On waminals

As a proponent of Idleness I may not be well placed to rant against Complacency. But gentle reader must be made to allow the possibility that no inconsistency pertains. For, my love, you must see that the terms are applied to quite different waminals (as my blessed younger son, when little, used to call “things”). The Idle are so with respect to the interior spiritual life, of prayer and contemplation, in which we stray from the vexations of this world. One might, from that spiritual angle, describe this as an extremely active Idleness, but let us not split hairs.

For when it comes to waminals, as my beloved Sengai liked to point out (Japanese Zen abbot, 1750–1837), there are a million hairs in the coat of each lion; and on the head of each hair, a million lions dancing. (He is often very Catholic.)

Things are, and likely will remain as they are, externally, where one may endure with the grace of detachment. Yet the moral order is such that we must sometimes intervene in exterior events — for instance, by making food and eating it. Too, there are instances when we are called to witness to some basic truths, or Truth. I could make a longer list, bridging these two examples.

What we have around us in our world today (and possibly throughout the historical past) is Complacency without Idleness.

Our contemporaries — not all of them, of course, but an overwhelming majority — just want a quiet life, easy money, and good health ending with a painless death in their sleep. (I wouldn’t mind this, myself.) And for all I know, there may be people who score all three. But this is not what Jesus promised to his followers.

It is an open question, however, whether such a victory is good or bad luck. I would close the question by saying, from what I can see, that it is bad luck, in the main; and worse to crave what no other waminals will satisfy.

Victory in that trifecta will not come through prayer; for that is not the sort of thing for which prayers are answered. And while grace is conferred upon us by the divine — so often and, I should think if we could see it, always, in answer to our prayers — it cannot be “earned,” either. For I have had too much experience of grace conferred despite my silence, and complacency, and manifest unworthiness. The trick here is only to notice: first, that in the longer view of waminals, we often or always get better than we asked. Second, that a certain Idleness or detachment is required, to begin to discern how things are, in this vale of tears.

Sometimes, a violent painful death may be a good thing. And here I do not mean for others; for it is easy enough to see who else needs hanging. Rather, sometimes it might be better for us, in that long view of things, to enter the Purgatorial fire a little ahead of our bodily translation. (We ourselves cannot know, finally, what is for the best.)

Christ, we might note, did not choose an easy life, and neither did he find a “nice” way of dying. That he did not devote his life to getting rich, will perhaps also be conceded. (Nor in Scripture nor Tradition do we find Him whining that others got rich on Him.)

He did good works, too, according to his means. (Hence the miracles.)

To witness to the Truth — in so many ways, in so many situations — is not to be “an innocent bystander.” We are not to give evidence in some celestial court of law. We are instead to hear the evidence against us, where the only judge will be Christ Himself; and in the recollection of all our crimes, we will hear whether He still wants to know us.

I think this is important. I think that Complacency is among the easiest crimes. But what down here is easy, may not be so in the world to come.