Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The passive stance, part 1

Yesterday, I wrote in passing [To become Saints, part 1] of the move from activity to passivity in our participation in the mission of God in the world. A friend asked me to expand on this a little.

Passivity is not resignation, giving up, sitting on your backside. Far from it.

For the first half of the Gospels, covering a period of around three years, Jesus is the subject of the narrative: teaching, healing, driving out demons; evading every trap set for him. Doing unto others as he would have them do unto him. But then there is a marked change.

For the second half of the Gospels, covering a period of days, Jesus is the object of the narrative: anointed, betrayed, arrested, abandoned, tried, beaten, crucified, raised (not rising) from the dead. Being done to by others, not necessarily as he would have them do unto him at all.

Jesus’ mission is largely conducted through his activity, but can only be concluded, consummated, through his embracing passivity, through his Passion.

It may help to consider Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s activity, as a younger man, caused him to be seen by some as a freedom fighter, by others as a terrorist. Caused him to be incarcerated, for life. In this moment, Mandela lost all choice, save whether to fight or to embrace passivity. He embraced it, determining to bear himself with dignity, and coming to insist on forgiving his captors.

In passivity, his soul underwent a deep work that simply is not possible through activity. The result was that he so grew in moral authority, before the entire world, that the prison doors could not bear the weight. He emerged from his cell, like a man walking out of the tomb, not as one ready to be a political leader who would liberate his people; but as one ready to be a global elder statesman, uniting his nation, and the world.

The model of Jesus, the example of Mandela, is meant to be a pattern for us all. Agency, our ability and indeed responsibility to act upon the lives of others, and to do so for good, matters. But agency alone cannot fulfil our calling, to be fully human, bearing the likeness of God.

How we bear ourselves when we are placed into the hands of others, as victim (though not hapless, or resentful, victim) of circumstance, is non-negotiable, essential, if our soul is to be fierce and free.

This is what all activists and activism fails to understand, and needs to learn.

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