Thursday, January 7, 2016


A note from Shanghai.

It's quite difficult to see the scope of my life. 

I increasingly discover that all of what I am —All and Everything, as it were — comes down in every moment to a comprehensive summary of everything that has ever happened to me, which seems, in retrospect, deep and extraordinary. Any single life must appear this way to the one who has lived it, if they truly take themselves in from within. We have a natural depth in us acquired from a lifetime of impressions and experiences; and in their individual nuances, the collective sum of all of those things forms an individual universe.

 I was sitting in prayer this morning, and saw that I am fundamentally unable to comprehend this in the way that is necessary. In this, I am lived, but I don't  know how to live; I am prayed, yet I don't know how to pray; and I am searched, but I don't know how to search.  The real truth of my existence and what I am lies in this not knowing; and as I look back through my life, every time it turns out I have played the fool — there are so many — it is because I pretend I know. I don't just play the fool to people outside me and around me; I play the fool to God, pretending that I know how to be in relationship with Him. Yet what is certain, always, is that God knows how to be in relationship with me; not the other way around.

 In the midst of this helplessness, which strikes me whenever a real presence is active, I am left shaking and trembling in the hope that somehow I will be able to present myself and look worthy — even though I am certain there is no health in me. I suppose this is just another fa├žade or charade that I erect between myself and the truth of what I am — a tiny little creature.

If a man or a woman does not try to take the true measurement of themselves in their lives, what are they left with? The measurement of others, perhaps — which is where arrogance begins. If I am going to measure others, I should measure them for clothes of love and compassion, support and respect — yet that's so difficult. When I get out my yardstick, I so often want to go straight to the bad parts which are easy to measure. 

And I always want to triumphantly discover that their bad parts are bigger and fatter and longer than my own, don't I?

I was examining some of my measurement of others — resentments I have nursed for years now — recently and I saw that I have called many things wrong. I don't often enough put myself in the other’s shoes; and I'm not often willing enough to offer the forgiveness that will actually cost me something. I'm quite clever at crafting portions of forgiveness that allow me to keep the things I want the most — so I don't really forgive, I just come up with things that sound pretty good. In this way, I can show others a goodness which has a superficially high gloss, but is fundamentally bogus. 

I try to look at that more often these days.

Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

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