“What does persnickety mean?”
“Go look it up.”
And so Mom would always respond until I quit asking. I learned to look up words on my own. I learned self-reliance, independence. Mom had her way.
In 1944, C.S. Lewis published an essay entitled, “The Inner Ring” where he described man’s desire to belong to the group, those groups formed in every institution where the unwritten rules rule. Our curiosity drives this desire to be a part of the in-the-know crowd. He wrote, “I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”
Despite Mom’s teaching and subtle, anchoring admonition, I, like anyone else, pursued the group and the sense of belonging and prestige I thought it promised. I did not intend to be on the outside and my intention endured the first brush of exclusion, and then, initiation, that compromise with truth. It was a false aspiration cured only by a lifetime discovering its betrayal.
But my mind and heart possessed a lenticel allowing God to aspirate my false desire from my life and my soul to inhale fresh insight and truth. And at last, when that desire was mortified, I turned again toward Mom’s teaching, “go look it up.” Truth is best understood in the light of God’s countenance.
There is a sense in all this, I think, that we believe the group insulates us from God’s immediacy. Beneath our consciousness, and the lie we tell our self, we think the inner ring is a nice place to delay God’s judgment or excuse our behavior. Lewis describes the fear. “It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons, but to have them free because you don’t matter, that is much worse.” And then, we are dulled by the idea we have time to get it right. But God is a thief in the night.
Mom and God were in cahoots. The “go-look-it-up” seed kept me searching for truth, kept me looking outside the inner ring and inhaling remorse through those lenticels. Mom, who was perhaps God’s agent or Proverbs’ best commercial, in her subtle anchored way, gave me a way out.
That lapping tide of remorse over years amid repeated attempts to suppress it, and worse, rationalize it, eroded my curiosity to be in the know. Exhausted, no longer fearful of being left out or desiring to be inside the ring, I severed its sway over me. I decided to look up God.
We do not know what we do. We never have. I am beginning to think most never will. Some are graced to know before the heart’s last tick.
Jesus came to tell us. Just go look it up.
“Those who have ears to hear, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15).