Happiness and Bernie

Happiness and Bernie January 28, 2021

Me thinking about all the constraints on my time and my person.

As usual, I have literally almost no time to blog, and that is mainly because I spent what was probably hours looking at Bernie Memes. I love them so much. I especially like this one. And I also loved the one where Bernie is actually singing the sea shanty.

For the first few hours, I felt really bad about wasting so much time, but then it occurred to me that what is so great about a meme, in general, is the constraints of the form. You have a tiny box that you can fill, and you have to mash it all in. The box itself is what enlivens the creative instincts. Add in the elements of Bernie—the man himself, the mittens, the chair—and somehow those further constraints bring about a wondrous cultural unicorn, i.e. True Happiness.

I think this sense of constraints, riffing off of my ill-considered meanderings from yesterday about Christian counseling—is not only what produces good art and good humor, but also is what, in the depths of the soul, is what makes true happiness. I’m pretty sure that I am stealing from someone far more intelligent than me, but I don’t know who because if I read this somewhere (maybe the Bible?) I can’t remember where. But it did occur to me while rambling over Psalm 119 again.

The Psalmist constrains himself to a particular form, which of course feels super repetitive by the end, but also produces extraordinary flashes of beauty. More also, as the Psalmist meditates on God’s law, his happiness and settledness reach almost grand proportions. He is So Happy about the Law. Whenever he is able to keep or remember it or understand it he is almost euphoric. All the people who don’t love it are incomprehensible to him because it is so wonderful and so perfect. Psalm 19 is a small microcosm of Psalm 119, if you want to get a taste of the feelings associated with the perfection of the Law.

The Law, I need hardly say, is an appalling constraint. It is where all the free, wild, promise of the human will reaches its dead-end and hears a resounding and terrifying No from God. The Law is not something any modern person wakes up in the morning delighted to not only think about, but try, in the inner being, to bend toward, to incline the mind and will and heart to follow. The promise of freedom, of no restraints of getting to be whoever you want to be at every moment, is where our corporate gospel hope has come into being. And yet look at the deep misery, the rage, the sorrow, and even lamentation of so many people who are always being told that to be happy, they just need to go a little bit further in the exploration of themselves and their desires.

It’s counterintuitive of course. We think that freedom is what produces happiness. Happy Children will be Free Children, not children with proper boundaries, living inside the box of their parents’ expectations and discipline. Yet that, if you have met “perfectly free” children, you will know is not the case. Beautiful art is constrained by form, by the limits of the frame, by the suffering of hard-won technical knowledge. Even though no one is supposed to admit this, spend any time in a museum filled with old and new stuff and time how long you end up standing in front of each picture and what draws you in. And, of course, in the Christian life, one imagines that it is the Freedom in Christ portion that will be so lovely and sustaining, when actually (and I know this from painful trial) it is the constraining work of discipline that beats past the morass of sadness I so often find myself contemplating.

I think if I were going to look for a Christian counselor, I would want one who would help me to constrain myself, to find a box and try to think inside it, to create boundaries that would help me to consider the majesty of God’s Law. The upsetting thing for me, in all our freedoms, is that we modern people have to create these kinds of strictures for ourselves, and the minute we go about trying to do it, the great avalanche of possibilities crush us at the first attempt. I say “us” but I mean me.

Anyway! That’s all the time I have today! And for heaven’s sake, take your meds! Or see someone if you need help! Or at the very least, go look at a lot more Bernie Memes!


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