06 November 2011

Severe grace

Grace, we are inclined to feel, is a feeling that can come upon us when we are unhappy and seeking the comfort that we believe will come from God when we need it.  Or, it may be, grace is that marvellous set of coincidences that helps us out in our worldly situation, just when we need it - the unexpected extra money that comes in when there is the extra unexpected bill to pay.  And it may be that bit of moral courage that we didn't think we were capable of when we are presented by the temptation that we didn't think we could resist.

And these are, indeed, actions of the grace of God.  But these are not the only ways in which God's grace comes to us.

God's grace is always that unmerited, unearned, unanticipated - and, alas, often unwanted - participation in the life of God - in the way God sees things - in the way things really are - that enables us to want what God wants, and to do what is necessary to achieve it.

And when what we actually are at the moment is something that God does not want us to be - when we are, in plain terms, very wicked - then grace is often an unmitigated horror.

God's grace is also God's judgement and God's mercy. One form of the Mass has the line, "In justice You condemned him [man], but in mercy You redeemed him." We think that mercy and justice must be in tension. I do not know if it is so. I think they may be different sides of the same coin. It is not only just that the sinner should be punished for his sin; it is merciful as well - for his sin is destroying the sinner.

In 1968 the foundations of my life were very shaky.  The not-unworthy high goal of knowledge, of science, of the pursuit of the true (if neither the good nor the beautiful), was increasingly distant from my life.  I was, more and more, living a life motivated by very low goods, indeed.

I was also less and less happy.  I had not been a very pleasant husband to Edna even before this; I became less and less so.  And as my own behaviour deteriorated, so any awareness I might have had of how things seemed to her disappeared.

I was certainly looking for relief from my state of anxiety over the meaning of life, as another change indicates.

My sister Robin is four years younger than I.  In the spring of 1968, she was in her last year at the University of Hawai'i in Honolulu, with a double major in French literature and music performing (saxophone).  In March, 1968, she invited me to go to hear something called a 'rock band.'  The word 'rock' in relationship to music had only every occurred to me in the phrase "rock and roll" - with such performers as Elvis Presley as its exponents.  Robin took me to what was then the Honolulu Civic Auditorium in Beretania Street (torn down, the Web tells me, in 1974).  I was a little scared - but interested.  I remember going into the outer foyer area, paying (I presume) first.  There were policemen standing around there.

Then we went into the auditorium proper.  There were no policemen there.  There was smoke in the air - some of it, certainly from marijuana - as well as coloured lights turning around.  I remember the last thing I thought before thought itself became impossible: "I know why they have the music so loud: it is so that you cannot think!"  Thinking had become a horror to me.  I remember telling Edna about this, and asking her if she wanted to go to one of these events with me.  She did not, she said, but didn't mind if I went.  I attended such concerts several times over the following months.

Edna and I both turned 26 in 1968. I have described some of the ways in which the underlying assumptions of my life had broken. Reading Kuhn was perhaps simply one step in that. I was no longer an adolescent in outlook. I had been married for six years. I had a wife and a child who turned 5 in August and who would soon be in school. I was approaching finishing my Master's degree and would be expected to start on my PhD - but I was no longer sure why I was doing this. Surely Edna must have been going through analogous changes and maturation - but I was deaf to any such. She was working for a psychiatrist, and was doing more than simply secretarial work. She was being trained as a psychometrician.

Sometime in the (northern hemisphere) summer of 1968 I was awarded the Master of Arts degree in linguistics.  I think that might have been in August.  One day in September - memory says it was the 2nd, our 6th anniversary, but that might be the sense of the dramatic reading back into the past a date of significance - I came home to find that Edna had, indeed, undergone some changes of her own.  She had left a letter.  She and Kathleen were at a hotel.  She would telephone me.

God's grace had been offered me.

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