Sunday, 3 March 2013

God's teaching

"What's the difference between education and upbringing*?" asks Fr. Tischner of Jacek Żakowski, who has experience with children of his own. Żakowski explains that education is the teaching of knowledge, upbringing the teaching of life. "How then, do you you bring up your children?" asks Fr. Tischner. "Principally, but talking at them," replies Żakowski. "If they go out of line, if they play truant, for example, what would you do?" "I'd say to them: 'it's your problem'. You've missed a lesson and you will suffer the grim consequences. I wouldn't beat them, but would strive to have them understand that it's entirely up to you as to where you will end up in life," explains Żakowski.

But how does God educate or bring up Man?, asks Fr. Tischner. "Judging by the effects, there isn't a special way," retorts Żakowski (who over the course of the conversations is becoming less reverent and more challenging of Fr. Tischner). And Fr. Tischner begins to side-step. Two thousand years of Christianity, the Crusades, the Inquistion, no end of wars motivated by religion, 'Gott Mit Uns' on the belt-buckle of Nazi soldiers bayoneting children to death - yes, how does God educate man? "Man meets the Word of God and discovers God's confidence. Man can accept it - or not. The catechism carries the concept that Man is passive and that all initiative stems from God, says Fr. Tischner.

"That means that either God brings you up, or He doesn't help you at all. And all those who God didn't want to bring up - they are justified by His passivity? Or, another way, "the way God made me is the way I am?"

Fr. Tischner turns the argument round. "The are unjustified by way of their activeness! They did not succeed, because they were actively denying God, rather than being passive." Here in the margins, I pencilled 'WHAT???' A soldier, engaged in the unspeakable evil of massacring civilians, was too active in the face of God's will?

Żakowski continues: "So we shouldn't bother God too much, we shouldn't adore him too much, because if He wants to, He will come and redeem us, and if he doesn't then nothing will save us?"

Fr. Tischner replies: "St Paul says 'faith comes from listening - and listening is silence. Thomas Merton says: "whosoever wants to find God must enter into silence." Żakowski replies, using a word not yet seen in ten chapters of this book: "And prayer? Prayer is the great eternal disturbance of the good Lord God." "But it's not a racket made under God's window. In this perspective, prayer is an answer. The initiative of prayer flows from the other side." "If prayer is to help, shouldn't it result from need rather than duty?" asks Żakowski. "It's not important," replies Fr. Tischner.

Whether it's an inner need that becomes a signal that you are are answering, or becoming aware of there is a duty you answer, God is always by Man first. "We speak of God coming to meet Man," says Fr. Tischner. "Whatever good happens in the world, whatever initiative, beginning, always comes from God. That's why in today's world, controlled by the cult of human activism, faith proposes something opposite," he says. " This prompts Żakowski to ask whether more people have not lost their faith by listening to their parish priest than reading the works of Lenin or Marx.

Fr. Tischner replies: "Activism is often a denial of that silence that God requires to come into a person. We're sitting in the Camaldolese Priory in Kraków. When we came in, everyone said 'what a great silence there is in here'. It is in this silence that we can understand the teaching of God The great Meister Eckhart said 'Cling to him that has the initiative,' which means 'cling to God'. And Meister Eckhart says 'that which you set off to seek, is now seeking you. That which you chased after, is now chasing you. And that which you tried to escape from, is now escaping before you," says Fr. Tischner. "What's escaping?" asks Żakowski.

"Above all, fear," replies Fr. Tischner; "the anxiety of this world. Our existence in this world is saturated with unease, anxiety; we're always chasing something, or else we're fleeing something. [A neat theological parallel of the economic theory of greed and fear.] When you cling to God, 'that which you first sought,' - in other words peace, 'now, it's seeking you'.

Żakowski agrees the concept is indeed beautiful, but asks "why, in the face of such a straightforward recipe,  this world, having been exposed to God's teachings, for two thousands years, is not becoming a noticeably better world. In any case, I cannot see any dramatic explosions of that goodness."

Fr. Tischner "replies that our mind is created in such a way as to see evil rather than good. And we often see only one side of the coin." And now, mid-paragraph, Fr. Tischner ducks the question and returns to Meister Eckhart. "You have accepted His confidence, you have 'clung to Him'. When someone confides in you, not only does it satisfy your curiosity, but it also gives you the chance to cling to that confidence. When someone tells you that they love you, they not only satisfy your hunger for information, they also open up before you a whole new world. Your old world has changed."

Żakowski continues in a questioning tone. "In the whole martyrology of the Catholic Church, there are many saints who clung to God; in the end, that which they feared overcame them." Fr. Tischner replies, citing the case of St Maksymilian Kolbe, who, before he was killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz, "discovered that the soul cannot be killed. And that discovery freed him from fear."

Żakowski probes further: "So you cannot get rid of the evil of this world? Maybe you can find comfort in the Absolute." Fr. Tischner: "More than comfort, because when you 'cling to God', you reply to the evil in the world with good. You overcome evil with good. A miracle occurs, and out of evil comes its complete denial, negation." "But this doesn't protect one from the suffering of this world - from hunger, or suffering," retorts Żakowski.

"No," says Fr. Tischner, "but you see the sense of your own suffering. The suffering hurts, but no longer throws you into despair." "Do you think that people can surprise an omniscient God?" asks Żakowski. "In this subtle drama of overcoming evil with good is God's teaching, exceeding all the logic and physics of this world. I'd say this - the result is always richer than the causes."

Well, I think we have some interesting points made. I'll concede that it's subtle. It's clever. But at the end of the day, is it convincing? As I read over the text of the conversation, my mind is racing off on different tangents; I'm considering the role of God in my life - and it is different, yet with some features that Fr. Tischner discusses resonating with me. My own view of God is tempered not so much by theology, but by science; post-World War II society, living in an era of sub-atomic particles and genetics and the Hubble space telescope, it is a view of God as purpose, as direction - and yes, ultimately, as Love. But more on that later. Now onto the Eleventh Conversation...

* Wykształcenie = education, wychowanie = upbringing. Pedagokika? The title of this chapter in Polish is Boska pedagogika. The peda- in the word has the same Greek root as pediatra (paediatrician) or pedofil (paedophile), and means 'child'. As opposed to 'Andragogy' = educating adults.

This time last year:
S2 to Puławska ready by this time next year?
[Not on your nelly. This time 2014, maybe, perhaps, possibly. For update, check today's post by Student SGH]

This time two years ago:
In praise of blue skies

This time four years ago:
(Incidentally, Molesworth fans - Ronald Searle's obituary in the Economist a few weeks ago is a must-read)

This time five years ago:
Four weeks into Lent

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