By Claude Henri Valloton
Translation Louise Thunin
How can we grow ? How can we go from infancy to childhood to adulthood ? How can we become truly human ? It’s the work of a lifetime, and includes ambiguity, humour, utopia, and above all, language.
A lifetime is not too long for the work of becoming human. Indeed, we are born prematurely, even when we’re born full-term. We are not yet capable of living like men and women worthy of the name. We need our parents, our family, our neighbors, our friends, our advisors and teachers, in short, other people, in order to grow little by little. Birth signals the beginning of a long
march towards greater humanity.
Becoming human means becoming attentive to what I feel and to what another feels. An act, a thought, a decision become human – or at least a little more human – when they take into account what their authors and their beneficiaries feel, think, and experience. This dual attention is usually exercised in connection with a given theme, with shared values, with a dialogue or with a message to transmit.
Jesus gives us the kick-off : I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10). He sews seeds of confidence, hope, and mutual recognition. That means that humanity has become the inescapable space of faith, love, and hope. These develop only in human soil and not in off-soil culture.
The itinerary is unsettling. We go through it in several stages, with crises, repetition, progress and set-backs.
Human beings – open to faith – discover themselves when they begin to become ˝like children˝ again, in order to grow. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 18 :3). It’s not a question of falling back into second childhood, but of letting go, of returning to source, of changing one’s perspective in order then to deal with real, everyday life. This detour by way of our origins allows us to grow. (…) for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:13-14).
The stakes consist in mastering, inasmuch as possible, that which, within us, is not human, that which renders us inhumane and deprives us of our dignity by making less-than-humans of us or, on the contrary, that which leads us into the illusion that we can surpass our limits like supermen and women.
Opening life to ambivalence and ambiguity
Becoming human means breaking through the seriousness which blocks life. Humor orients us towards more humanity. Seeing things from a distance opens up a space where life is more easily lived. It’s a way of being, a spirituality rooted in the wisdom writings of the Bible. To Job, perplexed in the face of lack of meaning, God replies with humour by showing him a hippopotamus and a crocodile (Job 40) ! Wisdom takes a walk « in the street » (Proverbs 1 :20), in everyday life.
Becoming human means having convictions about being attentive to others. For convictions can sometimes be an obstacle on our way ! We can’t live without convictions. However, too many convictions keep us from really living. In the word conviction, we find: to win, to combat, to carry the day over.
Conviction helps us live but it can also become murderous. Humanity is the foundation of belief. What good is it for me to have beliefs, if I become inhumane or fanatic ? What good is it to develop a conviction, if it draws me away from my humanity ? Faith can also keep us from truly living, if it invades all my space and leaves no room for my humanity or for that of others. It’s a moot question to ask if faith precedes humanity or if humanity opens us up to faith. They go hand in hand. A faith which accepts inhumanity has usurped its name. In the same way, humanity that would refuse spiritual open-mindedness, in the widest sense of the term, is not worthy of the name either.
Becoming human means opening life to amibivalence and ambigiuity. Faith is not a one-sided medallion that you show in order to gain admission to ecclesiastical circles. There are heads and tails, good and evil, shadow and light. They go hand in hand. That doesn’t mean that we lose our courage and hope nor that we justify evil and injustice; humanity develops its roots more deeply, beyond appearances. Fear, which is a poor counselor, invites us to see only one side of things. We take refuge on one side of the mountain, forgetting that it only exists because there is another side: lack of tolerance and immediate recourse to violence also point to this truncated view of existence. We’re afraid of the other person; we start by striking before even seeking to understand. Faith, rooted in the humane, does not build a private, secure domain. On the other hand, it allows us to confront the insecurity of the world such as it is, with its contradictions.
Economic, political, financial and church institutions are also concerned by this dynamic, even if it doesn’t play so direct a role. All of these human organizations have been made for human beings; human beings were not made to adapt to their demands nor to those of their directors. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. (Mark 2:27). It is extremely difficult to orient our planet towards more humanity. Between utopia and resignation, we set foot on a narrow path of faith and hope, in spite of it all. We walk there with all people of good will, and sometimes we also meet larger groups – organizations, associations, Churches—which transform their helplessness and their minority status into a quest for more justice and humanity. It’s here that naked faith—depending only on itself—manifests in all its depth.
Becoming human means learning to talk, to communicate
Humanity comes into being through language. It is by speaking, speaking to myself and speaking to others that I become more human. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
Of course, we hear some people take the floor and call for inhumanity. This spreads scorn for others. It is seductive, because it calls on our most primitive instincts. It can be called into question thanks to a difficult dialogue which demands that all involved listen to one another.
Each language provides a deepening of our humanity. Each religion is like a mother tongue. But to communicate, we must learn other languages, learn to listen, to translate, to enter into other ways of reasoning. As we conjugate verbs and actions, as we decline nouns and adjectives in our mother tongue and in foreign languages, decline our beliefs and our religion, in dialogue with other beliefs and religions, we learn little by little to be more human. For we cannot speak of God without speaking of human beings.
Faith, without any human roots and without humanity opening up to something greater than itself, remains on the surface of existence and lets itself be carried away on the prevalent currents of the day. The main thing : becoming human by speaking and by listening to what rises up from within us, to what other people say, and to what is murmured in the silence of God.
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