I have to give thanks to the Lord for the fact that I am still alive today, with the opportunity to get a Master’s degree in an affordable way, and be the father to an awesome little boy, and be the husband to a lovely woman. The Lord has provided me with a lot in my life, and it would seem that when I ask for good things that won’t ultimately be the root of my destruction, the Lord comes through. The Lord will even come through for me when I ask for something that maybe isn’t exactly in line with what Jesus asked of his followers. I forget about this a lot, and take it for granted.
I make demands on the Lord for more than I have more often than I give thanks for the things that I do have. I want the Lord to make me smarter and more handsome and give me more energy to exercise and get rid of some of the gray and thinning hair and provide me with an opportunity that nets me a small fortune so that I can turn my back on others and live a life of seclusion. If it wasn’t for family, I would be a homeless hermit in the woods of a Southern or Pacific state, where the winters never get too cold, and I can mainly keep to myself and forage for food. This is more true than I want to admit. My natural inclination, independent of the Lord and family, is to do very little and just sit and grow old and die out in nature away from people. I don’t especially want to be a hermit in the great traditions of the Desert Fathers, but more like a selfish, self-absorbed smelly old bearded dude who contemplates his existence and writes awful poetry about dead leaves and sunlight poking through the trees.
I can’t say as I would be an alcoholic hermit, either. I might imbibe substances and chemicals when they are available, but I don’t really get much out of that sort of thing, anymore. I kind of feel as if a lot of my reading and writing has been either a means of escape or a way of stimulating my brain as if it were taking a drug. I still am mostly a consumer. My output of writing is quite high, but I am in a mental state of consumption even as I write.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a great love for humanity and others, but for the most part, I lose this love when I am faced with the particularities of an individual or segment of the population that requires me to get out of my comfort zone and challenge my expectations of what reality and truth really are. In other words, the Other is fabulous in the abstract and in reading news articles about the Other, but when I meet the Other face-to-face, I am challenged with the ability to offer even the most basic expressions of interest in what the Other’s existence is about.
Maybe I am still growing as a person even at the age of 40. Perhaps bit by bit, outside of most of my general capability to perceive it, I am growing as a human being, as a human soul. Maybe there is hope for me, after all.
I don’t think that I will ever be able to rid myself of all of my demons, certainly not without the Lord’s help. I don’t think that I will ever completely give up on the notion that reality could be something so much better than it is, and that every soul will ultimately get the chance to have a privileged sort of life. I will never give up on the notion that I can become perfected through a myriad of lifetimes. Does that seem to be paradoxical? Perhaps it is, or the paradox is resolved when language ceases or at least linear language such as this ceases.
This is all I have as a means for communicating with the outside world, though. I don’t have any sort of angelic language or godlike ability to impart vast quantities of information into my immediate consciousness for retention. I am weak, imperfect, fallible and human with only a sense of what being perfect could look like. I am not so perverse that I would wish to abandon a quest for the perfect in favor of the exact opposite–to be utterly deranged, perverse, sick and abominable. Though, it would appear that some inevitably do that when the quest for perfection becomes too much for them to bear.
There is no particular moment or phase in my life where and when I was especially wonderful. There was no golden age of innocence. Even as a child, I was full of awful thoughts and desires. Whether someone close to me filled me with a sickness, or I was born with it, having carried it forward from previous lives, or perhaps a demon rested upon my shoulder–it doesn’t matter, I was a rotten child with a few gleaming gems of potential embedded within me. It is better that I abandon all that was good about me as a child once and for all, and seek out that which could be good about me as an adult. Innocence and goodness are certainly related but ignorance is all that remains once innocence is lost and you try to get it back. What’s more, it ends up being a willful kind of ignorance that is destructive to both yourself and others.
I certainly believe in the Truth of Love, and I believe that ultimately, we will be shown just how great God’s Love really is. But, I believe that as I age, my own twisted conceptions of what Love is or should be start to accrue and pile up until they become an idol of unreal expectations that I foist upon myself, God and others. I haven’t given up on Love in its True form, whatever that might be, but I must give up on talking of Love all the time, as I am doing nothing much more than adding to that pile of misconceptions and idolatry. My love is nothing much like God’s Love, except when it is expressed freely and spontaneously like when it comes over me as I watch my son play. Such love is pure and but a glimpse of the kind of love that God has for me. Most of the time, though, when I sit down to think about love and try to fill my heart and brain with it, I end up with something idolatrous and unhelpful. Then, I take it out into the world and lose my temper every time I don’t feel like my artificially manufactured expression of love is returned to me.
