Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Understanding Rebellion

Ever since we came home from Texas, I have been immersed in paperwork and administrative details related to running a house and homeschooling children across a large age spectrum. Notably, I've been trying to get the two oldest girls enrolled at the local community college so that they can take a few supplemental courses. As with everything I've done lately (and my apologies to the many generous souls who've had to bear the brunt of this), it's been last-minute, skin-of-my-teeth work, squeaking in just under every deadline. 

Yesterday, I sat down to yet another morning of administra. I made some notes, looked up some details, starting sketching in schedules. And then I hit a wall of rebellion. I'd picked up a one-volume edition of Robertson Davies's Salterton trilogy, intending to flip through the first book, Tempest Tost, to refresh my memory on whether it would be an appropriate readaloud for the kids. And instead of putting it on the pile and moving on, I just sat down and read the other two books in the trilogy. And not really reading, either, but consuming -- skipping through the book to trace a particular story, following plot details, ignoring long lyric passages to find out what happened next. I was dogged, mostly ignoring my children, only attending in the most cursory manner to necessities such as feeding and changing the baby. From outside myself, I looked down and thought, "I really should put this book down and do something," and yet I carried out my own internal protest against all the tedious work of the week. 

It's not often that one gets an immediate answer to the question, "What's wrong with me?", and yet later in the day it became clear that my lassitude was of the hormonal/cyclical variety. The mundanity of that is both uninspiring and helpfully contextual. St Paul says in 1 Corinthians that he does not even pass judgment on himself, since the Lord will bring to light what is hidden in darkness. We think we understand ourselves or others, for good or for ill, and then we stumble on some obscure motivation which puts the situation in a new light. I'm not just lazy. She's not just malicious. He's not just a pushover. They're not just tactless. It's simply that I didn't understand. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," said the man of perfect understanding, in the most intolerable circumstances, giving the rest of us a model to follow.

I'm going on retreat this weekend, and something I'll be praying about is my tendency to rely on my own understanding*. My understanding is not so bad, in general, but it's incomplete. Recently I read that something that differentiates angels from humans is that angels are unchangeable because they have a complete understanding. They don't have to revise their understand as new knowledge comes in to fill in the details they didn't know. Sin as the angels and you sin by pride, they say --  Lucifer didn't reject God because he didn't understand his beauty or majesty or ineffable will. He knew all these things, and he understood them, and he didn't want them. 

By contrast, the Christian life is one act of humility after another, the constant admission that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do. Even the Confiteor in Mass is an act of humility -- say the words as loud as you like, and you still can't call attention to your own sinfulness because everyone else is saying them too. That seems to be the path of Christian life, though. The point isn't to single yourself out, either for praise or condemnation, but just to do the good thing you're supposed to be doing at that moment. It sure is helpful to know what's wrong with me, but it doesn't change the fact that I need to be acting in love at this present moment, according to my best understanding.

*Understanding is one of those gifts of the Spirit which it's hard to differentiate from Counsel, Wisdom, and Knowledge. I think it's ability to assimilate knowledge into a complete picture. Wisdom gives that picture divine nuance, which leads to the ability to give counsel.


Thomas said...

Lovely and concise reflection

Antoinette said...

Well written and thoughtful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this!

Antoinette said...

Many of my friends and their kids started at the community college and transferred to a 4-year college.

My husband felt better prepared after getting an associate of arts at the community college. All of his teachers were professors. Some of them had worked outside te college first and brought real work experience to their classes