Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Do I Need to Know to Discern?

This is a selection from a longer work on prayer and discernment. It reflects on the question "How much do we need to know in order to discern our vocation?"
When it comes time for God to fulfill Adam and give him the greatest grace yet, he doesn't leave him conscious for it. Maybe it is because Adam had already been so disappointed by all the gifts that he had seen while awake. Maybe it is because God is one of  those cheesy parents who force their kids to close their eyes before they pull out a birthday gift from behind their back. Or maybe, just maybe, it is because God's graces are more valuable than sight and experience can ever reveal, though not so incomprehensible that sight and sound can't make them apprehensive. 
Here it would be important to point out the distinction between apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge. It's a distinction that is rarely mentioned in normal conversation, but it is terribly important, especially in the grace-knowledge relationship. To comprehend something is to understand it through-and-through, to know it in its deepest essence. When teachers talk of  reading comprehension, when lawyers talk of  comprehension of  the law, when politicians claim (falsely) that they can comprehend the economic situation, when scientists  claim (often truly) that they can comprehend a phenomena, they all mean this sort of knowledge. It's a knowledge characterized by knowing the black and white, the ins-and-outs. It not only means that we know the thing itself, but that, using this knowledge, we can then predict exactly what will happen when we apply it. This type of  knowledge can only be applied to purely objective situations. However, we can never know God, or even each other for that matter, with a purely objective knowledge. In personal relationships, we are given a subjective knowledge of  the other, a partial (but still real!) knowledge of  the other. When they go to give us something of  themselves, our knowledge about them increases, but in a qualitatively different  way. In fact, as long as we try to comprehend (Latin for "to seize" or "grab") others, we are never in a position to receive them as a gift. Just as a wrapped present can only be received with apprehensive knowledge, the wrapping paper obscuring the full nature of  the gift, so too must we receive each other, and God, as dignified subjects. The lack of  comprehension in no way decreases the nature of  the gift. In fact, by making it personal through apprehension, our knowledge is lifted to a higher plane, one in which the person who we know is a being beyond our grasp but still within full sight of  our vision. 
So before entrusting Adam with his first purely creaturely personal relationship, God makes sure that Adam is unconscious ("casts a deep sleep") when He pulls woman from man's side. And like a kid on Christmas morning, Adam wakes up to find a gift waiting for him. Only, this gift isn't some plastic action figure or Barbie doll, but a living, breathing and beautiful woman. This moment is so moving, that the author of  Genesis has Adam recite the world's first love poetry: 
"This one at last is bone of  my bones 
and flesh of  my flesh. 
She shall be called 'woman' for out of  
man she has been taken." 
There's a lot more from this passage
(Not too bad for Man's first try at romantic verse. I can just picture a Lion King-esque scene with Adam rapping out this poem and all the animals of the Savanna making cool African sounding riffs in the background.)

There's a lot more from this passage that needs to be discussed. For our immediate purposes, however, I would simply like to point out that Adam did not need to be conscious when Eve was  being made, even though the process was quite an intimate one. This is how God handled the first gift giving.  It is a standard He will set from this point forward. Whether its the Hebrew slaves asleep as the angel of  death passes over, or Samuel asleep in the temple before receiving his vocation, or Jonah in the belly of  the whale, or Jacob asleep at the base of  Jacobs ladder or Joseph asleep when he is told the marry Mary, Scripture makes it overwhelmingly clear that God makes a habit of  dispensing both graces and vocations while people are asleep.

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