Tuesday, February 12, 2008

not ready for this

I think, finally at age 40, I'm getting some peace with the idea that life will never be easy, that I'll never feel like a grown up (straight from pediatric to geriatric with no pause for proper adulthood in between), and that uniqueness is neither blessing nor curse but just the condition of life.

It'll never be easy. Just how will it be not easy then? Not easy as in, full of challenges and opportunities and too much stress, too many responsibilities, not enough downtime and fun, not enough friendship love and dreams we dare? Well, not really that. Nothing as nameable, quantifiable, identifiable as that.

More, why why why? Not even why me (other than the usual stark staring amazement bordering on ridiculousness that I'm so blessed and lucky when so many others have such horrendous burdens to bear). If the unfairness of life (i.e. why do I get so many toys when others don't even get to eat today?) has always been a backwards glance into the abyss, then at least as a supposed follower of Jesus I might trust someone else to have the answer. Not that I have the answer, of course, or would ever even be capable of understanding it, but simply that I have no other choice than either insanity or trusting that the master has his reasons and that "there is no darkness in him."

But I won't let this devolve into a theological reminder because it's too easy to let that become an anesthetic. I'm not supposed to be completely comfortable with the level of suffering in the world, but I'm useless if I think of nothing else but that suffering. When I was younger I believed there was no other option but either continual torment or anesthesia. Anesthesia won, for a minute, then it too dissipated. When the 7 demons rushed in to take its place, they were of my own creation and no one else's fault, with not even the consolation of being able to kid myself I was someone who "cared too much." Right.

Sometimes it almost offends me how easy it is to step out of that vicious circle: awareness of suffering/injustice> pain > anesthesia/cynicism > anesthesia fails > awareness . . . It seems insultingly simple that the solution/escape is just to take action, do something to help alleviate suffering in some way, relieve another's pain and in that small moment be fully turned towards the light rather than the ever present darkness. "Small things done with great love will change the world" is true but I only half understood it. I always had to keep the illusion going that my little part was going to make "a big difference" because I couldn't bear to face how insubstantial it seemed in light of the world's huge problems. I couldn't face how tiny my part was because as long as I was trying to come up with the "great love" in and of myself I was doomed to disillusionment. I'm supposed to do the small things, which I sometimes get a little joy from, but the "great love" comes from the fisherman and it's pure volcanic grace for anyone in its path.

Finally, at this ridiculously late age, I'm beginning to see another side to the story. Before, I always mistrusted the ease of the action solution (not "easy" as long as I'm a foolish selfish mortal, but "simple") because at the back of my mind was always the "knowledge" that the darkness still remained essentially unchanged. My drop in the bucket, in the end, only momentarily relieved my own conscience but did little tangibly towards the lump sum of suffering in the world. Bucket-head that I am, it took this long to really get that my perception is faulty, that I've never understood the whole picture, and who the heck am I to think I have an "objective" assessment of the good/bad breakdown of the world? Who gave me the scales of justice, where light and darkness hang in the balance, that I could accurately assess whether or not there is any hope?

Someone had to remind me that truth/reality did not reside inside anjoo's head, at a moment (just a micro-nano-giga-second, really) that I was beaten down enough to lay down my existential arrogance. Many someone's had to remind me it was part of a larger plan, and that no, I really didn't need to see it and wouldn't even possibly understand it even if I could. But then they patted me reassuringly on the head and for once I was sheepish enough to be relieved at having the burden of figuring it all out lifted from me. And you know me folks - that's not a burden I give up lightly! And for that split-instant there was safety and certainty and light, and it was good. And whether or not I wanted to there was no going back because the adventure was on, but it's still never been easy. It's still a daily choice, and sometimes a terrifying one.

But maybe I just like it that way. Some of us maybe, you know, kinda feel more at home in the grey than in full light. And please don't go quoting John at me - yes I *know* that "if we walk in the light as He is in the light" etc. etc. But now I'm telling you that this is a place head-knowledge theology doesn't quite reach. Grace, and action, are all that work to wrench out the comfortable half-darkness and replace it with a purer light. The action of helping another and stepping out of myself; the miracle of grace that somehow things only ever makes sense when I stop looking at them head on. And maybe it's not so terrifying at all, but I don't think I could trust a god that is entirely mundane, "nice," and ultimately forgettable.

I need/want/hunger to be reminded that the master is Universe-shaking-Big, and yet full of grace; more splendid and unimaginable than anything I've ever met, yet a presence that is familiar with everything I've ever experienced; fully knowing, as yet unknown; that complete satisfaction of all my mystical "seeking," yet a profundity and depth of love as makes the very seeking seem childish and superficial. And the grace that loves me even though I am childish and superficial, because it's not even about ME and MY shortcomings at all really, is it?

