Monday, November 12, 2007

Know Thyself, Baby!

One can argue about the natural order of things and what forces truly govern this world, but it's all subject to conflict. Some doctrines focus on good versus evil, some on self versus self, and some think that life is just a mesmerizing acid dream. One thing I learned very quickly and painfully is that when God opens windows and doors for us, we can't always control what enters. Let me rephrase several times for clarity.

I used to rationalize the dualism of humanity, and I'll explain in crystal clear detail how I discovered the souls within us. I found myself walking to class one cold winter morning in early 2000. It was on the way to one of my elective classes, which was a convenient two-minute walk from my apartment. (This was the same one that offered no chance for company.) As I strolled up Henry Street in Halifax, approaching the Coburg intersection, I noticed a sullen woman pushing a sullen stroller in which was seated a sullen infant. That was not a comforting image to me, but their expressions were all quite familiar. I had no idea what their home lives could have been like, but their gloomy expressions suggested it was quite bleak, and perhaps poverty-stricken. My empathy got the best of me, though, when the child turned its head and faced me around the time the stroller was to drop some six inchers or so from the sidewalk to the street. With no motivation but the universal understanding that it's the right thing to smile at babies, I did just that. I don't even know how sincere it was, but I did it. I thought, as my lips dipped concavely, that it took little effort and it seemed the child was not like to see another for the rest of the day, and then something happened. The kid smiled back at me. It wasn't the kind that people force when you meet them in an inconvenient moment; it had a strange glow to it. An intangible realness.

As humans, we have five physical senses, and I carefully considered each one as I reached the intersection a few moments later and they continued on their way. Immediately, the following were discarded: touch, taste, smell, and sound. That left only sight, and I could find no logical reason why a curvature in my face could yield any kind of happiness. I thought about previous times when I'd seen infants sitting together. Not only did they seem completely oblivious to societal wedges like ethnicity or social status, they seemed to inherently understand one another. As Saint Augustine mentions in his Confessions, they are motivated by very primal urges, but they also seem possessed of such a profoundly honest view of the world. While they are governed by discomfort and utter dependence, they are also free of cynicism, until they learn it. If languages are the hardest things to teach oneself, then what further proof does one need to say beyond reasonable doubt that the pinnacle of our understanding is our infancy? And, even though my own insecurities afflict me to this day, I think that child on the stroller saw beyond those when I smiled that morning. This, to me, was all the proof I needed, all the data I would impose upon myself to collect, to acknowledge the existence of souls. And once I had a foundation to believe in souls, I had a foundation to believe in God. Again, all this goes beyond the internal mechanisms that had always been present, most notably my own soul, but that is what the mind will do if you let it: distort these things. That's what happened to me yesterday, and it's important to identify this. It's not important to conclude through thought and examination what the very core tells us, but so many of us insist on it. As I will continue to say, it's hard to view life as the simple existence it is because our daily responsibilities and habits have been so exaggerated by our situations.

If souls exist, and if God exists, as only an intangible, omnipotent, almighty being could create them, one then has to examine how these truths factor into daily life. Until I said aloud that I had a willingness to submit to God, which, for the record, is the only logical way to live once you believe in Him, I had a slew of stumbling blocks to contend with. Having been raised a Catholic, I had a certain degree of familiarity with the Bible, mostly the New Testament, but it did make sense that, as many have said over the years, you can't choose which parts of the Word to believe. Much like salvation, the Bible is an all or none feast for the mind and spirit.

After the first service that reached me, as I described yesterday, I knew that I had to re-visit the gospel, but this time I approached it more honestly. I had previously done so with a chip on my shoulder, an agenda to pick it to pieces quite ruthlessly. In fact, with a renewed faith in God, I also planned to keep my faith regardless of the results, as I had previously theorized that parts of the Bible were real and parts were written by seemingly good men with personal agendas. There's no doubt that, even in my honest attempt, I was not likely to part with scepticism about certain things, such as the way God exerts His judgment in the Old Testament. When Christ came to earth to pay our spiritual debts for us, He demonstrated a very different image of God than we see in many parts of the Old Testament. Instead of stoning sinners to death, Christ ministered to them. Not everyone could be saved, even in spite of finding themselves faced with God Himself, but they were always given a second chance. If I can exercise my own humility here, I would be dust right now, were it not for those many second opportunities that God blesses us with. Much to my surprise, second and third readings of certain passages washed away my old stubborn thoughts. I realized that God never destroyed anyone for the sake of gratuitous destruction, but He always allowed humanity the chance to fall. As John Milton would say, man was created strong enough to stand but free to fall from God's grace. It's only in that freedom that anyone can be judged fairly and according to his or her own deeds.

