What the truth may depend on
I used to pride myself on knowing the truth. On knowing where to find it, who had it. Me. Of course. Us. Us Christians. Especially those of us Christians in my particular denomination who believed the right way in the right truth.
The late American poet Wallace Stevens wrote a long poem, “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction,” that I recently stumbled upon and through. Some of his thoughts and expressions jarred some thoughts in me.
In one section of the poem I hear Stevens saying we live derivative lives. We didn’t invent life or thought or experience. We come late to the equation and must muddle our own way through. And there is a unique satisfaction in this. He says:
It feels good as it is without the giant,
A thinker of the first idea. Perhaps
The truth depends on a walk around the lake
—Wallace Stevens, from “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”
I hear longing in these lines. Life is (as) good as it is without the giant. Maybe it would be heaven on earth if a divinity were to manifest among us tomorrow and solve all our problems, resolve all our moral ambiguities, direct us in clear and unequivocal ways. (Must I say it? For a long time I tried to make the church my Giant. The church, the Bible, dogma and doctrine—anything that could serve as stand-in for God’s direct giant guidance.)
I hear wisdom in these words. We live life without the giant. We live in the world that unfolds itself around us, and enfolds us in it, every minute of the day. “Truth is a pathless land,” said the spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti. These words echo in a deep place within me. No one has the royal road. We each must find our own way to truth. And find it we must. It will not be presented to us on a silver platter, given us by a giant’s hand.
Oh, there was a time in my life when I believed truth is immutable, unchangeable, _there_. Or _here_, rather. I believed I had the truth—me and my church—and you needed it. You needed to hear it from me. You needed to accept the truth as I had, as I held it, as I held it out to you.
Now I look back at that gotta-save-the-world boy/teen/Taylor student I once was and I cringe. Too, I feel sad and sorry for him, for who he thought he had to be. For how self-righteous he was, how sure of himself, how holy. How willing to pass judgment on himself and others. How very certain he was of truth. How very certain he was that truth could never depend upon something so flimsy and ludicrous as a walk around the lake.
How very far he and I have come. This in itself gives me hope for the future. Mine, yours.