I said I would talk about my sense of the immediacy of life in the next post but this is not that post. Next time. Today I am reflect on a quote that a friend of mine posted on Facebook this morning, which perfectly captures what I’ve been trying to say about this journey. But first, a little background.
The other day I was being interviewed by the Editor-in-Chief of The Clause (the student newspaper at Azusa Pacific University). I can’t remember the question she asked me, but I remember talking about my need to peel away the layers of religious and spiritual accretions that have been the frame through which I have engaged with life. I’ve talked before about removing my “god-glasses” and “stepping into the void” and perhaps this is just one more metaphor for what I think so many of us are desiring and experiencing, especially those who have grown up in a religious culture. The question is something like, “who and where am I?” Christianity, at its best, purports to help people discover the answer to that question. Søren Kierkegaard is reported to have said (though I can never find the reference), “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” I have referred to this statement many times in sermons and lectures to make the point that God does not want us to become someone else—the goal is not even to become (like) Jesus—but to become our most authentic self. But I’m afraid that almost every expression of Christianity is incapable of leading people to this destination, which is likely part of the reason Kierkegaard was not warmly received by the church either.
I do not think we can become completely ourselves in isolation from other people or while trying or claiming to be separate from the narratives we are unavoidably scripted into. But there are certain frameworks that make healthy self-examination extremely difficult. One of these is the a priori claim that human beings are essentially bad and worthless creatures. It’s a great sales tactic, for it makes the Christian God necessary for human survival. And while I would not want to make a wholesale claim for the opposite case either, the assumption that there is nothing good to find ‘in there’ is a self-defeating proposition. So one of the things I have discovered after stepping outside of the world of god-explanations is that there is indeed a great deal of good to discover ‘in there.’ In order to get to it, there are several layers of identity or narrative structure (or something) that need to be peeled away, or in Pema Chödrön explosive expression “annihilated.” Which brings me to the quote my friend Matt posted on his Facebook timeline this morning:
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.
That’s it. The search for that which is indestructible in ourselves. That at least fairly describes the internal journey to discover what is true. I think it was the same journey Kierkegaard was on.
What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. … I certainly do not deny that I still recognize an imperative of knowledge and that through it one can work upon men, but it must be taken up into my life, and that is what I now recognize as the most important thing.
This question harks back to something I wrote about a couple of weeks ago; namely the connection between thinking and acting, but here again Kierkeegard is wrestling with the existential question we all ask, the answer to which only reveals itself upon relentless scrutiny, not by covering over important questions with simplistic answers.
And so I expose myself over and over to annihilation; the annihilation of every thing that gave my life meaning: my relationships, my church family, my career, my faith. It is not as if all these deaths are directly related but they’re not unrelated either. Life is like a game a Jenga. The blocks are independent elements, but they are in relationship with other—no one block perfectly supporting another but all of them, in some way, supporting all the others to varying degrees. Each block has multiple relationships. Some you can pull out, especially toward the beginning, but when you finally pull out the last one (and it doesn’t even need to be the ‘most important’ block. In Jenga all the blocks are alike), the whole (watch this) structure collapses. When that happens it feels like you will die. The center does not hold. Indeed, there is no center.
The question we are asking is this: what is indestructible? Or as I said in another place, what, if anything, is salvageable? To discover that is the journey we’re all on, whether we know it or not.