The Jagged Brick Wall

What was the sort of "hole" man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.
~ C.S. Lewis,
Mere Christianity

Nothing is simple with God -- unfortunately, before the Fall we were made to cope with this fact, but we lost that ability to understand when we "uncreated" ourselves, so to speak. One moment, He wrenches our trust and love out of ourselves, and the next he gives us bliss, and not a moment later we are thrown against jagged brick wall, only to discover that the joy that we thought was from Him was either not from Him, or it was not truly joy. He teaches us to trust Him not always by answering our prayers, but sometimes by making our circumstances so desperate that we have no choice but to abandon our will to His; and once He finally has our love, He asks us to fling ourselves over a cliff and believe that He will catch us. Why is it that when we surrender, and say "Your Will is mine, Lord," the trials that we thought were meant only to make us say those words intensifies? C.S. Lewis has quite a lot to say on this matter.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about
in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of -- throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

I believe it was St. Theresa of Avila who said something to the effect that God sends special trials to the cowardly in order that they might not only overcome our fears, but learn that God is worth more of our consideration than anything we could possibly fear. Hense, part of the intimate and mysterious connection between the trials that God sends us and true sainthood.

There is a misconception in secular society -- which is so because it also exists significantly in religious society -- and that is the theory that the more we deny ourselves, the more we pray, and the more we receive the Sacraments -- in other words, the more externals we accomplish -- the greater a saint we will be (albeit the secularists equate this with superstition, and therefore reject such a spirituality). But the point is, true sainthood does not come from how often we beat ourselves, or even how often we pray or how often we receive the Sacraments, although these things, especially prayer and the Sacraments, are essential -- but an unrepentant sinner can receive the Sacraments everyday of his life; rather, it comes from the most blind trust in God's goodness, and to trust in His Will we must love Him. Granted, one of the most often repeated parables deals with this issue, so I realize that this is preaching to the choir; be that as it may, the connection between abandonment of the will and sainthood is worth repeating as it is often forgotten by everyone who is still alive (the saints themselves see the need repeat it often enough). And suddenly when this happens, self-denial, prayer, works of mercy, the Sacraments, the Eucharist, all of these things make sense, and we realize that all of these cannot be fulfilled unless we love God. The Sacraments can lead us to God, but we have them because we should love God, and because He loves us. They have unimaginable worth whether or not we receive them worthily, but the Sacraments, prayer, self-denial, all of these things are meant to be acts of love, and not just mechanical actions in and of themselves. Moreover, self-inflicted acts of piety are easy, however rigorous they might be, but are they alone sufficient in making us trust in God's goodness? One of the greatest litmus tests for answering this question is to ask ourselves how well we receive the sufferings that God gives us. This acceptance of God's suffering is what brings us back to the question of trust in God, which is intimately connected with our love of God, and which is thereby followed by the acts of love found in prayer, the Sacraments, and self-mortification. We love God because He teaches us how to love Him by making us trust Him; and from this all other acts of love follow.

But What we have now in mind is our joy related to the fact that the absolute Being is infinitely perfect and that this infinitely glorious Being is a Person . . . Humility calls upon us to allow our hears to be wounded by the glory of God, to fall on our knees in loving adoration, and to deliver ourselves over to God entirely. We must display that pure response in which our center of gravity is thus transferred from ourselves to God, so that His glory taken in itself, without any reference to His benevlence, becomes for us a source of precious joy: "My God and my all," said St. Francis of Assisi.
~Dietrich von Hilderbrand,
Transformation in Christ

Please point out any heresy that I might be making. I was an English major, after all.


gipsyjaime said...

excellent expository, greengirl. well said. one of my great query, which you are not obligate to answer but which i simply put forth for discussion, is: if love for God cannot be attached to or measured by feeling, then how does one keep it from being just routine actions? if you feel nothing but do the actions because of what they are worth, and because you intellectually know their value, do these actions not de facto become just empty routine? what makes it not empty if one does not feel God?
this is not meant to be an argument so much as just further exploration of this ... rather incomprehensible topic. ciao bella

GreenGirl said...

Excellent observation, my dear gipsy watson. I think that part of it comes from the mystery of love itself. Even if we do the actions, particularly the Sacraments, God will give us grace; our receptivity to that Grace depends on our will, and the ammount of that grace depends on God's wisdom. But even if we don't "feel" love for our spouse (well, not my spouse, I don't have one, but hypothetically), our actions may seem "empty," but that does not mean that we don't love that person. How often do we "feel" love for our parents, or our siblings? Yet there are few people that we love more. I guess the thing to examine is the meaning of love itself.

GreenGirl said...

Now that I think about it, there's a poem by Hartley Coleridge. It isn't about love of God, but I think that it goes along with your question. I'm only giving part of it, so here it goes:

Is love a fancy, or a feeling? No.
It is immortal as immaculate Truth,
'Tis not a blossom shed as soon as youth,
Drops from the stem of life--for it will grow,
In barren regions, where no waters flow,
Nor rays of promise cheats the pensive gloom.