Thursday, September 10, 2015

All those who Wander are not Lost: A Study in Nothingness

"When Monday comes 
I want nothing 
Come Tuesday morning I want the same 
The days and nights fly by 
Looking to embrace the nothing of the everyday...."
-Yo La Tengo, "Everyday" from the album:  And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.

Much of my early life was lived by such reverberations.  I don't want to bash it.  It had it's appeals.  No burdens, no responsibilities.  Just drift about.  Ironically enough I live in a similar way today at times.  I'm in the arms of God.  I have no idea what will happen today.  I want nothing.  I want the same tomorrow.  And all is well.  God has me.  My destiny is secured.  All is well.

There have been many wants in my life.  I want this, I want that.  There have been many pleasures.  Where did the road lead?  Where did the trail move to?  A ghetto, a clearing in the woods, filled with the lost.  Where do we go from here, I would ask.  

How many games of COD are enough?  How many run throughs on easy, hard and hardest?  Is it fulfilling?  How many hours on World of Warcraft until it's enough?  When is it fulfilling?  What is the purpose of it?  What is the meaning?  How many hours stoned on pot watching movies of other people doing exciting things?  How many nights clinking beers with the local kids until it's finally perfect?  How many nights with women, with men, until we've found an ultimate relationship?  When oh when will that relationship transcend the shackles of everyday life and give birth to real meaning?  Where is true love?  When can I have it?  Will it be enough?  

How many hours of sleep?  How many days at the job?  How many promotions until godhood?  Which horoscopes?  How about a tarot reading?  How many walks in the middle of the night thinking about the meaning of life?  How many days on oxycontin?  How many hours awake on methamphetamine?  How many cheeky speeches?  When will it be enough?  What will fill that empty place of meaninglessness?  What will finally give an answer?  When will the pleasure transcend itself?  

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
 -Ecclesiastes 1:2-9 (NIV)

My soul, my being, everything I am is only engilded by one thing, by one force, by one person: Jesus Christ.  I am a turnsoul to him alone.  But it wasn't always that way.  For many a year I traveled in darkness, figuratively, literally during my endless night-walks.  Back in college at the University of Wisconsin I lived in the campus dorms for a spell.  At that time I had gone into abstinence from all drugs and alcohol, though I still smoked cigarettes at that time.  I remember I really felt alienated from the youngsters in the dorms around me.  I was 22, most of them were 19-20.  Instead of spending time partying with them, I would go out, literally every night.  Seven days a week.  I would leave the dorms between 10 and 11 PM and walk the streets.  Always at night, winter or summer, I would walk for at least 2 hours a night.  Usually around 3 hours a night.  I would bring an MP3 player and listen to Indie rock music.  And I would let my mind wander.  

Why am I here?  What is the meaning of life?  Where do I go from here?  

But do you know what was even more puzzling?  Why am I the only one who cares?  Why does everyone else not seem to think about such things?  I know some do.  But I am convinced the vast majority simply do not care.  They like the popsicles and pleasures of daily life, listen to Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, go get married, have kids, work a job, and never think about why.  Nothing could be odder to an INFP like myself.  

All that is gold does not glitter; not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither; deep roots are not reached by the frost. J. R. R. Tolkien

Meaninglessness and nothingness have often clawed at me.  I'm just not a person who can do something normal every day and feel satisfied.  I've always been curious.  I've always wanted to pull up the curtain behind the play put before us and find out what's really going on back there.  

It's so hard to tell what is true and what is false.  It's very muddy.  The truth is easily concealed.  False information is easily put out there by media and government.  Thankfully we have the Bible.  The Bible is one book that I've studied for authenticity a great deal.  And it's one book, one word that I fully trust.  I don't often trust institutions or ideas.  But the Bible is perfect.  It's the real, preserved word of God.  

There is a certain freedom in nothingness, in abandon.  But at the end of the day we still want substance.  We want reality.  At least I do.

Why does a man walk into empty places?  Why does a man walk into darkness?  He's looking for something.  Maybe he's looking for himself.  There is a lot of noise in the world.  In the night, all alone, it's just you, God, and the stars.  

Post-modernity is a move toward nothingness.  It's the mood of emptiness, the response to the final bankruptcy of modernity, materialism.  The philosophical heart of man must wander off into the dark to find himself once again.  Or maybe to find God.  

John Gray wrote in his landmark book "Straw Dogs" that there is no truth, no morality, no personhood, and no hope.  He said that humanists think there is something good about people.  He asks, "Why don't you pick up a newspaper?"  Imagine, any of the 365 days of the year over all the years since there has been a human written newspaper would one grabbing the paper for today ever struggle to find such evidence on the front page?  Never.  Not even once.  It is a fact.  Why can't it be seen?  Because we don't want to see it.  

Everything is getting better despite the evidence?  Apparently not.  Think of the terrible twentieth century.  How might our current century unfold?  World peace or World War III?  Who could say?  

Nothingness pervades the secular worldview.  The universe exploded from nothing.  Nothing became something.  Lifeless rocks became human beings given billions of billions of billions.  Nothing became solid matter.  Nothing became stars.  Nothing exploded.  The laws of nothingness became somethingness.  The laws of nothing created something.  How can laws create?  Has 50 + 50 ever put $100.00 in your pocket?  I wish it would.  

