I have spent weeks writing a memoir about the early death of my father. Something came out in the last chapter that I had to share with you. I was writing about our transience and limitation as humans, and here’s what ended up falling from my pen:
I’m going to do everything from a certain place. For me, it’s a place of hope, of joy and gratitude that wars against doubt and despair, of faith that things are more than they appear to be. They are more. I see so very little, though I see much.
Dad, I miss you. I want to see you and touch your sandpaper face again, to embrace your body (several inches shorter than my own). But if you hadn’t died, I would never be chasing after the more, the deeper beauty behind life’s fragility, the God who thunders and whispers and works with shadows and light. I am after the more.
What exactly is “the more”? It’s hard to describe, but you’ve probably felt it. I wrote that it’s “the deeper beauty behind life’s fragility,” but that’s just another way of referencing the ancient patina of God’s unsearchable face. The broad, life-giving face of God is behind everything because all things are from, to, and through him (Rom. 11:36). God is beneath and behind the blushing orange light of the dawn, embossed by the bare trees in black silhouettes that edge our property. God was speaking in the little black type on the white pages of my Bible this morning. It wasn’t just me and Job in the pre-dawn dark; it was him. God is holding together the molecules comprising the black liquid of my coffee, now chilled to room temperature. Everything that I see is more than what I see. And I’m after the more.
The more is what I think of whenever those famous words from Henry David Thoreau drift across the blue expanse of my thought. He went to the woods, he said, because
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…
The marrow of life—what’s unseen and yet central to all that we know and experience—that’s what I want. The more is the marrow, the ever-ignored and elusive meaning to our beautiful and terrifying existence. The more is always right in front of us, and yet we’re blind to it. In his poem “Mill Pond,” Paul J. Pastor writes, “It is the granted / things we cannot comprehend. The child on a mountain / cannot see the mountain” (Bower Lodge, p. 28). Inside the granted things, in the dirt beneath our feet, lies the more. And I want it.
By contrast, the less, if I might call it that, is the unintentional, tripping waltz through hours and days. To pursue the less is to take life by appearance. A morning is just a morning. A cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee. A handshake is just a handshake —not a meeting of red-river, divinely governed blood vessels blanketed with skin that wraps two souls extending their fingers for communion. The less is the puddle surface, shimmering with an oil rainbow, calling for feet to stomp over and through and around it. It’s easy to live for less, much harder to live for more.
Much of our life is spent somewhere in the middle. We’re not ravenously seeking out the marrow of life, the God-given beauty and meaning of the “ordinary” things around us. Neither are we entirely thoughtless and superficial (though we have our moments each day). We’re somewhere in between.
But how do we break out of the in-between? What moves us onto a path of less or more? For me, grief has been the greatest catalyst for change. The early death of my father pushed me first toward less as I tried to ignore and cope with the pain, then towards more as an anxiety disorder broke open my soul and poured in the light and wonder of God. My suspicion is that major life events tend to do this to us; they push us. They make us choose a path.
As I continue working on my memoir (currently titled I Am a Human: A Memoir on Grief, Identity, and Hope), I have no doubt that the Spirit of God himself will be pushing me towards the more as I grapple with the past in light of the present, and the present in light of the mysterious future.
Run after the more, my friends. Run until your lungs give out.
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