Thursday, April 28, 2011

The wind blows where it will

The line is often hard to discern - perhaps especially along most of the west coast (for health pathologies do not by any means end at the Californian border) - between an ordered care for bodily health, subsumed in the recognition that all good things are given from above, and a terror-inducing fixation on bodily health as a means by which one is supposed to live forever, subsumed in the delusion that living forever is entirely at the behest of one's efforts: the idolatrous conception of one's own body.

The latter shows itself not so much in the larger things, but the smaller things. People do not consciously think they are going to live forever (though I would not be surprised to find it otherwise among a large number) but the monomania that "health" seems to inspire in them makes it fair to say that they act, and talk, as though they will.

So it is that I fail to be interested in healthy eating; but I am interested in real food. Just as I am not interested in "sustainable living" (a term that annoys me for some reason); but I am interested in living in a way that is more and more radically subordinate to the fact that God sustains all life. As Michael O'Brien has said, to paraphrase: "Our foundations are from above."

I think it's very true that if one were to live forever on this earth, one would not enjoy it. One of the undeniable things about life as a gift from God, a gift which is on loan to be given back as freely as it was given, is that the weight, the prerogative, the ex nihilo contingency of the blessing is out of one's own hands, away from them - and that is awesome freedom.

Someone who is diagnosed with terminal cancer finds the incomprehensible grace to live, even with thanks to God, in the moments of one's life; and someone who lives without any major pains and is in good health does not enjoy or recognize the blessing of the fact, but rather gets into a tizzy about anything and everything, like those on the west coast who a few days after the Fukushima news came out, started freaking about the credible speculation of radiation sailing over the pacific from Japan, and flooded the pharmacies for iodine pills, or whatever it is one takes to strengthen the immune system against radiation. This world is absolutely hilarious.

You have weird doctors writing insane articles on the web about how people need to now grow their gardens strictly in greenhouses because of radiation coming from Japan in the rain. (That's about the, what, second sentence now that has the words, "coming over from Japan"? What about those in Japan? As long as the radiation doesn't come over here, it's all dandy - is that it?)

That is not a flippant dismissal of the danger of radiation sailing over the pacific nor a criticism of peoples' fear of it, per se; but a picture begins to resolve when attempting to weigh things in a larger whole: how fears, no matter how connected to real scenarios, are inherently and wildly disproportionate to our real priorities and place in life, which is why one reads in scripture that it would be better to fly sin than to be afraid of death. Fear is pride under fire: one commits the sin of disproportion.

Even if actual dangerous amounts of radiation started coming over from Japan (there it is again!) - the point is that this world is not only temporal, but highly imperfect, even when it seems at its most perfect: this realization is for the Christian a consolation. Our joy seems to be subsumed in sadness, but it is really the other way around. At some point, one must arrive at the old cliche, "Life is too short", or that well-worn smoker's disclaimer (which actually has a well of wisdom behind it), "Everyone dies of something," and throw up one's hands, and go to confession - and there discover the eternal kernel of joy that is in fact greater than all this world has to offer. What horrid, sopping weight of tragedy must be felt by those who win the lottery.

Some might guffaw at that last sentence. So much for it: eternity may be having a big guffaw at our ideas of the good life. A Salesian priest that I know once spoke in a homily about an old lady in Italy who was dying. Having lived for nearly a century, and now on her deathbed, she said her whole life up to that point was like a bird flitting past her window.

In the scope of eternity, that image is no exaggeration.

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