It’s been a while since I posted. 2 weeks of vacation in France followed by 2 weeks of catching up at work from a 2 week vacation hasn’t left a lot of time for writing. But there have been several ideas that have been percolating in my brain over the last month. Threads of thought that are slowly weaving into something, or at least I hope they are.
While in France I was continually confronted by the fact of my own smallness in relation to the whole of history. Standing beside a Roman Aqueduct that is 16 stories high and 2000 years old, or walking through the impressive remains of a theatre that was built while Jesus was alive positioned my life as a small blip on the screen of history. It’s a good reminder for me. I often live so consumed by the events and projects my life is wrapped around that I lose the long term perspective. I tend to overestimate the importance of things that are currently in my view and forget the smallness of my day to day in light of the bigger picture.
Developing and teaching and Adult Sunday school class based on the work of Charles Taylor and his book A Secular Age has also been one of those threads. A key idea that Taylor writes about is our own unawareness of how the age around us has shaped the way we interpret reality. We all think that the way we see things is the way that they truly are. That our perception of “reality” is what is truly normal. Once again, we are overwhelmed with the visible right in front of us and miss some of the deeper, past, and more underlying things that are shaping our perceptions of reality. I used the example yesterday of how children grow up in a family assuming that the dynamics of their family are what is normal. Only when confronted with other families do we begin to realize that what we assumed was true about everyone was only a layering of what we thought was normal over a reality we didn’t understand. Once again, small. My understanding of reality is shaped by so many factors of which I am blissfully unaware.
Then a conversation with a 23 year old heroin addict. It was one of many conversations my associate and I have had with this young man over the past several months. But this one was different. He didn’t run away at the first mention of detox and treatment. He seemed genuinely at the bottom and crying out for help. So I made plans to get him to the hospital, to start the process that could maybe help him begin to leave the fog of addiction. For the first time I felt some hope in regards to his situation. But within the hour he would decide he needed one more hit of heroin before coming to the hospital, only to walk away from his need for help to the very thing that was destroying him. In that moment I was painfully aware of my inability to change or help anyone. I felt small and powerless in the face of the chains of his past and the strength of his addiction.
Feeling small and mostly powerless isn’t fun, not something I would sign up for on a regular basis, but it is important. It’s a reminder that the vastness of life is beyond my ability to understand and manipulate. It places me in a role of dependence on something greater; something (or Someone) beyond me. While that seems scary and open ended, I’m actually finding it quite comforting. Roman projects from 2000 years ago remind me that what I interpret as success or failure largely fades in consequence over the years. A book by Charles Taylor reminds me to take my grasp of reality a little less seriously and to open myself to whatever new things God may be directing me into. And the pain of a young man and my inability to help reminds me that doing good is not dependent on people’s ability to accept it. I see again that the success and healing of the world is dependent on hands way more capable than mine. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 5:3) My translation; Blessed am I who has very little to offer, because God works through me and in me in spite of my limitations - in spite of my smallness. That’s just the way God is.