On most Sunday afternoons, I have a pretty simple routine.
I go to church, often times playing worship music with my wife. We both enjoy music a great deal. After church, I generally head home, sit on the porch and grill some food, and think/write/read. It’s a pattern. A relatively simple one, but a pattern nonetheless.
Today, I find myself sitting on my porch, enjoying a cigar and thinking as I have grown accustomed to doing, and the same word keeps popping into my head.
I was reading a brilliant piece by C.S. Lewis, an address he made at one point, and he never fails to point out simple and universal truths. One truth he seemed to dance around was the idea of home.
He pointed out, over and over, that one undeniable fact of human existence is the understanding that where we are now is not perfect. Now every religion and belief system, be it naturalism, modernism, Christianity, atheism, and on and on, recognizes this certainty. For whatever reason (and it is for us to discover that reason) we feel a definitive disconnect with this planet.
Descartes describes it in his writing. As does Plato and Socrates and Leibnitz and Keates and Joyce and Stephen Hawking. The world we live in is not a perfect place. There is a certain other-ness to the world and our relationship with it.
We all have different answers for this otherness, this separation, but universally we try to answer the great question of otherness with as much vigor as we try to answer questions such as “Why are we here?” or “How did we come to be?”
For the naturalist, the scientist, the answer lies in a phrase. Elan Vital. The will to live. Or perhaps, life finds a way.
The reason such a phrase is so essential is because of this very disconnect that inexplicably exists. Our home is not a perfect place. And whether you believe we came to be by natural causes or supernatural ones, the point remains that in either case we are here and here is not perfect. And so it is that Hawking and the like have posited a rather simple conclusion to this imperfection – someday it will be.
It’s mesmerizing, isn’t it, that every culture feels this disconnect? As if we are all sojourners, wanderers and exiles, fated to live in a place that is not home until a day arrives that it becomes home or perhaps our home is found.
As Lewis so aptly puts it – the existence of a thing doesn’t necessarily mean the result will come to pass as we see it. He uses hunger as a striking example. If I am trapped on a boat caught in the ocean and I feel the pangs of hunger, it doesn’t prove that I will be fed someday soon. It simply proves that we live in a world where hunger exists, and food exists to nourish us, to keep us alive. Just because I feel hunger on my boat doesn’t mean I’ll find food. It just means food exists.
So also it must be with our otherness. This desperate feeling exists, which means a lack of otherness, a home, must also exist.
And somehow we catch glimpses of it. We catch glimpses of it in nature, in a sunrise, in a birds’ song or in a great book. We feel, for a moment at least, that sense of right-with-the-world.
We long for home.
What of it?
I once had a compelling argument with a fellow human. We discussed our perspectives on a topic and how they differed, and the conversation took place in loving form.
This human is someone I hold dear to me. But what bothered me was not the argument she presented. What bothered me most was when I asked a specific question, a fair question about her argument, her response was simply “I don’t understand that part very well… but talk to my husband. He can explain it to you.”
I don’t have any problem with disagreements. I rather enjoy them. I like looking at things from a different perspective as it seems to reinforce what I think (and occasionally ruins what I think entirely, forcing me to once again address all of the things I thought I knew). But I did take issue with the response.
Personally, I don’t want to rely on what someone else believes. I want to know it for myself. If an individual chooses to have a different opinion, I’m perfectly comfortable with that. But I would prefer they know why they believe what they believe, and not just trust that someone else knows. And I have the utmost respect for anyone who chooses another path, even when I disagree, as long as they’ve approached the topic with their whole heart and come to their conclusion after thinking on it thoroughly.
I commonly refer to this as facing the abyss. Because it’s frightening and terrifying and wholly unnerving to face these questions. It’s a massive cluster of truly life-changing stuff, awe-inspiring in its magnitude.
I face it every day.
But at the end of the day, I hold myself to this standard. I will believe what I believe because I have amply searched, addressed all of that which I fear and come to some discernible certainty in it.
I don’t know a whole lot of things. I’m not really a philosopher, I’m terrible at politics, and I can barely manage to live my own life for that matter without screwing it up and sabotaging myself – but the question remains and so an answer must also exist.
If I feel something is very wrong with the world around me, isn’t it my duty to try to figure it out? No matter how hopeless such a venture might seem? I mean, it’s not like some consensus will ever be reached among all human kind and they’ll come door to door with a book of answers. And even if one was reached, wouldn’t I then be forced to decide for myself if I buy into it?
So today, I will once again dig deep. I will embark on a journey in search of truth because I feel that truth is an essential part of human existence. I will face the abyss with utter abandonment.
Today I’ll enjoy my cigar and my cup of coffee, and I’ll read a sacred text or two while I try to improve on my view. I’ll deconstruct every aspect of it, attack it from another angle, and try to come to some conclusion. Because if a question exists, an answer can’t be so far off.
I’ll help others navigate these treacherous seas as best as I know how, and I’ll share with you all, readers of my blog, what I’ve found. I’ll turn off my playlist and my television show and set aside my to-do list and I’ll attempt to understand simple mysteries.
Because today, what I’ve found is a question. And a question is a good place to start.