June 14, 2011
C.S. Lewis is one of my intellectual heroes. I have described my association with him during the secular-humanist phase of my metaphysical journey as the “C.S. Lewis problem.” The C.S. Lewis problem was a lingering shadow of an idea in the back of my mind that suggested, even when my frontal cortex wanted to declare me an atheist, that there was a major blind spot in my world-view. Because C.S. Lewis believed that beauty, or “glimpses of the sublime” here on earth, pointed to something much bigger. Pointed to God.
Human beings seem to be programmed with an appreciation of beauty, both natural and man-made. This is a subsection for me of the more general and often-repeated idea that mankind is born with a void inside that hungers after the infinite. After God. As an atheist/agnostic, it was difficult for me to reconcile the idea that the Sistine Chapel was just another piece of art, even if its conception and execution were of the highest standard. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, an excellent piece of music, but nothing more. For me these two things, and so many more like them, are much more than just technical masterpieces. What are they then? One can become technically proficient at water-skiing, cross-stitch, archery, basket-weaving. There are those who will be in the top one percent of the top one percent at any ridiculous thing that humans conceive of to try. But on those relatively rare occasions that humans succeed in making something truly beautiful, what is that?
What is different about Ode to Joy, and Moonlight Sonata, and the Allegreto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony? Why do songs without lyrics make us weep? I have a theory. Art and beauty of the highest form point to something. I think that something is God. And I don’t even think it matters if the artist intends it (as Mozart usually did, or, obviously, Michelangelo). God made music; He doesn’t just exist in the “spiritual songs” box. God made art. When man makes art, when he makes music, he points to God whether he means to or not. Listen to Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh and a song called Exogenesis Symphony: Part III from the rock band Muse (of Twilight fame, unfortunately), two songs that were not composed, at least overtly, as an homage to God. Then tell me if you agree.
Allegretto from the Seventh.
Muse: Exogenesis Symphony Part III (from the movie Children of Man).
May 9, 2011
There is a randomness to life. Randomness, in fact, permeates every stitch in the tapestry of human experience (too much?). And we humans do our best to whitewash God’s hand from that randomness. We devise things like chaos theory, which describes how small permutations of initial inputs to large dynamical systems (weather is an often cited example) have vast and wide-ranging effects in the outcomes of those systems. The oft-cited example is that a beating butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane a continent away. Said yet another way, shit happens.
But, although chaos theory gives us a what and a how, it leaves us wanting for a who or a why. Who made the butterfly and why is he here? Because of the randomness of the human experience, the odds seem stacked against the alignment of all the thousands (millions? billions?) of moving existential parts required to create those special associations we have with other human beings. Those associations which – due to specific factors of time, space and experience – are sufficient for us to bond with these special persons and become open to them changing us. And when certain events and people come together in our lives in a certain way, the role providence plays in directing those people and events becomes all but undeniable. Without that providence, how many ships would just pass in the night?
Which brings me to J, who you already know. Today was his coin-out, a process with which you are already familiar. I think most of the people here were dreading J’s coin-out, because – as I have mentioned – J is a phenomenal person. He’s fun to be around, he’s funny. He’s the proverbial straw that stirs the drink (see what I did there?). He’s also kind, sensitive and considerate. So I don’t claim to be special in being sad that J is gone. But sad I am.
The thing I can’t overstate is how important he has been to my recovery. Something clicked for me when I watched him give his life-line talk. He showed me what surrender looks like. What humility looks like. What vulnerability looks like. I have some pretty high walls up around the real me. I am emotionally unavailable, even aloof. Very few people see the real me. As a wise person recently told me, I am often afraid to let people see what I see.
But J showed me the way. And I don’t think I even knew how important it was while it was happening, or even when I wrote about it. But something has definitely changed inside me. I don’t know how to describe it other than emotional honesty. For the first time in a long time – maybe in my life – I am being honest with myself. About a lot of things, but primarily about what I am feeling. Or in some cases, that I am feeling at all. And I haven’t been able to turn it off since.
