Existentialism and Jesus

I read a novella this week that has been described as “an existential detective story.”  It was interesting, maybe too interesting; it left me with a barrage of mind-bending thoughts and kept me awake for an hour and a half last night.  And in the end, I found that I had more questions than I had answers.

So, to try to bring some order to my unsettled mind, I did some research on existentialism and found this helpful, concise definition:

[Existentialism is] a chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad

(http://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/existentialism)

But, helpful as that definition may be, it’s also kind of depressing.  And a little bit scary.  How awful to think that I can never make a truly informed decision, that all my choices are based on a speculative knowledge of right and wrong that can never be substantiated.

Fortunately for us, Truth is neither a cold, external fact nor an unknowable, internal ideal.  Truth is a person.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth.” John 14:6, 16-17

Jesus is truth personified.  There is nothing false about him.  Every word he speaks, every deed he performs, all are completely truthful, reflecting the character and essence of God.  And He has given us his Spirit, to dwell in us and reveal truth to our hearts.  What a comfort to know that even if objective, unchanging truth is beyond our human ability to comprehend, that Jesus can reveal to us the portion of truth (i.e. the portion of himself, of his character) that we need in each situation, each decision that we make.

Here’s a prayer to that effect, written by the “father of existentialism:”

 Lord Jesus Christ, our foolish minds are weak; they are more than willing to be drawn-and there is so much that wants to draw us to itself. There is pleasure with its seductive power, the multiplicity with its bewildering distractions, the moment with its infatuating importance and the conceited laboriousness of busyness and the careless time-wasting of light-mindedness and the gloomy brooding of heavy-mindedness-all this will draw us away from ourselves to itself in order to deceive us. But you, who are truth, only you, our Savior and Redeemer, can truly draw a person to yourself, which you have promised to do-that you will draw all to yourself. Then may God grant that by repenting we may come to ourselves, so that you, according to your Word, can draw us to yourself-from on high, but through lowliness and abasement.

-Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity

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Grieving and the Goodness of Life

A friend passed away suddenly this week, and as I was weeping and grieving and feeling angry that he was taken in such an inane way, I thought, “How fortunate is he, that he is with you now, God.  I wish I could be there with you, too, and be done with this insignificant existence on earth.”  And then I thought, “How stupid and small are all these details of life that we focus on.  Soon we will all be with Jesus and none of these things will have mattered at all.”  But I immediately felt convicted.  Because, as God reminded me, the small things DO matter.

The small things are our concrete reminders of the love of God.  A hundred times a day–perhaps a thousand if we were fully aware–the messages of God’s love come drifting down to us.  The sound of coffee brewing in the pot.  The smell of freshly fallen autumn leaves. A line in a book that speaks to our souls.  Everywhere we turn, He whispers to us.  And these whispers are worth waking up for each day.  Each one speaks His love.  And to receive His love is to live.  Life is–in its purest, most essential form–to be loved by God.

“Why have I been so hungry all summer?” I asked.

“Because eating is part of life.  So is loving.”

It rang true. “Let’s concentrate on eating, then. For now.”  Then I asked, “Have you been hungry, too?”

“Famished.  I talked to my mom about it, and she explained about it being an urge to live.  When Dad’s father died–he had  heart attack unexpectedly, just like Dad–they wept, and then they made love.  And she showed me that this wasn’t being disrespectful, but a–what did she call it?  Oh yes, an affirmation of the goodness of life.”

–Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light

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To remain with the dead is to abandon them.  All the years I felt Bella entreating me, filled with her loneliness, I was mistaken.  I have misunderstood her signals.  Like other ghosts, she whispers; not for me to join her, but so that, when I’m close enough, she can push me back into the world.

–Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces

Simplicity for Simplicity’s Sake

Don’t get me wrong–Hawaiian vacations are good things, especially when they look like this! (view from our balcony–Maui, 2012)

I had a revelation today.  By revelation, I mean one of those thoughts that comes to you and you know that it wasn’t your own brain that came up with it.  You know that it was given by God to you at that precise moment.  I can spend all day thinking about something and not come up with one original or worthwhile idea, but then a month later it’ll just drop into my head, and I think “Oh, yeah, that’s what I should do.  Of course.”  That’s revelation.  And it’s a gift–not something I can do for myself or earn somehow.  It’s a kind of grace, I guess.

Anyway, here is today’s revelation:  Simple living is an end in itself.  You see, I have always thought that simplicity–clearing out clutter, spending less money on possessions or little indulgences (read: iced lattes), etc.–I’ve always thought that by cutting those things out of my life, I was making room–in my house and in my budget–for even better stuff.  If I don’t have a closet full of Target-brand clothes, then I’ll have room for a really nice cashmere sweater.  And it will be so much more beautifully displayed since it won’t be stuffed in between twenty-five pilling, fading, stretched-out impersonations.  If I don’t spend my money on mochas at Blue Bottle Cafe, then I’ll have more money to put towards a Hawaiian vacation next spring. And while there is nothing wrong with cashmere sweaters and Hawaiian vacations, I’m beginning to realize that if those things are my goal, then I’m not really simplifying in the purest sense; I’m just upgrading.

Here’s a quote I read this week:

As a culture, we worship “next”.  We binge on content and put our hope in the next version.  We live in a culture that spends more energy focusing on the 3.0 version that is coming than the 2.0 that is available today.  From coffee machines[…]to computers, it’s always the “next.”  As John [Eldredge] puts it, we live in the age of upgrade. (-Morgan Snyder, http://www.becomegoodsoil.com)

Rather than upgrading, what if we pursue simplicity for simplicity’s sake?  What if we stop trying to find strategies to gain that “next” thing, and start simplifying our lives just because a simple life is often a better, more joyful, more peaceful life?  I know I have a lot to learn about living this way, but I’m looking forward to it.  And I welcome your comments and advice.  What are you learning about simplicity?  Have you found ways to simplify your life?  What benefits has simplifying brought to your life?

(Wanna read a cool blog about some people who are radically simplifying their lives?  Check out my friend Carrie’s site: clotheslinetinyhomes.com)