I fought so hard to protect my beliefs – an unshakeable faith in the God of my forefathers. I struggled valiantly; I doubted. I cursed. I put doubt aside – I picked it back up again. I tried it on in front of a full-length mirror and, undeniably, was drawn into its uncertainty and depth – the deep, dark well of an infinite ocean spread before me, uncharted and unexplored.
Oh my god. This is a blatant contradiction!
Having just re-read the first three chapters of Genesis for the nth time, a veil lifted from my eyes and I saw – in perfect clarity – the contradiction. Words leered up at me as multiple accounts of creation, from different perspectives and different modes of embodiment, rushed into focus.
In the first account, god hovers over water and creates everything in existence with its breath and words – progressing from “basic” elements such as light and darkness through the vegetation, fish, birds, other animals and, finally, humans: a story of increasing complexity and value. Yet, sitting right next to this sweeping account, another story emerges. In the second account, god uses their hands to shape a man out of dirt – creates everything else in between – and bookends the process with a woman made from the man’s rib.
At the time, I decided allegory – rather than actual fact – was at work: the first story originates with voice – god is so powerful they create “from nothing.” Yet, the author of the text seems to also make a point that even though divinity might create out of nothing – with only words – it is still personal enough to create with its hands. Water and voice. Dirt and hands. Humanity as culminating force. Humanity as woven throughout nature.
How come no one I knew had seen this – or preached about it? At least acknowledged the many layers of story and poetry at work in this text? I asked around – many did not know what I meant, retorted it was “a story within a story,” or refused to acknowledge its apparent truth once I pointed it out to them.
“It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal” I heard Gene Wilder’s voice reverberate in my head, a space increasingly filled with a quiet resolve, belying the worried squints of my friends and family. “Keep an eye on him,” my parents had been told since I was three years old. There was something disruptive – something different – about me that was not to be trusted.
“You think too much!”
“You need to be careful you don’t choose a lifeless faith in favor of the intellect.”
“Emotional experience over intellectual wrangling!”
These phrases, and many more hurtful ones, accosted me throughout childhood. So, I retreated into my mind – an increasingly starved and intellectually voracious space.
Two women gave me permission to question again. The first looked at me from across the couch one day and asked, “Doesn’t the Old Testament seem a bit…Spielberg-ish…to you?” After a momentary shock, I had to agree it did. The second, my first proximate brush with an intellectual liberal in the wild, shattered my perceptual framework and gave me permission and the safe space I craved to explore the world of the mind and, consequently, self.
Metaphors of exploration, adventure, and discovery have always been part of my vocabulary thanks to my father. I consistently crave a peek around the next bend in the road; I wonder what might be just over the horizon. This curiosity drives me – compels me – into new mental terrains and experiences.
I do not know what makes some people sail off into the unknown while others stick close to the shore – or why some talk about great adventures but remain firmly fixed in place. I am sure great arguments can be waged about the sense of each position. All I know is that I chose to untether myself from narrow, confined circles of my youth and seek new truth – a truer reality, a deeper ethic and morality, and a coherent significance in how I was to live.
Along the way, I consistently return to the following scenario:
Imagine you are standing alongside a beautiful, flowing stream. Somewhere, the water now rushing past you emerged from the crags of a majestic mountain face and is now gathering voice, personality, and velocity as it dances its way toward the endless oceans. In the middle of this stream, you see a rock – a beautiful, regal rock flecked with reds, browns, and golds. By its smooth contours, you can see it has withstood the incessant cascade of waters for aeons.
Which would you rather be – the water…or the rock?
I often ask myself the same question, concluding I would rather be the water – flowing swiftly, eddying in pools, raging through rapids, and eventually merging with the great ocean. On the other side is the rock – staid, strong, unmoving, protective. There is much to admire in the rock. But I cannot bear a life of resistance to change – a life bereft of dance and storms and quiet pools. To sit in one place for my eternity, unmoving, does not sound like much of a life (no disregard to the beautiful life of the rock).
Yet, to be the water means probable vilification by many who choose to be the rock. That is okay. I do not want or need to convince the rock to move from its steadfast position. It has great meaning and conviction. I respect that. But for those who are drawn to the water – the unpredictable course of its currents – this is for you. For us.
All too often we get bogged down in arguments between point A and point B. Most of life is lived in the journey towards a nebulous destination. In my mind, there really is only one – maybe two – things that are black and white: we are born and we die.* Everything else in between exists in various shades of grey.
Who are you?
Who do you want to be?
The rock? The water? Don’t know?
Then I hope you keep reading.
*(As an aside – isn’t it fascinating how many people spend so much time worrying about whether an afterlife exists and what it entails – while very little time is spent stressing over our pre-existence? Where were we? What were we? Were we at all?)