Monday, December 12, 2005

No Room in the Eschaton

Strip-mining (as it were) Merton's "Raids on the Unspeakable," I found this morning (while proctoring a final exam; first of three this week) his meditation on the Nativity stories: "The Time of the End is the Time of No Room." Much can be said about it, but in the context of Advent and the Nativity Advent anticipates, this passage jumped out at me:

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it - because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it - his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.
The relevance of it is perfectly obvious, of course. Perhaps most striking is that these words date no later than 1965. And Merton certainly could not foresee how directly they relate now, to the country he lived in, and wrote about.

Since Merton's time, those words could apply to Ita Ford and Maura Clarke; and to all the people who suffered in El Salvador while Ronald Reagan so benevolently reigned as President. And now, of course, they apply, quite directly, without any extension of metaphor or imagination, to unknown Iraqis, Afghans, and others unfortunate enough to have become "guests" of the United States government around the world.

How interesting to think that Christ is present precisely for those persons. For those who are expressly "denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated." How interesting to think that "[Christ] is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst." But then, that is precisely the meaning of the words of Matthew: "Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me."

Christology begins in the material world. And then there is the matter of the eschatological banquet, which is also what Christians proclaim. The one where we are invited to buy food without money, and wine without price. We have to keep that in mind, too, because Advent is all about eschatology. And, as Merton concludes:

...eschatology is not finis and punishment, the winding up of accounts and the closing of books: it is the final beginning, the definitive birth into a new creation. It is not the last gasp of exhausted possibilities but the first taste of all that is beyond conceiving as actual.

But can we believe it? ("He seemed to them to be jesting!")

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