So, I’ve been gone for awhile, as I tend to do. But don’t worry: I never left earth. I just had other stuff to do, a good deal of writing, and one of the things I did should be coming out in an anthologized book (yes, with covers and everything) sometime this winter. Which is fun.
I’ve been slowly working through The Brothers K, the one written in the 1990’s, not the 1870’s. Not ten minutes ago, I finished a chapter entitled “Renunciation.” In it, the narrator relates how his brother Peter renounces his “past” in order to attain “Gnosis.” Leaving the attainment of gnosis aside, here’s how the narrator responds to this:
When Peter renounced the world he grew up in and the people he grew up with, I believe it was exactly as heroic as that of a person who, finding himself prone to violent seasickness, renounces yachting.
Peter is a young man who vomits just thinking about an overly fat cow, a person who spends all his life immersed in books, squeamish and bookish and ascetic individual. So, when he renounces his past, his baggage, “he was looking to trick his outer self into nirvana.”
This is a darkly comedic moment, and I sat in bed for a minute after finishing the chapter. I could not help but think: isn’t this what much of religion (or spirituality, or whatever you want to call it) is, for most of us? I know it is for me. Often, I try to tinker with my life, giving up things that are uncomfortable or make me unhappy. Getting sick on the yacht, I give up yachting. Feeling empty after watching too much television, I give up TV. Or I resolve to exercise more after failing to for a couple days and feeling slow and lazy. Drifting, I resolve to read and pray more. And on it goes.
Not that any of these things are bad. Our lives demand tinkering. If I stop tinkering in one area, I find another that can use improvement. Tinkering is part of life.
But, tinkering is not the radical commitment that exemplifies the religious life. Even outside of Christianity, religion demands an all-or-nothing approach. Pascal’s wager demands that, logically, we either go all in or refuse to play the hand. Tinkering just won’t do. We must be willing to part with things we love. Not for the sake of asceticism itself, but for the sake of our God, to follow God more closely and fully and to bear God’s Image.
As a follow of Jesus, his words about dying to yourself or taking up your cross deal with so much more than watching less television. So, while we tinker, may we also think about dying: about the places that we must leave, or go, or give up to truly and dramatically bear God’s Image, in ways that we will never reach just by tinkering around near the surface.