I dozed and thought of people who appeared in my life at certain times. Why is it that I either can put myself into a state where I believe that every single person I’ve encountered was put there for some deeply meaningful reason, or the complete opposite–that it is all utterly random, and based on mostly cosmic rolls of dice with a handful of my choices thrown in to boot? But, why someone like Mr. H, who was my first grade gym teacher, my driver’s ed teacher and my weightlifting teacher my senior year? My dad also swears he saw Mr. H at the cancer center in Houston when my mom was dying. Who was this fellow, really, who seemed to appear at times in my life to remind me how unexceptional I was when it came to atheltics?
There are so many people who pop up when Google someone’s name. Random people, mostly people who have died. You rarely find the person you are looking for from your past, because they tend to have either already found you on Facebook, or they clearly do not want to be discovered on the Internet. But then, you start to think about all of these strangers out there who lived lives and left behind only memories with their loved ones. Each of them collected data and information in their brains that was every bit as extensive as the data rolling around inside your brain, but they didn’t want or know how to take the time to put much of it down in the form of writing or photographs or drawings.
But, you are overwhelmed with this desire to know what it was like to have been just about anyone. Maybe that’s something you get to do when you die–access the infinite knowledge of the Godhead and experience millions of memories of others. Except, you don’t want to wait until you die to be able to do this. It’s not necessarily some kind of creepy, voyeuristic urge, although maybe that has come up–who knows? What you really want is to literally walk a mile in everyone’s shoes, to empathize with them to the point where they confide in you and feel safe sharing their lives with you. It’s unfortunate that in America, we seem to be entering a dark age for sharing ourselves with each other. I know, it seems a bit odd to say this given the way in which people broadcast their lives on social media and the internet–except, so much of that seems to be selective and one-dimensional. What’s more, it’s incredibly siloed. Except for celebrities and would-be celebrities, most people are very selective about who they share things with on Facebook, and what they choose to share. The ease with which you can drop a friendship completely when you don’t agree with someone’s politics–I’ve done it a few times in fits of rage, I’m no saint–and the ease with which you can hide the feeds of those friends and family you feel somewhat obligated to keep around–it becomes quickly a dark age of sharing. The families don’t want to have reunions anymore, and the townspeople don’t want to gather at night during the spring, summer and fall in the town square to discuss families, life, politics, God, etc. In spite of the fact that you can now pretty much share your entire life 24/7 with the rest of the world in the form of live video feeds, and constantly talk about whatever’s on your mind on your own personal TV channel, most people have opted to share less and less.
The dark ages of community and respecting and welcoming the other into our lives are coming over us in a big way. People can no longer have a conversation with each other without someone getting offended or feeling like they have to be right and what’s more, push their point of view onto the other person until the pusher feels like they’ve won something by either shutting their friend down or making their friend grudgingly agree with them. Maybe the world will rise up again as a much better place after the lights go out and we regroup as little tribes in places and start all over again. Or maybe, we really do just have to wait for Jesus to come back before things ever get right among us.
I have become such a pessimist about the state of humanity, even though other people constantly surprise me in their generosity and ability to change their minds when presented with enough information. But those surprises are surprises for a reason–most of the evidence I see of other people being generous and open-minded is almost non-existent.
It would behoove me to practice a kind of detachment when thinking about faces and names from my past–even people I had a disagreement with on the previous day who aren’t family. All of those faces and names enter my head and receive neither positive nor negative emotions–they just were and possibly are. Family gets feelings of love. Eventually, the goal would be to practice the kind of neighborly love and praying for enemies that Christ talked about, but most of my attempts to do this over the past few years have seen me swinging erratically about in my mind to where I am angry and full of hateful, hurtful thoughts toward those who have offended me.
I probably should analyze a little more carefully why I happen to be at seminary during a time when they are doing construction right outside my window. All of my ideas about quiet contemplation and deep meditation are mostly put on hold during the points of the day when I could be attempting such things. The noise of the construction site generally begins before eight, sometimes before seven, and doesn’t stop until after 5 PM. Maybe God is trying to stress to me that my calling is a much more active one, in spite of my love of the idea of the contemplative life. God is telling me to stay awake and get things done. Or, it could be that most of my attempts to meditate and be contemplative are really just coverups for sheer laziness and a desire to nap and drift off and be entertained by my thoughts and dreams.