Soul Work

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down” — Bono

722px-WhitehousenightNorbert at BCC recently shared this reminiscence about his wilder days at BYU. What struck me most was the conversation in the comments between Norbert and his friends and acquaintances from those days. I caught glimpses of magical people from a mystical (or mythical?) time.

It made me sad, though, to see that these wild, confident individuals have turned out just like the rest of us. One is a university professor. Norbert does something out in Finland. What happened to the unearthliness that made them such compelling characters in college? (My apologies to Norbert and his friends — I don’t mean to imply that you are not compelling characters now, only that you are now compelling on a human, not a trans-human, scale.)

Of course, the obvious question is, What else could they become? We can’t live forever as supreme beings of leisure.

We identify ourselves in four spheres: My relationships, My job, My hobbies, and My affiliations. I feel that an important sphere is missing, and that this missing fifth sphere is the realm where magical figures of wonderment dwell. I find the best exemplification of it in Jesus. He had brothers and sisters, but we don’t remember Him for His family. He had a job, but we don’t remember Him for His woodworking. I suppose He had hobbies, but I’ve never thought about that before. So where do we find the divinity in Him, and how can we explore that space in our own lives?

I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have a suggestion. Perhaps the fifth sphere of identity is vision — a grand vision of the way the world could be. This vision extends beyond the bounds of family, job, hobbies, and affiliations. The great work of the Savior was not limited to any of these four spheres — it was a vision that transcended them all. To use the words of my previous post, Jesus was an obscene character. We share in His obscenity and His divinity to the extent that we refuse to be limited to the identifying spheres our culture is comfortable with placing us in.

Why is nostalgia for youth so compelling? Is it just the result of rose-colored vision? Perhaps in part. But I believe that youth is fecund soil for passionate vision. The magic of those years is not just that they are gone, for they were magical while we were in them.

One fascinating attribute of vision, passion, and dreams is that they are invisible to all but the one in whose mind they dwell. I think of Joseph’s words, “There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge and a pumpkin for a beetle.” He knew the frustrating work of bringing to life the visions of his mind, striving to help others see the things they could not see, which he could see. It is a work sometimes like assisting in the delivery of a child, and sometimes like pressing the pus out of a zit. It is the work of bringing forth the kingdom of God on the earth.

13 comments for “Soul Work

  1. Ida Tarbell
    March 16, 2010 at 8:45 am

    I read Norbert’s post. It struck me as an interesting exercise in self-representation–the creation by means of literary representation of a cool, hip self. But another author could have just as easily used the same situation to present Norbert as a pathetic conformist who only thinks he is a dangerous rebel–think Hovstad from _An Enemy of the People_. I don’t mean to condemn Norbert per se, but merely to suggest that we all would like to put our cool self forward when the reality is much more clouded by our compromised positions. And now, with blogs, facebook, twitter, etc, it is very easy to create a radical persona and broadcast it from our basements (and yes,I am fully aware that I am writing this under the assumed name of a great American muckraker). We don’t even need to actually, say, smoke a cigarette or ride a motorcycle and assume any physical risks.

  2. Dane Laverty
    March 16, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Good point, Ida — there is no objective self. However, I don’t think it’s especially relevant to what I’m saying here. I don’t claim that vision and passion need to grow out of a transgressive lifestyle. What I’m saying is that youth is a time where we think beyond society’s expectations for us, and that individuals who transcend their stations in life are those who are willing to pursue a vision that no one else can see. As a husband and father of three, as a full-time computer programmer, as an active Mormon, I certainly understand the pressures, expectations, and responsibilities that accompany adult life. I only hope that beyond those — not instead of those — I might retain and pursue the visions of my youth.

  3. March 16, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Most adults look at an infant (especially one related to them) and see a vision of unlimited potential. As the child grows and develops, limitations become apparent. How many parents still harbor a hope for their child to become president of the country or the church, for that matter, by the time the child reaches adolescence?

