Lesson 27- Linearity and Becoming
I hope that by now you are beginning to sense that there is a connection between a linear view of reality and a life of development and a circular view of reality and a life of existence and, that as Christian we are called to have a linear view. When we view reality, life, and history as a line moving from the Alpha to the Omega, it implies that we are constantly struggling to extend the line towards a final goal. Whereas, when we view it as a circle it implies that life is not directed towards any goal but rather is the constant repeating of existing patterns. The linear view says, "Becoming is better than being" while the circular view says, "Being is better than becoming." So why did God make us? Did He make us to develop or exist? Jesus had said, "Unless the seed dies, it can't not become the plant." If He meant for us to develop then we, like the seed in Jesus statement must die to one stage so that we can develop to the next. In other words, we must be born again because, as I illustrated in a previous program, death and life are the same process. The child at the moment that he leaves the womb is moving from a world that he knows into a new world that is foreign. At the moment of birth, he must feel like he is dying and, if he were given the choice, he would probably choose to return to the safety of the womb, which is known, and reject birth into this world, which is unknown. . Fortunately, he doesnt have this option and, after the initial shock, he starts to adjust to his new surroundings.
However, it soon becomes apparent that his life is a process of constant development as he moves from his total unity and dependence on his mother to a separate existence and independence from her. As soon as he has mastered one level of his development, another one rises to challenge him. In other words, his life is a process of giving birth to himself because he is a bundle of potential trying to actualize itself. Since this actualization process can be compared to birth, we could say that his life is a constant process of being born again, and again, and again.
The psychologist, Eric Fromm, once said that each person should be fully born when he dies but, unfortunately, most people die before they are born. What he meant is that there is a linear timetable for each persons life indicating where they should be in their development. There is a time to be weaned from our mothers breast and to move on to more solid foods. There is a time to leave our mothers arms and to learn to walk. There is a time to learn to tie our own shoes and cross the street by ourselves. As the Bible says, there is a time for every thing. Life, at least in the beginning stages, is obviously a developmental process because each of us as children was constantly looking forward to the next level in our development. Each birthday was anticipated with excitement because it marked another step in our march from dependency to independency, from "other control" to "self control". Like the Hebrews in the Old Testament, we were journeying from Egypt, the symbol for slavery, to the Promised Land, the symbol for freedom. And, like them, it was a rough journey because freedom is a two-edge sword. Each step toward independence carries with it a corresponding burden of personal responsibility for our own behavior.
The Bible says that Moses and the Hebrews wandered in the Wilderness of Sin for forty years because every time the going got rough, the Hebrews people wanted to return to the slavery of Egypt where they were willing to surrender their freedom for the assurance of food and water no matter how meager it might be. God, growing weary of their complaining, finally decided that they would have to wander in that wilderness for forty years until the generation that remembered Egypt had died out because they couldnt get Egypt out of their heart and thus were incapable of moving on to the freedom of the Promised Land.
When the Bible is look at from the symbolic level, which is how our imaginative right lobe would look at it, it reveals even greater truths then when it is looked at from the literal level, which is how the logical left lobe would look at it. Thus, to the literal left lobe, Egypt and the Promised Land correspond to two different geographical areas but to our figurative right lobe Egypt is slavery and the Promised Land is freedom and to move from one to the other requires that we travel through the Wilderness of Sin. Those who cant face the hardships involved in the journey are incapable of becoming free.
Once we learn to look at the Bible from both levels, we begin to understand on a deeper level what God is trying to teach us. For example, when Jesus says, "Unless you be like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God", most of us take that to mean that unless we are innocent and open like children, we cant enter the Kingdom of God, and, it certainly does carry that meaning. However, if we continue to meditate on it, which is one of the ways that the Bible is suppose to be used, it will continue to reveal to us even deeper insights. For example, children are not always as innocent and open as we would like to believe. They also can be mean and stubborn and, instead of acting like angels, they can often be more like devils. So maybe there are other ways of looking at this statement.