If in fact John Gray was right in Straw Dogs, there would be no way to know.  In fact John Gray says there is no such thing as truth.  Then  how could he say what he's writing is true or false?  If personhood is suspect, who wrote the book?  Why even have language?  Why write a book?  And if you do, isn't language just another construct that should be considered suspect?  

These are things I think about on my walks into the nothingness.  Of course it only seems like nothingness.  In fact my feet are hitting the black top.  My eyes are seeing the lack of sunlight, and the star light and the moonlight shining meekly through the woods about the area, giving a pleasant feeling of calm quietness.  

Generations come, and generations go, there is nothing new under the sun.  With more wisdom comes more grief.  

Often I'll collapse after a long day on my bed, and listen to the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.  It is so comforting to be reminded how meaningless everything in this life is, save one thing: the message of the Gospel.

But I've hated life, because the work done under the sun seemed quite grievous to me.  It seemed quite empty and meaningless.  Before I encountered Christ I lived the life of a dead man.  In many ways that seemed true.  I pursued anything that was foolish and destructive.  I didn't see it that way at the time.  I thought was "exploring" and "experimenting."  Little did I know was embroidering my own straight jacket.  We humans tend to be so good at self destruction.  Our hearts fall for the wrong gal, the wrong guy, and the ones who treat us so well we can't stand being around.  There are so many ironies that embattle the human experience.  There are so many ways that we simply trip ourselves up.  I know I did.  I was caught in every snare.  I jumped in every time.  And I went back to it many times, like a dog returns to his vomit (as the scriptures say).  

I'm convinced that every pursuit we as humans take outside of knowing and being known by God will end up in that awful sense of empty nothingness.  It is prescient.  I've felt it so many times.  I've felt it so many times when working toward an ultimate and finding it wanting.  I've felt it a million times.  I've always been so excited for the thing that would finally make things OK, and it never worked.  Emptiness always.  It is such an evil feeling, realizing my goal has been passed and I'm not cured, and I don't feel any better.  I could just scream, loudly at that moment for the sheer, stark injustice of it all.  All of that work for NOTHING!

What has it been for you?  Money?  Business success?  Maybe the perfect husband or wife?  Or some sort of love relationship that would finally transcend the barriers of reality and bring a perfect feeling?  That one is common for we millennials.  We grew up listening to too much Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service.  Great music though, I love it.  But humanist lyrics telling us that the perfection of reality is found in a penultimate romantic love?  Really?  Reminds me of a song called "Clark Gable" by the Postal Service which included the verse "I want so badly to believe that there is truth, that love is real. And I want life in every word to the extent that it's absurd."  I respect the honesty of that expression.  The heart calls for meaning, for substance, for the total overcoming of the senses.  Or the 2011 Death Cab for Cutie album called "Codes and Keys."  Who can recall that song off Codes and Keys that went "only our love will remain."  "All else will fade away, only our love."  But does our love alone carry the weight of eternity, history, human existence?  It doesn't.  Or who can forget Travis Morrison and Dismemberment Plan's album Change?  In "Sentimental Man" Morrison sings "There is no fate that divides our day, no spirits hard at work, no unseen hand at play
people talk like it's a given thing,I don't what they mean -- nor, I suspect, do they."  Yet he groped for the ultimate in his expressions, as so many of us millennials have.  We've groped for it without even realizing it, in our own existential explorations of how we feel.  And how it feels to feel the way we feel, and why we might feel that way.  In the first track on Change Morrison declares his position of no need for the supernatural, yet on track 3 aptly titled "Superpowers" he sings, "I have cried so hard for hours and not known why, I never do, I've been knocked down flat by joy that makes my face pulse like a sugar high, I've been cornered by the screams of a body as it freed itself of its mind, I guess you could call it superpowers, but no one is going to save the world with what I've got; an indigo light from silvery towers surrounded by rocks and stones as far as the eye can see."  We grope for meaning.  We grope for truth.  Part of ourselves is eternal and quite nearly successfully fights to transcend reality itself.  And we search down within.  We dig down toward the sense of emptiness common to all of those born on Earth.  I've expressed it myself in thousands of pages of writing before I became a follower of the way.  I've read it, written it, and listened to it sung by beautiful minds honestly groping for the missing something; the sense that something is wrong within them, and what the solution might be, while still having to contend with a tendency to evade a spiritual moral transcendent being.

A common theme is the ultimate romance.  As they say, the true love.  Or the soul mate, or what new agers might call soul twins.  It is a sort of worship of an ultimate romance, or relationship.  It hits closer to the solution than one might think though.  But it isn't the answer.  A romantic relationship, a good marriage is certainly a wonderful thing, but it never solves the underlying problem: disconnection from God.  Even if one resists that conclusion of a disconnection problem, one must certainly admit that no relationship ever transcended and solved the problem of emptiness and nothingness. It can effectively distract us, but only for so long.

