It is time to become a Refusenik–if you are not one already.
It is spiritually necessary for a healthy mysticism in our own time.
Let me be clear about what I am going to say. In the grand scheme of things it is not something to get worked up over. In the grand scheme of things it is a small matter, a very small matter. I have wandered out in the desert, among canyons and boulders that are hundreds of millions of years in age. I have gazed at the night sky toward the center of just our own galaxy, and there I have seen clouds of stars each star at least as large as our sun, millions of stars. And then when I have gazed away from the Milky Way, I was staring into deep space where there are millions of such galaxies, some billions of light years away. Imagine the size of all this. Unimagineable. So let us not get too overwrought either about our own aches and pains, successes or failures, good choices or bad choices, good luck or bad luck, etc. Nor should we exaggerate the “badness” of our social, historical situation. It is in a very real sense “trivial” in the grand scheme of things. There is a much, much larger picture that we need to be aware of and place ourselves within in order to have a true and real perspective on things–both good and bad. This is part of the message of God’s speech to Job in the Book of Job and also in some of the Wisdom literature in the Bible.
And yet….and yet, we do live in a given social, historical moment here in the U.S. where we are called to make choices and decisions and proclaim where we stand one way or another. To say we stand “apart” or “outside” such things is to already have made a choice of whose consequences and full meaning perhaps we are not fully cognizant. We are living with the Beast, whether we realize it or not. And if we aquiesce to the Beast, we will carry the Mark of the Beast and become It’s child, rather than a child of God. So we are called to be Refuseniks, to refuse the Mark of the Beast, to claim our true identity as free, loving children of God.
Rest assured the Beast has not just recently arrived on the scene. It was there among the ancients with their bloodlust sacrifices. It was there with the Church at the Crusades and the Inquisition and with the bishops hiding the priest child-predators. The Beast has actually found the church quite useful in order to hide itself and its activities. The Beast was there encouraging the Industrial Revolution as we became enamoured by technology and the machine and lost our sense of a common human destiny. The Beast wants everyone to be for him/herself alone. The Beast was also there on the scaffold with the guilloitine and with the KGB as they executed any supposed threats to the State as an incarnation of the Beast. And there are so many other manifestations of the Beast, but in each one of these historical moments there were human beings who refused the Mark of the Beast and who said “No”–they became Refuseniks and paid for it dearly.
Today the Beast has become much more clever–speaks a very different language, comes in very different clothes. (Don’t worry so much about the drugged, dazed, smelly street person; worry rather about the financial expert in a nice suit.) Today the Beast speaks of prosperity and profits, of creating wealth, of networking, of entertainment and games, etc. The Beast is “into” self-promotion, self-realization, self-expression, self-manipulation, etc. The Beast wants you glutted with information, entertained into a daze, captive to a host of alien desires swimming in your brain. The Beast will show us “all the kingdoms of the world” and invite us to “take possession” because they really belong to the Beast and now It offers them to us. Jesus said No. Jesus may have been the first real Refusenik. Jesus knew who he was; that was the basis, the foundation of his No to the Beast. That tells us almost all you need to know. Because the ultimate thing the Beast wants is for you to forget who you are and take on It’s identity. The Mark of the Beast will then be on us. But we too must become Refuseniks. And we do this, first of all, by acts of silence, acts of truth(recall Gandhi), acts of wisdom, acts of compassion, acts of selflessness. Nothing will unmask better or counterattack more effectively the activity of the Beast than this. This must be the mindset with which we begin and end our own choices and our own activity.
But there is also the larger stage of social, political, economic activity where we are also actors regardless of our other roles. Here especially the notion of being a Refusenik may become very clear–because we will have to say No very visibly to the State, to corporate America, to our consumer culture, to that mindset that rationalizes greed and power and lies in the name of some supposed higher good, like a higher standard of living, etc. The writer and social critic Chris Hedges has written much and well on this subject. Recently he did an essay on the people of Eastern Europe who resisted their totalitarian governments–this is where the term “refusenik” really comes from–and their resistance took the form of numerous little acts of courage in resisting the Beast. The essay title: “No Act of Rebellion Is Wasted” and the online link is:
What Hedges does not get quite right is that all these societies, once they were free of their totalitarian regimes, merely succumbed to the Beast that now comes in new clothes. This shows that the “rebellion” has to go deeper than any social or political or economic action. It must go all the way to the heart level. And a marvellous example of such a life can be found in Gandhi.
Since it is Christmastime, let us end by considering that first and greatest Refusenik, Jesus. Recall Merton’s essay on the Christmas Gospel, “There Was No Room In the Inn.” When Jesus is born in a cave because there was no room in the inn for him, this shows that God does not participate in the machinations of the Beast in marshalling and numbering all the people(it was a time of census taking by the Romans), giving them an identity that was from the State, from their society, and not their real identity. Like everyone else, like all other human beings, the Holy Family is forced to move with all the other masses of people, but in taking refuge in that cave and among the lowly shepherds(also some other Refuseniks), they say a quiet No to the dynamism of the Beast and show what it means to belong to another Reality.
It is time to become a Refusenik.
Happy New Year to all.