Sweet Crystalline Cry

By Jessica Hickey, (c.) 2010

"We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:19)

"I invite everyone to look into the face of the other and to see that he has a soul, a story and a life: He is a person and God loves him as he loves me."
(Pope Benedict XVI, 10 January 2010)

This Sunday, the Church celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In this event, Christ inaugurated the sacrament that makes us sons of God, that instills in us Faith, Hope & Charity, and that allows even the smallest infant to open his eyes and gaze upon the world a Christian.

To see the world as God sees it, to love others as God loves them--this is the work that the Holy Spirit begins in us from that moment of our baptism.

There can be no doubt of how necessary this is for each soul and for the world. Without the ability to love & to practice the virtue of charity, the soul knows no peace, being continuously entangled in petty vices that sap our strength, consume our time, & waste our energies--giving us nothing in return. In love, however, we find peace, and even the burdens of our duties become easier, as St. Teresa tells us: "Love turns work into rest."

As for the world, how many of its manifold problems would remain were people able to see, as God sees, the worth of each creature? In so many of the debates, controversies and conflicts that occur, people achieve a sense of victory and superiority by the denigration of others, by dismissing them as being less than human, worthless. Just yesterday I read the story of a juvenile delinquent being sentenced, probably justly, for his crimes. As in many news stories about people who do wrong, or are accused of doing wrong, the public commentary was not just critical, but spiteful--rejoicing in the harm that would come to this person, hoping fervently for his future misery, labeling him " a piece of trash," and so on. This type of reaction has become common & predictable in our culture, and sometimes it is only by an effort that we can avoid being drawn into it. Even when a person has experienced a misfortune, something for which they may carry little or no moral blame, there is often still a contemptuous outcry, a expression that somehow "they deserved it."

Why do we humans do this? Why do we cultivate so great an animosity that we can come to feel the most passionate hate for others, often those we do not even know? Pope Benedict has spoken of the fact that, when we do not acknowledge the existence of sin, yet are still confronted by the harsh reality of it, the psyche must find a way to "deal" with it and to destroy it:

"What is remarkable to me is the aggressiveness, always on the verge of pouncing, which we experience openly in our society—the lurking readiness to demean the other person, to hold others guilty whenever misfortune occurs to them, to accuse society, and to want to change the world by violence. It seems to me that all of this can be understood only as an expression of the suppressed reality of guilt, which people do not want to admit. But since it is still there, they have to attack it and destroy it."
(Ratzinger, In The Beginning)

Caryll Houselander has written of this phenonenon as well, in her work entitled Guilt:

"There are people who will not admit the existence of evil in themselves, they will not, and ultimately perhaps cannot, allow the dark side of their nature to invade their consciousness . . . . the fact remains that they are, like the rest of us, children of a fallen race: concupiscence has become a part of their nature . . . . all this they project onto other people. . . . There is hardly an evil force more terrible than this projected self -hatred. It is not for nothing that we are told to love our neighbor as ourself, we must tremble lest refusing to come to terms with all that is self, we hate our neighbor as ourself."

Wherever this drive toward hatred originates, its force is countermanded mightily by our baptism. Baptism forces us to acknowledge sin and evil, and to see it vanquished by one who loved to the point of death and beyond. And unfolding in us, deeper even than our biological genes, is the desire for charity, which, if we are true to our baptismal promises and our baptismal grace, will become the blueprint for our future life. This will enable us to see each other in the proper light, and to offer love, compassion, and forgiveness. "There is nothing annoying that is not easily suffered by those who love one another," wrote St. Teresa of Avila inThe Way of Perfection.

Even those we meet in passing or who we merely hear about deserve to be seen with this vision. One of my favorite poems by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats offers a picture of this:

" INDIGNANT at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite
Of our old paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind
Among the stones and thorn-trees, under morning light;
Until a curlew cried and in the luminous wind
A curlew answered; and suddenly thereupon I thought
That on the lonely height where all are in God's eye,
There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry."

"Paudeen" was a sort of nickname or slur for a certain type of ignorant and provincial Irishman, andwas probably seen as someone who habitually causes offense and is difficult to like. We have probably all known the equivalent in our own culture. Here we are given a glimpse of how quickly we might react to a person who annoys us with their small-mindedness, spite, incompetence, or other unfortunate traits. We dismiss him, the thought of him makes us roll our eyes and scowl. But in this, we are not seeing truly. We are "stumbling blind," among the rocks and thorns.

It is not until he hears the curlew's cry in the darkness that the speaker can see that, in God's eyes, there is " no soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry." Each has its worth, each cries out, like the bird in the darkness, and their cry is sweet. And most importantly, there is meant to be a response to their call: "And in the luminous wind / A curlew answered." Someone is meant to hear that soul's cry and return it. God did not think it beneath Himself to do so. How can we fail to see beauty where God sees it, or to offer love where He offers it? The practice of charity means attuning oneself to hear that cry and to answer it.

Paul Claudel puts this into even more concrete terms:

"Loving our neighbor means something altogether different from courtesy, or a doubtful or meager forebearance. It springs from the awareness of this universal summons, this interrogation that will not tire of knocking until the door has been opened; somewhere, some debt is owed by us that we cannot remove until it has been discharged. The day has come when it is absolutely necessary that we learn to get along with this brother who is thrust forcibly, whether we want him or not, into our arms."

" . . . .Yes, this peasant with his leathery face, this cringing and surly alcoholic, the image of the concierge's fat dog, this storekeeper with her mean scowl, repainting her ancient lips: these are our brothers and sisters; Jesus Christ died for them. There is a star embedded in the heart of this tormented flesh."
(from L'Epee et le Miroir, & Un Poete regarde la Croix)

"When you love people," wrote Dorothy Day in her memoirs, "you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them. God sees Christ, His Son, in us and loves us. And so we should see Christ in others and nothing else, and love them. There can never be enough of it."

Today we may think back to a time, perhaps beyond our memory now, when with water and the Holy Spirit we were given the mandate to love. We were called by a new name, pronounced by the mouth of the Lord, and that name was His own. In baptism, we became Christian, "of Christ," and we owe to this moment a particular reverence and fidelity. Let us pray to be true to this gift and vocation.


John Janaro said...
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