Sometimes the Professor poses a question to defamiliarize the student’s relationship to the answers. I enjoy asking questions about life. I enjoy being inquisitive about my place in the world and contemplating some of the bigger questions of existence. Origin, meaning, morality, destiny, those kinds of big questions. I’ve been a thinker for most of my life. There is an ongoing dialogue within my head most days, and sometimes at night it is difficult to quiet. And on occasion I awake early, and there are the unrelenting thoughts again. But on balance, I would rather have them than not. I prefer intentional thought over mere amusement any day.
I was joking with some colleagues about how “donut holes” are named for something they aren’t. You can’t eat a hole. A hole is non-quantifiable entity. So here we go. The hole that I’m in is difficult to discern, it is difficult to quantify. I know that I dug it. The problem is that a shovel only works in one direction, down. I need to throw the shovel away, as the first rule for those that find themselves in a hole is to stop digging. However, when I throw the shovel away, the hole remains. And I’m in it without a ladder.
John Updike observes, “communication is often the real problem. That we are all fishers in the dark, in the storm of the senses and mad events, and the tug on the other end of the line must be patiently reeled, with fingertips sensitized by the sandpaper of an abrasive creed. And Heaven knows how much other such not entirely unhelpful stuff.” I’ve experienced a lot of abrasive creeds throughout life. The process of discerning what is helpful meat and what are the dangerous, obtrusive bones that lodge themselves in the larynx of my soul, can be perplexing. Choked! My existence feels like I can’t catch my breath. Hyperventilating, the brown paper bag expands and then deflates with the seasons of my verisimilitude.
Once in a therapy session, I was working through my thoughts about my life, and how I genuinely struggle making sense of the world. I told the therapist that I sometimes I have these thoughts that somehow “the rules don’t apply to me.” And when I say the “rules” maybe I’m thinking about the “rules” of life. I’ve never broken any major laws of course, and I’m generally a “good” person all things being relative. But what I seem to struggle with is this expectation that I’m going to be rescued from many of the negative consequences of my behavior. What I have discovered is that this simply isn’t true. I’m not going to be rescued. What will come to me in most circumstances are the very things that I intentionally seek. That’s karma. But I subscribe to grace, that what comes to me isn’t based on my performance but on God’s predisposition to love me as a reflection of His character alone.
Religion and philosophy are similar in that they offer rules that define how we live. We all have one or the other, some of us have both. They intersect and evolve, even among the most dogmatic. Today’s prohibitions are tomorrow’s liberties. Change is constant. What is challenging is simultaneously attempting to discern the rules and navigate their consequences.
I read last week about a countercultural movement known as the “Situation International” in the 1950’s. Guided by the philosophies of Guy Debord they would intentionally challenge the expectations of consumer culture by acting in subversive ways and sometimes destructive ways. For instance Debord coauthored a book that used sandpaper as it’s cover. The sandpaper would erode the covers of other books positioned next to it on the bookshelves of libraries and book stores. The goal was to destroy existing culture by creating new cultures, that by their very existence would bring an end to what was, to establish a new order, ostensively creating something better.
In the same way, perhaps the “sandpaper of abusive creeds” are dissolving the thin veneers of lies that have collected on the facade of my life through the years, revealing what is underneath. My hope is that what is revealed is worthy of admiration. To be fully know and fully loved is intimacy, “into me see.” But others can’t see what isn’t visible, so here’s to making a commitment to risk opening up to those who desire to see. Perhaps if we were more intentional in doing this with each other, we would end up seeing and being seen. And loved without condition. I believe it is worth the risk.