The Heart of Our Humanity

671px-Two_red_dice_01.svg_Seems a long time ago now, but I once found a Narnia board game and excitedly brought it home for my children. We sat down to play, and I was devastated. It was all chance, a roll of the dice, a flick of the spinner. No decisions, no choices, no responsibility.

The antithesis of the Narnian world and worldview.

I have come to see that we are at heart “choosers.” We choose first, and then we construct worlds that we will live in. As Havel has said so importantly, so insightfully, “The secret of man is the secret of his responsibility.” At the very heart of our humanness is our responsibility, our ability to respond.

We are very complex as people, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve– glorious ruins, so full of wonder and glory, and shame and sorrow. Why and how we see God, ourselves and the world as we do is very complex too. Ideas and beliefs are part of it, but not the whole. Mentors and teachers are also part of the equation, critically so because they show ideas in practice. But we are also born into circumstances that are unique to us, and so biology and chemistry, psychology and sociology, are inextricably written into each life. We are very complex.

I thought of all this again reading the first of The Master of Hestviken, the tetralogy (four books) by Sigrid Undset, a Nobel Prize winner for her novels. Having read her Kristin Lavransdatter years ago, and concluded that the trilogy was one of the best stories I had ever read, a year ago I begin buying the books of the Hestviken story. This weekend I finished the first, “The Axe.” Set in Norway in the medieval Catholicism of the 13th-century, it is a masterful account of Olav Audunsson a son of Adam who is also the son of Audun, as well as a son of Scandinavia. And not surprisingly, he too is a glorious ruin who makes decisions, and choices, with responsibility threaded through his life from beginning to end.

These words have rumbled around in my mind for a week now. They are from a priest to Olav, coming at a time when Olav has made choices that have consequences. The priest wants him to understand that at the heart of his life is his responsibility, not only for his past but for his future.

“Tis an easy matter, Olav, to be a good Christian so long as God asks no more of you than to hear sweet singing in church, and to yield Him obedience while He caresses you with the hand of a father. But a man’s faith is put to the test on the day God’s will is not his. But now I tell you what Bishop Torfinn said to me one day—it was of you and your suit we were speaking. ‘God grant,’ he said, ‘that he may learn to understand in time that whoso is minded to do as he himself wills will soon enough see the day when he has done that which he had never willed.’”

Sort of sober, but profoundly true.

The Narnia game was not true to Narnia, but even more so, was not true to the reality of our humanity. We are choosers because responsibility is the heart of our humanity, it is the secret of being human.

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