Last week I wrote about Valentine’s from an habitually single guy’s perspective.
Not surprisingly, I got a lot responses in commiseration with my “tragic” fate, but I also got a lot of advice. My friend Skip pointed out something that got me to thinking. We are culturally obsessed with sex and love. Which movie/song/insert-form-of-popular-entertainment-here isn’t about this topic? It is, in fact, my belief that ALL human endeavor finds its origin here. War, art, philosophy, politics, social unrest, sports, on the job excellence and scholastic achievement each spring from these most basic desires.
Maybe I’m overstating, but not by much. If you were told you’d never ever get laid or kissed or loved, no matter what you did, ever, would you go to work, do a good job, hit the gym, watch your weight, overthrow the government so you could be king or at least hang out with him and those hot courtesans? Really? The people who flew planes into the World Trade Center did it for the virgins.
So, I was thinking, if this desire runs this deep in our clever species, how vast must the mating industry be?
The list of self-help, web-based, spiritual, magical, matchmaker, mail order, dating service, 900 number, seminar, individual, color-me-mine mating options I can think of is infinite. Aside from numbers – you know counting from 1 into the zillions – dating catalyst options are the only other concept of infinity that my tiny mind can contain. And, I live in California, so the fringier psychic, herb, Wiccan spectrum of options are still more available.
As I considered all of these possibilities two things occurred to me. Of course my first thought was what a great book or documentary following these paths would make. There would be no shortage of material and, who knows? It might just work. What also came to mind as I thought about the project was another concept, perhaps not infinite, but certainly vast.
We don’t take grace into account much in our instant, drive thru, Blackberry, iPod, download, online, Wi-Fi world. Destiny is within our grasp and control. As we become more and more the masters of our tiny universe, grace seems rather old hat.
Webster’s says grace is “unmerited divine assistance” and that, to my way of thinking, better describes the world than any other theory. Before you dismiss me as some religious nut, think of this. If, in fact, hard work and merit decide the outcome of human affairs, how do we account for the rise of some of the more odious among us? Are all the stars in Hollywood or Washington, DC there because they are the best, brightest and most talented? Are the best sellers the best written? Are the most loveable the ones who get the best mates?
How many talented, adorable, photogenic kids posted videos of themselves singing and playing musical instruments on YouTube and how many got to be Justin Beiber?
I’m not saying Justin does or does not deserve to be there, but I think it’s worth observing, why him?
My answer would be grace. I’m more a great spirit, collective unconscious, haven’t-got-a-clue kind of guy than an organized religion guy, so I’m not trying to explain grace. I’m just saying that I think grace should be factored into the equation as I try to affect destiny through my own puny efforts.
Affairs of the heart seem a particularly vivid example of the power of grace to shape our lives.
Let’s say I picked up a copy of How to Git Hitched. I followed the examples, I did the exercises, I used the techniques and now I’m married. Conclusion: Reading How to Git Hitched caused me to git hitched. Or, I signed up for the website, I filled out the questionnaire, I posted a profile following the guidelines and now I’m living in iHarmony. But what if I did all those things – and believe me I have – and I didn’t git iHitched? What then?
Using the non-grace based model, the only possible conclusion is that I’m to blame. I followed the fool proof Git Hitched five steps to bliss and I spent my 52nd Valentine’s Day solo. That must mean I’m too ugly or unlovable or incompetent to be in a relationship. And yet as I look around me in the world, there are plenty of married hideous, hateful, incompetents.
Unobserved, my experience of life encourages me to believe that I’m causing my life to work out the way it does. I believe that the raise and the promotion I got were entirely based on my job performance. Everyone else, who didn’t get the same raise and promotion, just wasn’t as good or as deserving as me. Remember the CEO of BP? He got promoted to that job at some point.
Cause and effect is tricky when it comes to human life. I wore these socks and my team won. Ergo, these are my lucky socks. Right? How about, I wore these socks and my mom died. Evil socks? Not so much, right? But if I’m causing the good things to happen, I have to be causing the bad ones, too. If I did it, every blessing becomes a curse and a fearful responsibility, lest I wear the wrong socks and screw it up.
Religions are often interpreted as telling us how to get the kind of luck we want. “Act like we tell you to and get a new car!” But what if I’m following all the Ten Commandments and still living in poverty? How about all the lying adulterers in Congress? This Karmic cause and effect, also fails to describe my real experience. I think it’s healthier to look at religious governance as instructions on how to live to good purpose, whatever the outcome or our circumstances, not as how to trick god into doing it my way.
That self help book The Secret, that sold a billion copies a few years back, seems to me the perfect example of the kind of thinking that brings me more heartache than results. While I do think that making my best effort and keeping a positive outlook improve the quality of my life, it is not my experience that either are guarantees of, or even the route to, success. Are the folks in Biafra starving because they aren’t visualizing a steak dinner? Is The Secret really a better written book than mine? Is Iran’s President Almondine really the best man for the job or even the one the people of Iran are visualizing?
Grace is a fearsome possibility to consider in such a savage world, but it offers me a better description of how my life has unfolded than the more comforting notions of the self-help or the world religion sections. I don’t know how the universe works, but it seems clear to me that the work-hard-and-keep-your-nose-clean theory for success in any field is not it.
What I do know, is that when I’m living to good purpose by my way of thinking, showing up for my life as best I can and leaving the outcome of all that I do to heartless grace, at least it’s not on me when my life sucks or I’m solo mio on Valentine’s. And when things do work out? I can be truly and humbly thankful for the gift.