If children by their behavior often fail to come up to the moral standards demanded by God in the Bible, then maybe it isnt their behavior that makes them the prime candidates for heaven. Is there something else about them that qualifies them more than adults for the heavenly kingdom? One possible interpretation is their view of life. All children, no matter where they are born have a linear view of reality. They know intuitively that they are incomplete and therefore are always striving towards the next level of development. Life for them is the movement from one plateau to another, from one level of development to the next. Once they master walking, then they want to climb the steps, then they want to open the cabinets. Their lives are ones of exploration and discovery and thus they are natural seekers who, even though they make mistakes, are in the right mental mode to eventually discover the truth. Because of this they have Jesus assurance that if they continue to seek they will find and if they continue to knock, everything will be opened unto them. They are like the persistent person who, in Jesus parable, continue to knock on their neighbors door in the center of the night demanding that he give them a loaf of bread that they needed for the arrival of unexpected guests. Jesus said that eventually the homeowner would give them the bread because of their persistence. Thus, the meaning of the parable is to be persistent. Keep knocking because the homeowner, who is God, will eventually open the door. It is the necessary attitude for salvation.
If we, who are finite beings, are pursuing God, who is an infinite being, it is obvious that we will never catch Him because He will always be just beyond our grasp. And, according to St. Thomas, this is the thrill of it to know that truth is an ocean that cannot be contained in the small pools of our minds. Thus, those who pursue God must remain constantly, like children, persistent seekers in a linear mode.
If this is true, then the mistake that most of us make is that we "grow up." We are not supposed to "grow up" because it implies finality to an infinite process. Instead we should be constantly "growing up" because this implies the continuation of the process that began with our conception and, as Eric Fromm said, "we should be fully born when we die but unfortunately most of us die before we are born."
To grow up, in the context that I am using, means to abandon the linear view of our childhood and to replace it with a circular view. Thinking that we have "grown up" we abandon the search for new understandings, new experiences, new relationships and begin to repeat older patterns, which have lost the freshness they once had when they were new. Our cups are full, or so we believe, and there is no more which can be added to them. Thus, our lives, instead of being ones of constant integration have become ones of stagnation and, even worse, ones of disintegration. We have joined the ranks of the "living dead" whom Jesus was referring to when he told the young man who wanted to return home to bury his father before becoming His disciple, that he should "let the dead bury the dead."
What an insensitive thing to say. How can the "dead bury the dead" unless He was saying "Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead" because if life is integration and death is disintegration then whenever we leave the linear path of growth and development, we have left the path to the "fullness of life." Thus, he was saying to the young man, if you want to leave the ranks of the "living dead" and join Me in my linear pursuit of the Kingdom of God, which is the "world as it ought to be" then put your hands to the plow and dont look back. Those people have accepted the "world as it is" and no longer dream of "how it could be" and therefore don't understand My words which say "Thy Kingdom come". Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" They are just existing and thus it really doesnt matter whether you bury them at twenty-one or seventy four because nothing will change in the interim. They are the same person at seventy-four as they were at twenty-one. The only change is that their bodies have gotten older but their spirits have remained the same. I offered them the "fullness of life " and they chose the "emptiness of life" and that is why they have to fill their lives with so many distractions because if they even stopped to think they would realize that their lives are without any meaning or purpose. And they even brag about their emptiness with bumper stickers which say, "Whoever dies with the most toys wins." I tell you whoever has to fill their lives with toys, instead of meaningful pursuits, is already dead and is just trying to keep their minds occupied while they await their coffin."
