Truth Like A Bird

I got my guitar back from the repair shop yesterday, a truly unfortunate happening for residents of the neighboring apartments. For with summer being greeted by the opening of our windows these unsuspecting bystanders might soon to be subjected mixed melodies of an acoustic guitar and noises resembling a hyena with it’s toe stuck in a trash compactor.

You see, my guitar has been in the shop for quite some time and I’ve missed it dearly. Daily I would glance towards its stand with a whimsical sigh, wishing to take the neck in my grasp, to pluck a melody from its strings. At times I would hear songs on the radio and anticipate arriving home to practice them myself, returning instead to my guitar’s vacant seat.

And yet when I brought the guitar home today I placed it in its familiar corner. As soon as I set it down, my mind was drawn away and I hurried on to some other task. I still haven’t touched it.

I was out jogging this week when a large bird swooped across the road, startling me. It must have had a wingspan of nearly four feet. But it flew by so quickly I couldn’t tell what kind of bird it was. I sprinted to the other side of the street, glancing into the trees where it’d disappeared. But it was long gone and I couldn’t spot it. Three days later, the mystery still lingers.

The truth shall set you free, Christ told his disciples. This is all fine and dandy, but it really begs the question:

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

And Jesus didn’t say anything.

I often wish that life had a rewind button for grand moments, the first starry night my infant eyes beheld, the feeling of her hand taking mine, the unknowing last words spoken to a friend. I wish there was a way to revisit these events, moments when truth slipped through my fingers and I didn’t know to grasp it until later.

But I also long for the seemingly trite moments, like the bird soaring over the road in front of me: moments when I would’ve just liked to see truth before it disappeared into the trees.

I often find it difficult to trust a God who held this mysterious truth in one hand and yet emphasized the necessity to receive it with the other. Like a carrot dangling from a stick in front of a horse, truth always seems just out of reach. Still it is close enough to smell, sometimes to the point of insanity leading me to wonder if I am a horse, not merely a big, dumb ass.

But then my eyes wander to my guitar sitting in the corner. And the reality sinks in: something is only what I want until I have it. Oh, the wanderlust of my impatient desires! I have scarcely begun descending one mountain of faith before wondering if the grass will be greener over the next summit, or recalling how plentiful were slopes I’d just left.

My suspicion is that I am not alone in this. And this theory is confirmed by a world consumed with waving banners of momentary satisfaction, by never-ending highways lined with billboards that cut through the hearts of others like me.

So it comes as no surprise that truth is to be found in the desire; how else could I know it? It cannot be handed over to me like a guitar to a distracted man. Nothing would come of it. Had I seen the bird long enough to recognize it, I’m sure I would have forgotten its existence within a matter of minutes. Possession annihilates remarkability.

So truth must remain, at least partially, a mystery, especially to those who wish for it most. It is, the poet Rainier Rilke once proclaimed, like locked doors that we are not yet ready to open. We could not yet have it.

But although the door is locked we hold the key as one holds sand between his fingers. For the key is desire and within the longing the answer lies like exquisite wine in the barrels of our existence. For the truth to be something we can behold it must first age. Otherwise it is just some cheap moonshine on which we become drunk, singing and dancing around our own Babeling towers.

And so truth remains slightly out of my grasp, alluding me as a bird in the wind. The desire moves me forward, one step at a time. And I learn to love the scent of truth almost as much as its fulfillment. The kingdom of God is already among us, after all.

In the meantime, my guitar sits in the corner and I move on to other things. After all, it’s only what I want until I have it.

Luckily for the neighbors.

A Pathway Of Questions

The following facts stopped me in my tracks this past week: according to the poet Evan S. Connell Tokelau Islanders have nine separate words to describe the ripeness of a coconut. This is bizarre and exotic to me. But more relative to my situation as a resident of the upper northern hemisphere is the fact that Eskimos, according to Connell, have twenty words to express the condition of snow.

Despite all this, the poet admits to everyone who has ears to hear: “I have not one word to express my longing”.

Earlier today, I walked over a patch of grass near my apartment for the first time in months. As I did so, I saw light flickering across my pant leg, rippling and flowing on the fabric in an inquisitive manner.

I looked up and saw a snow shovel lying on the lawn just a few feet away. The handle was rusted and the blade cracked; it must’ve been buried beneath snow for most of the winter. A remnant of melted snow rested in the curved blade of the shovel. The sunlight shining off the water was reflecting towards me; I had stepped directly into its path.

And still, I have not one word to express my longing.

Some mornings I take the time to read my Bible over breakfast, sitting down with a bowl of cereal next to me on the kitchen table. I begin reading but soon find that I am no longer looking at the page. I am standing across the room, leaning against the window, staring out into the forest beyond. The Bible sits on the table behind me as though the mere act of opening its cover has driven me to this point: the point where I stand, hand in pockets, looking out into the world that is beyond.

For I have found the source of the light shining across my leg. But with this discovery comes the inevitable and haunting follow-up: where did that water come from? Where was it before? What is the source of the source?

And, above all other questions, why must I know?

Many, like Connell, have gone before me. I read their books and soak up their words. I follow the echo of the voices down corridors of culture, twisting my way through the maze of perceptions and biases I have acquired. Finally, at long last, I come upon their sullen shapes, sitting at a dead end.

What are you doing here? I ask.

Looking, they reply, and it lead me here.

Where is here? What is here?

And they look back at me, straight into my mind’s eye as I stand staring out of my apartment’s window. That is the question, is it not? What is the name for this longing, the beginning and the ending of all my existence, pining and desperation?

There was a man who lived next door to my family in the first home I can remember as a child. The summer we moved in, he began constructing a brick pathway leading from his garage out front to a deck behind his house. He stopped working on it after a few days, leaving a stack of bricks sat next to the unfinished pathway.

I know nor remember nothing of the man save for the following information: he started building a pathway with bricks and for years afterwards whenever we drove by the task remained unfinished, the bricks stacked neatly along its side.

“I’m feeling happy and sad at the same time,” author and screenwriter Stephen Chbosky writes, “and I just want to know that that’s okay.” I want to know too. I have to know because I feel it all the time. I feel warm and cold at the same time, standing by my open window in sunlight of a young spring. I feel it with a Bible open behind me staring out a window into a world of unfinished pathways and melting snow. The thoughts racing through my head are confusing and marvelous, unsettling and reassuring. All at the same time.

Of course: “The point is,” Rainier Rilke reminds me, “to live everything. Live the questions now.”

And so my life is a journey paved with questions; I cannot place my foot upon the ground without us crossing paths, without them dancing across my existence.

And though I don’t know much, I know that I cannot stop. I cannot leave this stack of bricks on the outskirts of my life and pretend like they’re not there. I’m not sure why, but this I know: I cannot stop the laying the bricks.

And so I continue paving, like countless that have gone before me. I take another step toward the Unknown as reflected light dances across my leg and I continue paving a pathway of questions towards the longing I cannot name.