Unfettered openness - or how absolutes lost their sting

By Edmond Nixon, C.Ss.R.

Originally from the Cassilis-Merriwa district in NSW, Australia, Edmond Nixon has been a Redemptorist for 40 years.  His missionary journeys have taken him far and wide in Australia and overseas – leading missions and retreats, learning from the marginalised, facilitating adult education in the faith. His masters in religious education is from Fordham University, New York; his doctorate in ministry from Postgraduate Center for Mental Health and Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, also in New York. Edmond’s interests are wide, and for the accompaniment of others he remains grateful.

At the heart of Easter, it seems to me, is openness. It comes into the world not as some pious exhortation but as reality sharpened and shining. It is strong though not strong-armed, it is transcendent but challengingly close, it is glorious and at the same time alluringly silent. Unmasking deception and disempowering absolutes, it cuts through certainties with breathtaking effect. This is the resurrection; this is openness.

In its own muddling way, over the years, the world had been longing for a heart transplant. But a waiting world might hardly have guessed that its eventual Easter would be ushered in on a dewy morn, silently, penetratingly, lovingly – openness born of unfathomable presence. If the world was looking for fanfare and a triumphant entry to mark this redeeming moment it did not find one. Rather, loving openness rose from the grave of defeat and silently entered into all of creation.

Awake, thou wintry earth - Fling off thy sadness!

                                                              - Thomas Blackburn, "An Easter Hymn"

There's an old saying that only two things are certain - death and taxes. Yet, looking at the way the world actually works it seems men and women presume a lot more as certain than just these two. Witness the present paralysing effects of ideological absolutes across the Western democracies and beyond!

Being creatures of habit too, men and women are aware that even the most insignificant rituals can take on an unrelated permanence - the margarine unquestioningly goes on the second shelf, the remote is left only on the coffee table. But human beings remain more than creatures of habit and more than the certainties that habits parade.  Our foundations lay deep within chaotic intra-universe collisions, our heritage in impromptu dancing.

The land, but also poetry, song, and intuition, love, trust and sexuality, hope, humour and originality,  – all of them the lungs of life, all drawing oxygen from places beyond life's fixations and splashing into wells deeper than daily certainties.

Dreaming place ... you can’t change it, no matter who you are.
No matter you rich man, no matter you king.you can’t change it
                                                          - Bill Neidjie (1920-2002)

Life's horrors are commonly random. Suffering knifes piecemeal into ordinary experience and, like a shooting star, uninvited sadness can streak across any night.  Joy, unsolicited and unstoppable bubbles to the surface during life’s most serious moments. Happiness can flood hearts while two-stepping with timeless tears. Life being life is full of variance, possibility and precariousness. To embrace it is to embrace all its vagaries. To embrace it fully requires openness.

Over the night-fires of the ages people have told stories about all this. They distilled and polished them into inspired fables. Strung together for meaning and ethical guidance these stories, and the ultimate realities they refract, have become hallowed in their revelatory magnitude.  Just as a mother's face is revealed to her child in the inspired story-sounds they share, so the great stories have unveiled the face of presence divine - personal, accompanying and faithful.

The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory
                                                                   - John 1:14

In the tradition of Israel that presence continued to reveal itself in a covenant of mutual and hallowed fidelity, until in the fullness of time, entering into the unpredictability of flesh, presence was born of a woman.

Revealed in the life of God's Christ presence reached past daily certainties slipping freely and consciously into every uncertain corner, accompanying the outcasts, healing the sick, and unveiling the precarious nature of what is real. This presence saw persons where others saw sinners, heard longing where others heard disenchantment, and witnessed the Father's face among the weak and the destitute. 

In a pervading uncertainty, such as only openness could reveal, day by day he trod...

Such profound presence shone a light upon God's reign in the lives of ordinary little ones trapped in and wedded to the certainty of their hand-to-mouth existence. It confounded the powers of the day, scandalised the pious and the legalistic ones, and pointed to a personal largesse more magnificent than any relished absolute.

