At times I wonder if I, if all of us, are anything more than our hunger. I sometimes worry that underneath our pleasantries, cultures, virtues, faith, and even love there is simply our ambition to fill ourselves. Some appetites may appear more nobel than others, but is there fundamentally a difference? Is there anything beyond our desire to be, and not only exist but also be affirmed in that existence by others?
This worry comes from watching the people in the public eye of my country, from seeing beyond the words of those around me, and from feeling the currents beneath the surface of my own heart. I had a friend once tell me she felt like I was double-minded. Her comment troubled me for a while because I could sense that she was right. But I’ve come to believe that we’re all double-minded. A guy named Ernest Becker describes this characteristic of humanity as being “gods with asses”, meaning creatures with a capability for grand imagination but who are also susceptible to the urges and wearing down of bodies. It’s not gnosticism, it’s simply an acknowledgment that our public ideal selves are not the selves who have short tempers, foul mouths, and selfish hearts.
For quite some time I’ve had a fondness for the Buddhist faith. I can’t claim anything other than the appreciation of an outsider in regards to Buddhism, since I am firmly rooted in a Christian tradition. However, Buddhist thought offers language that helps me wrestle with questions about my own brokenness, my way of being in the world, and my tools for constructing meaning in ways that the familiarity of my own Christian language sometimes doesn’t. The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths state:
- All life experiences suffering.
- The cause of suffering is craving.
- The end of suffering comes with the end of craving.
- The cure for suffering and the end of craving is to be whole.
My appreciation for the Buddha’s thinking lies in the honesty I feel he has in characterizing life by suffering and anxiety, and his understanding that this suffering is linked to our craving. I also appreciate that he proposes a cure, though I think it falls short. I don’t think we can simply end our craving.
On occasion I am filled with a thick cynicism about myself and everyone else. At times I’m convinced that life is just a fluctuating struggle and that people simply suck in varying degrees. My sliver of optimism comes in the hope that there is more. Maybe we are more than our hunger. Maybe we are more than creatures trying to assert our being by echoing God’s words spoken to Moses. Maybe we can be whole.
The question of wholeness is pretty important for me. Here I have to depart from my Buddhist friends in their belief that the road to wholeness and way to end craving is to abide by the eight-fold path. We can’t simply end our craving, we must end the self that craves. I think this is what’s at stake in Jesus’ words, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” We gotta own our privilege, admit that we’re prone to characterizing the other1 as inferior or dangerous, be willing to have the blindness imposed on us by ourselves and societies stripped away, risk proclaiming a Kingdom that disrupts Rome, and see ourselves naked in the light of God’s presence. Like the dragon scales of Eustace Scrubb in C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, our craving can only be fully torn away by God’s claws. I’m certainly under no illusion that this is a simple thing. Honestly, I’m not even entirely certain that it’s possible to stop being self-centered and begin being wholehearted. My one hope is in Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, and the promise his empty tomb gives of resurrection for all things. I think the Christian life is a continual process of breaking and restoring, which meets it’s culmination in the death and resurrection of our bodies. If we can be whole people, then I think it only comes in the light of this resurrection, in the hope that in death there is life. To quote author Octavia E. Butler, “In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn.” This is why I think Easter is important.