Thursday, November 24, 2016

We Have Forgotten How to "Live Well"

Life seems to have become increasingly frantic, artificially intense, rude, agitated, and shallow lately. I don't know if this is your experience, but it has been mine in many ways, and others can probably relate. Sometimes we put ourselves under so much pressure that we forget to live our human lives in the real way that they are being given to us each day.

We forget to live well.

The present problem, I think, is an intensification of a more widespread social illness in which even the most simple and often joyful aspects of human life are marginalized or entirely forgotten.

Human beings need a variety of activities: we need to read and study and think. We need to talk and to listen. We also need to eat, play, dance, make music, breathe deeply, walk, run, plant things in the ground, explore, and laugh. We need to share life with companions. We need to look at beautiful things. And, of course, we need to sleep.

We need to lift up our minds and hearts and bodies to the One who gives us life, the One who loves us and draws us to Himself. We need to pray. We need to love, and to let ourselves be loved.

We move our bodies and we also move our minds. A healthy human life encompasses this variety in an organic way. It's not healthy to obsess about anything, and especially it's corrosive to our humanity to fixate on an ideology or an emotion like anger or discouragement and allow it to distort our perspective on everything we encounter in the real world.

Even if our ideas are true (which is the case precisely because they conform to reality) we can distort their meaning by subtly withdrawing these truths from an engagement with our real lives, and turning them into an ideological system in the service of our own interests and power. Instead of entering more deeply into the mystery of life, we try to reduce it and manipulate it according to projects we invent with our own narrow desires.

This leads to various forms of violence: physical, verbal, psychological, emotional violence in which real human persons are subordinated to deformed, confused, exaggerated projects that unfold according to the logic of power. These fixations lead to apparent successes and apparent failures, social patterns of dominance and exclusion, human lives measured by external success, superficial wealth, or even by "being right," by "winning the ideological war," while others stoke their resentments into the desire for revenge. All of this perpetuates the cycle of violence. Violence begets more violence.

And nobody is happy. Life becomes inhuman.

It doesn't have to be this way. We are called to live as human persons, to engage life, to be constructive, to discover and fulfill our responsibilities, to love God and love one another, to be good stewards of the beautiful world that has been given to us, to enjoy being together, to help one another in our struggles, to work and also to rest.

We are called to do everything we can for the good, and then to beg God to respond to the depth of the need for more that we continually discover within our hearts, to trust in His mercy, and to receive His peace as we continue our journey.

We can get so caught up in our projects that we forget to pray with patience and trust. We can get so caught up in trying to change the world that we exhaust ourselves and do violence to the persons nearest to us, the persons whom we are especially called to love. We have forgotten how to grow as human persons, how to live well.

Instead, we vacillate between distraction and obsession with our own desires, plans, and the distorted perception of reality that inevitably weighs heavily upon us. This is what's killing us. It is, literally, killing us.

We think all there is to life is found in our crazy projects, our ideas, and our constructions. It's not surprising that we are overextended, drained, angry, and desperate about the future. Our frantic sense of urgency is drawn out of a deep fear that we are alone in defining the meaning of our existence and that we must succeed in measuring up to criteria we have imposed upon ourselves (individually or as a group). This seems like an overwhelming task, and no matter how much we pretend to have expertise or control, deep down inside we don't know what to do!

But we are not alone. We are never alone. Our lives are in the hands of the One who gives us everything in every moment, who gives us our own being, sustains us, shapes the very freedom by which we become capable of giving ourselves.

Certainly we must work very much. We must shoulder our burdens and help to carry one another's burdens, but we must not let ourselves be crushed by them. He calls us to Himself to give us "rest," and to remember that His yoke is easy, His burden light (see Matthew 11:30).

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