Tuesday, October 24, 2006

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“Modern inventions have brought into close relation widely separated peoples and made them better acquainted. Geographic and political divisions will continue to exist, but distances have been effaced. ... Isolation is no longer possible or desirable. The same important news is read, though in different languages, the same day in all Christendom. ... Every event of interest is immediately bulletined. ... So accustomed are we to safe and easy communication with distant lands that its temporary interruption, even in ordinary times, results in loss and inconvenience.”

This is a quotation from an address made by William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on September 5, 1901. (It was his last public address, as he was shot the next day and died eight days later.)

The turn of the twentieth century was a time of technological advance and much optimism. I have read McKinley’s entire speech and found it inspiring. In the portion I quote above, he was speaking of the telegraph—the earliest technology that made near-instantaneous long distance communication possible. Radio would not become widespread for another twenty years or so. Obviously he was not referring to the television, and most definitely he was not thinking of the internet. He was rhapsodizing about sending words in Morse code through a pattern of short and long clicks transmitted via electric wires.

A century after his speech, the ability to communicate has advanced astoundingly, far beyond anything McKinley could have imagined. Just in the past twenty-five years, people have been brought together by email, chat groups, message boards, instant messaging, cellular telephones (with cameras), text messaging, web pages, and no doubt plenty of other methods I don’t know about. And even blogs.

But the President was wrong when he said, “Isolation is no longer possible.” Now to be fair, the text of his speech shows that he didn’t intend to address spiritual matters, but only technological capabilities. But it hasn’t escaped me, nor many others, that even as human ability to transmit information has leaped forward, the sense of loneliness among people has increased. Isolation is certainly possible. It is always possible and sadly, all too common. In fact, it is probably growing.

Far more common than any other spiritual state that I deal with when people seek spiritual direction is a lack of assurance that they are loved—loved by God and other people. Even people who come from stable and loving families are often burdened by feeling “isolated” from God and other people.

Painful, sometimes even heartbreaking, as this situation is, I don’t think it’s all bad. It is evident to all that Blessed Sacrament is a vigorously loving community and many people have found great joy in being part of it. In fact, it is in this community that people’s need for love has been identified and expressed, and many have sought to address it. I think that in at least some cases, feeling lack of love is a way of recognizing one’s hunger for it. That is, a sense of being insufficiently loved is a call forward to discover greater love. The capacity for love can grow in individuals to the point that they realize that there is greater depth of love possible than what they have known, and they want more. Getting it will always mean growing in the ability to love others as well as to be loved by them.

But loving and being loved involve risk, for love always means trusting God and others with one’s heart, and the pain of having one’s heart hurt is intense. Of course, no one on Earth loves perfectly, so every love will always involve a measure of pain. The greater the love, the greater the potential for pain. So even those who want to love and be loved better, can fear the very thing that they want. Being caught, then, between the desire for true love and the fear of taking the risks necessary to get it is itself a painful place to be. I am personally quite familiar with that particular landscape, and suspect that it is, in fact, the basic human dilemma.

It is possible to break out of that dilemma. In fact, I wonder if “breaking” out of it is the only way to do it. I wonder if that’s what Jesus meant when he said that some people must enter the kingdom of God by violence. “Love” is a command that Jesus has given us, and therefore something that can be obeyed (or disobeyed)—that is, it is something that we have some control over. Love is about choices, not just feelings or states of being.

Recently, I have found that the love I have for people has grown to the point that it often gets “out of control”. That means that the love is not rigidly contained; on the contrary, it leads the way forward and compels me to burst my normally comfortable confines. This is mostly good. I am sure that it would not have happened without the robust, triumphant environment of Blessed Sacrament.

I wrote in my blog (http://johnonefive.blogspot.com/2006/10/lord-let-me-know-my-end.html) about love that might cause me to go up in “spontaneous combustion”; like the rest of that particular post, it was an attempt to relate a great truth through humor. I am drawn to the people of the parish almost like a magnet, i.e. beyond my control. I want total immersion, in a sense, in the hearts of my people. I feel it when I preach, and I overflow with affection when I give them Communion. More than one person has mentioned how moved they have been when I bless people and smile on them when they come up for their birthdays. (Egad! Am I becoming an extrovert?? And if so, is there a cure for it?)

A week or so ago, I posted something called “Hugs and Kisses” on this blog. In there, I confessed that I chose to become an affectionate person. Likewise, in my leadership of Blessed Sacrament and brought into confidence by being upheld within that community, I have chosen to love, regardless of risk. Like learning to hug people, it was an extremely frightening prospect, and I cannot say that it is entirely fear-free yet. There are still places in my life where I hold back from fear, but it does seem that I am moving in the right direction. I am very grateful to those who have encouraged me in the journey. As in almost everything I do, I am not in this for my own sake but am intentional about setting an example for others and providing encouragement that all our people can indeed know and feel that they are intensely, infinitely loved by God and called and commanded to love. In fact, that’s why I wrote this particular entry on my blog.

All the ways of communicating with others that technology has given us can be used for great good. I have made a large number of friends through websites and email whom otherwise I would never have met or even known about. One or two of these friendships have become very deep and, I suspect, lifelong. But nothing can improve on the first and greatest way of combating isolation: Loving God and loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself. Whenever we take the risk, immerse ourselves in the ways of God and obey his commandments, then we find truly that, as a great man said over a century ago, “isolation is no longer possible or desirable.”

By the way, the title of this blogpost is Morse code for “God loves you.”

2 comments:

Jon Cooper said...

Thank you for the beautiful reminder, David. Loving someone - or even reaching out and being a friend - is a risky endeavour, but I wouldn't want to live life without it. Who would want to live in a world devoid of love and friendship and kindness? It's risky, perhaps, but it's well worth doing.

The title of the article, incidentally, was brilliant!

darachltd said...

WOW! WOW! WOW! and Amen