What is so wrong with wanting to be filled with something that brings me joy? Is it true that all forms of entertainment and art are essentially of the world and therefore the devil, if they are not completely Christian? The feeling of guilt over wanting to spend a period of time away from the Bible, or even anything spiritual, really. The sense that sometimes art and philosophy, music and poetry–can provide better nourishment for the soul, and an overall grander sense of well being.
I would think that all things have their proper place. A man of certain worldly qualities cannot be expected to cut off all of those things and simply thrive on the Bible and religious writings and music. I do believe that men without a spiritual component to their intellectual diet are much poorer, smaller and petty in ways they don’t even know.
It’s easy to make a metaphor out of food for intellectual things when you are comparing, say, pop music to Tchaikovsky or Jersey Shore to 19th Century paintings. One is obviously bubble gum, cotton candy or at the most McDonald’s, the other is a dinner at an upscale restaurant, or at least a nice meal cooked at home. In terms of nourishment, these things are obvious, and the metaphors are probably trite to most people, even if they would prefer to eat cotton candy all day long.
But what of the food of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? There is no earthly food that can compare. For, no earthly food can ever completely fill you up, completely nourish you, and yet he can, at least at the level of the eternal.
However, does Jesus expect me to only meditate on him and his love all day? Does he disapprove of reading Plato and looking at Renaissance sculptures? Is jazz music of the devil?
When I arrive in heaven, will all of these human endeavors seem terribly cheap and empty, unfocused and even pain-inducing, though they might have brought pleasure to me while on this earth? Will pursuits such as cultivating knowledge of history be seen as an utter waste of time, given that the mind of God knows everything, and whatever you need to know about a past event will be available on demand?
I think most of it depends upon the attitude I have when approaching these things of the world that bring me joy. Am I of a mind to allow my immersion in them completely cut me off from listening to God and reading his word? Or, do I see the truly great works of man as manifestations of God’s own infinite Beauty and Truth–and these worldly works are like sparklike hints of what the truly sacred things that are not of this world might be? I think it depends on the intent of the creators of the worldly works, too.
Even if they are works written by Atheists and other ungodly men–were they written with a desire to improve humankind in the utmost way possible, or were they created with simply an eye to making a buck, or even worse, created with an eye to spreading evil and darkness, whether the creator wants to admit it or not?
And that, I think is the real distinction between what was worldly but beautiful a hundred years ago and what is worldly and cherished by so many today. Movies where there is some kind of heart-related message are often created fully with the intent that the movie will make a buck, and the meaningful message is thrown in as an afterthought. The primary focus of all created things in our culture, for at least the past hundred years, has been making money. So, if money (and the love of it), is the root of all you see and hear, then you are probably going to become more and more alienated from God.
God doesn’t stop talking to you, though, after you reject him. I’ve known a few people who call themselves atheists or agnostics that probably act more genuinely Christian than many Christians do. Some are ever-mindful of the accusations leveled against them that stipulate people cannot be good without God. So, they make extra efforts to be good to show that rational humanism works. But many still possess the light and spirit of God’s love in a clearly evident way that transcends what the intellect may or may not rationalize. Is it proof that beautiful characteristics can live in humans without God? Or is it proof that God is still going to try to get through until these people turn completely to evil?
I think it’s proof that people can be listening to God even when they think they aren’t–and that the converse is also abundantly true. I’ve encountered more than a few Christians who let you know they are Christians within hours of meeting them, but they do not make any effort whatsoever to demonstrate the light of Love in their words and deeds. Perhaps they are shy, or perhaps they know how awful they are and how much more they need religion to keep them straight. Or, perhaps they are in love with some self-created idea of Jesus and his love that has nothing to do with the real thing. You could hang a picture of Jesus on your wall and begin gradually to worship the pigments smeared on the canvas first, while gradually forgetting about the substance of the Spirit that is the most important thing of all. The same certainly could happen with an image you hang in your brain.
I notice this when I seek guidance from God, when I seek some kind of true insight. If I take the words of the Bible or words of a religious thinker, and try to rotely run them through my brain as if I were an athlete training his spirit muscles, I quickly become disillusioned by all of it. If I take anything written about Jesus or allegedly by Jesus and do the same–holding it up as a preconceived notion, as a fixed and static “thing” that I own, it quickly becomes just as cheap and meaningless as the dull entertainment on TV.
On the other hand, if I am ever-mindful of the deeper well that opens out inside of me, and always seek God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as my true North when I am wandering there, and approach them sans any expectations of what they will say to me, then I end up feeling much more nourished and rewarded.
