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Basic Ontology: A Meditation

The truth of the matter is that giving life away isn’t the least bit sexy or heroic. Frankly it’s often the most draining, shitty way to live that you could ever think of. After all, giving life away means that often your life is going to end up being consumed by those around you. In the end living a life of self-giving can only end in being used up. At least that’s how it often feels.

And how do you keep on with that sort of life when all it does is stretch you thin? You expect it to be cathartic, but often the tears, the pain and the nights of groaning leave you with nothing but more shell and less substance than you ever thought you’d feel.

Worse, though than all the unresolved pain is the trivialization of pain that goes on in your own head. In some ways it is far worse to suffer the pain of those weathering hell and death than to have your own hell to fixate on. The great pleasure of personal suffering, is after all, that it, at least is mine. At least that I can hang onto, name as my own and present to others as something that is unique to me.

Living a life of self-divestment and mutuality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when it starts meaning that more often than not you won’t get to hang onto even your own pain and suffering but must learn to share even that with others. What could be more offensive to our pride than the fact that we have to let others into our own prideful graspings and the bitterness that we so often feel makes our life interesting? When we are gripped by the realization that we have to live a life of self-giving even to the point of parting with the pain we so desperately cling to as our own, then we have perhaps begun to plumb the depths of what life in Christ means.

The worst thing in all this is the profound alienness that attends every act of selflessness. With every loving word I utter, every loving embrace I offer, part of me screams that I am a fraud who will soon be found out for what he truly is. This is, of course as it should be. If our acts of selflessness and love felt like something of our own we’d at best be a walking contradiction and at worst an arrogant blasphemous example of someone who thinks they don’t need Christ to remake their identity.

But there is often nothing harder than being brought face to face with the reality that we are from beginning to end constituted by others. How stricken we can be when we learn that in the end nothing is really ours at all. What do we have that we haven’t been given? Sure, we create illusions of “earning” what we have. But those things are just that, illusions. At the end of the day everything we have is a gift that we could never secure or guarantee for ourselves.

Often, of course the illusions are more comfortable. Living as a “self-made man” (what an idiotic statement that is!) is a compelling, enticing temptation. But all of that really is just a temptation to self-deception. Deep down we know that all we are is given to us (or taken from us) by those around us. Lives are shaped, hearts are formed, loves are crafted in and through the gifts we give to, or withhold from one another.

The ultimate horror of living in the culture of illusion is that the gift of life poured out for us, on which we depend for our very being is never guaranteed to be returned to us when we expend ourselves for the other. Or at least all we can see is that the greatest saints, who have selflessly expended themselves to the fullest lie cold in their graves.  The cross cannot guarantee the resurrection.

It is the common perception of the sovereignty of death that the resurrection forever shames, exploding and imploding all at once. In Jesus, God divests himself of his own life completely and to the fullest, and yet through his complete and total self-expenditure – and only through it – are the abundant gifts of resurrection life flung forth into the raging, crooked universe. Here is the ultimate scathing glory of the resurrection. The resurrection forever affirms that amidst all the illusions of possessing and withholding our lives for ourselves, that the givers of life shall never be stifled. The resurrection forever shames and mocks the demonic wisdom that claims that life is a matter of having and getting.

The glories of broken bread, blood poured out, flaming tongues and embraced strangers stand forever in unshatterable witness against any wisdom that would shame a life devoted to self-giving and the unrestricted welcome of the stranger. At the end of the day, despite its crooked brokenness and alienated aloneness, the cosmos is everywhere charged with the goodness of God. Those who are so fortunate to be able to taste and share a life of self-giving are indeed working with the grain of the universe.

So we should forever be grateful for the unsexy, for the unfun, for ugly, for the awkward, for the life-takers, for those who would stretch us thin and see us expend ourselves to the point of death. In Christ we learn that the life-stealers, the biters and the devourers are not the adversary to be opposed, but the estranged friend to be loved, even to the point of being consumed.

Do we dare live as if this were true? Do I dare? Sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t know at all. But on my best days my vision is clear enough to see that the resurrection of the expended Christ into God’s glorious future mocks any life lived to myself. The God who gives until he has nothing left and then gives again forever shows that any life held onto is life extinguished into a hell of my own making. “Abandon hope, all you who enter here” is perhaps inscribed not on the gates of hell but on the hearts of any who would seek to look inside themselves for life. And in the end, that is hell, isn’t it?

But thanks be to God who has de-possesed us from ourselves in Christ! Thanks be to the God who does not live to himself or die to himself but always to and for us, his unworthy, beloved creatures. Only because God doesn’t live for himself or die for himself can we follow in that pattern and dare to believe that none of us lives to ourselves and none of us dies to ourselves. So thank him! Thanks-giving is the ultimate act of being de-possesed. In thanks we acknowledge that what we need for life is ultimately outside ourselves. Thanks, perhaps is the only true form of praise. For it alone mirrors and participates in the self-divestment and unrestricted giving that characterizes the very life of God.

5 Comments

  1. roflyer wrote:

    Wowzers.

    Friday, January 18, 2008 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  2. Megan wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this post. I find that wearing His grace and santification is a struggle, and sometimes I’m not sure I want it. But then, as you say, some days my vision clears up enough to glimpse the glory of the Resurrection transforming the struggle – and me – for the life in eternity. Because isn’t that what we are made for? Shalom.

    Friday, January 18, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  3. dan wrote:

    Hey Halden,

    I really enjoyed this meditation; it sounds a lot like things that I have been thinking and feeling (for a long time — although I just wrote on the topic as well [cf. http://poserorprophet.livejournal.com/132187.html).

    I’m hoping to make it down to Portland in Feb/Mar, so maybe I’ll be able to grab a beer with you and Christian.

    Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Thanks, Dan. Yes, if you make it down for the weekend of February 29/March 1 we’ll be having our regional Ekklesia Project meeting on the New Monasticism. You should totally come. And yes. Beer good.

    Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  5. Erin wrote:

    A profound rumination, Halden, thank you.
    The fear of being used up is immediate.

    Monday, January 21, 2008 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

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