One who has no cause to fear has also no cause for courage.
Whoever would carry the fire within, must not fear being burned.
Love alone can withstand the heat of its consuming fire.
Therefore one cannot love without courage, nor act in courage without love.– A Visitor in A Dream
Right now it feels like I stand in between the entry point of reality and something more like unreality from which I cannot escape.
I have come one direction for a while, but I need the courage to keep going: to answer the call to see beyond what I already know – beyond what captures the hearts and imaginations of the world around. I would like to illustrate this subtle distinction within a fiction story, but for now, I must be content that something like what I would communicate is present in the works of George MacDonald and many of the great poets who have gone before.
It is not so often present in the modern world where this afternoon I browsed through a free magazine wondering at the portraits of women and men showcasing luxurious clothing and accessories. I had expected to find some taste of beauty, but I found nearly all of them to contain little more than a weak attempt at capturing the allure of sexuality.
From Defined Un-reality
There must be a way to capture and communicate something more real than this, I thought. Though I still question whether it is possible for the general audience to appreciate the subtle difference enough to demand a change. It is possible to find beauty in the human form, but there are some styles of presentation that lend themselves more easily to lust than to admiration.
Naturally, if the intention of the photographer is to awaken desire within a person for whatever is on the page, then the image has succeeded whether it awakens love or lust. Beauty, where it is present in any measure, demands such a response. However, the context I saw called the individual toward consuming a product, which will neither satisfy the desire awakened by the image nor the overall human desire that is hijacked by the whole interaction.
We all should be craving something. I think that something is wholeness, or connection forged by the nature of love that draws all things closer rather than pushing them further apart. How is it possible to capture that?
In words, I think it could be the real definition of purity: being of one substance without contamination by any other. At least it would be a more effective definition than the idea of purity being the absence of something impure. Such ambiguity is equally unhelpful as defining mortality by the absence of immorality. Both are useless because the definitions communicate only what they are not.
To what, then, are we called? I don’t think it is to the image itself, but to something that it represents. When I discover that the image contains only a shallow deception, I am no longer satisfied by what I see…and so I move on, like most people, seeking something new, something more, something that will satisfy the endless craving for something a little bit more real
It must be possible to create an image representing a truth that will capture the attention of the observer more powerfully. “Here, at last, is something real!” But even this cannot be tied to a product or the context will short-circuit the fullness of what the image represents.
The only exception I see is a product that somehow extended a similar invitation to pursue that which the image represented. True beauty, as a ‘purchasable’ product, might become the bait that lures individuals out of the matrix into the joy of life in all its chaos and hardship. Unlike a sexual high, this undefined thrill cannot be clearly articulated as each one must encounter the reality from a particular vantage point of maturity or immaturity.
Can the invitation be offered to those who are not ready to receive it? Jesus said, “do not cast your pearls before swine” or they will be destroyed along with you (Matthew 7:6).
Must truth, then, be hidden in plain sight? It’s hard to know what you don’t already know.
Can a pathway to discovery be synthesized from the journey of all those who have gone before? The process seems almost exclusively individualized.
Perhaps it is possible to make space for the process and encourage its progress, though it is impossible to tell what this might look like. Perhaps the outcome could be defined as wholeness, but I think for most this is a lifelong journey.
Education as the Invitation
So what kind of structure could be designed to support it throughout a lifetime? Education toward wholeness cannot happen in a moment or else whatever hardens holds the extreme risk of shattering into nothing, taking life with it. Within the constraints of time and place, I consider it possible only to serve the individual with tools, examples, and inspiration – forms of learning and the freedom to customize their design and use.
Perhaps instruction toward some end common to most of humanity might be beneficial. However, too much of this tends toward defining what humanity is, and such a feat is impossible if not destructive. Still, I think there must be some allure – some truth that has the power to overwhelm the deception with an invitation to reality. Even if it evades definition, it must be possible to find.