Now, where was I going with all that . . ? Oh yeah, just coming back to some of the reasons I've finally, reluctantly, decided to give up my (false) modesty and take up the blog after all, after years of self-doubt. Always at the back of mind I've been chastised by the awareness of how annoying are the jabbering me me me voices of our self-obsessed culture (there, don't you love me when I'm pure misanthropy?), and embarrassed most of all to reveal that I'm one of them too. Yeah, I'm terrified of Myspace and all that because I might like it too much! There, I said it - I'm just as exhibitionist (or not) as every other blogger out there. I am one of you. I come in peace. . Like every other lonely small-w writer soul out there, afraid of revealing my own inner triviality carefully disguised as "depth."

And, perhaps to better purpose, always challenged by C.S. Lewis' reminder that the great work of the Christian artist is not to use individual identity as a way to draw attention to our limited little ego-selves, but to use our uniqueness to reveal yet one more facet of our creator's limitless beauty. Not to draw ostentatious attention to OUR SPECIAL CHAIR in the theater, but quietly to invite others to come sit in that chair so that they too could see the wonders we see from this angle/slant of the light, that they might enjoy his beauty even more.

I had it backwards. I thought I had to become unselfish or "good" enough to want to do something that I didn't really want to do, like a bitter medicine I was supposed to pretend to enjoy. I thought I had to give up my right to draw attention to me me me (which I really like to do, in case you hadn't noticed!), in order to write something theologically safe, sanitized, "glorifying," and ultimately completely false. I was afraid I would be unsatisfied, unconvinced and unconvincing. Now what kind of "testimony" would that be? I thought I would have to give up the good stuff, without anything really better in return. Sure, I understood intellectually that heaven/the kingdom of God/the new abundant life/Spirit-filledness/Jesus would be "even better by far" than the little goodies that really weren't that great any more anyway, but only intellectually. And too ashamed to admit I was struggling, I hid the struggle, walked away from my passions, denied myself the dream.

I never believed myself up to the task of creating art that was real and raw and personal and relevant and really could touch someone else, and still be whole-heartedly following Jesus. I always thought, I'm too selfish, too trivial, too jaded, too proud, I have nothing new to say. Poetry doesn't count, it doesn't feed any mouths, if I were a real writer I'd write fiction not poetry, not this hyper-personal rambling inner monologue (but really it was always a dialogue wasn't it? Because I was looking for YOU, wherever you are . . .), all the standard accusations and maybe even a few original ones too. Because of that doubt and fear, self-condemnation and generic misanthropy (fun when you're 20, soul-sucking decades later), I gave up writing, painting, listening to the ache of musical transcendence. I threw away my one-of-a-kind LP's or masochistically let the kids destroy them, gave away my punk rock uniform (the sleeves with Joe Strummer's autograph, man!).

I swore I would never write another poem, never get published again, never create another beauty-craving, insomniac, multi-media piece, if that was what was separating me from God. I was willing in that moment to let it go forever, cause I needed him so bad. If I thought at all, it was that it would be a forever trade-off. And now maybe the ground has shifted. Maybe God wants to give some of this dream back to me now, but it so scary when possibilities long dormant open up again. At this absurdly late age - I'm way too old to be a cool person anymore. Now it's only gonna be about the art and not a thing else, not just looking like a poet or living like one (self-destructing like one . . . tried that, highly over-rated).

Anyway, it's not really up to me, is it? If the character defects remain, even at this late date, 20 years after my alleged expiration, then it's not really my place to mess around obsessing about them. Just get on and do life, as messy as it is. The wonderful secret (really, it's such a delicious relief I could laugh) is that by age 40 you don't have to try to become less selfish and self-centered and become the kind of "good" person who really loves god more than themselves. If you live this long with even one brain cell left you've doubtless realized the limits of your own tired old story - we're just not ALL THAT entertaining, in the end. It's no major stretch now, having assessed the parameters of my own "fascinating" ego, to say that the master is way more beautiful, brilliant, limitless, fiery, passionate, pure, intoxicating, breath-taking and infinite than anything I could ever come up with. Why wouldn't I want to throw my lot in with him? It's not about being good, or giving up rock and roll and all that.

It's simply that he is so much better than all that. I don't have to "become a better person." I just have to keep looking at the most beautiful creature in the universe, and maybe sometimes some art will even happen, so someone else can sit in my little chair for a minute if they want to.

So here I go again.

I'll never be ready for this, but that's no reason not to try.

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