Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Save me, Lord.

Today I remember, with the whole western lung of the Church, one of my Top 5 Gals: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein): She wrote against Heidegger's claim that human life is an anxiety-ridden hurdling toward death. He made the case that the only "rational human attitude" is "a passionate ... consciously resolute and anxiety-stricken freedom toward death."

To which she replied: "By no means. The undeniable fact that my being is limited in its transience from moment to moment and thus exposed to the possibility of nothingness is counterbalanced by the equally undeniable fact that despite this transience, I a, that from moment to moment I am sustained in my being, and that in my fleeting being I share in [eternal] being. In the knowledge that being holds me, I rest securely. This security, however, is not the self-assurance of one who under her own power stands on firm ground, but rather the sweet and blissful security of a child that is lifted up and carried by a strong arm. And, objectively speaking, this kind of security is not less rational. For if a child were living in the constant fear that its mother might let it fall, we should hardly call this a rational attitude."

This reminds me (finally!) of that post I meant to write, based on a homily I heard this past weekend. That day was a darker day: I sat in a soaring, neo-Gothic church in old New Haven, cradling a sweet, sleepy Bella on my lap, lamenting my sins, nursing my grudges, and fighting back the latest anxiety attack and bout of depression. Rain fell gently outside, but my heart felt more like a hurricane. It seemed that all the water I'd been treading was covering my head again.

Then the priest climbed the high steps to read us the story of St. Peter's own walk on the storming waters of the Sea of Galilee. He saw Jesus walking toward the boat in which he and the other apostles were fighting the wind and waves. In a fit of love, zeal, and passion, he cried: "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water!"


Peter stepped with bravado out of that little boat, the brave saint among the cowering and sinful band of brothers. In that moment, surely he felt so confident and unafraid.

But then, life happened.

The winds and the rain, the waves--the storm overwhelmed him. He could not go on. He knew he was going to die, and he sank. "Lord, save me!" Jesus said, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" And he helped the sinking leader of the Church back into that beleaguered little boat.

This is the parable of every life: we begin with a fervent promise, our Jesus Prayer, "Lord, whatever you want me to do, I will do it!"

"Lord, I would gladly give my life for you!" (Peter himself says this later, too, before he falls so grievously on Good Friday.)

I remember those moments: the heady days of intense silent prayer, daily Adoration, daily Mass, the thrilling discovery of John Paul II's theology, the life-long commitments made in the madness of youth. And there was nothing insincere about them. We--all of us--meant it: we converted, we we threw out our birth control, we kept our vows, we quit that high-paying career path, we decided to tithe more than we could "afford," we humbled ourselves and begged forgiveness from those we hurt; we swallowed all insults and responded in love. And it was good, because we were following the very words of God himself.

What we did not realize in those first flushes of sanctity--and what no one could have prepared us for--was that, when we follow Christ, death is not a distant possibility. It is a certainty.

(Thank you, dear Dominican priest!)

When we did realize that our brave choice was costing us our lives, we faltered. Life happened. We suffered for those choices. Our humility was repaid with more insults. Our openness to life was repaid with heartbreak at the death of our children. Our fidelity was repaid with infidelity. Our sacrifice was mocked. We sank and cried for help.

Life did not feel like sanctity anymore. It felt like failure. Surely, we thought, we deserved condemnation. O me of little faith.

Todd asked me, "When you read that story, do you think Jesus was angry with Peter?"

No. I have never thought that. It sounds more like a parent's gentle chiding, "Why didn't you trust me? Here I am." And Peter accepted that reassurance. He took Christ's hand and got back in the boat.

But, the father reminded us, we don't stay in the boat anymore than we stay with the initial feeling of zeal. We get out of that boat again and again. We sink over and over again. And over and over, we hear that gentle reproach, "Why did you fear? I am with you."

I would step out into the storm a million times to hear that voice every day. I know that voice: I have heard it in the darkest moments, at the point where I just want it all to end. Why does he visit us only in those moments? No, he is always there--after all, he was the one who called us to walk on water (impossible) in the first place. He watched our first, confident steps; he saw our sinking.

It was only when I sank that I wanted to hear him again, that I knew my limitless need. And his eternal mercy.

So, like Edith Stein, I want to respond to all the false bravado of our age. It is not in ridding ourselves of anxiety by our own firm resoluteness. It is in being held, like a child, that we can bear the transience of life, the endless changes, the suffering.


Lydia Cubbedge said...

Blogger ate my comment :(

Erika, you somehow knew what was exactly on my heart today (and for the last several months). I had a very eloquent comment, but for now will have to just say thank you for reminding me of something I had begun to forget.

clairesd said...

me too: thanks for the reminder!

April said...

Thank you for being so real and honest! I've been asking myself a lot lately, "Why are things between Jesus and me so different now than when we first 'met'?" Life happened. Duh.

911jenn said...

Thanks from me too! seems like i've been sinking in a very dark place lately....I really appreciate the candle and life preserver in your post today ;)

Sarah said...

Yep - me too. You knew exactly what's been on my heart (and I mean the exact words too) for the last couple of months. Thank you for the encouragement.

Modest Mama said...

Hang in there! You are in our prayers!