In Beyond Torture, a documentary about the Pitesti Phenomenon—the experiment that took place in communist prisons in Romania and that had as purpose the complete change of a human soul—Father Roman Braga recounts that he experienced the devil in Pitesti, but that he found God in solitary confinement. He says, and I paraphrase, that the communists believed that if they put intellectuals in solitary confinement, these people would not resist because they need books. But the inmates discovered there themselves, and by discovering themselves they found God.
One may wonder how it is that God is found in solitude, especially when Jesus Himself places the commandment to love one’s neighbor very high. Is it that we find God when we close ourselves to the other, when we are no longer bothered by the desires and the lack of probability that the presence of another free person brings into our lives?
I think it is in the answer to this question that we also find how spiritual life has meaning for ‘everyday’ Christian living. Within ourselves, in introspection, what we find is a kingdom—and so the neighbor is there also. When you discover God within, you discover a Kingdom. But this means that I am pregnant with Beauty, with the Kingdom itself, and that the only way in which I can live with responsibility toward my nature—that of being pregnant with the Beautiful or, I would say, that of being a birth-giver of Beauty—is to be responsible for that which is in me, the god according to grace that can have life only as long as it is connected to the kingdom.
Photo by Sorin Onisor, used with permission. In this picture, Alina Onisor, his wife, pregnant. To see more of his work, visit http://www.sorinonisor.ro/
The metaphor of pregnancy can well explain the spiritual described in Metropolitan Philip’s Meeting the Incarnate God, and I will start with a concept that we find in the “Mystery of Fidelity.” We must begin with violence. Indeed, “the person of faith must do violence to his own heart if he will become faithful to God and his fellow” (55). In pregnancy, we must do a similar violence to our own soul if we are to be faithful to the beautiful that is within us. In pregnancy, we discover that we no longer belong to ourselves, but we belong to that to which we give birth. It is the first acknowledgement without which no one is called to self-violence. For we love ourselves—we love our habits, our coffee in the morning, our going to the gym. But once we are pregnant, we realize that our whole world changes. Our bodies go through events that we do not bring upon us, but to which we cannot say no unless we say “no” to that which has a life within our body. There may be moments of despair, moments when we cry, “I want my body back,” “I want my time back,” or “I want my freedom back.” But all of these moments disappear when we hear again deep within us the call of the Beautiful, our child that is ours, on the one hand, but is also not ours, in a deeper and more profound sense, on the other hand. This call of the Beautiful that brings upon us responsibility toward that which, in a way, precedes us, this call, then, does not allow us to say “yes” to all our desires, but gives us the power to do violence to them. And we accept the pain experienced by the body with a new and surprising feeling, that of joy, and we are ready to embrace our new situation, that of a birth-giver of Beauty, who has the potential to give birth but is not yet there. Slowly, we open our arms to receive this beautiful, to offer ourselves to it, and without even realizing we take upon our shoulders our cross—our own personal cross, but also Christ’s cross, for it is the Beautiful, the Kingdom, which awaits to take life from us. It is by this daily violence that takes place in carrying our cross that we express our desire to fulfill that which we are called to be: birth-givers of beauty.
It is in such ways, I think, that we are co-creators of the beauty of our world. The world is already made beautiful for us, but it is such only with our activity in it, in our synergic working with God.
I mentioned above that this Beautiful with which we are pregnant is not solely of our creation. We are impregnated—we are given a gift. It is the image and likeness of God that we also find in the other. After all, this gift is the life of another. As in any relationships with other free persons, the gift is not determined and is not deserved. The gift is not limited (it has no determinations) and we have done nothing for it. But by accepting it as gift (so with no determinations and without believing that we deserve it), “we accept the condition of allowing that other entrance into our lives, allow the other to penetrate, to engage our existence through his offered gift” (29). Marriage is a possible path to finding yourself because it reminds you that you cannot be in control, that you depend on another free person and that the only way to rejoice in the other person and not object (that which you may want the other to be, something with clear determinations) is to enjoy her freedom. But we also see that finding yourself you truly find the other, who is already in you, in the Kingdom. For before you realize that you depend on another to be you, you cannot have genuine relations with the other person, but only with what you make out of him. In order to find the other, to be with the other, you need to go within your depths, and from there to cry out, “I am with you.”
What Fr. Roman Braga said, then, that we find ourselves within us does not mean that we close the door to the others. In fact, it is by closing the door to ourselves and thus going within our depths that we truly find the others: the members of the Kingdom.