So I recently suggested that many of the books I enjoy (particularly those that might be designated fantasy), I enjoy precisely because they make me dream of not being me (the greatest story ever told). They make me dream of having admirable, impressive, extraordinary powers. They make me dream of being placed in some setting other than my own—sometimes a world other than my own, and they suggest that in this world, with my powers, I am more responsible than I had ever suspected, and so, within community, I am tasked with responsibility for my community, and, indeed, for the world itself. And I read my way into a very comfortable, pleasing dream of “if only I could ….”
I suggested that, leaving me in my own world—and my own setting in that world, with no powers other than any ordinary power I have, the Bible nonetheless ascribes the same astounding responsibility to me, and within community assigns me a quest, a mission, a calling with responsibility for my community and, indeed, for all creation without ever suggesting I need dream of not being me. And I read God’s way into a much less comfortable, less pleasing challenge of “if only I would ….”
I just finished Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. It offers an interesting twist on the above conversation because Brown’s premise (within the book anyway) is that we as human beings are supposed to metamorphosize into gods in the process called apotheosis (to deify/make divine). Which is to say, the dream this book nurtures is still to be other than me, but by being a me I’m supposed to become—the me I was created to be. And in and through that process I’ll acquire all that admirable, impressive, extraordinary power.
There is an element to The Lost Symbol’s perspective to which I subscribe. We are not, in fact, who we were created to be. Scripture, in fact, offers us the image of God turning the world upside down to make it right-side up. For sin has not only turned us upside down, but made us think upside down is right-side up. And redemption is the truth that we have to be displaced to find our appropriate place. T.S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets of not ceasing “from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” So the me I want to be is one I am working toward becoming, and the me I work to become is one who incarnates more of who God is, though it’s less a matter of human apotheosis that one of divine apoanthroposis (to make human).
For too much of what constitutes human leads to chaos and destruction, and it’s not as straightforward as there being some human beings who work destructively for chaos and others who work constructively for order. Contrary to the arrogant simplicity of modern political and religious rhetoric, sin is not and cannot be isolated and attributed to any grouping along party, faith, ethnic, social, sexual, economic, or educational lines. No, the truth is so much more simple (imagine that!). Each individual is his or her own unique blend of forces working for chaos and forces working for order.
Part of my faith affirmation is that God is Other than I, and that it is only with the help of the Wholly Other that I can strive beyond myself—beyond the struggle of the competing forces within. I cannot transcend me to become God, but God transcends me to help me be more as God is—more God-like.
Here’s another faith affirmation though. To become more God-like is less a matter of acquiring admirable, impressive, extra-ordinary powers than coming to know that it is the most ordinary of powers that lead to redemption—the powers of love and grace and forgiveness.
Thomas Merton wrote: “My only desire is to give myself completely to the action of this infinite love Who is God, Who demands to transform me into Himself secretly, darkly, in simplicity, in a way that has no drama about it and is infinitely beyond everything spectacular and astonishing, so is its significance and its power.”