The Gift of the Rain

6:00:00 AMGrace Davies

Thank goodness there is more to this world than we can directly will! For example: a sudden downpour of rain, the unexpected sweetness of a breath of wind, and the beauty of another’s personality. All of these things we delightedly discover and could never invent. Nor can we control them with our will. They must come to us, if they come at all, as a gift from the outside. Or, as a “gift from above,” as Hildebrand would say.  

We come upon beauty in the world and in others, or rather the beauty imposes itself on our consciousness, and we experience it as a gift. All the better if it is a surprise gift, “... for the chief pleasure is surprise,” as G.K. Chesterton observes in his book Orthodoxy.

And this applies not only to the world outside, but also to the world within. Thank goodness there is more to ourselves than we can directly will. In his work The Heart, Dietrich von Hildebrand has much to say on this topic: “Man is greater and deeper than the range of things he can control with his free will; his being reaches into mysterious depths which go far beyond what he can engender or create.”

It is typical to think of the person’s true self as expressed definitively only through the will. But this view is too reductionistic for Hildebrand. He cautions us: “We must not fall prey to the temptation to deduce from the very nature of freedom that what our will says must always be the ultimate word of our real self. We must instead accept the fact imposed upon us by reality, namely, that in many domains the heart is more the true self than the will.”

Moral goodness, the fruit of free choices, is indeed noble. Yet it does not constitute the whole picture of humanity’s greatness: “Freedom is indeed an essential mark of the person as an image of God. But what may also mark the specific high rank of a thing is the fact that it can be granted to us only as a gift.” The rain, for example, or the personalities of others. They are so precious precisely because we cannot directly will them into being. We can only joyfully receive their blessings as they come.

Happiness itself is just such a gift. Again, from The Heart: “Happiness is a gift, a pure gift. Much as we may prepare the ground for it, genuine happiness remains a gift, dropping like dew upon our heart, shining gratuitously like a sunray into our soul.”

Is our free will left out, then, or discarded? No, Hildebrand does not mean to belittle its significance. He simply means to champion the dignity of the heart and the gifts which come to us from above, and to integrate the human heart with human freedom.

He gives the prime example of love: “Our deep love for another person is a gift from above, something we cannot give to ourselves; yet only when we join this love with the ‘yes’ of our free spiritual center does it have the character of a full self-donation.” Although it does not have our will for its main source, the superabundant gift of love finds its crowning fulfillment in the approval of our free will.

Hildebrand asserts that this is in fact the culmination and fullest actualization of our free will: “However great and admirable free will is as lord and master of our actions, nevertheless, the free cooperation with the ‘gifts’ from above, which as such are only indirectly accessible to our free power, is the deepest actualization of our freedom, the highest vocation and mission of our freedom.”
In love, therefore, each part of the person (the will, the heart, etc.) plays an integral part in the whole masterpiece. And when the gifts of the heart are integrated into the life of the person and given their proper status, the act of love (as well as the entire person) flourishes to the fullest possible extent. It reaches a depth and a breadth which the will could never have accomplished on its own.

Our existence is daily enriched by the gifts that come to us from the outside, like a sudden shower of rain or an unsought smile from another. Just so, our very selves are enriched by the gifts which are given in and through our hearts. They bubble up from our “mysterious depths” and bestow an inexpressible beauty to the ultimate human action: the action of love.

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