I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.
-Helen Keller, 20th century
In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung comments that the world will ask you who you are, and if you do not have an answer the world will give you one. Jung understands that the world is impatient with mystery because mystery lies beyond the world’s control. Faced with true mystery, the world will impose answers or contrive confusion, neither of which can bear the weight of genuine hope. (This is very evident in fundamentalist movements of all sorts: religious, political, cultural, even in science and education.)
Children of God, on the other hand, are stewards of mystery. We dwell gently with it, not so much to search for answers, but to be transformed by the questions that open onto eternity. We embrace a lifelong movement from immersion in the opaque mystifying practices of the world intended to conceal and confuse to immersion in the luminous path of God intended to illuminate, reveal and clarify.
Our times seem to encourage striving for security and control through clear-cut answers and predictable outcomes. In contrast to the loud, bombastic confidence of the world, the words of St. Augustine on Scripture offer a dramatic, quiet counterpoint: “What you do not understand, treat with reverence and be patient; and what you do understand, cherish and keep.” These are words that can guide our steps in the way of mystery.
To the world, as expressed in the attitudes spouted in the halls of government, on the campaign trails of politics, and in the boardrooms of business, such an attitude appears as weakness and vulnerability. But vulnerability is not a weakness. In fact, vulnerability is not a choice.
Vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature. The attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. (That is why the dominant attitude in the world today is one of bombastic pronouncements of power, control, and greatness.)
To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances is a lovely illusion. It is in many respects a necessary illusion for being human and most especially of being youthfully human. But it is an illusion that must be surrendered with that same youth; as we face ill health, encounter accidents, and experience the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers – powers which we eventually and most emphatically must give up, as we approach our last breath.
The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability. Can we become more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance? Our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss – robustly and fully. Or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful; always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter; never wanting to risk ourselves; never walking fully through the door.
The result then, when we refuse our vulnerability, we also refuse to ask for the help needed at every turn of our existence. We immobilize the very essence of who we are as beloved children of God; created for communion and community – with God, with each other, and with all the Created Universe. We end up going it alone, which actually increases our vulnerability and we become weaker and more fragile.
Not even God goes it alone! That is part of the illumination we receive through the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity. It is a way of talking about God that often confuses, alienates, and separates. Yet, at its heart, it is an understanding of God that expresses the truth that in God’s very nature – the very essence of God – God is communal. The interior reality of God is a reality of community. That reality issues forth into the universe creating ever greater possibilities for relationships and wider and wider circles of community.
And for community to function well there must be vulnerability. And when we are vulnerable in community we actually become stronger, not weaker.
Let us gather and be vulnerable together and form a strong community.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida