I feel melancholic this morning and I feel it deeply.
I have for the most part wasted my summer. I have looked for jobs with no luck, been house shopping, doing some research, but mostly I have gotten lazy and this is really bothering me now. I can only hope to make the most of what days I have left.
I have been thinking about what it means to "make the most of every opportunity" as the apostle Paul admonishes us to do in his letter to the Ephesians. This command is followed by, "knowing that the days are evil" which seems to give us a good context within which we are to understand the first part of the passage. It reminds me that we are in a spiritual war between good and evil, and that what it means to make the most of every opportunity should be defined in light of this fact. But I find that it is (at least in one sense) quite difficult to live as though there is such a weighty conflict happening all around us. There is something about being a middle class American in the 21st century that seems to make any such reality a mere after-thought. Sure things are not perfect here, and we have had our tragedies and will continue to, but for the most part I find myself feeling pretty safe in this world. On my drive here I was listening to the radio program which was interrupted briefly to give a traffic report. There was trendy, upbeat music in the background and the narrator had apparently had plenty of coffee this morning. He proudly and optimistically reported closures and accidents at this and that intersection and whimsically reported a fatality on one of the major highways, and without a hint of remorse his segment was gone with zooming sound effects and all. And I know that it isn't the correct context to express remorse since people just want to hear about what impediments might possibly be in their way to work and the best alternate routes so I am not criticizing him or the program itself. Still it got me thinking that I have the propensity to abstract tragedy even though in reality is it all around and so I wonder why this is the case. Maybe I am deaf and blind...
Here I am, a somewhat average, American twenty-something striving as always to maintain and improve my "quality of life". Wanting to remain as comfortable as possible and often dabbling in decadence when "comfortable" grows into boredom. I want nice clothes, richly exotic and aesthetically pleasing food and drink, devices to entertain me and so on.... vanity, vanity a mere chasing after the wind... What about the wars going on? Well sure, there is the stuff going on in Libya, and in Afghanistan and in parts of Africa, the drug wars in Mexico... but again I can abstract it. I can remain blind and deaf towards it. You know it took me a long time to get beyond a very superficial reading of scripture, of course, I still have my moments and quite frequently at that but I've had some improvement. In any event, when I began altering my approach it was pretty incredible. I have been reading Confessions by St. Augustine who had a similar experience during his coming to the Lord: he had been reading scripture one way (as a literalist) all his life and it was his being taught to approach it a bit more thoughtfully that played a significant role in his leaving the Manichees. I say all this to say that I often find myself reading the events in this life superficially, living not by faith, but by sight. I take things at face value and so life seems pretty serene. Sure there are wars and rumors of wars, but I see them on my t.v. set and can turn them off whenever I please. I can go days without reading the news or listening to the radio if I so please. The problem is that when all is said and done, I keep going back to this deep entrenched belief that I have that appearance = reality.
You see, I keep missing the stuff that is beneath the ostensible. I should be asking, why the heck are there wars in Libya in the first place? Why is there conflict at all? And I should be realizing that there is a spiritual war that underwrites the physical ones. This spiritual war isn't fundamentally between north and south, democracy and communism, democrats vs. republicans, or even Christianity vs. Islam but between belief and unbelief, light and darkness, good and evil. And it is happening within myself such that "the good I want to do, I don't do, and that which I hate I keep doing". I only see this at moments when I am willing to go beyond the way things appear but such times are few and far between.
In Genesis, Eve was said to be enticed by the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When I was a kid I used to think that the fruit (in my mind a shiny, red apple) itself did something to Adam and Eve, like it had magical juice or something to "open" her eyes. Of course, the fruit itself isn't the significant part, it is the act of disobedience and perhaps behind the disobedience is an ignorance that is culpable. Anyway, it is written:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. - Genesis 3:6Among other things, I think she (and Adam) ought to have known that wisdom isn't gained by consuming some shiny object. The nature of knowledge isn't such. Perhaps in the Matrix, you can sort of download info. but knowledge in the real world is a very different thing. And they heard the Tempter's promise which was likely very seductive and then turned to this pretty little shiny thing and then the first couple fell. Again among other things, they failed to look beyond the surface to what could have been quite obvious (had they been thoughtful in the least), namely, that physical sustenance is distinct in kind from spiritual sustenance and that knowledge doesn't come apart from the fear of the Lord, nor does it come directly from eating something aesthetically pleasing.
So here I am separated from my parents (Adam and Eve), by thousands of miles and thousands of years, but the same old struggle. The reason I feel so comfortable and safe is because I look around and see that things seem for the most part A-Ok. At the moment my eyes see a fine variety of desert trees swaying softly in the wind, they tower over the verdant fields shimmering from the morning dew. The summer sun glitters beneath me in a shallow pool as the waves dance lazily along and birds flirt with one another carelessly as bright yellow flowers open their buds to drink in the day. Idyllic, still, all is well. And I live in prosperity, a modern day Rome full of splendor and arguably the most powerful military that ever was. Modern medicine continues to promise us cures and to help our bodies look younger and live forever. Sure we're in the middle of an economic crisis, but it is hard to tell. Restaurants and shopping malls are bustling, and as Independence day stands just around the corner, people will be firing up the grill, swimming, drinking, eating to excess and being merry as if nothing is happening...
"People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all." Luke 17:27But all of this is appearance, it is illusory, because it isn't the whole story. I live as though if only my temporal needs were met, I would be fine and this due to the fact that I take things at face value and am mollified by what is pleasing to the eye after all, I am my father's son.
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28I once wrote about how vague the saying "Carpe diem" is. It just isn't super informative because I don't know what it means to "seize the day". It all seems to depend on what you're after. If I want to be a circus juggler, then seizing the day will mean doing everything I can to improve my juggling, joining the circus and the like. If I want to avoid the circus (maybe I have an irrational fear of bearded ladies) then it will look quite different. Paul I think is exhorting us to sieze the day with respect to the invisible war between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, it is the only way I can begin to make sense of the life he led.