Warning: in our contemporary setting the word I am going to use has been so ill-used in so many ways that it will likely repulse. Let’s try. “Faith”. Are you still here reader? I ask you to stay. There will be no alter call. There will be no promises that everything will be ok. There will be no recommendation that you now relax. There will be no passing of the plate. Please stay. There will be no claim that by asserting propositional content in the grey matter of the brain all will be well. None of this superficiality for us. There must be more.
A story: A man heard a voice. The voice told him to slaughter his son for the consumption of the god, the same god who has promised the son. The man obeyed. He walked toward the diabolical god his son tied up, knife in hand, and a bundle of sticks. Insanity!
Another story: A girl wanted to learn to ride a bike. Her father was barking commands as he attempted to help her transition from bike-training-wheel-dependency to bike-independent-balance. She was doing it. She was pedaling AND balancing. And she was watching her feet. Her father barked: “Look up”. And her face shot to the heavens. She turned from close attention to the ground to close attention to the sky. And she pedaled on. Looking at the sky was no better than looking at her feet. But she obeyed! She survived that day and now has mastered many other tasks. Seared in her father’s memory was her four-year old willingness to obey.
There are similarities and differences in both stories. One is treated with great esteem and often interpreted as some kind of heroic history. The other is the most common of sweet moments in fatherhood. Both involve potentially rational animals hearing a voice and obeying. In both cases what they heard MADE NO SENSE. In both cases they payed less attention to the lack of sense than to the voice. In both cases the third-person perspective on their activity would have judged “Stop!” or “Sin!”. Finally, to use the word dripping with repulsion, both had faith. Both were faithful. Both trusted that it was better to hear and obey than it was to trust to self in the moment.
Here is the insanity I bring to you today. For self-development to take place you must believe that it is possible. There is no faith without works. By “believe” I do not mean “assert in the space of the head between the ears” I mean “Do!”.
But, what you have aim to do in self-development you have never done before. You have never climbed out of this hole, advanced beyond this point, taken up this challenge. The implication? You have NO evidence that it is possible. Your only evidence in fact is that it is not. Were you to trust your “reason” (call it a tempter) you would hear: “You can’t do this. Have you seen yourself? It has only been the opposite for as long as you can remember. You have even tried before! Don’t kid.” Then it would follow with soothing “Come as you are” rhetoric. Get behind me Satan (the voice of reason that tempts away from self-development)!.
Here we are, impoverished in spirit. Mourning that impoverishment. “What is next?” Submission (meekness). “Submission to what?” Submission to the not-me. “What is that?” What I can say this far is that it will feel like death but be life. This means that we must be willing to walk toward what looks (and we must take that word “looks” seriously) like death and believe, have faith, that it is life. This is heroic. And it will be defined, subjectively, as insensibility, contrarity, paradox.
A small but huge example. I want to maintain bodily weight X temperately. I believe that temperate eating is possible for me (on what evidence unreasonable one?). That means I aim to act as if I were temperate until I am temperate. It will be exciting for the first hour. Then comes “me”. He is dissatisfied. He is frustrated. He rages. Then he realizes the soothsaying and sweet talking is more effective. He weaves. He spins a web. The one voice of intemperance is familiar to me. It is he who brings immediate satisfaction. The other voice who calls for not-eating feels like death. He is the slayer of intemperate me. He is “not” me. But he who slays all I have ever known about myself is a murderer. Isn’t he?
How does one live through such a moment? Now multiply the moments by the thousands, the tens of thousands. How does one move forward in the insanity of not responding to what is most familiar? The salesman has gimmicks. Take this pill. Escape this reality. Come as you are.
No. The only real way to temperate me is through what will feel like the slaughter (or neglect to the point of starvation if you wish to avoid the murderous metaphor) of intemperate me. It is as if logos (Socrates), dharma (Buddha), tao (Lao Tzu), the kingdom of the god (Jesus) was calling to me and pointing out death. Or at least that is how it feels. How can anyone expect me to walk toward death voluntarily? How can anyone expect the “rational” in me to walk toward the paradoxical?
I must become Abraham. I must become the littler girl on the bike. I must be willing to listen to the whisper of the way that is better if I am ever to find better. What I hear and see is “death”. This is impossible for me to accept. But I must walk toward it. What it primarily involves is my suspension of “me” as guide. This leaves me very really in a terribly insecure and lonely place. It is likely that only I will have any idea how hard it is to be where I am “not eating.”
I invite you (and I invite myself dear reader) today to take the notion of addiction which is any demand for anything that is malformed, deficient, excessive. To the degree that you or I are ready to produce the more virtuous out of the less virtuous we must be ready to do what will feel like insanity–let go of a part of ourselves, stand by and watch as it stomps its foot and demands, and resist giving it what it wants until it joins us in submitting to what is better.
Next, life in the desert. Life in the wilderness. And, listening to he who calls from the wilderness, “prepare ye the way…” Oh! Something better comes out of the desert? But there is no life in the desert. The desert cannot support anything. But dear reader. The desert is only the way things seem and feel from here. Listen…