Monday, September 02, 2013

Be Blessed, You Dear God-Created World

"Alyosha stood gazing and suddenly, as if he had been cut down, threw himself to the earth. He did not know why he was embracing it, he did not try to understand why he longed so irresistibly to kiss it, to kiss all of it, but he was kissing it, weeping, sobbing, and watering it with his tears, and he vowed ecstatically to love it, to love it unto ages of ages"(362).

At this early moment in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the young Alyosha is overcome with a love yet to be defined. For many years, he had been living in a monastery and studying under Father Zosima, an ancient known for his mystery, wisdom, and extraordinary love of people.  However, as his beloved teacher fades from this world and prepares for the next, he tells Alyosha that the thrust of his life will soon carry him out of the little community and into the great outside, to "sojourn in the world".

The young man is very unsure of this path at first, and struggles to understand why it must be so. Finally, one day at the vigil surrounding Father Zosima's coffin, Alyosha has a vision of the dead man rising and coming over to speak with him one last time, encouraging him once more: "Begin, my dear, begin, my meek one to do your work!" The young man is filled with wonder and runs outside to the starry dome of a sky, thrusting his head into it and marveling.

It is at this point that he falls to the earth and embraces it, sobbing, vowing, loving. He finally surrenders to the shape of his life as God would have it. "It was as if threads from all those innumerable worlds of God all came together in his soul, and it was trembling all over, touching other worlds...some sort of idea, as it were, was coming to reign in his mind."

He saw it all, in a sudden flash - and it changed him forever. He saw how life was made of the intricate interweavings of the great cumulus-inhabited expanses above, the clouds of dust beneath, and all the life that man's breath can breathe in-between. By stretching out his hands and grasping the earth with the love that had grown in him for years, he could embrace the ugly, the pain, the beauty, the suffering - and thereby aid in its transformation into the kingdom of God. Three days later, he leaves the monastery.

I wonder, do I have that kind of courage? Do I lay hold of it all, letting my hands be pierced through by the thorns while my nose takes in the winey scent of the bloom?

Another place where I have glimpsed this vision of love for the world is in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, through the new biography by Eric Mexatas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and also a collection of Bonhoeffer's writings and thoughts, Meditating on the Word. As a young man at college and seminary, Bonhoeffer showed an intellectual brilliance and steadfastness to principles that impressed both liberal and conservative theologians alike. Several famous German seminary professors courted him with the hope that he would work under them. His family, historically aristocratic on all sides, encouraged his career as it seemed to lead toward promise of recognition in university circles (even if he had picked religion of all things  - this in a family of doctors and lawyers).

He walked this path for a time, distinguishing himself in the city among greats such as Karl Barth and the venerable Adolf von Harnack. His course of study required several appointments as a pastor (usually seen as a tedious necessity to young theology students), but young Bonhoeffer was attracted to this hands-on, practical working-out of his ideas on the church. Increasingly, he devoted his time to organizing much-needed Bible studies for young people, visiting the old and sick, and crafting stunning sermons that would draw the minds and hearts of his congregants toward God. He did not really abandon his studies, but rather the desire to make them official and institutionalized slowly drained away. His energies were directed more and more to the people who were outside the towering walls of the university.

I should be clear about this. Bonhoeffer never stopped learning and thinking, not even after he was imprisoned by the Nazis. His personal reading lists and output in the form of writing was prodigious, especially during his imprisonment, but there was a distinct shift. He wanted it to serve the world, to love it. Even when that world turned on him and many other righteous persons, as it did under the Third Reich. In a letter from Tegel Prison to his best friend Eberhard Bethge, he wrote the following, first explaining the way in which Christ had been "in the world":

"The answer of the righteous person to the sufferings which the world causes her is to bless. That was the answer of God to the world which nailed Christ to the cross: blessing. God does not repay like with like, and neither should the righteous person. No condemning, no railing, but blessing. The world would have no hope if this were not so."

He then goes on to explain the Christian's role in the world's redemption:

"The world lives and has its future by means of the blessing of God and the righteous person. Blessing means laying one's hands upon something and saying: You belong to God in spite of all. It is in this way that we respond to the world which causes us such suffering. We do not forsake it, cast it out, despise or condemn it. Instead, we recall it to God, we give it hope, we lay our hands upon it and say: God's blessing come upon you; may God renew you; be blessed, you dear God-created world, for you belong to your creator and redeemer. The renewal of the world, which seems so impossible, becomes possible in the blessing of God."(Meditating on the Word, 99-100, emphasis mine).

This was from the pen of a man who would be murdered by Nazi soldiers not one year later. Like his Saviour, he "loved them to the end," even his traitors.

I find myself at a beginning. I am not sure what it all means. Like Alyosha and Bonhoeffer, it will be defined as I step forward into it. What I do know is that it has something love, the world, suffering, and beauty. My refrain for the sojourn: "Be blessed, you dear God-created world."

1 comment:

Joyfulartist said...

May the blessing return to you!