There was a book someone told me to read. It was cool they said. Enlightening. Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read it. I don’t remember it. I guess it didn’t enlighten me. That is probably more a statement about me than the book. Lots of people read it and found it helpful. I couldn’t relate. The journey of the book interested me, but the Zen and the motorcycles didn’t. I use technology that I don’t understand. And I don’t want to understand it. I want it to work. I don’t want to think about how this computer is capturing these key strokes and saving my thoughts in bits and bytes. And the Zen feels the same to me. Too much thinking in little bits and bytes that run down rabbit trails and at the end seem so breathtakingly insignificant or worse, unintelligible. The Zen felt inaccessible to me, like the carburetor on the motorcycle laid out in tiny pieces that only the initiated can see and put together.
I am a Christian and a pastor. I like thinking but I’ve found Saint Paul’s warning that “knowledge puffs up” to be an occupational hazard and a cultural epidemic. Pirsig was writing in a time when technology seemed to be overtaking us, endangering us with becoming functions, pieces of machinery in a godless mechanical universe grinding along with an unseeing merciless drumbeat. My time is overtaken with information. We are in danger of becoming receptacles of pieces of information. Our drumbeat is godless and merciless too. We are googled and googling. We are becoming what we eat, and we eat information. We are can’t be disconnected from the the pipeline of knowledge or we might cease to exist. We are social media. Incoming and outgoing. The puffing up chokes out life. Saint Paul contrasted knowledge with love. “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” Living is love. Love is living.
I noticed how much the puffing up was killing me. Reducing me to posts and likes and comments and followers. I noticed how loveless it felt. I deleted my Facebook account without telling anyone. No fanfare. No goodbye sweet world. Just deleted it. My real world loving living friends asked me where I went. None of the thousand friends outside of them has tried to find me. I’m gone and they don’t notice it. Why should they? We don’t love each other. We don’t live together. We don’t miss each other. I feel good. I feel better. Not smug or superior, just better.
I am loving the people in my real world more now. I am practicing the gospel which is not knowledge but flesh and spirit. I am practicing sabbath which is the art of giving up being God and affirming I can disconnect and not shrivel up and die. And I’m hunting shark teeth which is pursuing something of value because I love it and not because I gain anything from it. By these acts I am becoming myself and this is what God promises to make me.
Who do you admire? What if they were to call you and ask to have lunch this week? Would you rearrange your schedule to meet them? Would your priorities stack up differently? What would it do to you if you discovered they admired you? That they rearranged their whole schedule to spend time with you? It would radically change the way you looked at yourself to discover you were admired by the admirable.
Many of us forget that our spouses admired us so much that they rescheduled their whole lives around us – that’s called marriage. Your spouse does admire you that much. How does it feel? Fulfilling? Sometimes it is. Sometimes the spouse we admire admires us and makes us feel so full we can’t imagine being more full. But this doesn’t always work and it never lasts. We need more admiration than anyone is capable of giving, even if that person gave us the promise of a lifetime. We need more. Our spouse needs more.
At the root of the word admire is the an old Latin word meaning “miracle.” There was a time we thought it was miraculous to have the admiration of our spouse. I thought it was at the time. And still do most days. But there is something more miraculous about the story of the gospel, and it carries both me and my wife when we don’t have enough admiration for each other. Here is the most admirable person who ever lived making the promise of not just one lifetime given to us, but an eternal lifetime given to us. Bending the schedule of eternity around me. When I see this – really see it for what it is – I am admired enough to last when my spouse doesn’t admire me, or just as significantly, when I don’t admire myself anymore. There is a way through. There is a way up. Does my spouse admire me enough? No. But miraculously, God does.
admiration (n.) early 15c., “wonder,” from Middle French admiration (14c.) or directly from Latin admirationem (nominative admiratio) “a wondering at, admiration,” noun of state from past participle stem of admirari “admire,” from ad- “at” (see ad-) + mirari “to wonder,” from mirus “wonderful” (see miracle). The sense has weakened steadily since 16c.
from Latin [re – again, sonare – to sound]
Years ago my office was in West Ghent. It was on a street dividing the industrial part of the borough from the residential part. There was a lot of traffic. Big trucks making deliveries to the shipyard or coming from the coal piers. One day a truck sat idling near my front door. I didn’t notice it immediately, but the awareness of it’s presence emerged into my consciousness. It’s dull rumble stirred the surface of my coffee. I felt the sound in my chest. It was not unpleasant. A deep and steady bass. I resonated. The truck’s movement was partially my own movement. I was not touching the truck, but the truck was touching me.
We are made to resonate when God speaks, and He is always speaking. God’s voice is a deep steady bass line. Sometimes it stirs things around us and touches them before it touches us. If you haven’t heard Him yet, the best way is to be still. Stop your own movement so that you can be moved. He has something to say to you. He isn’t playing hide and come seek with you. He split time open to make the way to your chest; to make the way for you to resonate with His words. He is saying something simple. He is saying He loves you. That’s it. He is confident in this one message. The power in it, the resonance of it. A child just out of the womb has no mental capacity to comprehend words and yet he is stilled by the sound of his mother. He was formed together with her. He was connected to her. He knows what cannot be known, but can only be felt. She says ‘I love you.’ He resonates. We were formed together with God, but we are born disconnected. Nevertheless, He is saying ‘I love you.’ It is beyond all knowledge, but you and I resonate. If you quit holding onto your life so hard and ease your grip you’d start to move naturally toward His voice. You can be touched by God. He made you that way. Let yourself feel the love of God.
There are so many ways to look at love because it is a transfinite concept. It belongs here and now but we sense it is not contained in space and time. Love is both static and dynamic. Love is unreachably distant and compelling and it is utterly accessible and simple. The Bible says God is love. This explains a lot. Why it is so…mystically normal. I add this thought about love because I’ve looked at God for a long time and I’ve found a working definition of love. In other words, in light of who God is, what God says, and what God does, this definition of love works for me. It helps me to glorify God.
Love = an absolute commitment to the absolute best interests of someone or something other than the self.