    I suspect most individuals keep their own visions, dreams and passions longer than their parents or teachers retain hope for them, but somewhere along the line responsibilities intrude. We have to choose how to spend our finite resources of time, energy and money. Most of us choose to relegate our own dreams to helping our children accomplish theirs.

  4. Dane Laverty
    March 16, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Course Correction, your comment that “Most of us choose to relegate our own dreams to helping our children accomplish theirs” is sadly true. When I ran a dance studio, I tried to offer dance classes for adults as well as for kids. What I discovered is that people are happy to invest in the passions of their children, but feel uncomfortable doing the same for themselves. The reason this is sad is that our children will grow up to become adults, and a culture that consigns dreams to childhood ensures that our children’s dreams will also remain unfulfilled. Let us as adults live our dreams, that our children may have the courage to live theirs.

  5. Red
    March 16, 2010 at 11:19 am

    This is a long running conversation (reminds me of the Francis Bacon essay from the 1600’s: Of Marriage and Single Life). A cursory look at history reveals that most (all?) wildly “successful” businessmen, politicians, artists, etc, fail miserably at executing the basic responsibilities of adulthood. Often, they neglect their children, cheat on their spouse, and ignore standard rules of religion and/or morality in the obsessive drive to achieve a personal vision.

    I’m not sure that achieving the visions, dream, and passions of youth is really the right goal. Temperance in all things? Including maintaining some portion of our youthful exuberance, too, right?

  6. Sean
    March 16, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    The author Joyce Maynard wrote, “It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children will do with their lives, they are watching to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.”

    I agree with what I’m hearing you say Dane. Children are more likely to really *live* their lives when we adults are doing so.

  7. Dave Anderson
    March 16, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Isn’t that quote from Kris Kristofferson, not Bono (spoken to Sinead O’Connor)?

  8. Dane Laverty
    March 16, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Probably. I only know it from U2’s song “Acrobat”.

  9. James Olsen
    March 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    I think you’re getting at some of what I talked about in my December Magic post. I too think there’s something conspicuous in our youth in terms of our ability to allow a certain vision, experience, commitment, style, magic to permeate our life – it seems easier then. On the one hand, I’m quite in favor of celebrating the magic of youth and resisting the decay as we get older. On the other, as you say, I’m quite against over-romanticizing youth at the expense of our obligations in adulthood or condemning our adult life either to despair or mere raising up the next generation (feeding the system!). Great post Dane.

  10. Kruiser
    March 18, 2010 at 11:35 am

    These are good points Dave. I really like your posts. This reminds me of a thought by Eric Hoffer in his 1961 book entitled The Ordeal of Change. He has a chapter there called The Playful Mood in which he says;

    “We are told that a great life is ‘thought of youth wrought out in ripening years’; and it is perhaps equally true that ‘great’ thinking consists in the working out of insights and ideas which come to us in playful moments. Archimedes’ bathtub and Newton’s apple suggest that momentous trains of thought may have their inception in idle musing. The original insight is most likely to come when elements stored in different compartments of the mind drift into the open, jostle one another, and now and then coalesce to form new combinations. It is doubtful whether a mind that is pinnded down and cannot drift elsewhere is capable of formulating new questions. . . . Men never philosophize or tinker more freely than when they know that their speculation or tinkering leads to no weighty results. We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential. Hence the remarkable fact that many inventions had their birth as toys. In the Occident the first machines were mechanical toys, and such crucial instruments as the telescope and microscope were first conceived as playthings. . . . It is not unlikely that the first domesticated animals were children’s pets. Planting and irrigating, too, were probably first attempted in the course of play. (A girl of five once advised me to plant hair on my bald head)

  11. Kruiser
    March 18, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Sorry Dane, I was in a hurry and called you Dave.

  12. March 20, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Your blogging at T&S! Ain’t that cool kids?

  13. Dane Laverty
    March 20, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Yeah, I can’t explain how I’ve ended up hanging with the cool kids. But don’t let my cohorts fool you, I’m just as uncool as I’ve ever been :)

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