Journey Down

Old Elevator
Image by voteprime via Flickr

There is a discovery by many  college kids who, in their first few months of school, start reading about politics. Unfortunately, all of their reading comes from inflammatory blogs and You Tube videos with techno background music and scary titles.  These guys have just now figured out that–gasp –there is corruption in politics, and now they’re storming into every comment box, political rally, or conversation they can find with guns blazing, ready to inform the rest of us about how the world really works.  Either that or they move to Oregon…

There is really nothing wrong with confronting the wrongs in the world, but there is a first step; confronting the wrongs of the self.  A friend of a favorite musician of mine, Ken Medema, said this “Things are entirely too quiet these days.  We need a march on Washington or a hunger strike or a protest of some sort.  Otherwise we might have to spend time getting to know ourselves and that would be scary…

I think that is the crux of all the issues, we are selfish creatures who will not engage in a protest about ourselves but rather engage in a protest about someone or something else.  We want to see the large things in life but only by being larger than the things themselves.  Raising ourselves up by making everything else small.  Chesterton wrote about this in the essay ‘Tremendous Trifles

“Once upon a time there were two little boys who lived chiefly in the front garden, because their villa was a model one. The front garden was about the same size as the dinner table; it consisted of four strips of gravel, a square of turf with some mysterious pieces of cork standing up in the middle and one flower bed with a row of red daisies.  One morning while they were at play in these romantic grounds, a passing individual, probably the milkman, leaned over the railing and engaged them in philosophical conversation. The boys, whom we will call Paul and Peter, were at least sharply interested in his remarks.  For the milkman (who was, I need say, a fairy) did his duty in that state of life by offering them in the regulation manner anything that they chose to ask for. And Paul closed with the offer with a business-like abruptness, explaining that he had long wished to be a giant that he might stride across continents and oceans and visit Niagara or the Himalayas in an afternoon dinner stroll.  The milkman producing a wand from his breast pocket, waved it in a hurried and perfunctory manner; and in an instant the model villa with its front garden was like a tiny doll’s house at Paul’s colossal feet.  He went striding away with his head above the clouds to visit Niagara and the Himalayas. But when he came to the Himalayas, he found they were quite small and silly-looking, like the little cork rockery in the garden; and when he found Niagara it was no bigger than the tap turned on in the bathroom. He wandered round the world for several minutes trying to find something really large and finding everything small, till in sheer boredom he lay down on four or five prairies and fell asleep. Unfortunately his head was just outside the hut of an intellectual backwoodsman who came out of it at that moment with an axe in one hand and a book of Neo-Catholic Philosophy in the other.  The man looked at the book and then at the giant, and then at the book again. And in the book it said, “It can be maintained that the evil of pride consists in being out of proportion to the universe.” So the backwoodsman put down his book, took his axe and, working eight hours a day for about a week, cut the giant’s head off; and there was an end of him.

Such is the severe yet salutary history of Paul. But Peter, oddly enough, made exactly the opposite request;  he said he had long wished to be a pigmy about half an inch high; and of course he immediately became one.  When the transformation was over he found himself in the midst of an immense plain, covered with a tall green jungle and above which, at intervals, rose strange trees each with a head like the sun in symbolic pictures, with gigantic rays of silver and a huge heart of gold. Toward the middle of this prairie stood up a mountain of such romantic and impossible shape, yet of such stony height and dominance, that it looked like some incident of the end of the world.  And far away on the faint horizon he could see the line of another forest, taller and yet more mystical,  of a terrible crimson color, like a forest on fire for ever. He set out on his adventures across that colored plain; and he has not come to the end of it yet.”

We must confront ourselves in rest and not in activity.  Hebrews 4:9-11 says “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”  but the Christian perspective is not the only one.  The view of the East values quiet meditation, and the Uposatha, the Muslim Jumu’ah, and many others.  In the Medieval age, people went to the monasteries not to escape life but to confront it: all they had was themselves, others like them, work, and the Bible.  It gave them time to reflect on their own walk, fellowship, the honor on preserving intellectual works, and the most powerful Word speaking to them.  We have replaced the monastery with Washington – getting other people to tell us what to do rather then finding out what the good is.

In these times we can reflect that the wrongs of the world (whatever they may be at a given moment: poverty, deficit spending, war, poor leadership, poor economic decisions, and the like) are not caused by faceless entities but by people like us, with the same problems like us.  Sometimes they are too busy to change their own lives that they try to change other people’s lives.  But just like them, we follow the same fallacy – we make ourselves larger than the world to fix the world.  It ought to be the reverse – we make ourselves smaller to fix the world.

We make ourselves smaller by addressing the self and all it’s problems, realizing of course that we have no power in ourselves to change ourselves.  That of course in the journey down.  Just as Christian in the classic ‘Pilgrims Progress‘ was distressed by reading the book (the law), just as many philosophers leaped into lunacy the journey into the depths of the human condition is only the first step.  We must realize that we are in a pit to climb out – of course we cannot climb out. We must go to the Doctor to see how we are sick, we can only ignore the symptoms for a short while or try to give others our ‘home remedies – we need the Great Physician to truly be well.’

If we cannot save ourselves from ourselves what is the purpose of saving others unless we are saved first?  By following the example of John the Baptist – “He must increase, I must decrease”.  The more we confront and challenge ourselves (with the power of the Divine) the more we will lose ourselves to find ourselves.  Only by taking the journey down can we end at the top – only by becoming small can we see the wonders and mysteries of the natural and super-natural world around us.


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