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.

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God Versus Truth

“What is truth?”

This is the question Jesus posed to Pilate at his trial, nearly 2000 years ago.

Today, I still don’t know if I’ve heard an answer that completely satisfies me. Yes, I know Jesus made the proclamation “I am the way, the truth and the life” but what does that mean? Beyond the clichés, beyond the Sunday school answers and the platitudes, what is truth?

Pop culture looks for it constantly. I’m haunted by the lyrics of songwriter Jim Adkins: “If you always knew the truth / then the world would spin around you / are you dizzy yet?” And I’m sure there’s a few readers who will reference the famous Christopher McCandless quote (with apologies to Thoreau), stating: “rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness…give me truth.”

There have been two significant times in my walk as a Christian when I was close to, what many evangelicals will refer to as “losing my faith”. One time I actually did. But, by the grace of God, my fling with atheism was the intellectual equivalency of a drunken one-night stand; I quickly slipped out the door with a look of shame, wondering how I got there. While both of these times in my life were very different, in retrospect I see one common thread: both of my doubts in the faith were fueled by my search for truth.

And so I make this proposition: I’d like to suggest that while God is truth, truth is not necessarily God.  A square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not necessarily a square. So truth, as we’ve come to know it in our subjective psyches, does not equate to God.

If we seek God, we will find truth. But if we seek truth we may not necessarily find God. Whether this is due to finding a skewed or misrepresented version of truth or because truth itself is an elusive characteristic of God is not the point of this discussion, nor am I the judge of it. What I know is a simple fact: many people have embarked on the search for truth, and found themselves on a road other than that of the Truth. Myself being one of them.

And the reason for such mishaps? Simply put, God is so far outside the parameters of truth, of logic, that it takes a leap of faith to reach Him. Today that leap of faith requires a leap of abandonment to the labels, lenses and predispositions of our own notion and will. Nothing else will cut it. Until we take that leap our journey and exploration for truth will lead us short of God, to the point where faith is required. If, however, truth is not the means to an end but and end in itself, then that leap of faith will be illogical.

Picture a large canyon, on one side is truth, and on the other God, with a huge chasm in between. That chasm represents the leap of faith we all must take in order to truly believe God is who He claims He is. If we come searching for truth, we will find ourselves on one side of the chasm, staring down into the abyss, contemplating how illogical any movement (let alone jumping) would be.  Why risk it? We came searching for truth, and found it, so why attempt to leap across to the other side for a God that wasn’t our aim in the first place? If we find ourselves searching for truth, and short of God, we may very well look to other sources for that truth, and dispel the notion of God completely.

So where does this leave us? Well it leaves us in a very precarious position on that requires reflection. We are a nation of searching cynics. And what do we claim to look for in our wanderlust of intellect? Truth, facts, theories and understanding. Within this it is easy for truth to become an idol. After all, truth is by no means evil. In fact it is pure; it is an attribute of God. But let us remember that an idol is rarely evil in and of itself, it is the desire of our hearts that places it upon the throne and makes it an idol. Truth is good, it is noble, and as Christians we should seek it. But what we should seek above all else is God.

If God is our God, then the idea of truth being secondary in our desire shouldn’t make us queasy. But if we place God below the throne of our hearts and proclaim “yes, I will take you, as long as you line up with what I find to be truth” then we have entered the most dangerous of spiritual realms. We are all held on the tight rope of faith, by grace, from taking an intellectual dive into what is not only not true but more importantly not God.

Therefore, let us seek God. Let God be on the throne of our heart, and our search for truth merely as a means to the end of knowing and loving God more completely. I don’t ever want to be known as someone who sought truth, but someone who sought God and by His grace stumbled upon infinite truth, of which God has always been the source.

Sunday Quotes: When I Love My God

“But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of the body nor the glory of time, not the brightness of light shining so friendly to the eye, not the sweet and various melodies of singing, not the fragrance of flowers and unguents and spices, not manna and honey, not limbs welcome to the embraces of the flesh:it is not these that I love when I love my God. And yet I do love a kind of light, melody, fragrance, food, embracement when I love my God; for He is the light, the melody, the fragrance, the food, the embracement of my inner self-there where is a brilliance that space cannot contain, a sound that time cannot carry away, a perfume that no breeze disperses, a taste undiminished by eating, a clinging together that no satiety will sunder. This is what I love when I love my God.”

– Saint Augustine; The Confessions