Beating hearts in the Ruins

The most attractive, magnetic force a human can possess is a heart for Christ. It is this heart (or hunger) that causes others to wonder, “What do they have that I don’t? I want some of that.” Other traits that may induce this sensation in others might be termed “confidence” or “joy”…but the lasting draw of those who desire closeness with Christ is the most compelling illustration of an awakened human being.

I hypothesize that this mysterious, intangible trait cannot be taught. My intuition is that a heart for Christ is a power that is built only between Christ and the individual. But I do think there are ingredients and environments that aid in the cultivation of this heart. Those include religious leaders, mentors, WONDER and TIME.

This is fortunate, as it is the one thing I want for everyone I know, and yet, I have so little control over it seemingly. I observe those close to me who appear to be driven by both head and heart, as humans are, towards earthly goals and comforts and challenges and relationships. This isn’t wrong, of course. We exist now; we must accept our placement in time as a true situation and calling, despite our longing for eternity. Accepting this responsibility is good, but it is unbearably common for us to then remain steeped in the matters of the world: our jobs, our money, our politics, our recreational interests, our bodies, our consumerism… I know too many, myself included, where the idea of one hour per day in silence or prayer or reflection is considered unheard of and entirely unachievable. Given this, why is it a surprise to encounter so many Catholics and Christians whose hearts do not actually beat for Christ? If you watch and listen, anyone will show you who they are, what gets them out of bed in the morning, and what excites them the most. Look at calendars, wallets, and weekends to learn even more. Finally, in looking at our own situation, what will we find? Chasing, temporal comforts and pleasures, and very little in the bank with God. Given the inputs, how could we uncover a confident, impassioned heartbeat under it all?

All of this reflection isn’t to suggest judgment so much as it is to illustrate a loss many of us share. Who would not want a heart for Christ? Why do we tell ourselves that everything — every thing — is more important right now? When will we learn that this isn’t sustainable?

I write from a place of both frustration and sadness. I see that we are living in the Ruins, and I accept my place in time, but I do not like it. This is a lonely, strange place for people whose hearts do beat for Christ. I yearn for a renewed sense of hope despite the Ruins. I cannot turn to the mysterious joy of Christianity to sum this all up neatly and send myself on my way. The Ruins are getting to me for now.

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Betrayal, Silence, & Waiting

In Silence, Shusaku Endo’s novel about Jesuit missionaries in Japan during the 17th century, there comes a point where the story shifts abruptly from first person to third.

At the end of Chapter 4, Kichijiro betrays Fr. Rodrigues and hands him over to his captors. The reader then finds a sudden switch from Rodrigues’ points of view to a third party account of his experiences at the onset of Chapter 5:

While he was being dragged here children and adults alike, dressed in rags, had kept staring at him with glimmering eyes like animals from between the thatch-roofed huts. (79)

Certainly, this literary tactic is not unheard of and not even unusual. But it is always deliberate on the part of the author, and therefore worthy of examination.

In W.H. Vanstone’s book, The Stature of Waiting, he discusses this very literary style as it plays out in the Gospels of Mark and John. Leading up to Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of Judas, his life and works are described with Jesus as an active initiator; with phrases like, “He asked,” “He rebuked,” “He began to teach,” etc. When Jesus is handed over to the soldiers, this active language halts. “From this point onwards,” Vanstone writes, “Jesus is, in a grammatical sense, the subject of just nine verbs, whereas He is the object, direct or indirect, His ‘action’ is either negative or indecisive […] Jesus is no longer the one who does — He becomes the one who is done to.” (22-23)

In the Gospels and in Silence, this perspective shift, in the very least, heightens the meaning of arrest or captivity.  When we read Silence with this overlay borrowed from the Gospels (though I do not know the intentionality there on Endo’s part), we also see Rodrigues’ captivity as a rendering of Christ’s experience on some level.

Beyond these literary outcomes, the general idea of a movement from active to passive, illustrated in both texts, is worthy of a deeper look. This can be done in our own lives. Our society demands and rewards action from its members. Perhaps more than ever, partly at the hands of technology, we are faced with a culture that has little to no regard for contemplation or stillness. While reflecting on Christ’s ‘handing over,’ I considered the possibility of virtue that lies in a more passive state of being.

It is, perhaps, in the midst of betrayal or hardship, that we are most often forced to face our alone-ness, to be met with a disorienting state of passivity, to find ourselves faced with inaction and a loss of control. These are some of the most uncomfortable moments that we face. But they are also full of opportunity for new depth in our faith.

Our passive waiting is played out in Advent and in Lent. There is immense value in our waiting, and additional value to be found in a state of stillness, however disorienting it might seem. Let us know the state of “being done to,” as Christ did. 

For in these moments, suddenly, anything could happen to you.