Jesus, like a child and like Don Quixote, was a person with a goal. He was on a quest. He had come to accomplish something and He would not rest until it was finished. He always knew that His last act would be the crowning point of His ministry because it would graphically show us what mere words could never express. He had come to show us the way to eternal life. He had come to show us the way to the Kingdom of God and His very last words on the Cross were, "It is finished. Father, into Thy hands, I commend my spirit." What was finished? What He had come to do. Through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, He had revealed to us the secret of life. Life was not about ease, comfort, and idleness. Life was about struggle, striving, and working. We were not sent out the fields to sit down under a shady tree and rest. We were sent to the fields to bring in the harvest but, as Jesus said, "the harvest is great but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of Harvest to send more workers." At some point in our life, it should dawn on us that "retirement from life" is neither desirable nor wise. As negentropic people we should reach a point where the struggle, instead of something to be avoided, becomes the very essence of our lives.
In an earlier program I quoted a statement by John Garner, former head of HEW, which bears repeating here. He wrote:
"Despite almost universal belief to the contrary, self gratification, ease, comfort, diversion and a state of having achieved all one's goals do not constitute happiness for man. We are coming to a conception of happiness that differs fundamentally from the storybook version... The storybook conception tells of desires fulfilled; the truer version involves striving towards meaningful goals... goals that relate the individual to a larger context of purposes. Storybook happiness involves a bland idleness; the truer conception involves seeking and purposeful effort. Storybook happiness involves every form of pleasant thumb twiddling; true happiness involves the use of one's powers and talents. Both conceptions of happiness involve love, but the storybook version puts greater emphasis on being loved, the truer version more emphasis on the capacity to give love."
Thus, everyone, both believer and nonbeliever, is beginning to sense that we live in a universe of "becoming" not "being." History is the story of Mankind becoming what it was meant to be and each one of our lives is the story of us becoming who we were meant to be. Thus, salvation involves two levels: the salvation of the world and our own salvation.
This was brought home to me many years ago when I was going through a spiritual crisis in my own life. I had reached a point where the problems of the world seemed so overwhelming that it all seemed hopeless. I was teaching economics at the time and as I reflected on what I was teaching, I realized that we, as a nation, and the world in general were doing so many stupid things that we were setting ourselves up for a terrible crash that would exceed even the Great Depression of 1929. In our pursuit of wealth and material comfort, we were destroying the earth, our relationships, and our culture. I became so despondent over the size of the problems that I couldnt see any way that we could solve them. It was utterly hopeless. If we continued to follow the paths and the premises upon which we based our actions, it was only a matter of time until the whole "house of cards" came tumbling down and we would begin to "reap what we had sown." Feeling helpless and useless, I even considered quitting teaching because it didnt seem as though I was accomplishing much when many of the students werent even interested in economics or what I had to say about it.
As often happens in my life, at times of crisis God always sends someone or something to teach me what He wants me to learn. The "someone" was my Department Head and the "something" was a little story that introduced a chapter in a book.
As I said, I had come to the point where I was considering giving up teaching because it didnt seem that I was accomplishing anything. Then one day my Department Head said, "Joe. Are you going to be teaching psychology next year?" Concealing my thoughts about quitting, I said, "Yeah. I guess so." And she said, "Well, here is a new psychology book that we just received from the publishers. Would you look it over and let me know what you think about it?" I took it but I wasnt very enthusiastic about it. So I just opened it up somewhere in the center and began to read. It was the beginning of a chapter which was introduced by a story about two frogs which went like this:
"Two frogs fell into a pitcher of cream. The cream was so deep that they couldnt touch the bottom and there were so far from the top of the pitcher that they couldnt climb out. The first frog looked at the second frog and said, "This is hopeless. Well never get out of here. Were as good as dead". The second frog agreed. Then the first frog said, Well, Im going to end it right away. Im going to stick my head in the cream, take a deep breath, and drown myself.' To the horror of the second frog thats exactly what he did. The second frog said to himself, I know that hes right. Im as good as dead but I just cant kill myself. Ive got to do something.' So he began to swim around and around in the cream. For hours he struggled swimming in the cream and, finally, with his last ounce of strength he took one finally stroke and collapsed in exhaustion only to discover that he was sitting on a pile of butter. His constant, aimless swimming had churned the cream and turn it into butter."
