I start this letter with what Maya Angelou once said when she was asked to speak about the lifelong journey of faith. She said, “I’m startled or taken aback when people walk up to me and tell me they are Christians. My first response is the question “Already?” Then I am minded to end my letter with what Nietzsche once proclaimed, “In truth there was only one true Christian, and he died on the cross.” And somewhere in the midstream, I plan to connect the two ends with this quote, “In the middle of the journey of my life, I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”
I guess that about sums up the journey of faith for me. In three unmistakable honest quotes I have managed to capture the essence of belief and the perpetual struggles of an earnest believer. You see, the defining journey never ends with the altar conversion. We may be positionally justified in our faith but that is not the hardest of the struggles. Coming to one’s realization that the world has a Creator and He is reaching out to us is a spiritual epiphany no less but we, like what Paul in Corinthians has reminded us, are merely “babes in Christ”. And we all know that babies are totally helpless, dependable and vulnerable. This is where the metaphorical message of Maya Angelou is so instructive and it also strikes a nervous chord in me. Her words “Already?” should be the mantra of a Christian held close to his heart as if it was a lost treasure recently found after a desperate, painstaking search.
The journey of faith is no different from the journey of life. Our birth is followed by our growth, from childhood to our youth, and from our youth to adulthood, we are faced with challenges that stretch us on all sides. And then comes the dreaded midlife, which sets all things past against all things future, with the tenuous present as its fulcrum of hope. But many will still struggle at this stage because we usually come to ourselves “in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” This is where the disillusionment of life and faith intersect. This is the crossroad of our tormented selves coming to a boil with questions that have no clear answers and answers that spawn even more questions of their own.
A Christian will no doubt strive to be like Christ but if Nietzsche’s observation was any indication, the last Christian had already died on the cross. The allegorical irony in that Nietzschean quote makes a mockery of all our sincerest efforts to be like Christ. And if the proof is in pudding, then the mock is in the word “like”. To be like Christ denotes just that and no more and we all know that likeness to the real thing is but an approximation of what that real thing is. Of course, perfection is unattainable in this world but I think Nietzsche was not referring to perfection in humanity because that would be the early herald of hell on earth.
If anything, I guess Nietzsche was insufferable when it comes to the hypocrisy of men. Religion to him is an amazing magic trick. It manages to turn the evil of men by the swirl of a ritualistic wand into an immediate good. But this good is not bankable because it is, like magic, illusory. And self-deception coupled with mass delusion only deepens the deception even further as the leader feeds himself with the empty adoration of his followers and the followers feed themselves with the delusionary promises of their leader. And this mutual symbiotic relationship, if left unchecked, will invariably ossify into a monolith of incredulous proportions.
This is also where, in the middle of the journey of our faith, we confront ourselves in the darkest depths of our heart and realize that the straight way is forever lost. For what is before us now is two equally narrow roads with one leading to what is an approximation of the real thing and the other road inevitably leading us to the real thing itself. Somehow, I dread to think that the only difference between the former road (approximation journey) and the latter road (authentic journey) is merely a reversal of roles between the crucified and the crucifers, that is, it is either we nail our Savior to the Cross for self-glory or we nail ourselves to the Cross for God’s glory. The metaphor is stark I know but the truth is not.
So, coming back to Maya Angelou’s statement “Already?”, I guess Jesus the Christ epitomizes what the Christ in a Christian really means and this journey of redemption is an extremely intimate walk of faith for the believer. It is going to be his toughest journey ever. It is a journey that will take a lifetime. It is also a journey that will challenge him to his core, compelling him to face the demons of his self, and enticing him to strive for an approximation of the truth rather than to take the arduous, self-denying road to the exacting Cross where his Savior waits.
So, if the last Christian truly died on the Cross, then I guess it is only by the Cross and through it that the first Christian will ultimately emerge victorious. Cheerz.
* Image from a friend.