Years ago a friend gave me a ‘page-a-day’ calendar of quotations and sayings that were meant to evoke a kind of Zen-like wisdom.
At first I loved it. I trawled through and accumulated a set of my favourites.
Years later I hated it. I wondered who had picked the quotations, and what mercantile interest had crafted this bizarre interplay of culture and commercialism.
But the inspiration was genuine, and the care of my friend was sincere. So over time I’ve come back to appreciating the meaning behind it.
One of the quotations I remembered well was a verse from a song by Leonard Cohen.
I subsequently came to admire Cohen, and have been listening to his music in the wake of his death this year.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That crack in everything – the gaps we feel in our own existence – our instinct is to fill the gap, to seek immersion in pleasure, power, or profit. We want to distract ourselves from the emptiness at the edges of our existence.
The heart of all vices, compulsions, and evil lies in our impulse – part fear and part desire – to consolidate our grip on life. We fear our limits, we fear the holes life punches through our veil of self-control.
If we could only become something better, achieve something more, cover over the gaps, then life would feel complete.
But completion lies in the opposite direction.
It’s not the holes that are the problem, it’s the rest of the veil. It’s the thin layer of pride that we try to stretch across the whole of our existence.
We fear losing control, but the control itself was always an illusion. Even our fear is an illusion within an illusion, because we can’t control that either.
So when the holes are getting bigger, as the veil begins to thin, our fear might even increase.
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.’
People interpret this to mean that we should fear God, as if that’s a smart choice. But wisdom in Christianity is not just a state of having knowledge, it is an aspect of God. Wisdom is divine. We could just as well say that fear accompanies God’s presence, because our pride cannot abide Him.
The holes in our pride, the gaps and limits of our self-control are reality shining through a delusion we keep alive only through our own mistaken efforts.
The delusion, the mistaken efforts, we don’t really know where they began or what drives them. It isn’t our self-control, since that does not exist.
It’s a terrifying thought, when all that is left is our desire to hang on to control against what looks like darkness, emptiness and death.
But at some point that veil will be torn in two, and we will realise that what seemed like darkness was a light too bright for us to see.