God's Christ uncovered the path to life, a path long since overgrown with certitude and with truths harshly ripped from the vines of love. In a pervading uncertainty, such as only openness could reveal, day by day he trod, in village by village he touched, while night by night his decanting prayer-cry rose to his Father.

A godly openness en-fleshed in this all-so-human one cut a swath through a sure-fire world such that the powers who traded in dogmatism reared up as one and cut him down. In his torment amidst excruciating and unremitting uncertainty he breathed forth an openness large enough to unseat injustice, refresh souls, and bring blessing upon the ongoing precariousness of human existence.

Not contemplation brings it; it merely happens,
past expectation and beyond intention”
                                                    - Judith Wright, (1915-2000), “Grace”

Then at first light, whilst dew still hung upon the Jerusalem dawn, presence, now victor over every certainty, hailed an uncertain one, honouring her person and calling her by name. It was a greeting that lifted from her the certainty of his death and she ran to proclaim to her new faith-siblings his Gospel-in- uncertainty. Gathered thereafter in his name his uncertain followers have also been called by name, personally, lovingly, in a gifted and (by that fact) ever-tentative community. Called they are from death to life, from security to faith-filled precariousness. This is the Church on earth. The Church down to earth.

While trading the uncertainty of the journey for the assumed and stated certainty of the destination, the Gospel-in-uncertainty invariably morphs into a non-gospel of edict and banal assurance. Alas! Closed, powerful and cocksure systems replace a tender good-news born of openness and fragility.

This world's powers, set in the finality of deadly absolutes, live on in every age whispering their lifeless security into fearful ears. Ready to listen are both society and Church, yet from within each prophets rise up who tell another story, who live and love another way - the more expansive way of Easter morn.

Now in 2010 the nightly news reflects back a world that has fallen into step on the treadmill of petty assurance and grandiose certainty. In this age of secular fundamentalism, the same era in which governments compulsively (try to) legislate away any and all uncertainty, it is too easy for religions to collude, bringing their own obsequious promises.  Yet the message of Easter morn trickles across all such fixed systems and every cheap assertion.  Its Spirit respectfully breathes freshness into the hearts of uncertain little ones, including those wearing the pressed camouflage of corporate and religious definitiveness. 

Easter transcends not only death itself but the certitudes that mask it

Of course, a resurrection life-beyond-absolutes may look like delusion, or even nihilism. Admittedly, it can run dangerously close to the many fantasies that egg on human persons to settle for half-priced dreams. But resurrection invites humanity into a new way of being, one that transcends not only death itself but the certitudes that mask it. Resurrection won't be tied down, and those who truly live it cannot be tied down either for they are called into the inherent uncertainty of relationship.

God's (resurrection) people have been freed for the unpredictability of serving the poor and the marginalised, freed to peer into brokenness anywhere and see presence, freed to unabashedly hope against the odds in a way that reveals love for the free gift it is - and justice as its witness.

Good News is only good news when it is told. Christians, baptised into the Resurrection, are baptised into the openness of the risen Christ and his life beyond boundaries. In this new and open way, men and women inevitably feel the urge to proclaim it. It is news that longs to be told. Thus Mary of Magdala literally ran from the garden, her own Calvary still wet on her back, to tell the Good News to any who would listen.

Humanity might adjourn respectfully to a somewhere upper room, and there cry out for a new Pentecost

The presumably marvellous and surely pending conversations between Christianity and the other great world religions, between Christianity and atheism, between Christianity and science, will call on the resurrection hope, resurrection faith and resurrection love of a people who in their uncertainties know the spirit of the Risen One accompanies them into every age.

Only openness can unbar the door to these freeing conversations. St.Alfonso de Liguori understood this. Through his own openness he glimpsed the gift that would enable him and his fellow missionaries to be unattached to any absolute. The former he called love, the latter 'distacco' or freedom for mission.

Christ is risen and into Galilee gone before all. But what is asked of humanity? Wouldn’t it be marvellous to hope that, with absolutes checked at the door, uncertainties in hand, humanity might adjourn respectfully to a somewhere upper room, and there cry out for a new Pentecost.


     The pheasant cries,
as if it just noticed
    the mountain
- A haiku by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827)