Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You are Dangerous

"[Fangorn] often comes here, especially when his mind is uneasy, and rumours of the world outside trouble him. I saw him four days ago striding among the trees, and I think he saw me, for he paused; but I did not speak...and he did not speak either, nor call my name."
"Perhaps he also thought that you were Saruman," said Gimli. "But you speak of him as if he was a friend. I thought Fangorn was dangerous."
"Dangerous!" cried Gandalf. "And so am I, very dangerous...And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Gloin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion."—J.R.R. Tolkien

People who carry wands and battle-axes are not to be messed with. It's also a good idea not to mess with politicians, tycoons and football players. But we are beset with more dangers than that, for ordinary people are dangerous, in their own fashion. Even children have an ability to hurt or heal; the antics of a carefree child can do wonders for a parent consumed by anxiety about the future. In C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces, the repercussions of Orual's actions reverberate among both men and the gods—before she has any political power. She is puissant because her life is intertwined with the lives of other people, especially with the lives of her sisters.

When two people interact, their souls brush together and, many times, begin to interlock. Relating involves submission to an outside influence, even if a weak one; it involves a making bare or vulnerable some part of the being of both parties. This gives humans many kinds of power over each other. All humans can love or hate. Even small demonstrations of affection—a smile, a wave, an arm around the shoulder, a few simple kind words—can have great impact. I once heard one of my sisters crying bitterly in her room. I went in; she was lying face down, weeping into her pillow. I laid my hand on her back, trying vainly to think of some appropriate words. Presently, her sobbing subsided. My hand was a conduit of my love to her, a love which had a power I had not guessed at.

Many other types of power are inherent to humanness. We can shock, as films often do; we can advice and persuade: "But Brutus is an honorable man!" We can manipulate the emotions of others, as with the popular boy who flirts with girls he cares nothing for. We can teach by example—the most effective of didactic methods. In a very few words, we can change someone's opinion of his friend. An enthusiastic, "I love Chris," can drastically shape someone's opinion of Chris, as can "Did you know he eats his boogers?" We can give a girl flowers, or vandalize her car. Sex can be the sealing act of love—when used as God would have it—or cause immense destruction in the lives of those involved, and in the lives of their families and friends. Those with a talent in art or music can make us gawk, or dance, or cry—even without the talent of Dürer or Mendelssohn. Perhaps the greatest of human powers is prayer, a petition for intervention by the greatest of powers. Power is available even to the weak.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his early philosophy as expressed in Being and Nothingness, held that love was self-contradictory. I object to Sartre's view of love, but the love of a fallen being does have an inherent inconsistency. For love involves the desire to draw close to, and once a fallen being has drawn close to its beloved, it will inevitably damage it; but surely to love is to wish the best for the beloved! We must be struck with a terror of damaging that which we love, for even without prowess, we have power. And we must be even more afraid of damaging that which we do not love, for it is that which we do not love that we are most likely to destroy without conscious intention.

We must also be struck with our potential for good—a potential we underestimate. Your smiles, your patience with the obnoxiousness of another, and underlying it all, your love are of much greater value than you suppose. Remember that a greater return is demanded of him who is given five talents than of him who is given two. A young man once had a long talk with his teacher after class. As he walked home, he cried, though his teacher had given him high compliments. He cried because he saw his own wasted potential. He saw that he had spent his strength in frivolity and sin and cried because he feared the responsibility that came with the blessings given to him.

On my first day of "Invitation to the Humanities," Dr. Eric M— gave a challenge to the class. He told us, "You are weapons of either good or evil. There is no neutral position. Which will you be?"


F.B. said...

And if our fallen love has so much power, as a reflection of God's love, how great must His be?

Muni Beduhin said...

Amen. His love is so powerful it accomplishes things that human vocabulary cannot properly contain.