Sunday, December 5, 2010

in visibility

“I have turned around.
I’m walking back to join the choir.
Leaves are flying through the sky.

There’s a hidden life,
there’s a life that no one knows,

there are things that can’t be told.”

~ The Innocence Mission, I Left the Grounds.

Consider the meaning and significance around the idea of the non-monetary kind of credit. Getting the credit, taking the credit, denying the credit. If our memories serve us accurately, we can all remember how this thread plays through all the contexts of our days. It may have begun in the vicinity of a broken vase in a long-ago parental living room, if not in a grade-school classroom. There is credit that we want, and credit we don’t want. We want to be noticed at our best by team captains, teachers, and bosses- and by those we find attractive. But then we wish to be unnoticed by bullies, would-be muggers, and those casting blame- even if it’s justifiable. The attribution of credit, of notice, of credibility, is a great power that looms over our evolving years. Those whom we think own that power begin to look like interchangeable versions of the same few people. The quest for validation is something to be outgrown, despite ways our institutions tend to perpetuate their own versions of reward and blame. This meditation is not about the rights and wrongs of law, ethics, or decorum. Rather, it is about the human mystery that views survival as something between visibility and invisibility.

From childhood, we hunger to be noticed, but we also want to hide. Wishing for glory and credit fuels many a drive in the direction of self-preservation at any cost. Self-distinction may be a primal impulse, and thus one for which an individual must come to terms. But then, when notice comes upon us, we are often unprepared.

In my habit of closing a book or shutting off a media source when the loss of a vital thought seems imminent, one night while driving the roads, I turned off the car radio to save an idea. A radio preacher, whose delivery resembled that of a country auctioneer, asked the rhetorical question; “what would you do if you suddenly got everything you’ve wished for?” I cut him off then and there, because the thought was worth saving. I could predict he was leading up to something about ingratitude or our insatiable material appetites. Aloud in the car, I thought about payed-off student loans, perfect health, and a really good job. Afterwards I imagined walking through such idyllic settings, pinching my own arm in outright incredulity. Then I thought about being noticed. What do we expect- and when we are acknowledged, will we shrink back in disbelief? We long to be known, as much as we long to know. At the same time, wishing is more familiar than seeing a wish come to pass. If this is true, what is really expected? Perhaps the vital acknowledgment has already been made, and if this is so, there is no time to back away.

In the conflict between desiring recognition and anonymity, possessing the one, the other becomes more appealing. Thirsting to capture everything merges with the also very human trait of overwhelm. Imaginations are drawn by mystery and elusiveness, yet discovery can throw us off. Either we are diverted by expectation, or overwhelmed at the challenges of our findings. A nature accustomed to striving wants what it used to have, as well as what it cannot reach- yet rarely what is already accessible. Emergence and disappearance long for one another. Even the ancient Psalmist knew the exuberance of overt rejoicing, as much as the Divine presence as sheltering hiding place. Often, I hope for significance to my days and recognition- at about as many times as solitude, my steps drawn to concealing places that permit me to banish my troubles.

We do need our times of invisibility. An old friend for whom I once worked refers to the the jobs I have as my “tent-making” work. He reminds me of how the Apostle Paul made his living. Our paychecks help provide what we need so we can pursue our passions. I still believe in the juxtaposition of vocation and avocation. Indeed it was Paul of Tarsus who described with astonishing detachment how he observed another disposition in his baser self which waged war against the disposition of his conscience. Coming to terms with the inner conflict of striving with ignominy- while athirst for concealed space- begins by admitting too much of either is damaging. Means and ends mustn’t be confused.

In an understanding of the spectrum of living, knowing to be both abased and abound, the equilibrium of holiness is discovered. The realm of God manifests silently and discretely as grains of ferment that cause the leavening of bread. The Advent is gradual, at times difficult. Invisibility comes into being. But as with the magi, the Divine is perceptible to those who are sensitive to the signs. Yet still, there is little that we mortals can actually hasten.

