irresistibly impelled to welcome life with gratitude

From pages 114-115 of “Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965):

The man of today tends to establish, as far as he can, an order of things in which the words “to place oneself at life’s disposal” have literally no meaning. This is true above all in so far as he asserts the primacy of technics and technical knowledge. …Technics are seen as all the systematized methods which enable man to subordinate nature, considered as blind or even rebellious, to his own ends. But it must be noted that the point at which man’s powers of wonder are applied is thus inevitably shifted: what now seems worthy of admiration is above all technical skill in all its forms, it is no longer in any way the spontaneous course of phenomena, which has on the contrary rather to be controlled and domesticated, somewhat as a river is by locks. This admiration is tinged with a shade of defiance of a truly Luciferian character, it can hardly be separated from the consciousness of a revenge taken upon Nature whose yoke it has borne so long and so impatiently. This is particularly clear with regard to living nature. …Without any given reason, they agree to regard life itself as a “sale blague” (rotten humbug), or at least as the rumbling of threatening possibilities against which it would be impossible to take too many precautions, whereas formerly it was hailed as a revelation, or at the very least a promise and pledge of a marvelous and unlimited renewal. …It is to be noticed in passing that the development of prophylactic methods and of systems of insurance, because at bottom these correspond to analogous inner tendencies, have helped to foment in souls a spirit of suspicious vigilance, which is perhaps incompatible with the inward eagerness of a being who is irresistibly impelled to welcome life with gratitude.

quivering anticipation of a plenitude

From pages 116-124 of “Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965):

Fatherhood … only exists as the carrying out of a responsibility, shouldered and sustained. …It utterly denies its own nature when it is the mere blind generation of a being not only incapable of providing for his progeny and guiding their spiritual development, but of realising and acknowledging the obligations he has undertaken towards them. It is probably in contrast with such inertia and blindness that we can best understand what the pure act of fatherhood should be. …This pure act is inconceivable without what I proposed to call the væu créateur.

…This væu créateur is no other than the fiat by which I decide to put all my energies at the service of this possibility which is already imposing itself upon me, but only upon me, as a reality, so that I may transform it into a reality for all, that is to say into an established work. This means that the væu, far from being reduced to a mere wish, has the character of an engagement and a decision. But this engagement or this decision is not made simply within my own being, something transcendent is involved, however indistinct my consciousness of it may as yet be.

…It is at bottom a question of spontaneous confidence in life which can almost equally be regarded as a call or as a response. It is this, and this alone, which enables man to establish his roots in the universe and to develop to his full stature.

…We have to lay down the principle that our children are destined, as we are ourselves, to render a special service, to share in a work; we have humbly to acknowledge that we cannot conceive of this work in its entirety and that a fortiori we are incapable of knowing or imagining how it is destined to shape itself for the young will it is our province to awaken to a consciousness of itself. We can see clearly enough that the væu créateur implies the combination of a deep personal humility and an unshaken confidence in life, conceived of not as a natural force but as an unfathomable order, divine in its principle. Now it is exactly the opposite combination which tends most often to be effected before our eyes, that is to say a maximum of personal pretension associated as we have seen with a radical agnosticism concerning life, its value and its meaning.

…It becomes possible to understand the fundamental nature of the væu créateur, wherein we believe we have found the essence of fatherhood to lie. It is the quivering anticipation of a plenitude, of a pleroma in the bosom of life, no longer an endless improvisation of disappointing variations on a few given themes, [that] will be satisfied, concentrated and reassembled around the absolute Person who alone can give it the infrangible seal of unity.

reverence for existence

The great Swiss author Ramuz, writing some years ago, spoke of a certain sense of holiness “which is the most precious thing the West has known, a certain attitude of reverence for existence–by which we must understand everything which exists, oneself and the world outside oneself, the mysteries which surround us, the mystery of death, and the mystery of birth, a certain veneration in the presence of life, a certain love, and (why not acknowledge it?) a certain state of poetry which the created world produces in us”. It is precisely this sense of holiness, this fundamental reverence for life and for death, itself considered as the nocturnal phase of life, it is this state of poetry produced in us by the created world which, during the last decades, and more particularly of recent years, has given way to the pressure of pride, of pretentiousness, of boredom and despair.

