08 February 2012

What is Man (that WE're not more mindful of Him)?

Let me begin by stating as a matter of record that I love the Psalms. And not just as fine literature - which I dare anyone to deny - but as fierce devotion. And even, in places, as doctrine (another subject, for another time). So may I be the last to disagree with the Psalmist, when he says that Man is a wonder and a marvel - or even a kind of miracle. It's just that for me, what makes Man most miraculous is that in him which resembles a rippling spring - the kind one can imagine being rooted in a "lost," untraceable underground stream - much more than a geyser or other sudden eruption. Much less an earthquake, volcano or fire. So perhaps I should say, what I find most marvelous about the human is that in us which is best able both to hear the still, small voice, and to be its mouthpiece.

Now I know Man has also been the stuff of which gripping - and even terrifying - stories are made, if not always high drama; though that alone tells us nothing about the kind of storyteller best equipped to do him justice. In any case, for me the essential "miracle" of Man is one that, of its nature, seems designed more readily to impress, say, a Will Shakespeare than a Bernard Shaw. In other words, what makes Man marvelous is not his supposed ability to surpass or supersede his Maker (however regularly and often we may  appear to do just that). It is rather two other, very different and distinct features:

1) The amazing number of things Man seems able to do successfully "apart" from, or without even any reference to, or invocation of, God;

2) the fact that he can do those same things incomparably better - to the point where that "better" and "worse" constitute a difference almost of Light and Darkness - when he is in a state of what we hypermoderns would call the most abject dependence upon his Maker.

I say this because, for all his considerable graces and virtues, the creature Man has never struck me as being a terribly original creator (though he can do some thoroughly derivative things remarkably well with the right coaxing). Even in the matter of outright evil, I'm amazed at the number of God's creatures, both high and low - ranging from the most bitterly jealous archangel to the most conceitedly manipulative Angora cat - that seem fully capable of going from bad to worse entirely on their own, with no corrupting input from human agents. Indeed one might argue, the world of what we call Nature is a nasty enough place in its own right, without the vicious little children of Adam adding to or compounding its strife.

What I'd like to suggest is that we need not only compound the strife, or the striving, of Nature. Nor does our role of peacemaker need be confined to our usual method of suppressing its incessant warfare: by crushing it beneath our technologically superior weight and intellect. Human pacification of nature has never been simply a matter of more concrete, gravel and asphalt. Or even of the most savagely over-manicured 18th-century gardens. Even when it comes to some very unruly plants and animals, we humans have been capable of many forms and degrees of government beyond military dictatorship. But it takes, I believe, a certain kind of human nature to elicit the trustfulness of natural things - including our own kind - and not just to extort their tameness.

Or more precisely (as I've belabored many times before, and in many places), it takes a certain place within our nature. And so, by implication, within each one of us. A  place which, possibly on account of its rude country-cottage appearance, we may seldom if ever visit. And which, because of the particularly sore neglect of recent decades, has begun to show signs of serious disrepair and even decay. But I suspect the seeming rudeness and peasant-like simplicity of this - I want to say - rural retreat within us is no accidental feature, but in fact a key component of the original Design. After all, if our aim is gain the trust of wild things, it helps that we ourselves should know both how to trust, and above all, when and Whom. And afterwards, once these points have been established, how to trust totally, in such a way that, however far you go back, there seems never to have been in the truster any sense of Self at all. Because the place in human nature I'm thinking of is one that is, when all's been said and done, very little conscious of its adult wisdom, or even of its acquired resourcefulness. To such a degree, indeed, as might embarrass most self-respecting adults. So little conscious, and so humble, I believe, that one might almost imagine it being reduced to the most incoherently gibbering idiocy, or the most infantile helplessness, but for the infinitely humbler wisdom, patience, and above all exquisite kindness of God.

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