The Summons (another approach to humility)

The Summons (another approach to humility) September 16, 2010

This post is one in a series about Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series.  I am using the books as a frame for talking about what kind of religion I might feel comfortable in.  Check out all posts on this topic at the series index.

Yesterday, I wrote about one of the major reasons my pride makes me feel uncomfortable with the Christian idea of submission to God.  Several commenters pointed out that Lewis’s allegory is not the only way to approach humility, so I thought I would use today to highlight a different angle on humility.

The video linked above is my favorite contemporary hymn at Mass (sorry for the poor quality, shared for audio only).

Partial lyrics:

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

The first time I encountered this song, I remember being more moved than by most of the hymns I heard at Mass.  Many of the frequently featured songs had fairly interchangeable lyrics expressing of thankfulness for the Eucharist.  These songs (“Taste and See” in particular) leave me cold, since the Eucharist has no significance to me.  Many of these songs of Adoration are situated entirely in the human experience of communion, which didn’t illuminate anything for me.

I hadn’t encountered a pleading God in other hymns sung at Mass.  This song had a clear relationship between believer and deity.  Instead of dwelling on the inefficiencies of the believer, it emphasized some form of partnership, no matter the imbalance.

In this theology, the greatest power available to humans is the choice to say yes to God’s gifts, which are constantly available but must be accepted to be used.  This is, as far as I understand, a major factor in the Catholic veneration of Mary, who said the biggest YES possible to God.  (Thanks to Tristyn for sharing this article on Reader).

This idea did speak to me, as it had originally spoken to me in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, in which magic is a gift of the the Powers that Be, which may be freely rejected at any time.  Of course, to do so in the books is to hasten the death of the universe, so no character would ever willing reject wizardry except in despair.

There’s a fairly obvious caveat coming: I don’t have any experience of such a summons. I can certainly take this song as a reminder that I have more power to do good than I expect and then try to live up to the gifts I have been given, but this is just a secular gloss on the hymn.  Without any additional experience, this idea of God is appealing, but no more compelling than the fictional theology of Diane Duane that kicked off this series.

I suppose the most lasting impression the song left me with was how profoundly upsetting atheism must be for Christians.  To a Christian, I am a person who, having heard God’s plea “Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?” answered and continues to answer no.  To them, my entire existence must look like a willful rejection of the opportunity to do good and be good.

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  • It doesn't leave you thinking how profoundly upsetting atheism is for atheists? Any atheist that think seriously about the universe for a short period of time has to at least wonder for a second about how much 'better' the christians have it!Didn't Sartre say "That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget."

  • A

    Hi, Leah! 🙂 I came across your blog through Conversion Diary, and I've been exploring it. Your story resonates with me–the place you're in now reminds me of where I was about a year ago. I was an atheist "intellectual" (I use quotes not to undermine your own intellectualism, but my own because I was really more of a nihilist than anything else), asking the exact sorts of questions you're asking, in a really similar setting to the one you're in. (I'm a philosophy major at Wellesley, so I definitely get where you're coming from.) I'm a Catholic now.First of all, I absolutely love this hymn. 🙂 I think there's something very compelling about the overarching theme I've found in your blog about God: our relationship with Him. (At one point, I remember you saying that you defined God more based upon relationship than His power, etc.) I think this is very astute and almost unexpected. I say this it is unexpected because this definition seems to me to be in conflict with reason as the sole method of seeking Him, though that's how I started, too. One thing that really changed my whole way of looking at the question of God was something a friend said to me: she told me that, though apologists may spend their lives writing book after book about the existence of God, these books are not the reason that they believe in Him. They believe in Him because they've met Him. That kind of threw me: I mean, how do you meet someone who's entirely outside of space and time? The thing is, though, that if Christianity is true, then we, too, are outside of space and time, not in our physicality, but in our souls, i.e. in our very selves. And reason, though it does an excellent job of dealing with that which is within space and time, can't hope to comprehend that which is outside of it. I think that's exactly why the answers you're getting from Christians about "how to find God" are feeling so unsatisfactory and frustrating to you right now. There is no language which is going to capture what it means to encounter God in the very depths of your being, except the language of love, and that language makes no use of words. If you think about it, this has to be true, in order for EVERYONE to be able to know God. Newborns, people in permanently vegetative states, people with disabilities so profound that they will never speak. If He exists, all of these people have to be able to know Him, too, without knowing the words that we use for Him, or hearing the story of Jesus, or having any ideas about metaphysics or absolute morality. So, these abilities must be considered something extra, something which is not intrinsic to what it means to be human–otherwise, we have to say that the profoundly disabled are simply not human, and I think we both know where that would lead… Christianity says, and is the only religion which says in its doctrine, that that which makes us human is love. That love is the Answer, and every problem and hurt in the world is the result of its absence. That God is Love. If that's true, then that's where you're going to encounter Him, and that's how you're going to know it's Him–because, if God is truly Love, then Love is the only key which is going to unlock the door to our souls, and the moment when that door opens is the moment when you will meet Him.