Money, possessions, power, title, privilege, relationship, sex, it all falls short.  It all leaves us feeling empty.  We need God.  We can learn this the easy way, or like I did, the hard way. 

A study in nothingness shows us that the fact that we can ask the question must insist that we are more than we seem, don't you think?  We are able to ask the question.  Does God exist?  If we were beasts, evolved from rocks over billions of year, rocks that appeared out of the nothingness, for no apparent reason, would we even wonder about a God?  But the sheer ridiculousness of a something from nothing universe is idiotic to say the least.  Why do we consider these things possible?  Scientists make bad philosophers.  Sorry, but it's true.  I think we all know deep down there must be a god.  We've explored that question from science, astronomy, historiography, archaeology, and so many other areas on this blog.  We don't believe blindly here.  We believe based on evidence.  Like wind blowing through a tree, we can't see the wind, but we can see the evidence in the movement of the tree.  I can't ignore the tree waving, there has to be wind.  

God is there.  Our emptiness is there, our sense of nothingness is increasingly prescient because we are unable to find meaning outside of God.  Why?  Because there is no such thing.  We were designed for communion with God.  We were designed for a penultimate relationship in fact, it's just not romantic between me and another human.  It's between me and God.  You and God.  Between God and his people.  All made possible by Jesus Christ, the hero of this brilliant saga.  The tree of knowledge did not free us, it enslaved us.  But knowledge is God's alone.  In his book the Bible he reveals to us knowledge of saving faith in Christ.  And so we return to the tree of life, free to eat of it's infinite expressions.

I was driving along on a sunny day in Escanaba and as I stared out the window I realized that I was a being designed by God, thought up in the heart of God.  I was in fact, a creature designed by a timeless eternal being, a master architect of time and weather and space and nature who felt deeply driven to create a race of humans around himself with a piece of himself placed within each of them.  And I thought wow, that is a crazy thought. Because I was really finally letting that sink in as a reality.  I was finally letting that timeless truth become a part of how I see the world and myself.

You are the dream of God, thought up in his mind, and you have been crafted to multiply upon the Earth, a place in the throws of a tangent fall, a displacement of truth.  You are the dream of God.  You are the architecture through which a divine spark was placed to create a sentient, living being, also eternal, with a mind reaching for the eternal, a mind reaching for perfection always, because that mind cannot exist in the finites of this Earth.  It cannot find satisfaction in the finites of this Earth.  It can only find satisfaction in the eternal truths of God, truths that I can hardly fathom.  You are the dream of God.  

Yet my heart and my mind reach out into emptiness, into darkness, into the infinite desperately yearning for an infinity I cannot conceive of.  I can't taste it, I can't touch it, I can't even describe it, but I know that nothing in this life fulfills, there is something missing, and I need God, I need his eternal presence, I need him to make me right.  I need a doctor to do some surgery, I need Jesus Christ, the greater healer.  I need him to restore me, to build me, to change me and then to bring me into his eternal presence where I may enjoy the fruits of infinity and turn from the fleeting pleasures of this broken Earth.  

God wants to do the same thing he did for me, if you would but receive him.  Stop resisting.  Stop doubting.  The evidence is solid.  The arguments are reasonable.  What are you afraid of?  Finding the ultimate meaning of existence?  Are you afraid you might have to change your life?  Change how you live?  But won't it be worth it, to know the meaning of life, to discover the cure for the broken soul?  No more waiting, no more doubting, believe.  Call out to him, call upon one name: Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, who was nailed to the cross, died, and reclaimed his life through the miraculous power of God.  He is with God now, risen, resurrected and glorified.  Call on him, it is the equation we are offered.  Call upon Jesus Christ for safety, forgiveness, and new life.  Our hearts will wander in emptiness, meaningless, nothingness until we do so.  The fog is thick, the darkness deep, but deep calls out to deep, we can hear it, we can see it, we can perceive of it, and conceive of it, we are rendered aware through our own broken hearts of the power of infinity in the God of the universe, who made us, loves us, and can restore us to that state of perfection we were always meant to live as, through, and in.

Nothingness, emptiness, and meaninglessness are expressions of our own bankruptcy in the face of a broken world, a broken universe, and a brokenness that exists within all of us.  It is a hole, a gap, a void within all of us that screams silently for the eternal expressions of an infinite loving God, whom seeks to fill that unquenchable void in our hearts with the fullness of his presence, in the Spirit.  Believe him, trust in his word, trust his Son, even when the world spews all it's nonsense and skepticism at us, make the radical step to believe in the truth.  It is the only way we can find the infinity our hearts and minds call out for in the darkness of the nothingness of this fading world.  

 Related Posts:
  1. Books and the Joy of Reading: George Washington, Helen Keller
  2. Christian Activism: Can Christianity survive the new cultural attitudes?
  3. Ten Great Minds, Ten Controversial Presentations
  4. Helping Children Heal from Divorce
  5. Noble: The Life of Christina Noble & her ministry to Vietnam
  6. What is prayer?
  7. Mothers and Children: Mother's Day in Light of Asia
  8. Liberty University Graduation, Young People, and Game Changers
  9. How does God communicate with us?
  10. Screen Life: An Ancient Wall & a Call to Arms