Humbled, and thus knowing

by
02 November 2006

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THE REASON I take the words from the cross so seriously is that they come from a good man suffering.
 
When good people speak from beyond what is manageable, there is a chemistry of truth that dwarfs all comfortable convictions and second-hand certainties. A different quality of ore is being mined here. These words are not beige and borrowed, but cobalt blue and fresh from the earth’s core.
 
When people are untimely ripped from their familiar experiences, there is a sense of nakedness. It is like your first day of big school. In your old school, you knew everything and everyone, but not any more. You know nothing. You are smaller than even the other very small people, and you have to ask directions to the toilet. The humiliation is profound. It is the end of the world.
 
You see it sometimes when “Secular Sid” enters a spiritual or religious building. Whatever he has achieved elsewhere, he is awkward here, as his traditional coping-mechanisms suddenly count for nothing.
 
Perhaps Sid is physically fine: witty, cute with women, or smart with money. But whatever does it for him beyond this place fails to deliver here. In the realm of the spirit, this man is as vulnerable as a little boy — fidgety, irritable and tense.
 
Our vulnerable places may differ, but we know them well, in the cold sweat of private remembering, and in times when everything we knew seemed entirely irrelevant.
 
Such understandable fears become either paralysis or rage: a closing up or a lashing out. It is the rabbit in the headlights, or the terrified soldier running towards the enemy, roaring fury. He’s not fooling anyone, but it’s helping him just to make a loud and angry noise.
 
Obviously for saints, there is no fear: just openness as they live the truth that there is no place on earth apart from glory. They are rare souls, possibly extinct even, but freed from the rigidity of expectation, and therefore spontaneous to the unfolding moment. As Cecil Collins said: “We understand life not through knowledge, but through humiliation.”
 
The ability to transform suffering into beauty is the surest sign of the spirit present. When crucified, our irrelevant convictions either harden into absurdity, or melt into wonder. Jesus screams abandonment from his fear, but from his openness creates a new family in Mary and John, and understands forgiveness as the ultimate reality.
 
Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Tell you what, Pontius, find a good person made vulnerable and listen up, all right?

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