings while you were away!) - that God has a master plan, and that the only way "up" in life is "down," through humility - and really then, you start not caring if you're up or down because you really **see** other people and **see** yourself (as Francis said, seeing what Christ sees in them - and in ourselves) - and I feel the same, that giving mercy for self and towards others, accepting people as they are, is alot more enjoyable than judging ourselves and others to be inferior/superior, or deserving/undeserving. I think that's a big part of how we stay connected to people, not imposing false labels like that. Feeling self-satisfied and superior is ugly like you said, and very, very lonely. And as Francis illustrated...if we love laws over people, or status over people, or perfection over people, and give ourselves and others only judgment and no mercy, we end up just being frustrated with all our faults and wanting to smite everyone, including ourselves...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Once again, I'd like to thank you. I hope you will lead souls to Christ. I too have been learning to actually see other people as precious souls, beloved by God, seeking truth and love. As a matter of fact, that is the main reason why I have been wrestling with the Faith.

    One thing that has bothered me about so many Catholic websites and commenters is that I see the very sneering that you described. How are people supposed to see the love of Christ in that? The scary part is that there was a point early on in my Christian walk when I could have been trapped in that mentality. As I drifted away from identifying with the Christian Right, I began to understand people more. I believe that I'm at the stage in my life where I am simply learning about people.

    Pray for me as I continue seeking truth and love. Pray for me as I seek to share kindness and care with those whom I contact. Pray for me as I seek to love and serve God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yay, I'm so glad you're back! An excellent post ma'am; I'm a chronic snob, too, and breaking that down has been deeply joy-filled and liberating (not that God has finished by any means).

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks so much for the post, Melinda! The fact that, even after a few weeks with no post, we're all here commenting less than two hours after your reappearance says a lot about how much we value what you have to say.

    You and I have known each other for years and we've been on parallel intellectual journeys in many ways. I keep discovering more and more how easy it is to criticize, that is, to keep truth small. To keep truth within the realm of the known. But when we accept and love something or someone, it is a prayer, an act of blessing, our call to sanctify creation.

    I, too have been immersing myself in contemporary art, (thanks to the Edmonton art festival) and music (thanks to the library's excellent "avant garde" collection). I have found none of the decadent nihilism that's supposed to permeate pomo, but rather a lot of beauty, heart-rending honesty, a deep spiritual sense and, yes, faith.

    I had another experience when I was asked to go speak at an elementary school about the work I do with the homeless. Okay, so I have profound criticisms of public education in this country, but when I actually got into a school for the first time in years, I was surprised (mea culpa) to find classrooms full of attentive, polite, happy kids asking intelligent questions. They were attended to by hard-working, caring and professional teachers. They had a "we" day where they were learning about social justice, human rights, and other values that I share deeply.

    Amen, amen, amen...

    ReplyDelete
  8. Melinda, You are AWESOME!!! My daughter records shows on EWTN for us to watch during dinner. Last night we watched a program where you were the guest. You have an amazing gift of articulating the Truth. You have an ability to express things in a uniquely wonderful way that comes across with such genuiness. You will definitely be in my prayers because you have a message that needs to be heard by many. God bless you and your family and all people of goodwill who are trying to 'Scour' what is good in civilization!

    ReplyDelete

Please observe these guidelines when commenting:

We want to host a constructive but civil discussion. With that in mind we ask you to observe these basics of civilized discourse:

1. No name calling or personal attacks; stick to the argument, not the individual.

2. Assume the goodwill of the other person, especially when you disagree.

3. Don't make judgments about the other person's sinfulness or salvation.

4. Within reason, stick to the topic of the thread.

5. If you don't agree to the rules, don't post.

We reserve the right to block any posts that violate our usage rules. And we will freely ban any commenters unwilling to abide by them.

Our comments are moderated so there may be a delay between the time when you submit your comment and the time when it appears.