Wednesday, August 01, 2007

4, 3

4. We all seek to fill some intangible lack in our lives.

The sheer amount of spiritual material initially shocked me when I began to work at Borders. I remember taking the store tour and seeing, in order, "General Metaphysics," "Magic," and the section that contained so much weird material we could only call it "Other Divination." In my naivety, I laughed at this seemingly insulting label.

I laugh no longer because this is dead serious.

People search for something out there. What it is, I do not know. What they hope it will do for them, I do not know. Borders introduced me to Positive Thinking, "The Secret," and "The Law of Attraction," all of which say the exact same thing but have somehow marketed themselves to individual riches. I discovered that people really do believe in magic, and not Merlin from "Sword and the Stone" magic, but magic that openly claims the names of Satan and the Anti-Christ. Wicca flourishes. A co-worker of mine sports a pro-Druid bumper sticker on his car. The Self-Help section has taught me a new term: "New Age."

Here I thought our only options were Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Atheism.

And this only confines our search to that which we label "spiritual." Nevermind the role sports, pets, computers, kids, cars, marijuana play in our search for meaning.

What really fascinates me is the lack of "rational logic" which much of these ideologies can claim. "The Secret" sold millions and millions of copies on the idea that one can create one's own reality simply by thinking about it. Magic has always existed in the realm of childhood, Halloween, and fairy tales. Even the idea of placing sports as the sun around which one's universe orbits seems logically asinine.

I understand the cynic's claim that Christianity lacks reason. We do claim, among other things, that a man came back to life from the dead. From a worldly standpoint, I will not argue how foolish the Gospel may appear. What strikes me is how foolish most of our soul searches really are. Perhaps Christians and much of the world do not play on such different intellectual playing fields as the cynic may like to claim.

If these books sit on the self, they must sell. 'Tis the rule of capitalistic success. The presence of all of this diverse array of spiritual material provides strong evidence for some sort of existential lack in the lives of the public. We must be looking for something with the kind of money we spend here. Quite honestly, we must be jumping around from idea to idea in order for it all to find the success which it has.

Rick Warren sold millions. The Secret sold millions. They say not the same thing.

I have read it quoted that a God-shaped hole exists in the heart of every person. If I learned one thing from my work environment, it was this: that some kind of hole inhabits that intangible called heart. In this post, I shan't be so bold as to offer a hypothesis as to the hole's shape. I will only attest to its existence for which the mere presence of Borders provides evidence.

We all seek to fill some intangible lack in our lives.

3. Death dominates this world.

Our response to death has captured the greatest of minds. Shakespeare said to have kids. Marvell said to have sex. Donne said to simply ignore the tolling bell.

If one thinks on life at all, one must think on death.

The lover of cliche will say that life guarantees nothing but death and taxes. A glib line for certain, but one which may hold more truth than we acknowledge if we delve into it.

Now you might ask, "Humphries, you just learned this this year? Where have you been? What have you been looking at?"

Indeed, I had family, friends, and (sometimes harder) peers die in middle school, high school, and college. Death is nothing new. What surprised me was its frequency and the world's response to it.

This year death hit fast, often, and rather viciously. Early in my year, the father of a co-worker passed away. Then the infant child of my roomate's boss died in her sleep. Earlier this year, my college friend Jason Ray died in a freak automobile accident. Just last week, Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser died suddenly of a massive heart attack. And the list goes on. . . .

What horrified me even more than the actual deaths was the different response I found these deaths met with. Let me provide a contrasting example. A student passed away my senior year of college from a three story fall out a dorm window. The university shut down in the days following this tragedy. Death isn't supposed to happen at college, we said. He was too young, the campus lamented. Why, why, why, the halls echoed.

Death is not supposed to happen in college. It is supposed to happen beyond it.

This year my co-worker's father passes away. She is devastated. We console her, send cards, and. . . . get back to work. You see, in this post-college life, death, like the shit that it is, happens. People die. If we were close to the person, we grieve while the rest of the world shrugs its shoulders and says:

"That's life."

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Death is the opposite of the life in every manner conceivable. To say of death, "that's life" is a lie of the grandest and most tragic order. But this is how we respond. Death is inevitable, and there is nothing we can do about it but submit when it's our time. Death dominates.

I have become convinced that this knowledge of Brad Phillis's "certainty of the uncertain" grounds all that troubles us in this world. The reality of our own death is certain, and I believe no one, no one, can fully ignore this whether they realize it or not. I have become convinced that how we respond to this reality - whether we ignore it, submit to it, run from it, hide from it, or otherwise - determines how we live our lives.

Death does dominate this world. But it does not reign. . . .

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