His little fingers just curled over the edge of the altar table, grasping for a hold by which to hoist himself. Even on the very tip of his toes, he couldn't quite see over the edge. His blond hair even with the surface, those little blue eyes peered longingly up, as though the force of his desire might lift him bodily off the floor.
What held this little one's attention so powerfully? It wasn't a cookie jar or a dvd player. It was the weekly Eucharist, celebrated in our parish informally on Wednesdays during Lent. Our congregation joins the priest inside the altar rail, and the little ones invariably edge away from their parents, inch by inch closer to the altar and the priest. This ritual is not new to them, but the vantage point is. They are closer than ever to this mysterious event - and yet they pour all their intensity into getting closer still!
This is a picture of human longing at its best. I wrote last week about truth (here), about how it invites us ever deeper. We have an intimation, a basic level of familiarity, an experience that captures our attention. But just like the little one at the altar, that initial degree of knowledge isn't enough. Instead, we strain, we reach, we grasp for more. We "know" something, but even deeper, we know that there's more. We aren't content to stand still and wait. We realize that what we have known just scratches the surface. It's beautiful and grand enough to captivate us - and it's worth everything to know it better.
Here's to life on our tiptoes!
Friday, March 9, 2012
"Keep the company of those who seek the truth - run from those who have found it." - Vaclav Havel
As a person of faith, I hear the word "truth" kicked about not infrequently. Depending on the context, it bears a range of meanings, which in turn carry their own baggage and freight the conversation to varying degrees. Two perspectives on truth, in particular, have challenged me to think through my own understanding. "Truth," as many postmoderns have it, is an archaic and manipulative power construct. Truth, in the language of many Christians, is the foundational expression of reality, the absolute "what is." Small wonder, then, that so many postmoderns abhor religion. Or that Christians respond to postmodern claims of subjectivity with anger and fear.
Havel suggests, however, that truth is something much more grand than these [admittedly abbreviated and caricatured] polar perspectives. To those who claim there is no such thing as truth, Havel issues an invitation: "Seek truth!" "Join up with others who seek it!" To those who claim "There is truth, and this is it!" Havel cautions that truth is not something to be found. It is not a solid construct, not a destination, not an endpoint.
Rather, truth becomes something vibrant and living. It is something more elegant and intricate than we might imagine. It is infinitely profound, inviting us to go ever deeper. It is dark and painful, and never allows us to settle for long. It calls us to know ourselves when we'd rather avert our eyes. It summons us to know others when we'd prefer to dismiss them. Truth sometimes screams to us in pain; in our confusion, truth might show itself elusive. Yet Truth is also often revealed as hope; truth is found in beauty and friendship, in abundance and in love.
Truth is simply not static - nor does it allow us the luxury of a passive response. Truth strengthens but does not indulge. Truth demands our attention, but never fully satisfies. Truth will likely never make us comfortable. Truth will challenge us and perhaps evade us and, when all is said and done, capture our hearts. Hearts cannot deny or dominate, but they can follow. Relentlessly.
At this point, I believe, the dissonant perspectives on truth come as a gift. A Christian perspective assures us that there is, in fact, "something big" out there. Beyond us, beyond what we can see, there is something that calls us outside and beyond ourselves. A postmodern view beckons us past any temptation to settle with an easy answer about that "something." It reminds us that beyond any answer or meaning we might find, lies yet another. And another.
This, I think, is the quest to which Havel invites us: the quest to live in constant pursuit of the truth, a truth we can know only in active response, truth revealed in the act of seeking.