Saturday, May 24, 2008

Walking in the Truth

"I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth." 
- 3 John 1:4

As a first time mother, I am only beginning to understand the poignancy of these words. Of course, my daughter is still an infant, so we are not grappling with issues of right and wrong yet--or even basic manners. Yet, in the atmosphere of our home, the friends and family we surround ourselves with, the way that we spend our time and resources, the way in which my husband and I relate to each other and to our baby, the stories we tell and the songs that we sing, even through these simple things, we reveal whether or not we--and by extension our daughter--are walking in the truth.

Yet, what is "truth"?

Personally, I believe that there are some absolute truths. I believe that God, as well as good and evil, exist and therefore that not all things are permissible, as Dostoevsky's Roskolnikov found out the hard way. The trouble is, I think that such absolutes are glimpsed more rarely than we humans would sometimes like to think. 

It seems that a great deal of life exists within the grey realm of choice. When things are neither good nor evil, it is more difficult to decide what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, what is worthwhile and what is a waste, what is worthy and what is cheap, what is true and what is not. And, sometimes, what is merely the most favorable option. Yet, if much of life is lived within this muddle of choice, suspended outside of the ultimate dichotomy between good and evil, then how do we walk in truth?

For some people, walking in truth means certainty of conviction to the point of what has been called "blind faith" in one's moral values, worldview philosophy, or religious beliefs. For others, it means building a life around only those things which may be proven and wholly rejecting all things which cannot.

But, how can either of these approaches lead to truth, when they deny the very existence--the very truth--of the grey areas? To me, to walk in truth demands acknowledging and living into those areas of life where convictions fail and uncertainty reigns.

To illustrate what I mean, I refer to a story which the great Russian director and actor Stanislavsky tells of an acting exercise he was a part of as a young man. The teacher placed a chair in the center of the stage, and one by one, asked each of his students to take their turn in the chair. This being an acting class, each of the students took it as an improvisation opportunity. One by one, they sat in the chair and by turns acted out scenes of despair, passion, impatience. Entertaining though each scenario was, the students got restless, much preferring their own time on stage to sitting through their fellows' turns. After they had each had their chance to perform--and perform they did--their teacher took the stage and sat in the chair. 

For five minutes, he sat. 

Presumably, he was thinking through his day or deciding what to cook for dinner. Once, he checked his watch. He did not pretend to be somewhere else, to be someone else, or to be experiencing circumstances any different from what he was presently experiencing, namely that he was a teacher sitting in an armchair on a stage, being watched by his students. And, for five minutes, the students stared in rapt attention. After five minutes, he stood up and walked back down the stage steps into the audience where his pupils were seated.

Why had the teacher's five minutes sitting in the chair so fascinated his students when they had grown bored of each other's much more exciting performances? Truth. 

Their teacher had lived into the grey area. What he did was neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong. But, it was true. He needed no conviction, but he did make a choice. Perhaps it is difficult to see. The teacher's choice lay in choosing to exist exactly in the moment, to live into the present, not to judge the experience, but to simply experience it.

Now, truth does not always look like this. Usually, truth shines brightest when we humans need to make a choice about it, whether to believe, whether to follow, whether to proclaim it or defend it or uphold it. But, it is in these smaller moments, I believe that we train for the greater moments. 

When we stop performing, we leave ourselves open to truth. When we stop demanding that each and every question have a clear answer, when we stop trying to define the indefinable, when we stop trying to turn "better" into "right" and choices into absolutes, when we confess the grey areas, then we are preparing ourselves to recognize truth where it counts.

Sometimes, the truth jumps out and surprises us in new and profound ways. Sometimes, those things we took for truth take complete 180s and utterly redefine what we had always taken for granted. That doesn't mean that we should disregard what has been proven, but it does mean that we should not be wholly surprised when what we believed to be fact turns out to more complex than we once thought, and perhaps is even incorrect. 

But just as there is danger in disregarding what has been proven simply because there is the chance it might be unproven someday, so to there is danger in disregarding what we may experience as reality, simply because we cannot prove it. Albert Einstein once said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." If we are either lame or blind, it will be fairly difficult to walk in the truth. Jesus knew this. I think it's why he spent such a large part of his ministry on earth healing the lame and giving sight to the blind. 

I will not have all the answers for my daughter, and I don't just mean in the superficial sense of I don't know how many different kinds of fish are in the sea or how many pounds an elephant weighs. But, I can honor her questions, and can encourage her to seek answers by seeking first the Kingdom (Matt. 6:33).

By doing this, I will be setting her, by the grace of God, on the path to truth.

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