Are We the Walking Dead?

The notion that much of what we think of as everyday "life" is in fact a death-in-life has occurred to many. T. S. Eliot puts it memorably towards the beginning of The Waste Land:

Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,

To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

But during Mass yesterday, we heard this same notion presented by Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you" (Eph 5:14). He seems to be quoting from Isaiah, but he isn't exactly.

Ephesians is all about being called into the new life of the universal Body growing under, and into, the headship of Jesus. But this way of life shares no common ground with secularized desire:

"Now this I say and testify in the Lord, you must no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their minds, being darkened in their understanding, having been alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance existing in them, because of the hardness of their hearts" (Eph 4:18). Saint Paul goes on to extensively describe this futile existence. And his culminating point is that walking the ways of the world is actually to be among the dead.

In Heart of the World, Balthasar describes this condition of having dead hearts from the point of view of Jesus' descent into our world:

"He was the Light, and all were blind. He was the Word, and all were deaf. He was Love, but no one even suspected Love existed. ...This everyday state of affairs, here, in this street full of people who go about, each pursuing his own business: whether cobbler or baker, milkman or mailman, each function can be recognized by the clothes they wear, and all the tasks are divided up among them. They have established authorities and agencies for the public order. ...Many know and greet each other, and all know that together they are fashioning what is called 'mankind.' A shiver of pride and a sublime sensation thrill them at the thought: we are this round circle which bears within itself its meaning and its law. We have an agreement that none of us will go beyond the posted limits of this enclosed park. We make ample allowances for the imperfections of our establishment, but we are also very wary of whoever would call our reality as a whole into question. For even though many a particular could be improved upon, yet, as a whole, everything is as it must be."

Here we are, living in "sensible" ways, self-satisfied, self-soothing, self-affirming, self-assertive, unheroic, relentlessly mediocre, casually cruel, judgmental of others in ego-propping ways, intolerant of opinions that are not ours. Here, even "intimacy" is managed according to the canons of possessive individualism, and solidarity costs us nothing. A universe of death.

Jesus sees our zombie routines. "What they characterized as imperfections was for Him a horrible leprosy on the face and throughout the body--a scab and a pus-filled abscess that devoured their soul and turned them into cripples. What they called their ties were heavy, unbreakable chains which they dragged with great toil, driven on by demons. And what they praised as the cheerful moderation of their limitations, this, seen from within, was a boundless despair. An emptiness like dull hunger gaped in their souls: no expansive emptiness this, but rather a narrow, restricting hollowness that deprived them of head and senses. They walked along in an ugly nakedness, but they thought they were covered in each other's sight and had even lost the ability to feel the cold. What plagued them was so insidious that imperceptibly all of their sensations died away. They were dead, so thoroughly dead that they thought they were alive. ...So rejected that they took themselves to be among the elect."

That's just most of us. Contracted hearts within contracting horizons. Philistine (insensible to the transcendental in nature, art, friendship), mechanically following a script for success and diversion and self-presentation, consuming, consuming, consuming.

What Saint Paul urges is very different: "Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph 5:1-2).

Imitate God! Love as Christ loves! Find life by expending it without reserve! Transcend all the way to self-sacrifice...

To live is to love as God loves: God IS; God IS Love. Either we are instruments by which the Father gathers every human being into His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the ever-greater circle of love. Or we molder within ourselves.