Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The Two Greatest Questions
(This is a follow up on last Thursday's post "The Building No One Built")
According to St. Augustine, the two greatest questions we can ask our whole lives long and never get to the bottom of are these:
1. Who am I?
2. God, Who are You?
Now because each of these questions is about a person and not a thing, each question is like a bottomless well or an infinite sky. So to answer the first question, "Who am I?", we have to come to terms with the fact that we can never fully answer it. Hmm.... are we OK with this?
See, we can't spread a person's parts out on the floor and say, "Oh, I get it!" (Besides, that would be nasty. Wordsworth comes to mind "We murder to dissect.") We can take apart a thing, like a lawn mower or a vacuum and spread it out and say "OK, I see how it works." But we can't do this with persons. The animating principle that makes he or she animated is just that.... anemos from the greek for wind, breath, spirit. Spirit is intangible; can't bruise it, can't lose it, slice it or dice it. Spirit is that which is outside the bonds of space and time. We've got this stuff inside us! It's us! It's YOU! Do you even know yourself yet? That's the human journey.
Getting to the heart of "Who am I?" involves getting beyond pure materialism. We're in a different realm now than we were when we looked at the material universe and saw intricate elements of design. Now we're in the realm of persons, you and me; funky composites of mud and spirit, part atom and part angel, in a certain sense. That's us! Pope John Paul II said we're "a unique composite - a unity of spirit and matter, soul and body, fashioned in the image of God and destined to live forever." Now that's cool....
In our quest to really know the world and ourselves, we must get beyond the stuff and up into the personal realm. If we don't ascend, then we've got only half the story. What allows us to even know this truth in the first place is our spirit, our invisible and indivisible soul, empowered with gifts that send us into a quantum leap above the rest of the natural world we're born into.
This accounts for the lack of inquisitive, hoofed mammals in the Borders bookstore, and chickens reading poetry in coffee shops. Animals are not interested in a deeper meaning to life. They feel quite at home here, because this here is their home. But it's not the end for us, ultimately; at least not now and not until the phrase "new heavens and a new earth" comes to be.... This too is coolness...
A SEEMING DIGRESSION.... STAY WITH ME!
I just had the tune from the Greatest American Hero pop into my head.... "Believe it or not I'm walking on air, never thought I could feel so freeheeeeheeee! Flying away on a wing and a prayer.... who could it beeeeeee.... believe it or not it's just meeeeeeee...."
Believe it or not, that was relevant. Our freedom is one of our greatest gifts. So to the question "Who am I?" comes part of the answer; I am free.
Of all the creatures in the universe, it is we alone who are truly free. All else is bound by instinct, and although we humans are most certainly instinctual, we always have the power of our will to rise above those instincts. We can give up our lives for loved ones, and even total strangers. We can will to love, sacrifice, and serve, even when our feelings say "yuck" or "heck no!" We can be heroes!
We can engage in choices that dramatically alter the course of our life and the lives of others. We are self-aware, self-reflective. We can choose between good and evil. Wow. Now this gift comes at a high price. It's priceless actually.
Because this freedom that enables us to become heroes can also lead to our becoming devils.
So.... Who am I?
1. A rational animal, categorically higher that anything else that lives and moves and has its being here below; that proof is in our poetry and our prayer and our power to ponder.
2. A free agent, with one foot on earth and one foot in eternity; masterminds that have the power to dominate, manipulate and pontificate over this world (in the good sense of each of those words). What a task.
3. But we are all the while and always created beings.... and this is the key to a peaceful and grounded and realistic self-knowledge. It's the key to understanding "Who am I?"
Gaudium et Spes (a spiritual karate chop of a document from VII) said it so well, "For without the Creator the creature would disappear.... When God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible."
So... tomorrow.... the question remains: "God, Who are You?"
It can get pretty dark when we stay inside our own heads and try to figure things out. We'll understand ourselves much better when we step into His Light.