I have not discovered it, though I have thought myself close to it. I have seen something of it, I have tasted it, shuddered at its presence, felt overwhelmed by something yet beyond my reach though it seemed momentarily tangible. It – whatever it is – speaks to something fundamentally and mysteriously human. A call or invitation echoing through its invisible chambers might invade the waves of light and sound that flood the contemporary human experience with a hint – just a hint – of something real behind what we think we know.
To Seek Something More
To the one blessed with the ability to translate from one world into the other, all the riches of the world might begin to flow. For that which is, is. And to lay hold of it just partially is to align with the current of history and humanity in a way that invites the inevitable to participate with the possible in the
Such an invitation could not be overlooked, ignored, or refused, except at the expense of the one who remains blinded by that which has no substance. But the choice of ignorance must still appeal to those who lack the diligence to investigate what is real. The invitation is the only thing that can be received without effort. The reality must be acquired through effort. The first may be free; the second will cost the life of the one who desires it.
The response, therefore, will not only be strongly favorable for those who answer, it will be strongly distasteful for those who try to pretend it never came. There is no unhearing what has been heard or unseeing what has been seen, but the struggle to forget may seem more accessible than the struggle to forge a life, and those who acquiesce to indolence soon hate those who have chosen otherwise.
A clear invitation thus becomes a detestable reminder to those who continually reject the offer. The one who extends it, therefore, must do so with the cunning of a serpent and the gentleness of a dove. Otherwise, there will be no occasion to enjoy the benefit or reap the fruits of what has been unlocked.
Last night I saw the sunset blazing orange through the deep gray-blue of the surrounding clouds. Light broke the hazy darkness and scattered its rays over the felted mountain tops and valleys of pine. My own eyes lit up against ruby red and violent gold of the western sky then melted into the purple hue of the eastern sky, which was also visible across the expansive overlook. Color, space, time and place became an invitation to look beyond the expression of beauty into beauty itself.
Time-locked, the moment still exists within a photo for memory, but what I can see of it in a picture is only part of what was actually there. Furthermore, the experience of the moment was still only partial. I was distracted by the light and the shadows from the reality they expressed.
Just like the mysterious truth about sunset goes beyond the motion and the color, I am finding it more difficult to capture the experience of my life in words. Truth is a way of life. Words may carry some of its expression, but the story they tell is much more powerful at communication.
To transfer from one to another; to form a relationship – that is what it means to communicate. The characteristics of one become the characteristics of another. Incommunicable diseases cannot be caught and so nobody is afraid of them. That which is communicable, however, spreads and grows from one to another becoming part of their experience of life for good or for evil.
I want to communicate the freedom of the kindness of God to the world around me, but this cannot happen until it first becomes part of me, then flows through me. The words that I write are ineffective at capturing my experience – except in so much as they are an expression of my heart’s desire to invite others into this way of life.
The invitation itself is an attempt to translate the desire that now flows from me because it flows from Him. No one wants the connection more than the Father Himself. His own name invokes the idea of relationship in terms that humans can relate to – though they may not fully understand.
Art As Invitation
My desire to introduce others to this way of life must be what drives my creative expression. It is impossible to capture, but greater skill produces greater clarity, so I must develop my craft in order to worship and praise more fully through it.
Furthermore, I must develop perspective so that the focus does not slip from what the art is meant to communicate onto the art itself – or worse, onto the artist.
Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower – become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations. – C.S. Lewis “The Great Divorce” p.85
How can I see the invisible reality to which the tangible experience of my life gives witness? The truth about sunset is not the sunset itself, but the invitation it offers into a reality that cannot be seen with the eyes. The truth about writing is not found in the words themselves, but in their invitation to seek something yet beyond.
Life finds its full expression in relationship.
Within the mystery of love, joy becomes strength, and from this foundation of identity as children of God we find the courage to be strong.
Faith is not a retreat from reality but a choice to live with a new perspective. Whatever truth lies behind the music in this video introduced an experience of peace and courage that I hope to always remember.
What happens when we no longer have to struggle for survival? What if the truth is it’s all good? What if everything is going to be okay?
