Sometimes, the things that are so close to us are so difficult to see.
At the most obvious concrete level, we can not, for example, see our own nose with out the aide of a mirror. We can go cross eyed and perhaps see the very tip. But no matter what kind of optical manipulations we engage in, we are not going to see the top part of our nose, the part between our eyes. Consider this a metaphor.
It is so hard to see things that are too close to who we are. So, today, I will begin with something maybe far away from where you are.
Imagine a ‘tween in the month of December. She is desperate for the latest video game system. She longs for it, pines after it, makes arrangements and combines the financial might of her family so that she might receive the game for Christmas.
Pop quiz: How does she feel about the game by January?
We already know how this story ends! By January? She is bored. It did not deliver.
And perhaps it is a little closer to home if I think about technological gizmos that simplify our lives: the newest i-phone. The fastest computer. A microwave with a bunch of new settings…
We might want some or all of these things. And truly, we know how it is going to end: we will get it. We will have some fun with it for a little while. But sooner than later… we are back to who we are. We back to how we are. Soon something else looks sparkly and fun. And we set our sights on that.
The mind-blowing thing about this drama is how we know the way it is going to end, and yet we do it anyway. It is hard to imagine that a person could reach adulthood with out realizing that as we seek out these sorts of things, inevitably they will disapoint.
Those things that we do not have take on a power and a beauty. They shine! We know that the power will go away. We know that the beauty will fade. We know that the shine will go out. Because the power, the beauty, and the shine, they do not actually belong to the object at all. They belong to us: they are things that we project onto the things we want.
I have just begun The Divine Magician by Peter Rollins. He opens the book by connecting us to Adam and Eve. He suggests that very act of making the fruit forbidden is what gives it at least some of it’s power.
To me, this is an interesting thing. One of the implications of this idea is that materialism, greed, and disatisfaction are rooted in our failed attempt to find something that truly satisfies. We all have a whole to fill. It is so big that no physical thing in the world can plug it up. And yet, we are knuckleheads. So we try. Over, and over, and over again.
Adam and Eve had the oppurtunity for relationship. That would have filled them. And also, it would have averted the whole mess. If, when the snake had come to Adam and Eve, and it had begun to ask its questions and spread his lies, if they had engaged in relationship with their creator, if they had gone to God and asked him, perhaps it would have ended things differently.
But this is part of the point I am coming to realize. If the power, the beauty, and the shine isn’t in the objects, if it comes from us, then the question becomes: where in us does it come from? Why do we make the things we want so powerful?
I suspect that the answer is rooted in our hubris, our arrogance, our entitlement. When we want something and then we get it, we are acting out this drama of entitlement. We are pushing foreward a narrative which is a pretty fun story to live. That story could be titled, “I can have everything I want.” The subtitle: “because I am God.”
There is a popular understanding (not incompatible with the scripture, but really fleshed out in the fictional works of Milton) that Satan fell because he wanted to be God; he did not want to submit.
And so we are not only re-enacting the garden of Eden in our every day life. Perhaps Eden itself was a re-enactment of a story that goes back even farther in time.
On my own, there is no way to escape this. I am selfish and petty and I keep going after things even though I know they won’t give me what I truly need. Getting this things feeds some inner beast, some inner delusion that I can have whatever I want, that I even deserve it. If I was left to my own devices, I would be doomed.