Saturday, November 15, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #20

Day 20: Saturday, November 15, 2003
Back in mid-August I created a CD of mixed songs during a period of broken correspondence between a female friend in NY and myself. I shared the CD with another female friend of mine here in DC so that other ears could have perspective on what might otherwise have been a purely personal event. The feedback I got on one of the tracks (and on the “Album” in general) was that it was about “mourning a lost great love.”

The phrase stuck with me. There’s a lot of truth to the description, which had caught me off guard. I was surprised because like the start of this “Ramadan Reflection Project”, the truth of the statement required me to respond to it—which made me shift my focus from my original intention.

From a Buddhist perspective, there’s something gnawing and empty about mourning a loss. It necessarily involves one’s self in a pattern of suffering whose locus is absence. It is the epitome of suffering (mourning) based on illusion (loss). That’s a truth, though hardly a positive one.

But to be honest, it’s also a perspective that is incompatible with a Christian view of love, even though it’s incredibly compatible with dramatizations of romance to which Christians, among others, can identify: Who amongst us cannot identify with “mourning a lost great love?”

The point of the CD, entitled Last Year’s Boys, as well as this particular season of Fasting and Prayer, is to strive for change by both doing something (prayer) and doing without (fasting), in the hopes that such actions purify us—make us more commendable and more truthful to our being before our creator.

I realize, as I look back at what is perhaps a somewhat eccentric process of theological reflection, haphazard fasting, and a journal-entry approach to prayer, that embedded in me is a penchant for unmistakable habits (including habits of the heart). As a Christian, it is not impossible to devote different parts of the day to prayer, or to do so in conjunction with a fasting regimen. But if I look truly at my own Lenten tradition, in which the faithful fast on the few Fridays and the other handful of days during the season, what is unmistakable in Lenten practice, is that a Christian goes through this season without something. This is usually expressed in giving up some kind of actions or item as a type of “sacrifice”. One might give up dessert, or TV, or alcohol and “sacrifice” that kind of joy for the greater reward to come. Or one might do something positively, like spend more time with family and friends, or pay closer attention to prayer, or go daily to mass, as a way to get back in touch with what is most true about ourselves.

The point is we tend to express a truth about ourselves by “doing” “without.” And we tend to dress it up in more palpable experiences during special seasons so that it is in better focus. But for me, this kind of a “dressing up” tends to obscure the everyday truth that is always there: The gap between the doing and the doing without.

Often we tend to focus on the effect: the reward to come, or the goal or purpose of why we enter into these seasons in the first place. For Jews, it comes at a time where we celebrate being redeemed by God, called into special relationship, and gifted with Torah. For Christians, it is to have humanity’s destiny revealed to us in what God has accomplished in Christ through the Spirit. For Muslims, I imagine it heightens the celebration of God’s most precious words given to his prophet.

In all these cases, the gap is not so much within ourselves like a wound of memory (i.e. mourning a loss) or a flaw in our being (something we lack) but between ourselves and the Other, which is ultimately our relationship with God and of what God has given us.

This is why the Buddhist truth is incompatible with the Christian view of love and why “mourning a lost great love” is also off base. Created in love and always in the presence of God’s free offer of a grace-filled relationship, it is impossible to truly “mourn a loss” though it is entirely possible to fail to respond lovingly in the love that created us. Now or at any season.

But that is precisely what we should not do without!
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To Do without Love
I would mourn such a great loss
How should one respond?
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