The shadow of things
Intimacy is elusive, tantalizing, needed. We need as much as we need to give, and yet for all of the same reasons we are coy and selective and withholding as much as we are seeking, hoping, trying to find and keep hold of it. Fears, impotence, and being alone keep us from moving deeper in the relationships that would also provide that very same intimacy, and for those very same reasons. Pain, distrust, vulnerability. So we withhold even trying. So we hide our inner selves, and we protect with a shell of busy, coolness, space, achievements, things, and people. Shallow, glass lined souls that we use as protection and familiarity so that we don’t have to think. So that we don’t have to know. So that we don’t have to feel.
The irony is that we already know. It shows up in quick flashes of anger that get pressed down with lightning speed when someone threatens to expose our glass house for what it is. We get filled with envy when we see in others a bit of openness and vulnerability that we could barely even be aware of save for the awakened stirring when we see it in action. We are then confronted with the knowledge that it exists and that it is missing from our lives, and then we thirst. We are confronted with a hope, ever so slight, that it might be true. That it might be something that we could grasp with our own hands and even at some point with our own heart. So we now have a yearning, and a fear. A desire and the possibility of it being untrue, or worse, that we are to broken to achieve grasping it. That it might go away, and we would never have it complete its work in us.
In all of life there is one thing that is consistent and it is the need to be known. From our first “birth announcement” to the “funeral obituary”, we are striving to be known. All of our relationships yearn for this deeper understanding of who we really are. In work, play, social activities, hobbies, civic organizations, philanthropic of selfish, they all point to the one thing we yearn for. To be known and some how acknowledged for being of value. For having worth. From the quilter guild to the military, from the literature that we read or the clubs we belong to (or don’t), from the toys we accumulate along the way. They all tell of a striving and a hope and we collect and showcase and count them like the steps on a path to achieve a peak of greatness. All of this is to the same end, intimacy. To be known.
Solomon called all of these things “vanity”. They all were of some value, but none satisfied “enough”. Truly, they are not intended to, nor are they able. To attempt being something you are not, and then to be sad that you could not, is the history of many disillusioned and drifting souls. To have worked for something for so long and to then find that it is hollow and unfulfilling is the heart cry of many. So are we to not work? To not play or have hobbies? To be unsocial? Well, many have and many do, but that is to miss the point. It isn’t the hobby or the club, or the avoidance of them. It is that the knowledge that they are short of the purpose, short of the “why” behind the activity. The maxim is that “you have to be, before you can do” and by that you will then do as you are. Meaning, that your actions done from a desire for identity will then be tied to that activity. Actors fear being “type-cast” or embrace it fully. So they will seek different roles to both challenge their skills, or simply broaden their audience. Some though, by craft or appearance fall into always being the villain, grandpa, seductress or fool. When they embrace this as their role, they can then engage fully in it and become quite adept at the nuances and strengths that can be found there. So too, when we find that the games and the toys and the acclaim are of little worth, then we also can embrace that we are simply “who we are”, and then be content being that understanding. It happens throughout life in many little steps. Knowing we cant stay in the lines with our coloring in the small classes, to knowing we are the best at sports or writing or math, we then yield to that knowledge. If we are not moored to something greater, we keep seeking. If however, we have found that mooring and can stay fast to it we trundle on and give praise to the high achievers and are not diminished by their achievements. We celebrate with them and “have a glad heart”, as the psalmist says.
Somewhere though there is a transition in life. That mooring as a child is, appropriately, a parent or grandparent. When we grow it then expands to perhaps a sibling and then on to a “good friend”. Soon also we are confronted with the gravity that all of these will let us down or go away. Sometimes we move and leave the friends or family and sometimes they do. When it is abrupt and unexplained the trauma is profound. Always there is pain.
Perhaps it is the pain of the work needed to keep in contact. At times it is the loss by death too soon, or unexpected, and we forever then limp. Here though is the value, the knowledge that they were not the center of the universe, even though we may have needed them to be, and certainly because we wanted it to be. The loss becomes the knowledge, and the deeper the pain the deeper the understanding. Deep sorrow is a result of deep love. Deep betrayal and violation is a result of deeply misplacing hope. There is a difference. Hope placed in temporary things or people will fail. Love given to, and received from, temporary things or people will have sorrow, but not betrayal. It shows the misplacement of the center of your life and that knowledge is painful. We learn this along the way in the little things, or we crash hard when it comes to us as teenagers in love, or when we are old and the awards are hollow and we are empty. Filling our lives with busy but not fulfilling things, we are alone with this shell we created.
What are we to do then. Starting with now, consider the loss of something of value and why is it this that you have chosen. Then you will have an item to reflect on how much of yourself that you have invested in it. Not your time, but your identity. Not your treasure, but your value. Next realize that it is dross and temporary and that it will be consumed by the passing of time or at least by the passing of you. Then reflect on what part of this is a replacement for your perspective of how the God of the universe sees you. In the need to be known, even by our most dear friends and loved ones, it is still not “enough” and is found wanting. That is the reason for the “God shaped hole in every mans heart…” (Pascal) and is why you cannot be that fulfillment for others, nor they for you. We run from this knowledge, and we need to stop. We don’t, though, because it too intimate, too powerful, too close to the center of our being. It is too sobering and too scary. Partially that it might be true, and partially that it may not be.
We are all on the same path, this yellow brick road headed to the wizard and the emerald city. And then we find, it is a sham, and it too is hollow and a lie. Our hopes crushed and ground into dust, they are then able to be remade. To be mixed with our tears of sorrow and revived once again into the clay of our heart. To be then centered on the one thing that fills that god shaped hole, the knowledge that it is only He that can fill it, and make it something that satisfies.
This is but then the beginnings of a cruel irony. That very soon we begin to then build temples to that knowledge and then to begin, oh so subtly, to talk about our epiphany. Soon as well we begin to talk about “our” epiphany, and how we narrowly escaped the clutches of the “dark one” and have been set right once again. Then too come the stories and bring with them the little embellishments that gloss over our clay feet and laud our wise counsel to ourselves. It begins anew. Even from the very beginning of our humbling comes pride in our humility. It seems that this will never cease for us, until death I suppose. Humility and the need to resist pride humbly is a curious thing. Reveling, if we will once see it as it is, but pervasive and relentless as well.
We hope so highly, and prize so shallow a thing, and weep when it is found to be clay. Heros, both fallen and not yet, are a part of this. We create little idols, of our own liking and interests, so to validate our lives and choices. Yet constantly we are betrayed by their clay-ness and lack of satisfying power. The value is that, in their passing from satisfaction, we can find the center of intimacy once again. If we will but be still and “Know that He is God", and we are not. Intimacy with the Almighty. It is such a desire, but when we are there it is so powerful a light that more of our flaws are revealed, and we are broken yet again, but differently this time. For having had this taste of “completeness”, knowing it was not our works that provide that value, we are then able to stand on that little bit of wisdom and reach for the next step. Then too, perhaps we could simply stay put for a bit and enjoy this knowledge, that we are known. What we are and where we are. And it is good.
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