Friday, November 11, 2011

All That Is

Teilhard in Mongolia
All that is really worthwhile is action. Personal success or personal satisfaction are not worth another thought.

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

* * *

This from a man who, bound by his dedication to his Jesuit brothers and also bound by his dedication to science, was endlessly at odds with the church he'd hoped to liberate from its hidebound orthodoxies and so was endlessly prohibited from publishing his work, from living in his home country, from having the same love and dedication returned to him by his church. He was as fucked and stuck as any last one of us, but only in terns of personal success or satisfaction that his work had reached distant audiences. As good and fine as all that is, of greater value, the only value was in doing the work in the first place.

* * *

My friend, Annie Dillard, tells me "In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree. In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander or the grief of loss; or to endure torture."

My friend, Annie, is not wrong; especially about that last part.

The ability to endure, to abide, to suffer and still move is the greatest of all man's tricks. Any one can curl up and die. Any one can be co-opted, but the ability to retain your integrity, your liberty in the face of trials large and small, chronic or acute is not a talent that comes naturally, easily. It must be chosen. It is in the choosing that you are free. It is this first act of choosing A over B that liberates and provides solace. Always we are asked to choose. Always we are asked, Who the fuck are you? Always, but we fuck ourselves by mumbling an answer about success and satisfaction as if this was the only possible answer–everything else being lesser, a sign of weakness, failure.

This kills.
This kills the spirit.
This kills the spirit that is required to be able to choose, to be free in the face of all adversity.

This is not acquiescence. This is not giving up, or in, but placing a primary, solitary value on those actions that are under your control: the way you think, what you choose, and how you live it out in the field of time. That must be your success. That must be your satisfaction.

* * *

Teilhard was banished to China for decades. Each year he petitioned Rome for permission to return to France, to publish his writings, and each and every time he was refused. He maintained a deference to church authority that even his Jesuit brothers couldn't understand. They encouraged him to leave the priesthood, but he refused to do so.  In effect, he wore the yoke they placed on him, a yoke he never ceased trying to remove, but accepted. And in his exile he worked. He wrote 18 books, only one of which was allowed to be published in his lifetime. Denied access to a teaching position in France, he traveled the world talking to those he could reach to spread his ideas on evolution and science and the sacred. There was no comfortable life, no acclaim for him. He'd have preferred it, but it didn't change the basic need: the call to action.

And you? How is it with you?

My friend, Annie Dillard writes: "This hospital, like every other, is a hole in the universe through which holiness issues in blasts. It blows both ways, in and out of time. On the wards above and below me, men and women are dying. Their hearts seize, give out or clatter, their kidneys fail, their lungs harden or drown, their brains clog or jam and die for blood. Their awarenesses lower like lamp wicks. Off they go, these many great and beloved people, as death subtracts them one by one from the living–about 164,300 of them a day worldwide, and 6,000 a day in the United States–and the hospitals shunt their bodies away. Simultaneously, here they come, these many new people, for now absurdly alike–about 10,000 of them a day in this country–as apparently shabby replacements."

What will it matter how satisfied you were with yourself? What will it matter about your success? We all know how this story ends. What we don't know is what to do or how to do it until then. In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger, the bush may flare and you choose to avail yourself of the power to love your enemies, to accept slander, failure, the grief of loss, to endure torture because that is within your power to do so. It is a choice to derive meaning out of trial, just as it is a choice to build meaning through creative acts, through love. Refusing the choice, or only focusing on outcomes fucks you up but good.

* * *

Teilhard survived 30 months on the front during WWI as medic/stretcher bearer plucking the wounded off the ground. He exalted in the work. He wrote:  "All the enchantments of the East, all of the spiritual warmth of Paris, are not worth the mud of Douaumont...  How heart-rending it is to find oneself so seldom with a task to be accomplished, one to which the soul feels it can commit itself unreservedly!"

Take up arms against your fuckedness. Take action. Live, choose and bear what you must bear to do so without complaint and you may yet find success and satisfaction, but only because you weren't aiming for it. And if it never comes you will still have accomplished your task.

Now go. You have work to do.


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