The Good News of Hell
Is there a hell? The concepts of heaven and hell are as intimately connected as those of good and evil. When we are free to do good, we are also free to do evil; when we can say yes to God's love, the possibility of saying no also exists. Consequently, when there is heaven there also must be hell.
All of these distinctions are made to safeguard the mystery that God wants to be loved by us in freedom. In this sense, strange as it may sound, the idea of hell is good news. Human beings are not robots or automatons who have no choices and who, whatever they do in life, end up in God's Kingdom. No, God loves us so much that God wants to be loved by us in return. And love cannot be forced; it has to be freely given. Hell is the bitter fruit of a final no to God.
Heaven and Hell
Is everybody finally going to be all right? Are all people ultimately going to be free from misery and all their needs fulfilled? Yes and no! Yes, because God wants to bring us home into God's Kingdom. No, because nothing happens without our choosing it. The realisation of the Kingdom of God is God's work, but for God to make God's love fully visible in us, we must respond to God's love with our love.
Things I Don't Want to Know
I discovered something which I had never confronted before, that there were immense forces of darkness and hatred within my own heart. At particular moment of fatigue or stress, I saw forces of hate rising up inside me, and the capacity to hurt someone who was weak and was provoking me! That, I think, was what caused me the most pain: to discover who I really am, and to realize that maybe I did not want to know who I really was! I did not want to admit all the garbage inside me. And then I had to decide whether I would just continue to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into hyperactivity, projects where I could forget all the garbage and prove to others how good I was.
- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.19
Behind the Need to Win
As I began living with people like Raphael and Philip, I began to see all the hardness of my heart. It is painful to discover the hardness in one's heart. Raphael and the others were crying out simply for friendship and I did not quite know how to respond because of the other forces within me, pulling me to go up the ladder. But over the years, the people I live with in L'Arche have been teaching and helping me.
They have been teaching me that behind the need for me to win, there are my own fears and anguish, the fear of being devalued or pushed aside, the fear of opening up my heart and of being vulnerable or of feeling helpless in front of others in pain; there is the pain and brokenness of my own heart.
- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.18
Our Elitism as Enemy
Elitism is the sickness of us all. We all want to be on the winning team. That is at the heart of apartheid and every form of racism. The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts not outside!
- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.19
Are the great visions of the ultimate peace among all people and the ultimate harmony of all creation just utopian fairy tales? No, they are not! They correspond to the deepest longings of the human heart and point to the truth waiting to be revealed beyond all lies and deceptions. These visions nurture our souls and strengthen our hearts. They offer us hope when we are close to despair, courage when we are tempted to give up on life, and trust when suspicion seems the more logical attitude. Without these visions our deepest aspirations, which give us the energy to overcome great obstacles and painful setbacks, will be dulled and our lives will become flat, boring, and finally destructive. Our visions enable us to live the full life.
Something unexpected zapped me today to a different time zone: the distant past. I was shopping at the Landmark for a new plaid polo for our cowboy-themed company Christmas party when i noticed a face in the shopping mall crowd that looked vaguely familiar: one of the editors in my first job.
My first writing job was both thrilling and traumatic. Looking back, it was my initiation into both the BPO or outsourced world and the writing world. The office in Salcedo Village, Makati impressed me as spiffy enough and high-tech. Very few people passed the battery of entrance tests on vocabulary and writing, or so i was told, and so when i made it, i felt so proud and accomplished, together with my co-workers who i found to be very exciting: a women's magazine writer, two Ateneans who had lived in the United States, a Hawaiian English major, and a smart though sickly UST grad. But when the time came to deliver actual work, i felt like rubbish. The abstracts i wrote based on foreign English journal and magazine articles were extensively revised that i felt lacerated. I felt so humiliated that i had to dig the ground to recover my pride. After merely two months, i was fired, and rudely too, because the letter of termination was delivered by email.
I was just getting started, starting off on a rainbow of bright hope, and now I was jobless. I didn’t know what to do. I went back to my cousin’s rented apartment, the place i stayed in the city temporarily, and was greeted by the confirmation of my 'bad luck' in this deceptively happy-sounding song by Mariah Carey titled "Make It Happen." It that went this way: "Not more than three short years ago/i was abandoned and alone/without a penny to my name/so very young and so afraid/no proper shoes upon my feet/sometimes i couldn’t eat./ i often cried myself to sleep./but i gotta keep on going/never knowing/if i could take it/if i could make it through the night./I know life can be so tough/and you feel like giving up...."
The nightmare, long-forgotten, suddenly flashed back. I was shaken, my gait suddenly feeling unbalanced. I tried to find a corner where i could recover. I stopped by Fruit Magic at the basement food court and ordered a “Body Cleanser” juice for detox.
When i came to, i realized i had been deeply hurt and i had repressed the pain through the years. I wondered how i survived carrying all that anger and hatred in my heart for so long. And as it turns out, i might have been writing partly (or largely) to prove to these people that i can write.
And now i was faced with the task of forgiving a whole bunch of people: at least three editors i felt were ruthless and hated me. I had to talk to myself in my heart just to sort things out, to winnow the strains of thought in my head to separate the toxic from the true.
"But i have proven myself!," went the debate in my head. "I was able to get a lot of articles published in newspapers and magazines. I’ve proven myself many times over."
"And if i’m not that good as a writer, so what? It won’t affect who i am and how much i am worth. (Come to think of it, I wasn’t even aiming for the best, originally. I merely wanted to be able to write passably, that’s all. I distinctly remember a time when i couldn’t even write a single coherent essay. Honestly, i don’t have any ambition of joining the Palanca Awards, for fear of winning, which is sure to only boost my already big ego. Maybe i'll give writing workshops a try, though i’m too old for those, even as it will surely appeal to my masochist side.)
["Oh, but it was so hurtful!" whispered the horned angel to my left.]
"But did they mean it?" I told the devil.
["I think not."]
"So what if they did, and so what if XXX, the main editor, was indeed mean? It spoke more about her character than mine."
["I still hate them. They were a bunch of puffed-up frogs who mistake themselves for God."]
"But i forgive them. I know i must, for i must have hurt people the same way too with the ruthless way i edited their work."
[You don't have to forgive.]
"Besides, i find writing now more enjoyable and inspiring and energizing than exhausting and ennervating."
[Go humor yourself.]
"Still i want to make sure that, from hereon in, i will be writing not to prove something, but because i want to write."
[You kidding me?]
The former editor, now looking gaunt and tired, for which i felt vindicated somewhat, seemed to avoid my gaze after i caught sight of him. In case i see him again next time, i’d like to give at least a slight smile of recognition, my way of giving him amnesty.
For all i knew, they didn’t mean anything other than correcting some really lousy work, not fixing a lousy person as i erroneously thought i was.
In the next few minutes, I was reminded of all other names in my forgiveness list: another former boss who reneged on a promise, a cousin's ex who threatened me, a former superior and her allies for treating me and others badly -- who else?
You know what? I can’t forgive right now. Not all of them in one go, anyway. I mean, i decide to do it right now, but my heart remains inflamed with hurt. I believe I have the right to be hurt. I certainly need more time to heal. I guess I can only forgive fully one person and event at a time.
“Blast from the past” -- I think I know now what the expression means."