Psalm 105:16-22 tells the story of Joseph who was promised a position of authority but experienced being “…put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him…” (Psalm 105:18).
Why Does the Experience Contradict the Promise?
What should I expect when it comes to me? What if the promises of God become the very area I must be tested in so that I can receive the fullness of what the word contained?
The Psalm tells about Joseph being carried in chains to a faraway country, which appears to be totally opposite the promise that he would rule. Did he need to be taken through the struggles that he encountered before the word was ready to come to fruition? Was he, like Jesus, a man who learned obedience through the things that he suffered?
Abraham received a word and tried to make it come true on his own effort, but this did not lead to the best outcome. Yet, I am more inclined to pursue his approach than to accept the process of death required for a seed to sprout and grow into the promise it contains.
Today I will be introducing a program I designed to a new audience of students. For me, it is a struggle to approach this later part of the process with the same kind of placid faith that accompanied its start. Now that I am invested, it is more difficult to release control of the outcome. Yet, this is the practice of faith that is being sharpened by this test. If I am going to be faithful with great things, I must be faithful with little things like this – not to overlook the challenges my situation presents but to address them from a framework of discovery and creativity rather than fear and control.
But as this and other key projects are coming to a head, the very practice of wisdom-based living begins to look unclear. Similarly, a friend spoke to me about the murky waters he entered when the sweetness of his own journey had reached its zenith.
It followed almost immediately that he was led into a test where his world was completely outside of his control and he could not do what it took to get it back into shape. The framework of wisdom seems wrong when everything is falling apart – almost like it only works as an add-on to a life that is running smoothly. If the latter case were true, then I wonder if it is really worth anything at all.
The proof, I told him, of its value must be seen through a different lens. The same metrics of success do not apply. But still, the longing remains inside of us to have the business projects pay off well, to see material success follow our efforts. If it does not, I must ask, was I really following the way of wisdom?
This is where I think Solomon got off track. The understanding of his mind was great and he could explain the world according to its function and design. His fame at one time was because of the name of the LORD (1 Kings 10:1), but I wonder if he began to think it came from his own intelligence. Did he start off in one way only to end up walking in another?
Ecclesiastes suggests he had lost the meaning and purpose to a life of wisdom (as he called it), but I think this is only because he abandoned the purity of his relationship with the one from whom it came. Is it possible that the wisdom of God so defies human expectations that material success makes it almost impossible to follow the lead of one whose definitions and outcomes are completely different?
The heroes of faith described in Hebrews did not even receive the thing that was promised (Hebrews 11:39). The outcome was totally different than what anyone expected, yet they were willing to follow through with their part in the story. Their lives laid the foundation for the better gift of God that I enjoy today (Hebrews 11:40). Am I ready to be like them and follow faithfully into obscurity and even infamy before His name and His glory can shine forth through my life even after I am no longer around?
The Real Question
If this is the kind of story I am going to be part of, I do not know the steps I need to take in order to get where I need to go. The only thing I seem to have is the promise of ability to follow as I am led by the Spirit of God within me. Thus, the question always comes back to one of trust.
Do I have a good Father?
Is He able to fulfill what His word has spoken?
If the answer is yes, then I am free to walk confidently forward on the road to anywhere. If I am unsure that He is good or that He is great, I will hesitate to take the risk of following an uncertain pathway; I will be more inclined to trust in my own understanding and try to bring the word to fulfillment on my own.
If I am to pursue a way of wisdom, it must grow out of the confidence that I have in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not even out of my own ability to act on faith. My primary pursuit must be one of intimacy and encounter. Otherwise, I cannot help but see the world through the eyes of my own understanding.
This is true even with regard to my relationship with God; it is easier for me to define what I think this should look like than it is to actively walk it out. I would rather turn my relationship into a religious practice than stay in a place of mystery and discovery. I want to see where my feet will fall before I let them step forward. However, His presence becomes more tangibly evident when I take a step into the darkness and find I do not stumble and fall. If I never tried, I would never know this. He would remain invisible in spite of my descriptions of what this invisible looked like.