  • A

    dfldfkjd sorry I write too much.I wouldn't be surprised if this sounded unsatisfactory to you because it felt distinctly unsatisfactory to me when I first heard it, but I also think that it speaks to what you've shown yourself to know implicitly–that if this God exists, it's about relationship. But what I wrote probably sounds very impractical and esoteric. I didn't feel the need to talk about the practical component, though, because I think you've actually already identified it in this very post–saying Yes. Love is quite courteous and humble. God isn't going to just barge in and say, "Hey, I know you don't want me here, but HERE I AM!!! YAY let's live together forever and ever!!!" But you feel like there isn't anything to say Yes to. You haven't received a summons. I get this feeling, I really do. I used to think that if this God really wanted a relationship with me so badly, He should just ASK me already. I don't think this feeling is unfounded. There's actually no way for us to know that God wants a relationship with us unless He tells us. But if Christianity is true, God did ask you. He came here 2,000 years ago and asked–PLEADED, to use your word, which I like. You might feel like the crucifixion is just some disconnected event with no relation to your life, but once again, if Christianity is true, then that act of love–that plea–is eternal. It's not just historical. And if that's true, then it's not just that He asked you 2,000 years ago, it's that He's been asking you all your life and is actually asking you right this very second. Probably not with words. You're probably not going to "hear" it, though some people do. But even when He does use words, those words are spoken in and through an underlying, fundamental reality of love, such that, no matter how He's asking, He's asking you with love and in love. And those words require special sorts of ears to hear. But you should also know that, if He is real, then He knows exactly how you're feeling right now. He knows that you don't feel like you've heard His summons. He knows that there's tons of clutter and noise preventing you from hearing Him–I don't say this to be presumptuous, but rather because, if He's actually speaking to you right now, and you can't hear Him, then there's necessarily something blocking Him out–and He's prepared to clear it all away. But only if you'll let Him. He's courteous. I would say that, if you really want to see if there is, in fact, a summons, you have to ask Him to let you hear it, not out of mere curiosity, not as part of an intellectual exercise (I made this mistake so many times!), but as His child who needs her Father. You can't do it on your own. No one can. I'm sorry for writing so much! And I'm sorry if you feel as though you've just wasted your time reading it. If you feel that way, I don't blame you. I know what it's like to hear the things Christians say and think, "…what?!?!?!?" But, as someone who has thought that and is now the one making other people want to tear their hair out in frustration :), I would advise you to keep going. I can tell that you're someone very special just based on your writing; it's very thoughtful and intelligent, and if you have any questions about anything I said, I'd be more than happy to try to explain myself better. :)Love,AuroraP.S. I don't know if you've read Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard, but if you haven't, I would recommend it. It's dense, and it's not at all a traditional philosophical text, but I think it might speak to you.