I live in the shadows, the shaded remembrances of my past, persistent guideposts and framers of the person I was, who I became and still to be. These shadows have names like Daniel, Mom, Dad, Buck, the “Elite,” Pat Majors and Jack Willis. There are places, too – a house on Rockmont Road, a bend in the river Edisto, E. Montclair Avenue, Ninovan and Orangeburg. Not lost in my thought, I am mindful shadows can signal a coming storm or offer respite.
These people and places formed my perspective along with the words expressing the beliefs I learned from them. They were the ghostwriters defining my life’s boundaries, markers toward my destination, antecedents to grace.
How else did I arrive here? Growing up, my thinking took me beyond obedience and humility. Willfulness offered a more immediate salve to the seeming victories I saw in my future. Victory for me meant freedom from encumbrance. Pride is an easy path to destruction, and success, a narcotic too easily swallowed. Life, God I think, yearned to teach me that pride and success are unfulfilling myth-building desires. Always present, unnoticed, my shadows were the means of grace.
A seeker’s victory is in the eternal truth he glimpses in this life. I came to know this when I came to know Jesus, not just believe in him. Purged by grace, pride was just another form of indignation and self-righteousness. I chose the long, prodigal detour to this truth. It’s a hard learning to live by faith.
Each day, I know Jesus a little more. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). It dawns on me, of all the men born on earth, Jesus did not choose pride. When tempted, he answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
Moshe Feldenkrais, the Israeli physicist, said, “All the world is desperate for change, but on one condition: they don’t want anything to be different.” I would qualify his statement – “especially in themselves.”
I have often wondered about those times in the Gospels when Jesus is clearly being harsh. I now know it’s a clear warning to the prideful. The real prodigal son, the one who stayed at home, clung to his pride, too.
A word is a weak offering for experience. Spoken, it becomes true or not, and at best, incomplete in its suggestion. A word always seeks expression in form or life or experience but never fully describes them. Words can cut off our knowing because to relegate understanding to a symbol, to letters, means we find it hard to see it any other way. It simply depends on where one is standing. And who can live another’s word, words such as pride and faith and grace and love and shadow?
I live in my shadows and experiences, the storms and respites with names and places and words that accompanied me to grace.
“Those who have ears to hear, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15).