Reading David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech re: the water we swim in:
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.
Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.
It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
“the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”
It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.
If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.
The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
David Foster Wallace was an artist in literature; he could paint with words as Monet did with a brush — dreamy, impassioned impressionism that stirs the heart and lifts the soul. I doubt I will ever know that kind of linguistic talent. But what DFW longed for, what impressed him through the words of Paul or Dostoyevski were their spiritual capacities. I think most artists who want to express beauty or meaning through their art want to touch the elusive moments of Truth, Eternal, Divine.
Perhaps I am still the center of my own universe but I do recognize there is Another, a greater center that holds all of us whirling in our own galaxies. When I stop and listen, just for a moment, I can lay down my need to be the center. I can listen to words of wisdom. I can just be in an infinity of Truth that does not need me but welcomes me as if I’m indispensable.
It is New Year’s Day, 2020, a futuristic date that seems far from my 1960’s childhood. My goals have not changed much in the last ten years, a fact that saddens me a bit for it seems I have made little progress in life. But even if my goals remain the same, I know that I have not. The me of ten years ago wanted a clean house and organized life because inside all was chaos. I wanted control, a sense of my own power, because I felt helpless. I thought I could create inner peace with outer peace. I thought I would find self-acceptability from meeting my own expectations. But my performance never met those expectations. The bar always moved, the failures always exceeded the success.
What I have found in the last ten years is grace in failure. My house is still a mess, I have not taken care of my body very well. And yet I understand in the depths of me that I am loved. I am treasured by ones who I treasure. I am not loved for my perfection; I am loved for who I am (often for the most-imperfect parts of me.) I am invited into the Holy Dance of Creator-God, Jesus & Spirit.
And so I enter this year hopeful. Will my house be organized by the year’s end? Will I have made healthier choices? Will my marriage be stronger, my children more confident? Will I have spent significantly more time listening to God and walking in obedience and love?
I hope so.
Those are the stars in my universe. But they may not necessarily be the stars in Yours, God. What I most want this year is to step out of my own center, to allow my stars to align with Yours. To recognize that I worship You, not me. You hold a perspective I do not have. You have power I do not have. Most importantly, You live and move in grace and love. That is the kingdom that Jesus announced had arrived. Please show me how to live in Your universe, Your kingdom. Please help me walk with You every day.