The meaning of the story was apparent to me. Like the frogs I was looking at a hopeless situation and I couldnt see any way out of it. God, through the story, was telling me that I was not to concern myself with results. He was saying to me, "Joe, I sent you here to struggle, not to worry about the results. Your job is to struggle and let me take care of the results." As I thought about this it suddenly dawn upon me that salvation involved two areas: my own salvation and that of the world. I had no control over what the world did but I did have control over what I did. By deciding to swim, in striving to live the Kingdom of God in my own life, I was saving my own soul and, who knows, maybe if I decided to swim against the entropic currents of the modern world, I might inspire you to swim and you might inspire someone else to swim and suddenly, when enough of us have decided to swim, we might discover that we too have created butter.
At the end of my last program, I played excerpts from "The Man of LaMancha" in which Don Quixote sing the song to "Dream the Impossible Dream" which is a linear song that urges us to swim against the entropic forces pulling us towards chaos and to input negentropic energy into the life force that is struggling towards greater and greater levels of order and harmony. Everyone in the story thought that Quixote was a fool because he refused to accept the "world as it is" and set out on a quest to change it to the "world as it ought to be." Cervantes, as I mentioned, meant Quixote to be a Christ-figure and his correlation with Jesus is most obvious in his relationship with Aldonza the Whore, who is played by Sophia Loren. She is the bastard child of her mother, who was also a prostitute, and some unknown customer. She says that she was "born on a dung heap to die on a dung, a strumpet men use and forget." Yet, Quixote, like Jesus with Mary Magdalene, see beyond her sinful life, which is her "life as it is", and see instead the potential within her, which reflects her "life as it could be." He insists on calling her Dulcinea, which means "the beautiful and pure one." In the following excerpt, we hear her reaction to his loving praise.
Excerpt from "Man of La Mancha":
Quixote speaking to Aldonza the Whore
Aldonza: Enough of that... Get yourself to a madhouse. Rave about nobility where no one can hear...
Quixote: My Lady...
Aldonza: "I'm not your lady...Im not any kind of a lady... Aldonza begins to sing
For a lady has modestly and maidenly airs and a virtue a blind man could see that I lack
Its hard to develop these maidenly airs in a stable laid flat on your back.
Wont you look at me...look at me ...God wont you look at me.
Look at the kitchen slut reeking of sweat.
Born on a dung heap to die on a dung heap
A frumpet men use and forget.
If you feel that you see me not quite at my virginal best,
Cross my palm with a coin and Ill willingly show you the rest.
Quixote: Never deny that you are Dulcinea....
Aldonza continues to sing:
Take the cloth from your eyes and see me as I really am....
You have shown me the sky but what good is the sky
To a creature wholl never do better than crawl
Of all the cruel bastards who badger and batter me
You are the cruelest of all...
Cant you see what your gentle insanities do to me?
Rob me of anger and give me despair
Blows and abuse I can take and give back again
Tenderness I cannot bear.
So please torture me now with your "Sweet Dulcinea" no more.
I am no one ... Im nothing.... Im only Aldonza the whore.
Quixote: Now and forever. You are my lady, Dulcinea...
Aldonza screams in despair: Aaaaaghh....!
The movie reaches it climax when Quixote has a duel with the Knight of the Mirrors whose shield is a mirror that reflects back "life as it really is." As Quixote, with sword drawn, approaches him, the knight raises his mirrored shield and Quixote sees his own reflection which shows him as "he really is." In his own mind, he saw himself as a brave, heroic knight who was on a quest to destroy evil but in the mirror he sees himself as a thin, decrepit old man in ill fitted armor who looks more like a fool than a knight. This breaks his heart and he collapses. In the last scene in the movie, Quixote lies dying of a broken heart, his impossible dream shattered. Aldonza and his squire, Ganza visit him. She approaches his bed and tries to revive in him his dream of the "world, as it should be." She says:
Last scene in "Man of LaMancha"
Aldonza: Please try to remember. ....
