I think CS Lewis said a man reserves his most violent rage for the trap he most lately escaped. It is why I look upon the trap of rationality with such disgust. For it is not rational at all. It is the opposite. Because if it means nothing else, “rational” means that whatever is happening makes sense. Yet after all the decisions and happenings in my life that came and went, and before all the others still to go, my only sense was this: I was in a cage. With bars of Fate. On a train that progressed, but on predestined tracks to nowhere. It was my trap. And the bars I beat against at 44, were the bars of my own hypocrisy.
Because even though I had the arrogance to question everything, I never had the courage to ask for anything.
I would only think. I would consider that midnight house. Of the God within. Of the darkness. Of the things He may or may not give. And wonder and wonder why. And complain about my home and my friend with no bread. But never was I shameless enough, never was I audacious enough to go across the street and lean my head against the dark door. I never once had the courage to ask. And yet I blamed God for not answering, for not giving me what I needed.
It was a long time before I learned how. And it slowly dawns upon me, day by day, that this was no abstraction. For me, the dangers of rationalism and determinism, of Calvinism and fundamentalism, of modernism are not simply theologies or philosophies to discuss or hash out; they are terrifyingly real. They are cages to be escaped.
Jesus has this beautiful circle he creates at the beginning of Luke 11. He starts by raising our eyes to heaven; directing them to himself; to the divine son asking his divine Father for bread. But gradually He directs our eyes to earth; to the mortal son asking his mortal father for bread. And, again, this is no abstract lesson for me—the precise way Christ showed me how to live again, that things were ok, that IT was real, that it would work out, that all my needs would be fulfilled; was by following his gaze, not up to the Father above me, but back to the family around me.
Asking can only really matter, in the sense it is audacious, the moment it shouldn’t be done.
Seeking can only possibly matter, in the sense it is shameless, the moment it is shameful to do so. Knocking can only really matter, in the sense it is persistent or annoying, when its too late.
The woman at the well:
“Come meet the man who didn’t tell me who he was—he told me who I was.”
“When I asked him directions on how to get there, he said, ‘Oh, yes, I know where it is…but I wouldn’t start from here.’”
And everybody looks at each other to see themselves, to figure out who they are—what they must look like—on the inside. But they don't realize it; even as they unconsciously glance at their own reflections throughout the day. Everybody wants to see and be seen; to know and be known. Which means everybody is at once both blind AND invisible; both unknowing and unknown. Deep down everybody just wants to be here. Be alive.
But nobody sees these mirrors. Only vague shapes covered with cloth. With two tiny slits cut in the cloth for eyeholes. Everybody hides beneath their cloth; peeking out. Hide and seek. Can you find me? Oh, no! Don’t find me! I can’t find myself! Who are you? Who am I?
Cloth and two slits. And what’s important is to never let anyone discover who’s really looking out.
A couple of weeks ago I walked into the lounge where I work to get breakfast and I realized this about people and mirrors. There were two people on the other side of the breakfast table. They were studying. I had met them a couple of times already. Briefly. They were medical students. They were both girls. They were quiet, but tense in a “Boy, I just want to make it through another day,” kind of way. They looked at me. And I at them. Their eyes, peeking out of those slits in the cloth.
I see you. Who are you? Who am I?
I looked at them out of my own slits, sat down to start eating, and started talking about nothing really. One of the girls was Vietnamese. I told her I knew ten words in Vietnamese that were not curse words. “I know how to count one through ten.” I stumbled through them like a bad circus act. She said how her language barrier sometimes made it hard to translate the most complicated words, so she had to learn how to communicate difficult things using simpler words and come at the subject from different directions. And I was like, “I love that! That’s perfect!” We talked about how people really like to understand what you’re saying, and you can tell because their anxiety vanishes in the wind, and a smile pops out.
Our talking continued. I didn’t want anything. I just wanted to talk. We talked about life and what I learned about patients and people and myself. And how, not very long ago, I didn’t really like people, and I had gotten myself into a real hard place in life. And I was miserable. And I began to discover some things.
One of things was: I wasn’t very good at telling the truth.
The slits on my cloth ripped open a little wider. Letting in more light. Letting out more light. They’re looking at me now, you see. Staring. No one is moving. I talked about what not being truthful meant in my life and how it came to be that I began to see how destructive it was to my soul and to the the people I cared about. I talked about how you can have all these wants, and desires and goals and then wake up one day and somehow you’ve turned out to be a bad husband. A bad father. A bad human. A kind of “un-human.”
The opening in the cloth is gaping. I am emotional. They are emotional. One of the girls keeps dabbing at her eyes.
There you are. What do you see? Who are you? Who am I?
Pretty soon, the mirrors are uncovered. And now there are three mirrors all facing each other across a breakfast table—a holy space— reflecting endless patterns back and forth. Me you. You me. Light shining. Mind-boggling.
We talk about many things. I tell about how one of the things I think Jesus really offers is how to be a real human being. How to wake up and live. Right now. How to change from a wooden boy in to a real boy.
One of the girls says in a kind of awe, “What is going on here?”
And the other girl, the Vietnamese girl, says quietly as she keeps dabbing at the place her slits used to be, “I know, this is so…healing.”
God is saying to the Israelites through the symbol of Moses’s raised serpent, “That feeling of discomfort slithering and squeezing around your midsection is a sign of undealt with truth in your life. All those parts of your world you once felt ok ignoring...denying—have become obstacles—a sign of your unredeemed state—your suffering highlights your need for salvation. They—the undone things—have turned your landscape into a place where you can no longer peacefully ignore; no longer make things irrelevant. This desert of discomfort is not a place of peace. It is a place of broken relationships littering the ground around you—a place of not working on what you are supposed to be doing —of not becoming what you always should have been—of truths avoided; not ‘faced.’ I will not help by ’taking it away,’ I will help you by drawing your eye sharply to where you need to look the most—to the point of truth. If you really want help, it’s time to look here—to face the snake. Here is the hope lying within. I promise you, you can do it. I have created you to be able to handle snakes."
Can you sense the relief that the problem is actually you? For if the world is the problem; then that is hopeless.
When the pure, unadulterated relationship with God is gone; one is in exile. It doesn’t matter where: Eden, promised land, Canaan, Shiloh, Jerusalem, New York, Texas, or one’s own home. Exile is the place where one wakes up “one day” and realizes the extent of his idol worship—the extent of his enslavement. Just as surely as when one wakes up one day next to the Pillar of stone—the cross—and realizes everything he saw, everything he thought—was wrong. He had the mind of idols. This realization upon awakening—this new fear—is the fear of the Lord, it is the beginning of his wisdom.