I felt a strange sense of comfort in these pursuits, and I realized that this, combined with the books I've been reading about scientific and historical evidence, all of which supports God and creation when examined honestly, was making me stronger. If my heart and soul had always been aligned with God, and if my mind had always been the eyes that perceived things, the blurriness therein was fading. I found myself not only resisting temptation this past month, but conscientiously avoiding it. I even had a very surreal moment in my room, looking around me to my bookshelf, my CD rack, my closet. I actually thought, for the first time ever, that perhaps some of these things are bad influences. Not that it's sin to merely witness others sinning, but how hard did I want to make it on myself? Some films and art forms and so on, some of those were not my doing and not things I would be judged for creating, but exposure to them seemed like little more than fodder for my own sabotage. I found myself having less time for these things, voids that I filled with my readings and biblical investigation. And this, as I would come to find out, was not going to sit well with the evil that had been so comprehensively etched into my psyche.

We all have our own insecurities, and I've come to realize that, in spite of the spiritual journey that I've embarked on, I still have very subtle weaknesses that aren't likely to ever go away. Yesterday, I succumbed to one such character trait. I don't think it was intentional, but I permitted my old fears to motivate me, when I should have relinquished them to God. I allowed myself to overthink the silliness that is life and the agenda that God has for mine. I don't want to sound like I'm riding a high horse, but I really feel that evil has no clutches on my heart anymore, and never had a grain to stand on where it concerned my soul. The path to my destruction has always been my mind, and that will probably be a hideous battleground for the rest of my days. Yesterday, by the time I dimmed the lamp next to my bed, I felt so completely torn inside that I as much as thought how ridiculous it is for good and evil to clash over me. I thought I must be destined for some kind of greatness, if I choose to accept it, because it makes no sense to me that one little soul inside one little human could be worth such a cataclysmic war. If I'm to be completely honest, I even felt for a time that I didn't want part of it, that it would be so easier if life had no meaning. It was exhausting.

For all the strength and gifts and blessings and appoitments God has given me over the past month, for all the windows and doors He's opened for me, it's also exposed me to the opposing forces that want to lock me inside myself again. I thought that I needed only to love God and obey Him and trust in Him to do everything for me, but, in spite of me willing my will to His, I am still going to be free to make poor decisions, and the only way to do so is by resisting things He instructs me to do. It doesn't matter that it's about fear now, where once it was a deliberate, scornful objection. The fact is that straying for any reason will leave me alone on that mental battlefield, and instead of just falling into a familiar complacency, evil is now going to unleash the full extent of personal hell. When I sat on my hands before, it was a choice of mine. Satan saw no reason to knock me down a peg when I did so myself, but now that I've made all these attempts to atone and to live a good life, all those former and easier suggestions of selfishness have been replaced with an utter dog fight. I see this now, and I hate him all the more for it. Almost as much as I love the good influences. The stakes haven't gotten higher; they've reached a very critical level, and that's why, as much as it goes against the grain, I need allies in this battle.

Without trying to, I think I slipped into my old mentality of me vs. the world. I had always tried to embody a set of good principles and ethics, but those will not save me when all the chips are down. Believing in God and scripture will not undo the decades of subtle damage that I need to keep an eye on, because, the second I look away, they will be used against me. Belief is little more than the footsteps that trace the right path. You still need to put one foot ahead of the other, forever, in order to get where God wants you. I know I'll never reach that ideal, but, if nothing else, let me run toward it for the rest of my days. If, when I finally fall down and exhale for the final time, I can at least face the direction God wants, not because of chance but because of obedience, because I was still striving toward that ideal, then I will leave this world in peace. Let that be my revenge, and just one of many blades that pierce the heart of evil. That is what I truly want, and why I need to force myself to let go of everything that is me. I'm not there yet, but I've a renewed passion for it. It's just hard to be patient when you know what you must do but not how to do it. All in good time, but the interim is so utterly dangerous, if you misuse it.

So let none of us every forget that some of the worst lies we tell are never spoken. Some of the worst crimes in history are the acts of kindness we never perform. That is my lesson for today. Be strong and safe in God's embrace, all of you.


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