Pondering the imponderable, as if a fish could explain the meaning of water – we all tend to assume our many layers of presupposed perception of reality is somehow a sufficient explanation of reality. Which is not to suggest that the nature of reality is inscrutable, but rather that it requires a more humble expectation of how what is real might be revealed. Everything that occurs has a cause and effect catalyst underpinning each event – making it a matter of discernment when trying to identify possible causes . . . by placing it in context.
For instance, if a four year old boy tells us he’s wrestling an alligator, we likely smile at his imaginative sense of play. But if an eighty year old man tells us he’s wrestling an alligator, we rightly become concerned that he might be suffering from dementia. In this way, the unreality of the alligator scenario when placed in context, reveals a clearer understanding of what is actually occurring. But this is a simple example of how context can give us clues – but sometimes the clues are far more complex in the way they are embedded in the context . . . because like icebergs – we all have far more beneath the surface than can be seen.
Consider the psychological dysfunction of codependency — when a child of a drug addict or alcoholic parent is raised in the alternate reality created when shame, anger, and hurt, invariably shapes that child’s default perception of reality. Then extrapolate that out over every relationship that child will ever have as a grownup – what framing of reality do you imagine gets promulgated from such a person? Now consider how we are all broken in similar ways, each of us shaped by our own stories, interacting with the brokenness of others – is it any wonder we might be tempted to imagine a reality that better affirms the life we’d rather live?
Then there is the modern notion that our consciousness is nothing more than brain chemistry reacting to electric current – an idea meant to underscore that a materialist universe is the sum total of reality. But ironically, this idea ends up creating the opposite psychologically effect – where people begin to imagine themselves as disembodied beings who can be equally at home in a virtualized environment as being in their bodies. And this is how we become the avatars our devices have begun to portray us as – in a reality we can simply put on and take off like a set of clothes. Until more and more we become hollowed out by the vanity of our own self-declarations . . . pretending that our actual bodies can be redefined as being whatever we say they are.
This is how a culture ends up ontologically adrift, with everyone speaking their own truth, living in their own reality . . . expecting the rest of us to conform to that reality. How does such an ethos not create social dissonance? Which is why we need to reclaim reality from this deconstructed milieu and we need to celebrate the immutable transcendence of our Christian faith in ways that becomes an invitation to return to the sacredness of their own existence as being made in God’s image. For this is the deepest truth of our existence, that allows us to accept each other as both broken and valuable beyond all measure . . . a perception of reality that invariably fosters forgiveness and redemption.
Remember – “love is what designed you for something more”
The rationally-minded rely upon order and pattern, looking for hints and clues, so as to coherently frame an understanding of existence – ever assuming that such an external context will render them a tenable explanation for what is real. While others choose a more existential approach, counting on their experiential intuition to make sense of what reality means to them. But regardless of the approach, whether guided by an internal instinct or an external calculation, each one depends on its own process of perception to interpret the ubiquitously persistent questions of how and why we exist — each one, to some extent, convinced that their perception of reality . . . is reality.
This is the predictable process of cognition and emotion, where everything is evaluated on the subjective continuum between the extemporaneous and the over intellectualized – a span that exemplifies the ceaseless struggle of our hearts and minds to be at peace with our own existence. But what if the peace we seek is beyond the limited scope of what the heart and mind can apprehend? What if there were a more primal longing within us, capable of reconciling what is, with what ought to be – something that wasn’t merely real . . . but was actually more real?
C.S. Lewis spoke of a distinction between what was merely real and what was really real — a distinction that regards the metaphysical (spiritual) as an essential dimension to understanding our own existence. But not as a dimension juxtaposed to the material world; instead one that was always meant, by design, to be in harmony with it. It was in our banishment from the Garden, where we first experienced the crisis of the disharmony of our own existence, because our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in had been broken. So we weren’t evicted from the Garden as part of some arbitrary penalty for breaking some arbitrary rule, rather it was about losing our capacity for living in the full dimensional paradise of Eden.
I have officiated a number of weddings, where I’ve usually shared a brief homely, making a distinction between marriage as a legal transaction, with marriage as sacrament. My point isn’t to diminish the legal aspect of marriage, rather it is to point to the far deeper reality of marriage as sacrament. I point out that those attending haven’t come to merely bear witness to some contractual arrangement sanctioned by the state, but instead to bear witness to the miracle of God binding together two people as one, so that they might share in the joy and hope of believing that God’s love has the power to make something new.
I think of the passage of scripture that likens us to jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7-18), that reaches its crescendo in verse 18 – “. . . as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” The deeper truth, the real reality, all the things that out last and out shine the superficial concerns of our day to day – they all abide in God’s presence, entreating us all to come and remember who we really are . . . for this is the place where everything is more real.
Traveling at the speed of life, we don’t actually know what we think we know, it would be more accurate to say that we are in a constant state of interpretation – constantly reframing our point of reference, in subconscious ways, making micro adjustments. And because we exist within so many layers of context, each insisting upon preeminence – we invariably create a short-hand for triaging our response to each unfolding circumstance. This is all done intuitively, instinctively, pre-cognitively – we are far more complex beings than we could ever hope to completely comprehend . . . but that doesn’t keep us from wanting to imagine a far more explainable version of ourselves.
This is why we are tempted to over-simplify our understanding of reality, vainly anticipating it should conform to our expectations – desperate to reconcile the world we presuppose with the one that actually exists. And all this would merely be an academic distraction if it weren’t so profoundly primal to our self-perception. Yet we leave it in abstraction — allowing the transience of circumstance and the unfiltered narratives of others to contextualize us. For when we allow the explanation of who we are to become ambiguous – invariably, alternative explanations rush into that vacuum.
Now, all of this might seem a bit like a trip down a rabbit hole, until it occurs to you that our culture has already assigned to you a social demographic profile that it expects you to live up to – it’s a readymade explanation of who you’re supposed to be. Such a bloodless explanation is built entirely upon the cultural sub-groups of which you are a member. It’s a calculation meant to subvert any notion of who you are as an individual. Therefore, your only significance is as a constituent member of a group, and who you are as a person has been made largely inconsequential. And that’s just the ditch on one side of the road.
The ditch on the other side of the road is the specious belief that you can be whatever you want to be – that you can somehow simply pronounce your significance into existence. Such a self-affirming solipsism assumes an empty canvas without any preexisting context, and that all relational interactions you experience only have value as you are being served by them. Within this self-involved narrative of your own importance, you’re subconsciously tempted to imagine yourself as self–existing . . . even though only God can be self-existing.
These are the distorted explanations of you that a fallen world offers – either you are to be subjugated by the anonymity of tribal group-think, or you are to be beguiled by the self-delusion of believing that your significance in this world can be conjured up as an act of will. But there is a simpler explanation of you that normally takes a lifetime to unpack – you are the beloved of God! And if you can begin to wrap your head around this foundational reality – then not only will you begin to develop a truer perspective of yourself, you will also begin to recognize the role you play in the life of other’s . . . a role to which God is calling you. So not only is it a practical and workable explanation of you – it’s a fundamental explanation of everything else.
. . . so we place our faith in the one who is able to redeem all things.