My daughter has a vivid imagination, an inquiring mind and a well-oiled tongue. |
Not a good combination.
Actually, it’s a wonderful combination, and I’m glad about it. Except when I’d appreciate a little peace or I’m not quite up to her never-ending stream of observations and stories.
Once, when she was just about four years old, I took her on a walk. I wanted to see, just for my own amusement, how long she could talk without interruption. We walked for a mile, at the naturally slow pace little four-year old legs can manage. I purposefully never said a word. Not one. She never stopped talking. Not once.
For a couple of years now, one of her favorite topics for speculation has been, “What if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned?” Like some little medieval theologian in braces and a PowerPuff Girls t-shirt, she’s positively fascinated by the prospect. Would we get sick? Would we die? Would we have to go to school? Would we eat meat? Would Jesus have come?
You can see another reason I sometimes mandate a bit of silence. I don’t happen to be a medieval theologian. I just don’t know.
She usually takes my diversionary tactics in good stride, but yesterday, her feelings got hurt. That, incidentally, is not a rare event, and she’s only ten. Lord help us when she’s fourteen.
But what happened was this: the speculation had gone on for some minutes, I was tired, I had played with her, philosophically speaking, for as long as my already aching brain could handle it, and so I told her, gently (I thought!), but firmly that instead of worrying so much about what “would have happened” if other people hadn’t sinned in the past, maybe she should spend more time thinking about what could happen if she didn’t sin in the present and the future.
Cross arms, bury chin in chest, burrow into couch. Pout.
Like I said, fourteen is going to be a treat.
Anyway, all I was trying to point out to her was that sometimes our fascination with the hypothetical is a way of escaping from the present.
It’s not only the hypothetical, either. Lots of us are guilty of using Big Thoughts about Unanswerable Questions, not to speak of pointless activity, to avoid contemplating the reality of our own lives in the here and now.
My friend's sister was married to an Episcopal priest. They lived on top of a mountain with lots of other rich Episcopalians and a cozy Episcopalian community, and they talked a lot about social justice.
At the base of the mountain lived scores of poor people, may of whom my friend saw in her role as a community mental health counselor. They needed jobs, the needed health care, they needed decent housing. Their children needed a better education, and their elderly parents just needed help.
And on top of the mountain, a lot of concerned people just kept talking.
I once knew a woman who expressed concern about her relationship with God.
“I’ve done practically everything in the parish,” she said. “I’ve been on every committee, I’ve taught CCD, I’ve been on the Pastoral Council. But I still feel this emptiness inside – none of it’s bringing me closer to God.”
That’s it. You’ll find it in the Lost Works of Theresa of Avila, I believe: The Interior Committee. Or was it Thomas a Kempis? The Imitation of the Pastoral Council Chairperson, maybe.
Way too many of us (including me) go to Mass as critics, not as worshippers. We fret about the placement of the tabernacle. We roll our eyes at the homily. We are aghast at what Kids Today are wearing to church. We cringe at the music. We fume at the female altar servers. We look down on “lifeless” worshippers.
We think, think, think. We wonder what life would be like if Mass were “different.” We think we know. We outline it in our head . And then we wonder why we’re left not-so-high but awfully dry by the experience.
Once again, entranced by the hypothetical and enchanted by the ideal, we’ve missed the present. We’ve haven’t prayed. Not one bit.
Hypotheticals are fun, but they ultimately do little to build our faith or bring us closer to Christ. Talking about the poor may make us feel virtuous, but it leaves the poor still out in the cold. Having meetings about parish life may make everyone feel like they’re doing something, but really, wouldn’t we all be better off with an hour of actual, real, live prayer?
What if our first parents had not sinned? What if we had a more just world? What if the Mass was always externally up to our standards? Well, they did, we don’t and it isn’t.
It is what it is, and maybe it would be best for us to stop dreaming and take on God’s attitude towards what is: no fantasies, no speculation, no diversionary activities. Just truth and mercy offered, never forced. Just a humble commitment to lives more deeply immersed in that truth and mercy. Just honesty. Just love.