|Wait for it, wait for it . . .|
It’s odd. When you’re in church and you’re singing How Great Thou Art, and the preacher’s expounding on the Beatitudes and the choir is singing . . . and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, it’s easy to see everything that was, is and will be through the window of those words, those emotions, those harmonies.
And then you go home and you listen to the news of what politicians, kings and armies, and corporations are doing to the world, and that becomes reality and you bristle in disappointment that the world is so material and crass, that it’s all competitive and heartless and grasping and nothing like the Kingdom of God.
And maybe you pick up Stephen Hawking and read a conceptualization of the universe to which our planet and all that’s in it are integral, where distance is measured in millions of light years and the earth as we know it is a speck, a wart on the leg of a flea on a dog’s back in some incomprehensibly massive “everything” and . . . the glory of the Lord shall be revealed seems like a long-forgotten page in a child’s book of rhymes.
Or you take a walk in the woods, see the stars as poets have seen them for centuries, lose yourself in a Manet landscape and the whole idea of belief falls away and the universe—you realize—is inside you, a something in your brief soul that is, in the end, the only reality there may ever be. It’s joy, it’s discovery, it’s art, it’s music. For a moment, sheer exhilaration casts off all those other “truths” like spent, dried shells.
Is it any wonder that the concept of believing is being rethought by anyone who is well-off enough to own access to many different windows: television, radio, newspapers, the internet, books, lectures, schools, galleries, etc. Unless one is able to hold competing “beliefs” without too much dissonance, life becomes a game of accepting this, rejecting that or the other way ‘round. Not that that won’t always be the case to some extent, but it seems to me that the “everything” has to be—in the end—one thing, and that the apparent worlds have to be—logically—one world. In other words, the “everything” is a unity, no matter which window opens upon it at any given time.
For most of us, most of the time, living actively in the idea of a unified “everything” is just not possible; it’s a case of trying to force a litre of water into a teacup; there just isn’t room. Lately, I’ve been finding some solace in exercising what is called in German, Gelassenheit, most closely translated into English as “yieldedness,” a sentiment that’s familiar to us in the proverb illustrated above and translated: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference (generally attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr).” By all means, enjoy studying the “everything” through all the windows available to you, but yield to the knowledge that in all time to this date, no one has been found who is able to gaze through all the windows at once with the sense of the completeness for which we long so desperately.
There are plenty of witnesses around who will gladly draw the blinds for you on all the windows but the one that is their view of choice. Gelassenheit, to Niebuhr, never meant settling for ignorance, for the single-window understanding of the world. To that, I would guess, Niebuhr would say that choosing to explore a broader—as opposed to a manageable—range of possibilities falls into the category of “changing the things we can,”
. . . and that takes courage.