As far as J goes, that was just the beginning for us. We were more or less inseparable after that moment. In this environment, 16 days feels like forever. So I feel like I’ve known J my whole life. Today was not an easy day, if I can be entirely honest and selfish for a moment. I was a part of the crew that took J to the airport. I gave my number to J’s dad, and told him to call me if something comes up. I don’t expect that it will, but the fact remains that a certain percentage of us relapse. And then we all hugged and cried and said goodbye. Then they were off. The actual goodbye always seems so sudden.
So it occurs to me once again I’m in a strange place with a bunch of relative strangers. I miss my kids. I’m coming off of Suboxone. I don’t have alcohol, cocaine, opiates or any of the other crutches I have relied on so heavily for the last 15 years. I have terrible feelings of guilt about my family, my kids, a marriage in shambles and a career that I took a flamethrower to. And I have this newfound ability to feel things that I haven’t learned how to control.
J was a big part of me feeling comfortable here. He is a true confidant. I have others here, but he was like my emotional twin. After two short weeks he could read me pretty well. He knew when to ask if I was alright. And if I wasn’t, I would tell him so. I have known people for years that can’t read me like that. And to be honest, I don’t even know if I was all these same things for him. This might have been an entirely one-sided friendship. I hope not.
Our attitudes, our preconceived notions and our prejudices are too often outcome determinative of the experiences we have in life. Furthermore, those attitudes, preconceptions and prejudices are often shaped by people – for better or worse. And, as far as I am concerned, J completely turned my attitudes, preconceptions and prejudices on their head. I’ll never be the same person, or at least I hope not.
I hoped to have a life-changing experience when I checked into the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch. I had to; I’ve got a lot of people whose lives depend on it. I didn’t foresee this. I have just witnessed the hand of God reach through time and space and rearrange some of the pieces on the board. I am thankful to have shared an orbit with J for a short while. And I’m going to miss him. Good-bye for now, J. I will see you soon.
May 7, 2011
Belief…or trust? I would have described these words as synonymous until an AA meeting earlier this week. One morning this week – I forget which: my days all run together – at my 7:00 A.M. (!) meeting, an out-of-town guest spoke about the difference between belief and trust. The difference can be illustrated by this old story with which I have taken artistic liberties:
Tight rope performer: Today I am going to push a wheelbarrow across the high-wire.
Tight rope performer’s wife: Oh that sounds wonderful! Good luck, I have total belief that you can do it.
Husband: Do you trust me?
Wife: Yes I trust you completely. I absolutely believe you can do it.
Husband: Okay, then you’d be willing to sit in the wheelbarrow?
Therein lies the difference between belief and trust. We say things like we “believe in God” all the time. The people in this world who are certain there is no God number relatively few. The believers vastly outnumber the non-believers. But how many of the believers actually trust God? I’ll ask the question another way: how many believers try to control events in their life? How many believers manipulate people to get them to do what they want them to do? How many believers have fear? Anxiety? How many believers fret about tomorrow? (/hand raised for all of the above.)
The answer is relatively obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway: all believers at one time or another do all of the things I identified above. And isn’t it impossible to do any of those things if we trust God? Trust in God, it seems to me, means the complete absence of fear. Of anxiety. Of manipulation. Of fretting. Of doing anything but living in the moment. This moment, the here, the now, today: those things are God’s gift to us. And by fretting, worrying, being anxious, manipulating, etc., we in effect say: no thank you, I’ll pass on your gift of today, God, because I don’t know that you’re going to be here for me tomorrow.
My anxiety, worry and manipulation are all rooted in fear. Fear that either there isn’t a God, or fear that, if there is, he didn’t really concern himself with me. Fear is the primary emotion I was trying to squelch with my using. If, as I have suggested here, trust in God is tantamount to the absence of fear, then trust in God is also the absence of drugs and alcohol. For me anyway.
* this is the only phrase I remember from three semesters of Italian, and one of those words is the same in English.