October 10, 2011

Hope's Not Just a Cynical Political Slogan

Thought briefly about buying a biography of Michael Jackson. Curious about THAT MOMENT that things started sliding. In a way it's similar to my curiosity over the fall of the Roman empire - you want to find that one moment when things could've still been turned around but after which it was too late. With Jackson I thought it might've been when his hair caught fire during the taping of a Pepsi commercial. My hazy memory suggests that that is when he started getting hooked on painkillers. But of course another pivotal moment might've been the first time he got his nose fixed - after having gotten it broken in some sort of accident. His is a tragic story, because even though he wanted a smaller nose he had that natural caution against surgery - a wholesome conservatism-- until he broke his nose. That made the temptation too much to resist, and the pleasure received from seeing his new nose made it perhaps inevitable from there on: like a tattoo addict, he would get his highs from surgeries.

Of course I find it particularly poignant that he died in a quest for sleep, that most natural (though often elusive) of medicines. He ended up in a spiral of stronger and stronger drugs designed to achieve the simplest of things. A rich man who couldn't buy sleep. Heather King's influence over me is such that I don't have to associate Michael Jackson with failure but can hold out hope for "the rest of the story" as the dear, late Paul Harvey said.

Indeed, one of the things I most like about Heather is that her sense of hope is so finely developed, as well it might be after experiencing such lack thereof followed by that "lightning moment" of conversion and peace. The thing is though is that she's so not exclusionary, in fact she's the most inclusive orthodox person I know. It's the greatest mystery, she admits, as to why she was cured and others aren't. But she's quick to say that that's not because God loves her more. She's loathe to say that those who die in the gutter aren't included in the family of God, unlike St. Paul who said that drunkards would not inherit the kingdom. Some excerpts from the book Shirt o' Flame:
As an alcoholic, I’d always been interested in the mind-body connection, in the way God sometimes seems to take us “out of the world” for a period of time, possibly in order to work on our subconscious. I, too, had experienced situations from which there seemed to be no escape. I, too, had been in the grip of a kind of dark night that seemed impervious to all reason, all human help, all prayer. Grace is needed and yet grace also seems most likely to appear—as had happened in my case—when, from the depths of our heart we cry out our misery and ask for help.

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Most likely, perhaps, but not inevitably: in fact, the seeming randomness of who gets out from beneath the obsession for alcohol and who doesn’t; who stays sober for decades and who dies in the gutter, makes this confluence of will and grace one of the deepest mysteries I know.

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We can only be grateful when and if the lightning-quick opening occurs. We can only know that we are not loved one iota more if we get sober, or one iota less if we stay drunk. We can only hope to do the best we can with what we’ve been given.
What amazes me about HK is her ability not to bore. I suspect it's related to years honed in bars with tough crowds. I tried to read the "Everything is Grace" book she recommended by that Fr. Somebody but he seemed to bog down in boggish biographical details. HK cuts to the chase which helps given my short attention span. So far I've been getting really interested in Therese's sister Leonine's story. Why is the black sheep sometimes more interesting than the saint?

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Mesmerizing first reading from mass the other day, mostly because of how it undermined my preconceptions. My cliched reflex is to think that in the OT there was an emphasis on justice, not mercy. And so I was taken off guard when in the fourth chapter of Jonah I read of the prophet resigned and annoyed, as it were, by God's gracious mercy. And then there's the quote about God referring to the plant that Jonah so cherished and how it was something that cost Jonah "no effort and that he did not grow." And of course that's in stark contrast to God who expends much effort (see Christ on the cross) and who does sponsor our growth.

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