Knowing Yourself (1 of 5)

Back in high school, if memory serves, I had a teacher who devoted a couple of days to a discussion about the self-assessing question of “Who am I?” As I recall, it was a meandering stroll through an existential waste land. And as you’ve likely already deduced, given that we were a room full of hormonally charged, largely bemused, malcontent teenagers, we were grudgingly participating – because after all, we knew exactly who we were . . . we were bored. Well mostly, except for that one guy who kept challenging the premise of how the teacher was addressing the question . . . and he will remain unnamed.

Know thyself” — this was already a known maxim of Plato’s day, as the need for being self-aware is timeless. So at the risk of chasing this rabbit too far down the psychobabble rabbit hole, I want to ruminate this concept. But given that it is a direct subset concept to the mother of all philosophical questions “Why do we exist?” – It invites a measure of philosophical consideration. But I’ll be foregoing the panoramic view of the forest, in favor of pondering what it might feel like to be a tree . . . how you and I might seek humble honesty when approaching the question of who, and why, we are.

So where do we begin? We are such a mixed bag of emotionally disparate ideas about who we might be. We are ever being pulled between pride and shame, ever comparatively referencing ourselves against the moving target of our perception of who we think others might be and how they might view us. So whatever we might glean from this wild menagerie of random thoughts will likely not yield much in the way of discernment — like a mirage, it can only tempt us into thinking we can simply take a peek inside and know with some degree of certainty what any of it might mean.

unexamined-life-6-9It’s really no surprise that we’re incapable of objectivity when it comes to ourselves – but perhaps, through the eyes of another, we can uncover some clue, some insight into the truth. But then again, everyone else is mired in their own mixed bag of self-informed misconceptions as well – so the idea that they might offer an authoritative opinion about who we might be, would be like looking through an opaque glass filled with misshaped shadows — hardly definitive or discernible. So whether it’s our own self-referencing musings, or the existential opinions of others, the best we can do is to tease around the edges of the question.

I know for those of you who regularly read my blog, this is a common theme – but I just can’t help it. There’s simply something therapeutically confessional about owning my inadequacy, to end the pretense that my perspective could ever be anything other than self-serving. As such a confession forces me to realize that it is only because of the mercies of God that I could ever hope to even begin to know who I am . . . to be set free of myself enough to accept his appraisal of me.

Because here’s the thing – there is no longing more primal than wanting to be truly known for who you are . . . and to be loved anyway. And we are so woefully inadequate at giving that to one another, let alone ourselves, with any level of consistency or significance. But in the love of God, we can not only have the courage to unflinchingly know ourselves, but we can learn to love ourselves and others as God loves us – to love extravagantly and without hesitation. Because this is exactly how God’s self-sacrificing love works — empowering us to let go of the self long enough to authentically love and be loved.

Here’s a David Wilcox song for those times when you look inside
. . . and discover those empty lonely rooms

A Perspective Set Free (3 of 4)

As an artist and a student of philosophy, an honest perspective is essential. If there is no counter balance to my self-referencing subjectivity, I end up gravitationally locked into my own orbit – which makes for a pretty small universe. Both the artist and the philosopher are tasked with getting outside of the box enough so as to observe and interpret what’s happening in the box. So is this even possible – can we actually remove ourselves from the center of our own universe? This is precisely what I believe my Christian faith calls me to do – the act of worshipping God, forces me to recalibrate my perspective, to loosen my grip enough on my own universe to recognize the larger universe within which God has placed me.

Some may find this beyond counter-intuitive and downright antithetical to having an open mind. The idea of being tethered to an ego maniacal deity that requires praise is considered the very epitome of narrow mindedness. But more often than not, this is the conclusion of someone who is unaware of just how self-referencing their atheistic perspective truly is – filtering everything through the egocentric assumption that they are being open-minded by ironically dismissing something outside of their paradigm.

God doesn’t need our praise. It is in fact, we who require the clarity that comes from discovering that we are not God. In praising God we are given the gift of surrendering the little fiefdoms we’ve constructed around our opinions, of thinking our existential assessments are anything more than self-serving explanations. Rather, it is the transcendence found in God that becomes the fulcrum on which all else turns, by which all understanding is contextualized . . . because if a creator God actually does exist – then logic dictates that in order to truly understand creation one must first attempt some understanding of God.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAbXAAAAJDg1ZjZlY2UxLWNkMTgtNDY4Mi1hZjg1LTQwNzEyYmZiMzljOASo with my compass finally fixed on the true north of reality, I begin to see others, no longer through the limitations of my own evaluation, but as God sees them. They are the beloved of God, made in his image, given an immeasurable value. I am no longer free to steal from them dignity, or place myself in judgement of them – we are all equally in need of God’s grace . . . a transcendent appraisal of equality.

In contrast, the self-referencing person assumes that because they choose not to judge – that they are somehow non-judgmental. But that’s not the same thing as realizing that they aren’t actually qualified or entitled to be such an arbiter. Arguably, existential assessments of equality are by their very arbitrary nature inequitable – lacking an immutable foundation.

So if my perspective is to ever be set free, it will not occur by feigning objectivity, it will require something (someone) larger than myself to expand it for me. And like all artists, it is my resident desire to widen my perspective, to see what isn’t being seen, to be able to see differently what is in plain sight. This is likely why artists are so eclectic—always looking for new influences, a different take, another way around . . . to experience a new reaction – to unlock a new response.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

Longing for a New Response

I chase my last thought back to a Pavlovian predetermined response
Kept under lock and key where I work this circle

Imagination is finite like the glimmer of a firefly
Against the star-flung beauty of the night
The light of a billion suns burning for a million years
To the forced perspective of my foolish eye, appears similar

Earth-bound dust of God’s breath
I capture light and peer into this mysterious black
Holding out my candle—longing for a new response.