Friday, February 3, 2017

The one who suffers most

So much work goes into sinning. It is a horrible labour because it is fed and fueled with the division of one's soul. One might entertain the notion of freedom from the commandments in order to commit sin, like it would be a reprieve; or one imagines freedom is just a general state of doing what you want; but one is a dupe to think that one will be free in sin.

Sin demands all-consuming toil; it demands your soul be divided; and divided ever more insanely without rhyme or reason. The toil is not necessarily a toil that one can ascertain as such, in the sense of seeing yourself positively labouring at something. Often it is a toil of quiet negation that robs the soul of its freedom. When the whip and prod of this slavery are at their quietest, they are at their worst, they are at their highest command. The most lethargic and laid-back assumptions soaking in a hottub and cloud of marijuana smoke, answering every impulse to repent with, "The Dude abides", or some such, has in it a horrible fortitude toiling at sin.

More work goes into regressing than into progressing. The work here is the division of the soul, whereas in the most strenuous work of progress in holiness, in union with Christ, the soul is yet somehow still at rest, for it is whole. How many sins are committed by Christians because they allow the general sadness and boredom and noise of the world, in the ordinary minutes, to make them forget the victory that Christ has won in them? How many sin because they forget to smile?

The very word "comfort" implies its unattainability, or rather its absurdity; thus to live in it extravagantly or persistently (that is to say, always choosing comfort over and above anything else) implies a life of deep alienation, of a position of very deep discomfort with life, because one has to service the comfort that one wishes to have or sustain. Go to any mall. Look at the faces. Comfort is one of the coldest words in the English language. Borrowing money at compounding interest is just such a great metaphor for the labour of sin, until you realize that it is, or can be, a literal carrier of it. It is no metaphor at all.

Thomas Merton wrote:

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” 

We're familiar with the terminology about slavery to sin. Yet don't we tend to think about that slavery as something static? Today the term "slavery" is so ubiquitous with the political and ideological that it has lost its keen verb sense, such as when we say "to slave away", as well as simply its original legal sense. Still less do we think about the underlying assumption that mediated the legality of slave-trading: that the slave was to do work for someone. You wanted a slave that could work. No one wanted to own a person because they just wanted to own a person.

St. Paul talks about "the wages of sin". Slavery is to toil away, as your fate, for someone's other benefit. "Slavery of sin" does not just imply that one is in chains; it implies a grueling, soul-sapping toil - every second that goes by. Where slaving for someone as in the slave-trade (which is by no means dead today) was a fate, and you toiled until you died, the toil of the slavery of sin is exponential in demanding your dissipation and division.

He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
    it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
    the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
    they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
    the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
    and plants for people to cultivate—
    bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
    oil to make their faces shine,
    and bread that sustains their hearts.
The trees of the Lord are well watered,
    the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests;
    the stork has its home in the junipers.
The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
    the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.
He made the moon to mark the seasons,
    and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
    and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
    and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
    they return and lie down in their dens.
Then people go out to their work,
    to their labor until evening.

--Psalm 104, 10-23

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