August 16, 2008
C.S. Lewis had the inimitable gift of simile. While the Nazis bombarded London, thousands of its citizen hauled up in underground bunkers, he preached from the speaker of a radio. And as he did, in an almost nonchalant way, he brought the mystery of Christianity to bear upon the citizens of London.
It is indeed no small task to wrestle with adversity, even death, and attempt to win. But Lewis engaged in an even more dangerous feat—to grapple with God and win. Jacob did, why couldn’t he? His point exactly.
Paulo Coelho, another whose gift of metaphoric language has been absorbed by untold hundreds of thousands of readers, sought out divinity in a more subtle way. He modestly uncovers the difficult life of a modern visionary in his “Witch of Portobello.” She finds her own death, her vision of justice and good stubborn to the end. Perhaps more candidly, he offers the role of the true prophet in his tale of Elijah and the city of Akbar. It is sometimes the will of God to be obeyed, he reveals through his characters, and sometimes to be argued with. And when he is argued with, he might just concede defeat—and bless you.
Meanwhile, I thrust myself into the politics of religion insisting that its tenets be revisited. They are a deranged vision for God’s creation, I often think, and am more than intent on pursuing their rectification. I am passionately obsessed.
But my zealousness is a bit out of place at times, over-wrought and more offensive than helpful. I withhold conversation from those who disagree with my own values and I bring standoffishness to fruitful debates simply because I am put off by the need for debate to begin with. Why is it everyone can’t understand the basic truths that I believe in?
The rub: Are they my truths, or the truths? Curious problem, there, but one which rarely crosses my mind. I have long since convinced myself that if I believe in truths, I believe in them because they are the irrefutable truths of creation. They’re not a passing fancy or a selective collection of my favorites. They are simply what they claim to be: truth.
But, slowly, in the muddied bedroom of the subconscious, they twist with opinion, individual thought, personal experience, and doubt. So they become their own creatures, never quite the pure entities that they once were—truth grasped in all its radiant, unadulterated glory. No, it becomes first plural, i.e. many truths, then they become malleable by human will. What sort of truths are those? The kind that propagate, die, and return in vastly different forms? No, I think, this is something quite different than truth. It is the human perspective.
Which is not to say we are capable of grasping the truth with ultimate objectivity, choose not to, and continue on our road of manipulation and change. Rather, we have never been capable of seeing the truth for what she truly is. But while this is necessarily so, it does not mean we should do away with the understanding that truth exists in one, self-sufficient, infinite form. Just because we can’t grasp it doesn’t mean it should be thrown out the window or redefined.
And so I struggle with the struggle itself: claiming truth as my evidence and support while not being able to cite it in any meaningful way, nor being viscerally sure that it is there to reference. It’s amorphous, defiant against human limits, and perceived in so many ways it would be impossible to draw on a universal image of it. So what to do?
Pray. Write. Hope. Call on the attributes humans can understand to shape a gateway to the truth as I perceive it, even if, in the end, the truth can never be brought to others.
Oh, and I have forgotten this truth as well: The gateway may lead to the truth, but it will be seen differently, and though many of us see the same truth, we will describe it in radically different ways. And in the end, perhaps, we will find that our visions contradict, concluding that my gateway was a bit off course.