Have you noticed how the issues of life sometimes crystallize in your waking moments? It’s as if your mind’s eye is reborn to see, albeit fleetingly, the true shape of your life. Within those moments, just emerging from oblivion’s ocean, we stand naked before our self – and God. There in the stillness and the silence, all the veneer, all the pretense falls away. We are with our self, Coram Deo. We perceive our being as it stands now, not as we wish it to be, or what it may become, but simply as it is. For me, the experience is like walking in beams of light on a frosty morning without wearing any cloths. It’s gloriously Edenic and clarifying, but not too comfortable.
To my chagrin, these moments of clarity reveal a man of pride, one all too self-absorbed, depressive, and materialistic. I see a soul far smaller than the one I’d hoped for at this leg of the journey. I see walls of books too, since I don’t have a separate room for my library. Books, mind you, which remind me of selfish ambitions, books bought for academic one-up-manship, stacks that really just stand as monuments to dilettantism. My blurry eyes scan the shelves and see too few bought for sheer enjoyment, too few for the pure pleasure of enchanted narratives and words attractively arranged, bloody few bought for the cultivation of friendship in the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Peter Kreeft, somewhere, recalls how Pascal, at the end of his life, gave away all his books, keeping only the Bible and St Augustine’s Confessions. I often think about giving away all my books, even now, at middle age. But then I realize, like Gollum’s ring, they have become precious. And besides, as the vast soul labor of scholars, their fruit still seems so desirable to make one wise.
But then a ping from the digital Gnostic eye we all carry stirs me further awake. It’s a prayer template offered for my use:
Sometimes I am tempted to hoard my wealth, time, and resources instead of sharing them with others. Ultimately I know that I am blessed to be a blessing. So please help me wisely steward the gifts you’ve entrusted to me. Turn me into someone who lives and gives generously.
It’s like Jesus sent me an e-mail! Here I am loitering in the shadows, but God knows where to find me, he knows my number. In the cool of the day I hear his voice.
In one glance he sees all I am and all I will be. But since I don’t, I must strive for all I might be by his grace. Does that mean I should lose my books to save my soul? Maybe. I’m still mulling that one over. At present I still like running my fingers over their spines. But really, I see now that escaping my shadows will entail turning toward the other, seeking to enrich the other with the gifts God gives.
It’s no big surprise, since God the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -is a fellowship turned toward the other eternally. It’s this eternal, ecstatic generosity that we owe our world’s existence to, the gift of our very being. But higher still, it’s the grace that guides our destinies, this generous extension of the Father’s two hands, the gift of Jesus and the Spirit. And God’s outstretched hands bear heavenly bread and wine, divine body and blood, of which to eat in faith is to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. We are what we eat after all, as W. H. Auden put it in his salute to Melville:
The Godhead is broken like bread.
We are the pieces.
And if I’m a shard of Christ’s broken body, then I must give myself away as Christ gave himself for me and continues to do so in the holy Eucharist.
True, the stillness and the clarity of early morning light can be cold. But it can also sharpen our ear to the Master’s voice. If we listen, he’s always calling us out of the shadows. And he knows how to cloth us, and put us back in our right mind (Gen 3:21; Mark 5:15).