Paradoxical though it may seem, the title of this week’s blog entry/reflection has a truth to it that goes beyond sense. When it comes to matters of faith, indeed, most attempts at explanations are ‘senseless’ to a certain degree, though not without being rational. Suffering, or going through something akin to Christ’s Passion, and dying – can they really be things that are powerful? We have to almost put on a new mind to try to fathom what our faith is teaching us in order to see how these weak, debilitating and physically enfeebling moments of our lives are ‘powerful’ in a world that demands and expects some form of physical strength and power and authority in order to be a force to be reckoned with and given respect to. Indeed, a ‘new mind’ is required for one to really enter into the realm of faith, as that is what ‘metanoia’ or a ‘changed mind’ really means. True faith requires true metanoia – a mind change.
My physical experience this time round in hospital had been an eye opener in more ways than one. My body’s reactions to the sixth interthrecal spinal injection that sent a dose of cytotoxins to my brain fluid caused much lethargy and listlessness such that I had to just lie in bed for days on end. One doesn’t feel very much that one is doing anything productive with one’s life when all one can do is lie there and wait for the day to be over, and for the nagging ache at the back of the head to subside, coupled with bouts of nausea and dizziness. I have come to realize that this is especially so for one who has made it a point to be productive and useful in one’s waking moments.
This made me ponder if, and how, this lying in a hospital bed can be anything that bore any semblance to being something that was powerful. Our faith is something that is paradoxical at many levels, and here I was facing the paradox for almost a week. It gave me lots of food for thought and it was clear where the basis for this paradox of power. It is in the very being of God himself.
The early Greek Fathers of the Church in the eighth century used the term “perichoresis” to express the relationship of the Triune God and how the three person of the Holy Trinity relate to one another. There is an intense giving and loving that ceaselessly co-penetrates the persons of the Trinity, and their relationship, and at the heart of it is something that can only be humanly described as intimacy at its purest form.
What is intimacy, but a total giving and which necessarily includes a total dying. Real intimacy is intimacy that has to mirror God’s intimacy in his very Being. Think of it this way – what is the most intense, most generous and most loving act of intimacy that human beings can ever participate in? It is in the marital, conjugal union of husband and wife. There is a great sacrifice that is given in that one is giving oneself totally to the other, without condition. It is at that near participation in divine living that gives the Church the basis for her teaching that any form of contraception is a sinful act. Seen in this light, contraception is a sign of being conditional, and it is a giving that is limited. It doesn’t mirror the divine way of loving that we are made for. We have ‘missed the mark’ of holy living. But it is when one is totally giving, giving of one’s whole body AND self, that one becomes able to cooperate with God in receiving the possibility of a new life in the child within the conjugal marital union. With dying (of self), there comes the possibility of a new gift of life. I have often told married couples that the marital bed is really an altar of sacrifice, and I get strange looks.
Parables abound about the link between dying and rising, the need to die (of the seed) before the new germination of life can begin, and of course, the greatest witness to this is Christ’s own dying and resurrection, which we are called not just to believe in but to also participate in.
St Paul’s quote from 2 Cor 12:9 where he stresses that his strength is made perfect in weakness is something that Paul must have intuited way before the later Greek Fathers came up with anything like perichoresis.
Granted, it is strange and almost difficult to theologize and spiritualize when one is in the pit of a seeming vacant suffering in a hospital bed. One usually only thinks of one’s uselessness and one’s powerlessness. On most of the ‘bad’ days, I did just that. But when that happened, I’ve come to realize that I’d only centered and focused on my own singular pain, boredom and seemingly uselessness. To want to expand my sufferings and see them as having a unique power to transform not just me, but a world waiting for a paradoxical one required me to step out of myself. That itself is a dying that is so hard to do when often all you want to do is nothing. I surmise that this is something mystical that tugs at the heartstrings of anyone facing any kind of real dying, and that it is the something that is so close to the heart of the love that the Triune God has for each other in the persons of the Holy Trinity.
We can only try to mirror that as much as we can while we are alive, and pray that we can join in that perichoretic dance when we finally die.