Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vision in Friendship Park: The gate of heaven is everywhere

In Sacramento, near to where North B Street almost bumps into 12th – north of downtown, at a park at the Loaves & Fishes facility called Friendship – I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though a great many pairs of us don't know each other. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in the ordinary world. The whole illusion of a separate existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my life, but the conception of “individual” that we have in our isolated lives too easily manifests as a complete illusion: the illusion that by accumulating our own constellations of things and friends, colleagues and interests, we become a “universe unto ourself” that most respects and acknowledges others of our supposed ilk.

In truth, we are each a menagerie, more varied and jungle-cat wild than we pretend to be. And we are interconnected so thoroughly that, for each of us, every micro-component of us – every hair, particle, cell or thought – is a blend, an always-changing fandangled alloy, that has been whipped into a hundred-and-eight others. I couldn't pull myself out of everyone else here in Friendship Park any more than I could pull a drop of dye out of the ocean that was plopped into it a decade previous.

Certainly, individuals and their constructed worldviews are fully real, but that reality is not of an order outside everyday existence in a contingent world, nor does it entitle a Christian to despise the secular, or either to despise homeless people. Though some of us are “out of the world,” in a sense, we are in the same world as everybody else: the world of nuclear waste, the world of global warming, the world of technology, race hatreds, big business, revolution, and all the rest.

Are people who have jobs and houses and lives that are more accepted and "ordinary" somehow more civilized? In any sense are they, or are we, different or exclusive, or somehow better? The whole idea is preposterous.

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other people, that I am only a person among others.” To think that for twenty or thirty years I had taken seriously the pure illusion that is implicit in so much of suburbian or Christian thinking: that I have left other men behind, in a cloud of dust. That my shit doesn't smell.

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic lotto.

I have the immense joy of being homo sapien, a member of a species in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

This changes nothing in the sense and value of being an individual sometimes seeking solitude, for it is in fact the function of solitude and separateness to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to anyone completely immersed in the other cares, the other illusions, and all the automatisms of a tightly collective existence. My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them—and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers!

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed …I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

A little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is, so to speak, His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…. I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

Tip of the hat to Mr. Merton.

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