I must have started six or eight posts since I graduated this past December, and I haven’t been able to finish a single one. I keep thinking of a quote I read years ago, by Louie Armstrong, that goes something like this: “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it.” Put simply, my writing stinks these days; at least, I know it does.
I’ve missed being in school. I’ve missed the brilliance and optimism and intellectual exchanges with all my friends who know what it means to say that something is socially constructed, and that there is nothing beyond the text—that so few things are definite, if any.
Some weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit with the dean of Bible studies from a Christian university. I had hoped for a different exchange, but had to remind myself there is a difference between theology and scripture. I witnessed a woman ask him how he goes about explaining to a young person of today that things aren’t relative, that they’re black and white. He said you have to focus on a particular issue, but eventually it comes down to the question of one’s views of Biblical authority. And so I asked him how long it takes to explain to somebody that things aren’t black and white, that they are relative, and that the Bible has plenty of places that point this out. I don’t think he liked my question, but he was gracious and kind.
Later at dinner he said something that touched me as tremendously profound, though I know he couldn’t have known why I found it as such. The conversation around the table was about contemporary American culture and lifestyle, and in the end he concluded the thread with something to the effect of, “What it comes down to in the end is whether we are going to form Man to God’s image, or form God to Man’s image.” What I wanted to say, but out of respect for others present did not, is that the grand irony is that this is exactly what many liberal Christians in contemporary America are saying. The point that a conservative Christian needs to understand is that the point liberal Christianity is trying to make is that overtly conservative Christianity is itself a forming of God to Man’s image. In retrospect, I should’ve said it.
The new job I started last year is teaching me things about myself and about others. I started a couple of posts about authority as power, and the question of whether power is always in some way violent. I think there are people who relish the idea of being able to tell other people what to do, but I’m not one of them. Maybe if I thought things were black and white all of the time, even most of the time, I would feel differently. But the truth is, I’m glad I don’t. Better to be uncomfortable, I think, than self-assured in the face of one’s ignorance. My friends from school would understand. I guess I mentioned already that I miss them.
The closest I got to a complete a post was a little thing called “Because I Am Human.” It was about how once in a while, hiking around the Southwest, I’ll find a little alter built atop a hill or mountain. The other day I came up to one and there were some candles burning in front of a little crucifix. I sat down my walking stick and bottle of water and bowed my head for a few moments, feeling a welcome connection to some person or persons whom I have never met. It occurred to me that the cynic would claim it’s childish of Man to still believe a few thousand feet of altitude can somehow lessen the reach to infinity. But in fact it makes perfect sense that God must be sought and acknowledged in the “other” places of Man’s world—on a mountain top, in a closet, or on a solitary walk at lunch time. The human knows with an intuition unshakable that there is a world of Man, and a world of God. The deeply felt yet unknowable reach between the two is what gives rise to Man’s religions—His languages he creates to speak of the unnamable. I get that. I am religious because I am human, and I do not regret it. In fact, I welcome it.
A while back I found out that something I wrote a year or two ago was passed around a few states and helped some people suffering the loss of loved ones. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that it was probably some part of the following that was being referenced:
I remind myself daily that what truly matters is simply having each day of life to learn, to laugh and to love with the people around us. Through sickness and accidents we’ve lost or nearly lost several family members and friends this year, some of them with children who are friends of our children. I know that it is the nature of life that in the end we cannot always save the things we love the most; that indeed this is what makes loving all the more valuable—and all the more costly. In the final analysis of life, it is love that makes life beautiful, but it is also love that hurts the most. This is life’s greatest and final paradox—that the most beautiful thing of all is also the most painful thing of all. It is hard to let go, and my heart is breaking for those who had to do so this year. I guess maybe I am finally growing up, and slowly learning to live my life outwardly. I am learning that the heart I have spent a lifetime selfishly protecting in a little box is not my own; it belongs to God, and because it belongs to God, it belongs also to every man, woman and child on Earth. This holiday season, I pray for parents and for children. I pray for those who have lost, that they may come to know firsthand that love never really dies. And I pray for those who have not lost, that they may know the miracle of today. Love is all there is. It is the only thing that is real. Close your eyes today, know how much you are loved, and know that in that love, you have everything.
I mention the quote because I was speaking a little public gig the other day, and afterword a woman from the audience thanked me because it helped her in a certain way, and I reflected back upon the same sentiment as above. To this day I remain convinced that love is indeed life’s greatest paradox, that “In the final analysis of life, it is love that makes life beautiful, but it is also love that hurts the most. This is life’s greatest and final paradox—that the most beautiful thing of all is also the most painful thing of all.”
What occurred to me over this past week, for the first time in my life—at least in this articulation—is that the “death to self” that one must undergo in the spiritual journey is this: To give oneself completely to the knowledge that in order to love fully and without limit, I must be willing to suffer loss without limit. In a word, this is what compassion is—to open oneself fully to the grand paradox of love and loss, and accept it without limit. In the best times of my life, I’ve recognized this deep in my soul. I need to recommit myself to this idea. I am becoming convinced it is the heart of all theology, and it is the only True thing a human can know.
I’m so very grateful for remembering that. I’ve been a bit adrift as of late.
…::: shalom ::…