Taking No For an Answer

Today’s Inward/Outward post, which was in my inbox this morning, was a quote by Parker Palmer that I think is right on target.  Parker writes:

One of our problems as Americans—at least, among my race and gender—is that we resist the very idea of limits, regarding limits of all sorts as temporary and regrettable impositions on our lives. Our national myth is about the endless defiance of limits: opening the western frontier, breaking the speed of sound, dropping people on the moon, discovering ‘cyberspace’ at the very moment when we have filled old-fashioned space with so much junk that we can barely move. We refuse to take no for an answer. Part of me treasures the hopefulness of this American legacy. But when I consistently refuse to take no for an answer, I miss the vital clues to my identity that arise when way closes—and I am more likely both to exceed my limits and to do harm to others in the process.

The secular theory underlying the mindset of which Parker speaks understands freedom exclusively as “freedom from,” that is, a freedom from interference to follow individual pursuits, whatever they may be. This is freedom as individual autonomy, with no objective ranking or judgments about individual preferences. Prior to his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger characterized this understanding as a “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

The Christian understanding of freedom, what is sometimes referred to as “authentic freedom,” is very different. In contrast with an understanding of freedom that admits of no judgments about individual preferences, authentic freedom is not unlimited; it is bounded by moral truth. Authentic freedom is the freedom to make choices that accord with truth. As Pope John Paul II observed, in Centesiumus Annus, that “freedom attains its full development only by accepting the truth.”

Authentic freedom understands that there are limits and that sometimes “no” may be the right answer.


God of Many Names (as shared by Elena)

We just had a parish mission at St. Hubert’s, where my family worships. The featured speaker was Lee Nagle, Executive Director of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He spoke during the Mass I attended Sunday evening (and some of the things I was struck by in his reflection may still make there way into a post sometime this week) and he then has a post-Mass session with the teens of the parish. My daughter came home with such enthusiasm about the evening that I asked her if she would write something about the experience that she found powerful.

So, with Elena’s permission, my post today is not my post, but what Elena shared with me. Here is what she wrote:

“One of the things Nagle talked about was how God has many names. Many people, in their prayer, use the common, familiar names for God: Father, God of Mercy and Compassion, God of Love and Truth. But, in fact, including all of the names for Jesus and the Holy Spirit, there are at least 144 different names for God in the Bible. We tend to forget this, however, and by limiting how we name God, we limit God himself. We try to define He Who is Indefinable, and confine Him with our words.

“There is a saying: “God has 100 names; and we only know 99.” As humans, we simply cannot comprehend all that God is, precisely because God is everything and everywhere. We just can’t see it all at once.

“Sometimes God is referred to as “God of brilliant darkness” or “God of deafening silence.” These certainly don’t make sense for those of us who live out our lives in a “normal” fashion. But if you ever go out into the desert and watch the sky at night, “brilliant darkness” and “deafening silence” begin to make sense.

“So the important thing to remember is not to confine God with just one or a few names. In one sense, there is the person, named, and then there is the message of the whole. So we need to remember the message of God, and how God is the all-powerful…the indescribable.”

That should give you something to meditate on today. (And thanks to Elena for sharing this with us.)