Perhaps the elusiveness- even the hiddenness- of the sublime attests to the eternal as incorruptible and boundless. The Unseen Companion who briefly appeared to the Emmaus pilgrims, known to Paul as “the image of the invisible God,” taught his listeners to express their prayers in shuttered solitude to the One who knows the innermost heart. In this, invisibility is a necessary precursor to visibility. The tent-maker toiling in a deserted place, as all hard-workers enduring anguished isolation, must see such labors as preparatory ground from which to capably bear the gospel of compassion. Blessed are the overlooked, for they are lovingly recognized by their Creator.

Invisible though apparent, God’s presence is treasured deep within. Earthbound as we are, the cravings remain for the visible and for visibility. While scribing some notes the other day, the newspaper under my journal revealed one of the society pages. Those celebrities of fathomless abundance cannot blend into subways and restaurants as I can. Perhaps they wish they could. Many non-celebrities among us make efforts to be “seen.” A local paper used to poll readers about the “best places to be seen” in this small city with a “scene” of its own. A school friend used to say, “maintaining façades is too much work.” Many of us do wind up deciding what’s necessary and what’s worth our energies and time. And that brings us to consider what is of greatest value to the inherent, invisible self. And in that consideration, reinforcement is found.

Do we ever really know our strengths? It is easy to forget the powers and potential we have. That intrinsic fortitude is often threatened by what a lot of us have had to endure en route to and through adulthood. We brave through exclusions, judgments, and threats long before we can ascribe clear and forceful words to our attempted refutations. But indeed those who survive must never forget their voiceless crucible times. Today is for potentials to unfold, even if portions will remain invisible.

Now a reckoning. Conflicts may be identified and explored, but without some resolve, the terms remain barely more than if they stayed unspoken. Recording a life as it develops, my thoughts begin by taking stock in the learning experiences, being able to apply some retrospect while looking ahead. Come to think of it, the idea of blogging a personal journal is in itself a paradox of seen and unseen. Definitions of “visibility” evolve away from preoccupations with crowds and myself. I see the extremes a bit more reconciled, more content to stand apart from self. Part of that unification is in reckoning with the value of both recognition and retreat, along with a realization that reward is less and less a driving force. Outdated self-views become stale and burdensome. Possessions I no longer use are only good to give away or throw out, resembling old, recurrent, and outgrown frustrations. As with perspectives, tastes evolve. Back in high school, my father once told me that tastes change as we get older, “you’ll see,” he said; we start craving more salted and bitter things than sugary sweets. It’s a great metaphor, but he was comparing an adult’s beer with a child’s strawberry soda. Indeed, I see, as I often relish obscurity. But I innately know that I’ve also been very gradually called forth out of that obscurity. Venturing to predict the future’s details would not be worth the trouble. There are things that can’t be told. It seems wiser to temper the striving against prohibitive currents, and gratefully engage the settings I’ve got to work with- however modest the results. The hidden life takes root, and living roots are rarely visible at the surface.


Judith said...

A topic of endless fascination ----

Anonymous said...

When it comes to credit and giving credit, I find that it is a lot like money - It's always in the wrong hands and rarely given to people who really need it.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Your recent blog on "invisibility" touched me in so many different ways and was so pertinent that I felt you were writing parts of it "especially for me" (knowing, of course, that you weren't -- but it "hit home", i.e., touched my nerves and heart in a myriad of profound ways).

As always, brilliant, insightful, and thoughtful (I printed it out so I can reread it and think more about it.....), and, good heavens, your words flow so lyrically; your writing feels like poetry often. The remembrances brought up by your topic were not always "positive" ones for me (nor do I think that was your aim in writing about a very "conflicted" emotion) but your writing made me 'stop'/'turn off the car radio', as it were, and just think for a bit, and I certainly shall do more.....I find myself feeling this after so many of your blog postings....stopping and thinking. Since I used to write voluminously in journals most of my life (yes, old-fashioned pen on paper, sometimes just in 50-cent spiral notebooks), I had many moments where the writing just stopped and the thoughts, and the silence, took over.

Thank you, yet again, for your exquisite writing and for sharing your world of views and thoughts with many of us.