Be sure to put your faith in something more
I’m just a girl and you’re not as alone as you feel
—Paramore, “Idle Worship”
A few days ago, my friends and I went on a spontaneous road trip to Salvation Mountain, way out in the middle of the Sonoran desert of California. It was one of those lovely days that I want to capture forever and go back to when needed. Spending a day in the presence of friends-for-life and jamming out to Hannah Montana in the car was a blast, but the trip was also spiritual in a totally unexpected way, and the small escape from daily duties allowed me to process more clearly what’s been going on in my heart recently. I’m in a melancholy state of life right now. I’m embracing it but not letting it consume me. Being okay with not being okay.
Salvation Mountain was really amazing. So much color on such a colorless canvas. It was slightly decayed and disordered but also bursting with innocent joy. The best part was when my friends and I sat in a colorful cave that had “God is Love” painted on the wall, and we started singing—in all our various ranges of voices—”How He Loves Us.” It was a beautiful moment of genuine praise amid all of the craziness and brokenness that comes with being 19. I felt it in my bones, being in such a messy cavern of color scraps with friends I love so dearly.
After Salvation Mountain, we visited an artist commune called East Jesus. It was a strange experience, and although the art was disturbing, I thoroughly felt it. My friend Kate and I were talking about the evident, embodied expressions of mental illness turned into art. A human collection of pain and confusion over what is and isn’t. Political statements looking for a way through the decrepitness in modern society. The haunting art, combined with the stale sunshine, the humid heat, sweat, and stickiness made for an uncomfortable and eye-opening afternoon, which is exactly what art is for.
While in the desert, I had time to reflect on a specific book I’ve been reading lately by Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard, an existentialist philosopher, is helping me think deeply about what it means to be a self: a human, embodied self of finitude and temporality.
“…only that a person’s life was wasted who went on living so deceived by life’s joys or its sorrows that he never became decisively and eternally conscious as spirit, as self, or, what amounts to the same thing, never became aware and in the deepest sense never gained the impression that there is a God and that “he,” he himself, exists before this God—an infinite benefaction that is never gained except through despair. What wretchedness that so many go on living this way, cheated of this most blessed of thoughts!” —Kierkegaard
This passage, from Kierkegaard’s book Sickness Unto Death, hit me hard. It described exactly this hole in my heart I’ve been feeling but didn’t know how to express. One of my biggest fears is to unknowingly drift through life without ever plunging beneath the surface, without ever encountering truth, without ever knowing the depths of God, and therefore, never knowing myself. How often I see this in our world—this dull spiritlessness disguised as busyness and success and pleasure. How easily we are fooled into thinking our worth is in money and appearance and affection. How society tricks us into thinking we are infinite and perfect and mini-gods of these delicious lives we’ve invented for ourselves. This is the wasted life Kierkegaard is talking about! You are living a lie, you are not yourself, you are imprisoned.
This life is not about the careless pleasure that society shoves in our hungry faces. We are humans of finitude. It is only by plunging deep into our limitations—despair, suffering, heartbreak— that we can we hope for salvation, that we can hope for life.
To be human is to be rooted in the earth. I am a body of flesh. This is what my self is. I am not an abstract being with a loose soul. The real me is right here. I am me, here and now, radically limited and radically alive because I am embracing those limitations.
In the bodily discomfort of the sweat and heat of the desert, I stand: sticky and tired, holy and human. It is beyond me—this radical blessed holiness given to me even in my finitude. How Jesus came down and experienced this, and how he calls me out from a life of numbness to a life of examination and compassion, a life of love.
Especially with all the natural disasters and tragedies going on in the world right now, I must be extra aware that I am not ignoring it or de-sensitizing myself to it because it’s “too sad.” I need to take that sadness as a reminder—as a reason—to go out into the world and love.
In embracing these hard times, in accepting the fact that I am limited, I can take this sadness in my heart and still be able to look at God and say, Here I am. So here I am Lord. To be myself is to know You.
Faith is: that the self in being itself and in willing to be itself rests transparently in God. —Kierkegaard
Humble and Human, willing to bend You are
Fashioned of flesh and fire of life, You are
Not too proud to wear our skin
To know this weary world we’re in
Humble, humble Jesus
—Audrey Assad, “Humble”