From page 75 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965). [This concept closely parallels the term quiddity as used by C.S. Lewis, or “omnivorous attentiveness” as Alan Jacobs calls it.]

obviously legitimate to wonder why

The more circumscribed an action is, the more it consequently belongs to the order of those actions which can either be reproduced by the agent himself in identical circumstances, or imitated by others–the more it is obviously legitimate to wonder why it is performed, or in other words what calls for it. On the other hand, the more totally an action involves the personality of the agent, the more it is of the nature of a vocation, and the more it is unique by its essence so that there can be no question of the agent repeating it or of others imitating it from outside, the less the question under consideration can be asked without absurdity.

From page 105 of “The Creative Vow as Essence of Fatherhood” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).

an underground region which has to be examined and cleared

In reality everything goes to show that the crumbling away of religious beliefs, which has been going on for the last century and half in vast sectors of the western world, bring as its consequences a weakening of the natural foundation on which these beliefs had grown up. The philosopher, when faced with a fact of such dimensions, is obliged to seek an explanation and to wonder if the principle of these foundations does not contain a certain piety clearly religious in essence. This we might without any offense call sub-Christian, for it is the under structure upon which authentic Christianity is built. It is this understructure, or foundation, which is being destroyed before our eyes to-day, so that the work of reconstruction, of which all recognize the need, has to be carried out, not on the ground level, as in ordinarily imagined, but in an underground region which has to be examined and cleared.

From page 98 of “The Creative Vow as Essence of Fatherhood” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).

not to be forced since it springs from an experience of plentitude

The meaning of the word “creative” is very precise here: it denotes the active contribution each soul is at liberty to bring to the universal work which is accomplishing itself in our world and doubtless far beyond it. In this connection the condition of a human being of whatever kind is not essentially different from that of the artists who is the bearer of some message which he must communicate, of some flame which me must kindle and pass on, like the torch-bearers of Lucretia. Everything seems to happen as though on the human level the operation of the flesh ought to be the hallowing of a certain inward fulfillment, an out-flowing not to be forced since it springs from an experience of plentitude. Perhaps I should make myself better understood by saying in a way which actually is not exclusively Christian that the operation of the flesh loses its dignity and degenerates from its true nature if it is not an act of thanksgiving, a creative testimony.

From page 88 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).

life envelops him and protects him

Only those fully absorbed in life are protected from being dismantled by the void within them:

At the origin of diversion, of the will to be diverted or amused at any price, there is an attempt to escape, but from what? It can only be from oneself. The ego is without any doubt faced with a dilemma: to fulfill itself or to escape. Where it does not attain fulfillment, it is only conscious of itself as of an unendurable gaping void from which it must seek protection at any price. Anyone who is absorbed does not know this void; he is as it were caught up in plenitude, life envelops him and protects him. Boredom, on the contrary, is not only bound up with inaction but with a dismantling process.

From page 83-84 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).

faculty of wonder

There is a deep similarity between the union of the soul and body and the mystery of the family. In both cases we are in the presence of the same fact, or rather something which is far more than a fact since it is the very condition of all facts whatever they may be: I mean incarnation. I am not, of course, using this term in its theological sense. It is not a question of our Lord’s coming into the world, but of the infinitely mysterious act by which an essence assumes a body, an act around which the meditation of a Plato crystallised, and to which modern philosophies only cease to give their attention in so far as they have lost the intelligence’s essential gift, that is to say the faculty of wonder.

From page 69 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).

unfathomable gift

Gabriel Marcel wrote that life is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be explored. That is certainly the biblical stance: life is not something we manage to hammer together and keep in repair by our wits; it is an unfathomable gift. We are immersed in mysteries: incredible love, confounding evil, the creation, the cross, grace, God. The secularized mind is terrorized by mysteries. Thus it makes lists, labels people, assigns roles, and solves problems. But a solved life is a reduced life. These tightly buttoned-up people never take great faith risks or make convincing love talk. They deny or ignore the mysteries and diminish human existence to what can be managed, controlled, and fixed. We live in a cult of experts who explain and solve.

From The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.