Sometimes there's a man ...
I was at Starbucks* the other day. Coffee shops are great. They are one of the last places where any sort of conversation with any sort of person can freely and spontaneously happen. So, this guy asked me about my life. He was fascinated that I was a Dominican friar. He was a life long atheist. He was also delightfully contentious. Being contentious myself, I immediately loved the guy.
He couldn't fathom how I could live a life dedicated to something he considered absurd. Admittedly, I was ill prepared for his line of questions. I was at a loss for a simple answer that he could accept. He caught me flat footed. I'm not accustomed to that feeling. His questions were like surprise machine gun fire in a dark jungle. I found myself taking cover in tangents. As the saying goes, "If you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your ..." My pride couldn't handle lacking a smart response.
The worst thing was that he was genuinely interested. It was almost as if he was daring me to finally give him a reason to believe. He was remarkable. Like many atheists I know, he had a résumé of good humanitarian works that he readily shared. His love and respect for this earthly life was something to be emulated. But, it was also part of his stumbling block. His this-worldly focus obscured his spiritual vision.
It's a fine balance. Similar to driving a car you must be able to see what is right before your eyes while also looking forward to what is ahead of you. Both the proximate and the remote are important. If you only care about those things near to you, the proximate, the worldly, then you will lack an ultimate purpose. After all, the sun will explode some day. All human endeavors will end in fire. But if you only concern yourself with what is ahead, the remote, the heavenly, then you life will miss the life that you have been given and the suffering of others. Perhaps, there is a better way to think about this.
Balance is not the Christian way. The Christian way of life should be characterized by excess. It is a life of extravagance. We are called by God to love everyone and everything with an absurd level of intensity. This is why we must always love God first. The intensity with which we love God will always qualify the love that we have for creatures. In fact, if we try to go the other way around, if we try to love God by way of the creature our love for both God and others will always be a lesser love than what's possible.
Love is a dynamic power. It increases itself as it is practiced. By loving God with every ounce of our being we will experience his love. His love is greater than all other possible loves. He is, after all, the source of love. By drawing love from the unfathomable depths of God's love we will find our love for everyone and everything else increased.
This is what I should have shared with the man at Starbucks. I should have told him that I have dedicated my life to love. I have consecrated myself to love. It's absurd, yes. But, it's an absurdity worth any earthly sacrifice imaginable.
* I'm aware that there are many reasons to not like Starbucks. But, they have reliable free wifi and until I have a portable hotspot this is my solution.