A Habit of Interrupting12:30:00 PMDaniel Easler
I have a habit of interrupting. Recently, a dear friend rendered some fraternal correction in private, in the most respectful and charitable way. I admit it: it’s true. Furthermore, I already knew this about myself and I had no recourse to a plea of ignorance. I could only hang my head and take a look inside. After some reflection, I see the cure only begins with introspection for it is by looking preferentially within myself that has partly been the source of my rudeness. A selfish preoccupation with my own interests and opinions has caused me to miss out on connecting with my friends and acquaintances, and even my spouse.
Of this Truth I am certain: every single person I encounter, whether a word or a glance is exchanged between us, possesses a rich interior life not fully accessible to me even if I committed my life to trying. Indeed, only God can plumb the depths of the human heart. Yet this Truth is not meant to discourage us from trying. We must enter a communion of persons – we must enter into communion with the Trinity in order to fulfill our destiny. The alternative is lonely darkness, and there is no in-between state reserved for us.
Have I impressed upon you, dear reader, the import of the subject matter? How can we expect to look upon the Face of God and glimpse God’s interior life if we are inwardly turned and self-preoccupied? We will never see beyond the superficial when our pressing need to be heard, to be correct, and to make another correct-like-us by the force of our personality obscures any chance of authentic contact. Do you, like me, plow through conversations without regard to the other, merely waiting for (or forcing) your turn to speak? If not, perhaps then you’ve been a victim. For that, I beg your forgiveness.
I had been reflecting on my fault, when I made acquaintance with a special book. The memoirs of Dietrich von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler, possess a peculiar quality rarely found in other autobiographical works. Not only did I receive a deep impression of Dietrich von Hildebrand as a person, I also received a similar personal impression of those whom he introduced to me. Von Hildebrand vividly captures and illustrates both those he met briefly and those he considered his intellectual enemies. Mired in self-preoccupation, am I capable of such receptive interactions with the persons in my life?
Please let me impress upon you the significance of this detail. First, consider the general intellectual and cultural atmosphere when the Nazis came to power in Germany. A scant knowledge of the fanatic, blind nationalism of the Nazis frightens us to our core. Tribalism prevailed over the existing culture, permeated the spectrum of beliefs, and truly characterized the times. Those under its sway always took the side of “us” over and against “them” without recourse to rationality-- at times without sanity. This attitude sadly ensnared, at least to some degree, many Catholics, even the Catholic hierarchy, the Bishops of Germany, and many other clerics. At the same time that this tribalism ensnared so many, those caught within it divided themselves fiercely and violently from those who refused to partake, von Hildebrand among them. In an atmosphere of intolerance for the other side, of irrationality and confusion, von Hildebrand’s perception cut through the fog. Rather than seeing what people were, he saw who they were.
Instead of listing any number of the particular encounters and impressions von Hildebrand gives us – after all as part of my strategy here I hope to entice you to read his memoirs for yourself – I will share one meeting wherein von Hildebrand recognizes his failure to see the significance of a person. Von Hildebrand has made a new acquaintance in Charles Du Bos who in turn introduces him to Gabriel Marcel, two significant Catholic thinkers. Von Hildebrand is (often) worth quoting at length:
Marcel certainly awakened my interest, yet I did not realize sufficiently that I was in the presence of a great and significant philosopher, nor did I adequately appreciate the wealth of thought and culture embodied by Charles Du Bos. It is remarkable how deeply we can become trapped in our own inner world and how much this diminishes our ability, if we are not sufficiently prepared, to open ourselves to significant encounters, which are a gift from God. We focus on what lies immediately ahead, on our plans, and on those people we already know and will see tomorrow. As a result, we fail to approach those we do not yet know well with sufficient attentiveness to be able to grasp their importance fully.
There is much more to learn and talk about from this period in history. Von Hildebrand gives us, I don’t think it an exaggeration to say, an unparalleled glimpse into the zeitgeist of his homeland and the persons whose choices made that history. We can penetrate the atmosphere of that or any other period of history and then glean the significance for our own lives and times, but first we must absolutely approach with a mind and spirit open to the full meaning unavailable by superficial contact. I urge you to ask the question that I ask myself: Is my heart open to the significance of other persons whom God brings into my life for any length of time? How then will I set about the task of entering into communion with each and every one according to that full significance?
Personal presence is crucial for seeing persons clearly in the humdrum context of daily experience as well the dramatic moments that punctuate our journey. Personal presence can bring truths about our community and our selves into clear focus despite our confusing and conflict-filled cultural atmosphere. In my next post, I will explore the theme of presence in more detail.
Until then, Peace.