Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'm Left Asking or "Lila"

... "I don't know".

I hate saying this.

The cloud of it is haunting the dark corners of my periphery the last few weeks.

I don't know.

The world is dark and I am confused.

At a dance event, several older men made sexual comments to younger dancers in our community. Comments that left deeper harm than we even realized as we joked about them over dinners in our hotel room. We talked to organizers who responded with grace and appropriate concern and action. Still, I'm left asking: Why did this happen? How could we have responded sooner? What is an advocate and how do I become one?

My younger sister had a conflict with a peer that ended in an encounter of some violence that gives her nightmares for three nights. I'm left asking: How can anything that causes this kind of harm be allowed or tolerated? Why wasn't I there? (Because I'd have caused double harm the other direction, I imagine)

A friend and I sit down to do the math on ages for legal sexual consent, out of curiosity, out of concern. I'm left asking: How can Deleware have Age 7 as the youngest age for legal consent? How can many states have laws that require "prior moral upstanding" (a.k.a female virginity) prior to prosecuting in cases of illegal consent between minor and adult?

On FB, a friend points out that WWI laid the ground work for key aspects in the Syrian conflicts, in Iraq, in the Balkans/ Ukraine. War beget war. And here we are. I'm left asking: How do I carry the responsibility for the world I did not make? How do things heal? What if they don't?

After watching the third Hunger Games film, I wonder about its connection to current political realities and the affects of war. I'm left asking: When does film lead us to true empathy? And when does it merely give us a substitute emotion?

Then Ferguson. Watching, at a distance, as several people I love express their anger. I'm left asking: ... I don't even know what to ask.

This month, I've been reading "Lila", the latest novel by Marilynne Robinson.  The main character roams through her memory and her present, trying to understand a God who could exist within her past and present experiences. She's asking questions, trying to understand "the mystery of existence", which is how her husband (an older pastor in a small Iowa town) describes it each week in his sermons. While having very different pasts, they ask the same questions of each other, trying to think (in her case) or pray (in his case) their way through to understanding.

One moment in this elegant and moving book, the pastor John Ames shares with his young wife Lila part of a thought he wrote down in the middle of the night.

"I don't mean to suggest that experience is random or accidental, you see. 'When I say that much the greater part of our existence is unknowable, I acknowledge His grace in allowing us to feel that we known any slightest part of it. There fore we have no way to reconcile its elements, because they are what we are given out of no necessity at all except God's grace in sustaining us as creates we can recognize as ourselves.' That's always seemed remarkable to me that we can do that. That we can't help but do it. 'So joy  can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other." (p. 223-224)

This is, I want to tell you, an odd part to quote. Most of the novel is written in a kind of stream of conscious within Lila's mind. She lets us hear this moment as a gentle and tender moment as John carefully and in the best way he knows how reveal his vulnerability around the struggle for faith and the impossibility in understand. He's trying to talk himself into something here. And trying offer comfort to Lila. They are both bewildered by the joy and sorrow in themselves, the unexpected comfort of their marriage and the fear that attends it.

I'm at a loss, too. There is a joy attended on each of the things I mentioned that is not part of the injustice itself. Admiration for a friend, comfort of conversation, holding hands during a movie, good dinners... all these things bound up together, one after the other.

I don't know. It's a mystery.