Quixote: I spoke to you? ...
Aldonza: And you looked at me. And you called me by another name.... Dulcinea, (She sings...)
Dulcinea.... once you found a girl and called her Dulcinea.
When you spoke the name an angel seemed to whisper... Dulcinea.... Dulcinea....
Quixote: Then perhaps it was not a dream....
Aldonza: You spoke of a dream and about a quest....
Quixote: Quest? ....
Aldonza: How you must fight and it doesnt matter whether you win or lose if only you follow the quest. ....
Quixote: What did I say to you? Tell me the word...
Aldonza: To dream the impossible dream.... They are your own words.... To fight the unbeatable foe.... Dont you remember? To bear with unbearable sorrow.... You must remember... To run where the brave dare not go.
Quixote starting to remember: To right the unrightable wrong.... To love pure and chaste from afar....
Quixote: To try when your arms are too weary to reach the unreachable star....
Aldonza kneeling before him: Thank you, my Lord....
Quixote: My lady, this is unseemly, on your knees to me?
Aldonza: But my Lord, you are not well...
Quixote: Not well? What is sickness to the body of a knight errant? What matters wounds. For each time he falls, he will rise again and woe to the wicked. Ganza!
Ganza his squire: Here, Your Grace!
Quixote: My armor and my sword!
Ganza: More misadventures?
Quixote: And adventures, old friend.... (Quixote sings)
Oh the trumpets of glory now call me to rise.
Yes the trumpets are calling to me.
And wherever I ride, ever staunch at my side
My squire and my lady will be...
I am I Don Quixote the Lord of LaMancha
Our destiny calls and we go
And the wild winds of fortune will carry us onward
Wither so ever they blow.... wither so ever they blow....
Onward to glory we go.... (Don Quixote collapses and dies....)
Aldonza: My Lord???
Don Quixote, standing between Aldonza and Ganza, dies in their arms but his spirit lives on in both of them. As they leave, following his funeral, each of them has been transformed by his dream and is intent upon living their own lives in quest of the "impossible dream." As Ganza says farewell to Aldonza, she reminds him that her name is now Dulcinea. Quixote expectant love has transformed from Aldonza the Whore to Dulcinea, the beautiful and pure one.
Jesus just before His death is asked by His Apostle where was this Kingdom of God that He was always talking about. He gives them a rather strange answer. He says that the Kingdom was already there but that it was yet to come. It sounds like a contradiction but it is not. What He was saying is that He had already planted the vision of the Kingdom in their hearts but they were to go out to the rest of the world and plant the same vision in every one elses heart. When they had accomplished that, then, an only then, could they see the fulfillment of His prayer. "Thy kingdom come... Thy will be done... on earth as it is in heaven." Following His death and resurrection He tells them that He must leave but that He will send them His Spirit which will show them the way to the Kingdom of God.
Just as Quixotes spirit lived on in Aldonza and Ganza, so Jesus spirit lived on in His Apostles and those that followed them. Thus, every Christian, as Thomas Merton said, is called to be a Gentle Revolutionary called by the Holy Spirit of Jesus to transform the world from what "it is" to "what it ought to be." If we fail in directing our energies to this vision, then we have become unfaithful servants for, as the scriptures say, without a vision the people perish.
Every Catholic school is suppose to turn out Gentle Revolutionaries who are intent on creating the Kingdom of God on earth. If they are not, then they should close their doors because instead of turning out Gentle Revolutionaries for Christ they are turn out well educated servants of the world and its vision. Our motto should be that of a popular song of the 50s which said, "Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you!" What else would you expect of the followers of the Incarnate Wisdom of God?
For every problem that the world creates through its sinning and ignorance, our Catholic parishes should be shining examples of how the world "ought to be." Each parish is suppose to be one cell in the Body of Christ and, in conjunction with all the other parishes throughout the world, we should be the visible sign of Jesus Christ on earth.
Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom