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Trans Substantiation, Part 1
As the mental health crisis among our nation’s youth continues to grow, a thought: there but for the grace of God go I. It might be helpful to share my witness. I hope to sound the alarm. The forces that saved me have become systematically expunged from our society, whereas ideas that would have killed me now predominate.
For years, my identity was in my grades– earning good report cards, making my parents proud, getting in the best schools. Evidently I wasn’t that smart after all, because it never occurred to me to think about what to do in the best school once I got there.
With no grades left to grub, I had no purpose. All I had left was… me. And I didn’t even know who “me” was. I had never bothered to ask me. To reprise the classic Jackie Mason bit, what if you set out to find the real you, and he’s in worse shape than you are?
I will not bore you with details of my descent. Suffice to say, this being around the time Scorsese’s The Aviator came out, I remember watching DiCaprio’s performance and thinking, “wait, that’s not really that nuts, is it?”
So what saved me? Well, this picture did.
Certain works of art had moved me over the years. Chief among these were the poems of Tennyson. I memorized a lot of Tennyson. Then, one day, I saw a picture of him.
I had no idea who I was, but I knew I was most definitely not that. For starters, I can’t even grow a beard. Look at that face, those clothes, that hat, that posture, the very tone of the photograph – it’s all so foreign. Here I was, some spoiled suburban kid in 21st century America – what could be more removed from all my lived experience than some stolid old Victorian?
What about this “me” I had been trying to find? Was my true self a weird old Victorian dude? Was I, deep down, an 18th or 19th century British woman, like my other favorites, Austen and Bronte? Had I at long last found myself, only to learn that I was a long-suffering, lupus-ravaged, Georgian peacock farmer like Flannery O’Connor? If so, I knew I would have to work on my accent.
Of course, I was none of those people. Some smarts, that it took an ancient polaroid to show me that, but hey, I’ll take my epiphanies where I can get them.
Here was mine: what those artists and I had in common was not our appearance, our upbringing, or our fashion sense, but something far more everlasting: our soul. It may be a commonplace to you that you have a soul; it was anything but obvious to me at the time. I come from a long line of outspoken unbelievers. Yet it was the only logical explanation. These artists had captured a spark of their divine soul on the written page, and years – even centuries – later, that spark lit something in my own soul. The materialistic worldview I had taken for granted my whole upbringing did not last the night. Tennyson, beard and all, was like me where it mattered, and like you, too: we are, all of us, equally blessed by our Creator with an immortal soul.
The journey from rejecting materialism to accepting salvation is a story for another time. The bottom line: thanks to the grace of God, I came to realize that my identity did not lie within me – not deep down in some ever-elusive ‘true self’ I was tasked to discover – but outside of me, in Christ. As the hymn goes, “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand/All other ground is sinking sand.” As the roles I adopt in life evolve, and my subjective feelings with them, I no longer need worry about going full DiCaprio, for, thank God, my identity is outside myself, on a much firmer foundation than my imperfect will. Even better, with this approach I never have to worry about cleaning peacock poop.
One of the few things I know about myself with certainty is that I’m always changing. My thoughts, moods, feelings have evolved in many ways over the years. I shudder to look back at some of those phases; the less said about my New Kids on the Block years, the better. If you’re human, you probably have succumbed to an embarrassing trend or two yourself. Imagine planting a flag in any one of those years and declaring, “thus far have I changed, I will change no further!” Imagine going on with the rest of your days stuck inside some permanent, past version of you, frozen in amber instead of growing in wisdom. That sounds less like a fulfilling life, more like a nightmare. Why then are we pushing it on our kids?
More to come.