Few moments are as wonderful as when you come to know the goodness of a thing. Not your liking it, needing it, wanting it, or not. But rather, the moment you come to recognize its fundamental goodness and come to accept that its goodness is enough.
When this happens you forget yourself and you fall in love with the object of your attention as you adopt a reverent posture of wonder before it. You express only gratitude for having noticed it. You desire only to place yourself in its service, to share, in some small way, in the grace of its presence. It could be anything really, or anyone, because when we recognize goodness, when we are free enough to recognize it, we are actually reverencing God.
But we’re not always keen on goodness. Sometimes we fail to recognize it. Or sometimes it’s not enough for us. When the simple goodness of a thing being what it is isn’t enough for us we begin to do terrible things. We make ourselves cruel judges of that which the Creator thought worthy of creation. We make our petty desires the measuring stick of a reality whose complexity far exceeds our understanding. And, at our very worst, we place our fear between us and the heart of things, we reel back and pull the trigger. We kill the one who came to save us.
Few moments are as terrible as when we fail to recognize the goodness of a thing. Few moments are as devastating as when we deny the gift of our goodness and refuse to accept that we belong to each other. We seem to be living through one of those moments now. It seems very difficult these days to recognize our goodness.
I once lived with a Jesuit who had a peculiar pronunciation of the word goodness. He was learning English and struggled with the double-o in good, such that goodness always came out sounding like God-ness. His pronunciation was off, but his usage was perfect. Like many language learners who find a reliable phrase in their foreign tongue, he used it a lot. Someone would make a bad joke – Oh my God-ness! Someone would reveal a special dessert – Oh my God-ness! Someone would ask him about his studies – Oh my God-ness!
His odd pronunciation caught my attention, but his total sincerity became a revelation. He taught me something of what we might mean by that expression, that we are as reverent as we are surprised, and that, sometimes, our wonder is enough. Perhaps a love that recognizes goodness, without adding conditions or judgments, perhaps that is the kind of love we all need. Perhaps accepting the self-giving goodness of things is enough. Perhaps.
Our recognition of goodness is always our coming into the presence of God. This is the wisdom of worship, the righteousness of reverence, the mystery of revelation. This is the great gift of self-giving love, the peaceful beauty of things merely being what they are. But this grace of recognition also helps us to know when things aren’t yet as they ought to be. The present of goodness is also goodness becoming.
There is goodness in suffering love, in righteous anger, in witnessing unto death. There is goodness in the struggle for justice, the tenderness of mercy, the surrender of sacrifice. There is goodness in the reality of truth, even and especially when that truth is difficult or dangerous to speak. There is goodness in each of these precisely because they are instances of our witness to the beauty of life and our insistence on the depravity of its enemies. And so too, in times of terror, we cry out – Oh my goodness! Oh my God!
The goodness of a thing is not an abstract idea, but something to be experienced. This is important, however difficult, to remember in times of violence and confusion, division and despair, even death. We will not think our way to goodness. We will only come to know the goodness of a difficult moment by our living through it. If we want for the grace of knowing God in all things we must also want for the courage to do the will of God in every moment.
Spanish has a great word for this – la bondad – which can mean both goodness and kindness. We generally think of kindness as something to do and goodness as something to be. The truth, of course, is both. Our goodness is made known in kindness. And kindness is an expression of our kinship — the goodness of our being of one flesh, our being bound together, our belonging to each other. Our kindness is our share in the God-ness of things.
A striking image surfaced after the recent madness in Dallas, a dramatic photo of a group of people surrounding a baby carriage as the shooting began. These people, apparently strangers to one another, placed their bodies between the bullets and the baby. Seeing this image moved me first to tears and then to prayer.
Few moments are as wonderful as when you come to know the goodness of a thing.
I give thanks for all of those who have ever felt the cold steel of fear pressed against their hearts and yet didn’t fail to recognize the goodness of life, didn’t fail to risk themselves for the sake of that goodness. It is so very good to see you. Your life matters absolutely to mine. I want nothing more than to be with you, to praise you, and to thank you, for your goodness.