"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

01 May 2007

“Already” – but “Not Yet”

To live in the “already” is a joyful thing, indeed. But I know too many people who have guaranteed others that “already” is already here every moment – that if you do not feel happy, satisfied, even ecstatic, there is something wrong in your relationship with God; your faith is too little or too weak. But this is a dangerous denial of reality; honesty compels us to recognize that the “not yet” is with us also and will be until we meet Him face to face – and what a glorious day that will be.

Kamilla, in her comment below, is right that the tension between the “already” and the “not yet,” honestly drawn, is what attracts me to writers like Greene and Waugh. The acceptance of the tension, it seems to me, frees mind and spirit to love and live in a way that insistence on either one or the other extreme as the primary reality cannot possibly do.

One can live too much in the “not yet,” of course, and despair; I am all too familiar with this . . . but I think the error of our own day has tended more in the other direction. In fact, this overemphasis on the “already” may lead some people to the extreme of despair when reality can no longer be denied. “O taste and see that the Lord is good” doesn’t mean that the bitter herbs have been removed from our diet.

A recent World Magazine article (5 May 2007) by Wichita writer Tony Woodlief points up this tension well, I think. In a column titled “Mornings,” he writes about his children waking in the mornings to seek out their parents, expecting them to be there and simply wanting to experience their love. He tells of many such wonderful mornings, then describes those other, “treacherous” mornings of waiting for their daughter’s death:

“In those grim hours the morning seemed to share the soul of night, creeping up to spill its light on the stark reality that the world is broken and that not even that glorious morning outside the Savior’s tomb has ended our suffering. [. . . .] On those mornings [. . .] one learns that sometimes God is silent, or perhaps that sometimes we cannot hear Him. It is difficult to believe, on those mornings, that the same sun under which we once rejoiced is now the sun that illuminates our despair.”

I recall on a spring morning of my own despair wondering that the sun could rise at all. But of course it does. Of course God still reigns. Of course we are still loved. Of course He wants us to still run to Him, even if He seems silent. I recall that Job’s lesson was not “Here I am to give you comfort and sympathize with you” – it was, quite simply, “I am.” And that was – is – enough. And sometimes knowing this gives us the delight of seeing and tasting the “already” of His redemption, the abundant life He holds for us. But not always; sometimes it only means that we need not be devoid of hope in the silence and the heartache of "not yet."

Woodlief puts it like this:
“I’m trying to see mornings like my children, as expected miracles. This is our faith, isn’t it? – we persist in believing the unbelievable. We expect the impossible and grieve joyously, irrationally hoping that grief ends.” Because, of course, we know that the unbelievable is true, that the impossible has already happened, that we can know joy even in grief, that grief will end, even though its ultimate end is in the future, and not yet.


St. Kevin & the Blackbird said...

Beth: You've got me thinking... Too busy with conferences and such to say anything about it right now, but SK&TB will try to say come up with something intelligent, to be read along with your theologically coherent remarks here. Thanks.

alaiyo said...

R - I'll be watching St. Kevin! I can't quite imagine that anything I've written lately is coherent, but thanks for your kind words. It's a subject deeply on my mind and soul the past few years. I'm coming to believe, I think, that there is only one place in life for absolute extremism -- and that is in our love for the Lord of Lords.