A few nights ago I awoke in the darkness from an awful dream. My heart was pounding and I was sweat drenched, terrified by what I’d seen. In my dream I was imprisoned, encased and trapped in hard granite from my stomach down. In my left hand I held a chisel, and in my right, a hammer. With blow after hammer blow I laboured for long ages against my prison, trying to free myself from the cold, formless stone.
I made some progress, the rock splintering like shrapnel with every downward blow. But the rock remained, ever present, never ending. Then I saw that I wasn’t working fast enough, and was sinking down into the stone from which I’d sprung. I increased my pace, swinging the hammer harder and harder, faster and faster, but despite my frenzy the rock was pulling me down, engulfing me again into its formlessness.
By the time I woke the block of granite had swallowed me past my shoulders. As I lay there with my hands cramping from wielding the hammer and chisel, I couldn’t help but wonder:
Was it a dream?
At the center of my geographic and ideological world there stands a statue, an icon, an idol. The artist titled the piece “The Self Made Man,” and it is in fact a featured piece of artwork in my hometown of Parker, Colorado. The statue stands in a small square, just off Main Street, and is an evocative embodiment of the Great American Dream: a strong and ardent man raises his hand in defiance of heaven, chiseling himself out of stone. I hear all the popular Western mantras as I look at the statue pull yourself up by your bootstraps, be all you can be, define your own future, etc.
I can’t help but wonder if what we’re really saying with these slogans, if what we really mean by creating and placing a statue called “The Self Made Man” in our city centers is more clearly stated this way: I AM MY OWN GOD.
But I’ve got to be honest. Thankful as I am for freedom and for human rights I experience as a person living in the western world, thankful as I am for the chance to grow and live and become, thankful as I am for parents who encouraged me and told me I could “be anything I want to be,” I find myself grown weary of the effort of trying to fashion myself ex nihilo. I’m tired of the ever-present fear that I’m falling behind, that I’m not getting ahead, that I’m not doing enough, not producing enough, not swinging the hammer hard enough.
The other day I mentioned this to a dear friend over a pint at a local pub. He listened and nodded and agreed, acknowledging the crushing weight of this prevalent metanarrative. “Maybe that’s why so many of us live such frenetic, stressed-out lives,” he mused. “It’s hard to be at peace when you feel like you’re drowning.”
Shortly after we’d gone our separate ways, I received an email from my friend with an image of a very different worldview attached. It was a photo he’d taken on a recent trip to Chartes Cathedral in France, and captures a centuries-old sculpture on one of the entryways. The sculpture depicts Adam (humankind), not fashioning himself out of stone, but rather being called into existence by a loving God.
It will take a very long time, I think, to internalize and begin to live out of this alternative, this other-worldly metanarrative. Maybe that’s–at least in part–what it means to become a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.
God I hope this is the way things actually are–I hope you are the one calling us into existence, helping us become who we were created to be, giving us shape and form as you draw us ever more into your presence.
May it be so. Amen.
Else I’d better get back to swinging my hammer…