It is not my words or my understanding but my practice of life and the story this writes which most fully communicate the unique expression and work of God in this world through me.
In my opinion, the challenge of universal instructional design is a much broader and deeper question than one of overcoming disability. It is a question of the philosophy of education: what is the purpose of formal education? Structural design for universal access is certainly important for residential buildings, but not so much for roller coasters. The purpose of the structure determines the value of making it accessible. Is anyone going to pay for an elevator to the top of Mount Everest just so everyone can have equal access? Certainly the views are spectacular, but nearly everyone is plagued by their disability to climb such a high mountain.
Is education a matter of reaching the top of the mountain, of learning how to climb, or of choosing whether to practice climbing or to practice swimming? If education is a process of learning how to climb, it is thwarted by building an elevator to the top of the mountain so that individuals in wheelchairs can reach the top. If the point of education is reaching the top of the mountain, why would anyone bother learning to climb when the elevator works much more quickly? If education is about helping the individual recognize and develop their preference for swimming over climbing, its purpose is defeated by forcing everyone to practice mountain climbing.
The point is that every individual has a different skill set and ability that can be developed by education. Unfortunately, there is often an assumption that every student needs to climb Mount Everest. A few will succeed at this challenge, but many will not. Some are even scared of heights. Does this mean that they need additional psychological support so they can reach the same goal as everyone else? Perhaps they simply need to recognize that their natural condition makes them much better swimmers than climbers.
The suggestion that I hope to make by this example is that the future of education may not be about helping everyone reach the same summit no matter what obstacles or disabilities they may face. Rather, it shifts the challenge of teaching from one of how to make everyone a great climber to one of helping individuals decide if they want to climb at all – and if so, which mountain…and how. In fact, it even allows for individuals to recognize they are not physically built to be climbers and to take up swimming instead. After all, not all mountain climbers can also be good at swimming. This is the idea of restructuring education around the individual (Human Centered Learning). By creating an educational environment in which a multiplicity of abilities are developed and valued, universal instructional design can create a level playing field for students of varying abilities.
In silence, my heart is changed. My mind ceases to run and begins to consider another way. Amid the dreams of greatness, a dream of quietness begins to grow. Or that I had never seen before.
Why have I assumed that only one direction may be called the right and every other less? Perhaps the many were the right and very few the less.
What if I make the choice to be a person less than everything defined by life as greatness I could be?
Is that not what my heart has begun to wonder?
There is a blessing and a freedom in poverty that is unknown to those of wealth privilege and responsibility.
Where the endless pursuit of security destroys the blessings that it might secure.
A less admired, yet not more lovely life could be the one unknown by man or king. Whose simple existence none could bear save few that fall within the silent square.
Where the living by right of life find joy and pleasure. Simply to be. Pursue the joy of food, of fire, of drink. Perhaps of laughter, the reward of friendship, and skill, the reward of practice.
Is it that I long to feel the earth beneath my feet and hear the sound of water or the air running through the trees? Not knowing what tomorrow may bring. The adventure for survival, the search for something beautiful, moments of peace, the sweat of work.
Here in this imagined place, I am one with what I am made of. My spirit loosed from the chains of civilization, the bondage to society, the slavery to survival.
Yet lost in time the great rewards of love of sacrifice that can only be wrought when one must live a life among others of this world. Perhaps it is not the pursuit of such rewards, but the careful crafting of such nature as could win them should fate blow their need my way. Simple care to be the best in this moment of time, to take what I can from what I am given. To dreaming given only as to a dream, never living where I must only wonder.
How do I take and find the way between these many varied colors of desire? The simple life, the one of fame, the love and responsibility with the joys of friendship, the deep beauty of solitude. That which is unrecognized does not have less value. Perhaps my light could run another way, uncelebrated, effective, beautiful, and well loved by one. If ever by more, only of their choice, no greater value bestowed on that already found worth living. Alone.