The primary problem with mental hints of things that could bring me joy is that they lead nowhere nigh 100% of the time. For example, I had the mental hint in college of what studying abroad would be like, among many other mental hints like the hint of a springtime romance on the campus quad. But the promise of the joy these things would bring became the substance of primary importance–my pursuits compelled me to wait for these joyous events to merely happen in my life. The actual realities I faced when going to the office where you learned more about what it takes to study abroad–the costs involved, the paperwork, the applications and essays–these brought up even more latent fears–fears around living so far from home in places where too many social norms would be altered or completely different–the amount of sheer will and effort involved in making a quaint fantasy into a reality became such that I was never capable of carrying through. Instead, I opted for the ever-hopeful fantasy that one day a professor might just discover how brilliant I was, and invite me to be part of a program or fellowship just by virtue of me being brilliant. It never really occurred to me until much later that any professor who wanted to take a male student under his wing and show him the world or do such uncommon things for his student, would likely be a professor who greatly expected things from that student in return–either above-the-board displays of brilliance or unseemly bedroom favors.
The same thing with the campus quad romance. The idea of such a thing brought me almost unbearable joy every spring and fall–really, the promise or potential that such a life event had was more wonderful than any real opportunities that came up. For the most part, I was simply too shy to ask a girl to do anything other than study with me when it appeared that she might be interested. When I was almost certain a girl might be flirting with me, I might be quick to have excuses–oh, that was J’s ex-girlfriend and she is a known slut; oh, this chick has a boyfriend and clearly that must mean she is in a serious relationship; oh, she does something that terrifies me, like skydiving…
The incongruity between the utter joy that was hinted at with the idea of the event, vs. the intense pain felt in what it would take to perform the steps necessary to actually make the event happen–wider than the chasm between angels and demons, or so it seemed.
But, when so many fantasies (and all of the mental processes that would encourage them) have been put to rest, the mental hints at the potential of a thing to bring joy are there. They rise up any time I stand at a bookcase, and run my hands along the books, creating with each book a new impression of the kind of delight my intellect would take in receiving this information. Such are the excessive purchases from used book stores and racking up of overdue fines on stacks of books I never get to before I need to return them.
And, it’s not just books, either. It comes with wistful nostalgia for eras I never (as far as I know) lived in, and yearnings to be in museums in big cities far away. It comes with each new year. Here is the potential, here are the promises, now see how quickly you can try to make each one manifest, or give up on ever achieving or obtaining it. See how many turn to lies when you do actually dive deeply into making a potential thing full of promise into a reality.
The mental hints aren’t always related to me, either. Walking through so many old houses when you’re looking for a house to buy, you start to get these impressions of how people lived there, and who they were, when you pass through so many rooms. Of course, the ones that still have furniture and decor are much easier to asses, but you also pick up on these mental hints that aren’t always true, but make for good prompts to invite the imagination to run wild.
At one house, you might picture a family from the seventies returning in their Bronco from a fishing or camping trip down at the nearby lake. You might hear the television chirping a jingle for Budweiser or Coke in the background. In another house, you see the children are still hanging on the walls from when they went up thirty years ago. At first you think they are the man’s grandkids, until you look at how the photos have faded and note the styles of hair. Is the man lonely, wistful, lost in memories of when his home was full of laughter and noisy children playing? Is his wife gone, and with it, his sense of this house being his home?
You think about your own grandma, your dad’s mom, and how she lived in the same tiny house your dad lived in when he was in high school. How your father rarely visited her. You maybe visited the Pampa house with your family four times tops before she died when you were sixteen. Your other grandma moved around too much, and died in a home that never had children growing up in it before she died–just grandkids come to visit each summer.
And those houses feel completely different, too. The one we might decide to buy after looking at it today. You can tell that kids haven’t been growing up in it for at least twenty years. It’s become an old lady house. Her husband likely hasn’t been alive in the house with her for at least ten years, judging by the state of abandonment and decay the workshop is in vs. the rest of the house and yard. Can you make this house your own, without killing off its soul completely?
I was hit so hard when I saw the house I grew up in for the first time, the only time, since I helped my parents move away on that awful day in April after having recently broken up with G. H was dead for only a couple years. I never really liked the house that much–I really would have preferred to have grown up in one of the first two we lived in when I was a kid. But, I didn’t understand how much that house had become our house, with its warts and all. A house when emptied still had all of our dust and expelled air and hairs and fingernails…the essence of my family, living and dead, lingered in the air. I knew it was the last vestige of something permanent from childhood, other than my parents themselves.
And, their Bastrop house was very much for them a resting home, and a place for me to come and visit, and a place for my dad to piddle about with a retired man’s projects. What lingers there now when I come to visit is an endless strata of objects that haven’t moved since my mom died five years ago, and dust, and new objects and garbage, and more dust and cat hair, and all of the artifacts for this or that project my dad has picked up.
Seeped throughout it is the rot from my dad not caring for it, and the sadness of how he’s done his best to freeze Time where he can. The guts of the house I grew up in lie cramped in boxes everywhere, waiting to be unpacked or properly buried.
Can any of these mental hints be of actual use? Are they portents of something greater, fragments of a sixth sense, or are they nothing more or less than illusions cast by demonic forces, readymade distractions for a weak soul like mine?