Eminem, Walt Whitman, and Ecclesiastes
From the time we are born, we hear the whispers. Sometimes the sound might feel more like faint echoes from days long gone. At other times, the sense that we are a part of a story that is bigger than ourselves seems to shout from the mountain tops.
The ancient writing of Ecclesiastes suggests that all of us hear those whispers. In fact, it is part of what it means to be human. God has “put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
So, the idea is that we have a sense that there is something more than the transitory, fleeting life that we often see played out before us day by day. Indeed, there is a bigger story being told. But, we also have the frustration of knowing there is a larger story but not really knowing exactly what it is (“we cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end”).
This “knowing” but “not knowing” puts us in a seemingly precarious situation. It makes us dependent and contingent creatures. This creates a genuine angst which is designed to plunge us deeply into a dependence which is our created design.
Many simply numb themselves to the longings of their hearts, preferring not to think about or consider these whispers of a larger story.
For others, the angst of knowing but not knowing is fought with a fierce self-determination that says “I will be somebody. I will make a name for myself. I will know the story because I will create it.” Nowhere is this better portrayed than in the masterful lyrics of Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem). From his song “Lose Yourself”:
Stay in one spot, another day of monotony
Has gotten me to the point, I’m like a snail I’ve got
To formulate a plot, or end up in jail or shot
Success is my only %&*$#&% option – failure’s not
Mom, I love you but this trailer’s got to go
I cannot grow old in Salem’s Lot
So here I go it’s my shot
Feet fail me not
This may be the only opportunity that I got
The idea of needing to “formulate a plot” springs from the genuine angst of desiring a larger story but not knowing what it is. However, formulating our own plots are always lesser stories than the story of eternity, the story that God is telling. So, while they might bring some satisfaction, these lesser plots never deliver the goods. The idea that “this may be the only opportunity that I got” betrays the desperation and fear of trying to write our own story.
What lesser stories have you believed will give you a taste of the transcendent? A relationship, a career, a certain lifestyle? Striving to be a “good person” can even be a plot that we formulate to satisfy our angst.
The great American poet, Walt Whitman, surveyed the desperation of the world and drew a different conclusion:
O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
There is a powerful play and we get to contribute a verse! Rather than formulating a plot, we have an opportunity to contribute to the story that God is telling. What this requires is humility. We don’t create the plot … we take direction from the writer. He doesn’t tell us the whole story but asks us to trust that He is telling a good story. So, there is a “knowing” – we know that there is a great, grand, good story. But, there is a “not knowing” – we don’t know exactly how all the plot twists and turns fit together.
Author Andreas Ebert offers the following: “If we are unwilling to live askew for a while, to be set off balance, to wait on the ever spacious threshold, we remain in the same old room all our lives. If we will not balance knowing with a kind of open ended not knowing – nothing seems to happen. Thus it is called ‘faith’ and demands living with a certain degree of anxiety and holding a very real amount of tension.”
Humility is a virtue that doesn’t come easily in this technological age where we don’t believe there is much we can’t know or much we can’t do. However, it is only when we embrace humility that are we able to hold the “not knowing” and listen to the director as we play our part in the powerful play. Humility assuages the angst and ushers in a genuine freedom and rest because dependence is our created design. The beauty of humility is the recognition that we are not in control of the story. Not being “in control” at first feels like a death but it is death that leads to life. Life is relationship. Relationship with the story teller.
What does/will it look like for you to let go of needing to know and simply take His direction for your part in the story He is telling?