It’s been an odd week. This is an odd piece. Fair warning.
There are interesting moments in life that serve as spotlights (or magnifying lenses, if you like), showing us how little we actually understand about ourselves. These moments are painful, painful in their stretching of our felt who-I-am and in their starkness that cuts through what we want to think about ourselves.
You’d think that running directly into such a moment once might be all you need. Wrong. Human beings rarely learn so easily. My mistakes and my misconceptions will compound again, and at some future point I’ll find myself squinting against the bright light of What Is, all my What I Thought burned into background shadows.
I think that’s a lot of what God is. The burning away, I mean. God as painful truth-giver. It’s why Christ Pantocrator is my favorite icon, I think. That calm, human eye resting so closely to the terrifying divine one, each with a truth to tell about the nature of Being. We are all caught between these two. Sure, we live most of our lives in the resting calm, whether out of fear, ignorance, or just the plain day-to-day grind. But we also find ourselves running headlong into that mysterious clearing, where we see ourselves a bit more fully, more naked than we’d probably like. And that’s scary as hell. Maybe it is hell, in a way.
The truth can be a violent, grotesque thing. Capital T truth almost always is. Flannery O’Connor and I agree on that. From the streets of Baltimore to the most singular moments in our personal lives, Truth about the world and our place in it—both perceived and real—is ugly. But those moments when we see ourselves and our world for all that it is…those are moments of grace. That burning away is both horrible and beautiful. Like Ruby Turpin in “Revelation,” we can glimpse the heavenly procession from our place in the mud and mire.
Maybe that’s enough. I suppose it has to be.