There is a peculiarity about being up early when it is not required. More specifically there is a peculiarity to doing it on a day when required of nearly no one. It is a Saturday, a non-workday for this neighborhood, and the clock tells me it is hours before anything opens. It is quiet and the sun and temperature have conspired for a perfect day. It is merely a time to think. Perhaps write down a few of those thoughts.
I’ve a desire to write, but no desire for a topic. This is the beauty of a blog: one is not beholden to great language and thought. It is enough to be impressed by a bright day with no work. It is enough to let tumult go for a few hours while the sun’s climb to the center of the sky is a gentle one and the cars are still parked on Thome and no one has a particular place to be.
At moments like these, it is really only oneself. Even in the busiest households, days with no work or education are times of coffee and staring out the window. Very soon though there will be busyness.
This is a brusque city, at once a close friend and a brutal machine. It is a place that is difficult to have to oneself. This is why those weekend early mornings are so important. It is one of the few times given to thought one can have alone. Yet my thoughts race beyond these personal things to the onslaught of life and things required. It rushes ahead to the news and the reality I have a small life, at least in the same sense as everyone else. In the overall scope of things, no one lives large. The biggest lesson to having time to just oneself is the realization it is not about oneself or the largeness of that person.
We want large lives. We feign for the attention of the masses. We want to know our labor matters in big ways. We long for meaning and a meaning that comes from us alone. We want everything we say and do to matter and matter in big important ways. If an early morning when few are awake and facing a day removed from any obligation is good for anything, it is for forgetting this. It is one of those rare times when it is okay to be small and realizing we are really always this way.
A thought kept coming to me this week. If we are seeing rightly, why is our particularity of such great concern? We are a creature belonging to that larger than ourselves. We understand that best in the bonds of family and community. And even that points to a larger reality. We are first and foremost bridled to that which Tillich calls “the Ground of all Being.” That is, we are first children of God. That may well be first thought of as a theological statement, but it is also a sociological one.
We are tearing ourselves apart. That is apparent not only in the political arena, but in the means to which we formulate our worlds. And in our thought, it is our world. How often do we gather around a table looking not at one another but down at our phones? Given a small community to which we are to be attentive, we instead incorporate our company into everything we see on a small screen. And in doing this we do not so much ignore those around us, but enjoin them to a larger world to be had at our fingertips, which we proceed to pull into ourselves centering ourselves in the most literal way.
In reality we are the center of nothing, but a world we’ve created ourselves. This has been accelerated by social media, but that has only been a tool in becoming the most narcissistic people the world has ever known, a narcissism contributing nothing to community or the larger world, but serving only ourselves. Our humanity has always made us want this, but now we are afforded an ease of acquiring it that has never existed until recent time. In fact, these words will soon be shared in a way that few will see, but will also come with the self-congratulating feeling that millions will have access to them.
The problem here is we are restless people. We race to acquire “friends,” post photos, write words, act witty, and curate things of interest to us that are liked by others only because these others want us to like what is of interest to them. We accumulate experience and share it rather than holding it to ourselves and we treat community as a body count. In all of this we have made our individuality a thing that is the center of the world and this on account of our restlessness. We do this because we want to live large and yet we are not large at all. This is where a sociological premise becomes a theological reality.
We are not large. We are a creature of a particular beauty, but it is a particular one not given the expanse of everything. We become restless because we realize this and this leads us to fill our lives with everything we can and go on to make that the ground from which we not only experience things, but seek to make it the ground for which others may do the same. In doing this we are estranged from community and ultimately from that larger than ourselves.
Deep within ourselves is another realization. It is had best at those times when we alone with ourselves because it at those moments we know we do not hold the center. At times like these we feign for that which is called the undiscovered country. We know it is the place where we are not, yet looking out into the distance we think we catch a glimpse of it. At these times we rise above our collective experience to know we are part of something larger and it is here the heart belongs.
St. Augustine was a man who had such a moment. It led his eyes to glance a passage in Romans to realize that our restlessness (that which Tillich calls estrangement) is only satisfied by rest that is to be found in God. One does not have to be a Christian or even believe in God to know this. It is evidenced in the feeling we all have when we know that we ourselves are not whole and yet we experience the longing to be part of the whole. When we do have such an experience, it is then we know we do not live large, but that is of no matter, for our smallness is that which finds rest in a greater thing and a thing more real than our self-centered and imagined worlds.
Image: The Milky Way from Joshua Tree. We are no where near the center of that galaxy and none of us is as long lived as that tree.