Wednesday, April 29, 2020
In a typical week, we are everyday bombarded with advertising, self-help stratagems, and motivational pep talks that urge us to live life beyond limits—to break down the barriers and barge through the constraints that keep our desires just beyond our grasp. We are told that we are limited only by our thoughts, that we can think and grow rich, name it and claim it, and manifest reality.
And then came coronavirus. And suddenly, we smacked up against limits (epidemiological, physical, economic, and relational) that we cannot wish away or will ourselves out of—no matter how visionary our thinking, expansive our imagination, or high our aspirations (as vital as vision, imagination, and aspiration are). As Wendell Berry observed in his essay Faustian Economics: Hell hath no limits, “We are coming under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world.”
It is a hard transition—a bitter force-feeding of a rancid reality sandwich. But perhaps there is a hidden gift involved in confronting our creaturely identity. As limited creatures, we become aware of our vulnerabilities, our interdependencies. We must look beyond ourselves. And in turning our gaze upward and outward, we find that there is beauty to behold, and a new story to enter into.
In the same article, Berry goes on to explain how the arts are an example to us of being governed by limits. He notes:
“It is the artists, not the scientists, who have dealt unremittingly with the problem of limits. A painting, however large, must finally be bounded by a frame or a wall. A composer or playwright must reckon, at a minimum, with the capacity of an audience to sit still and pay attention. A story, once begun, must end somewhere within the limits of the writer’s and the reader’s memory…And probably most of us can name a painting, a piece of music, a poem or play or story that still grows in meaning and remains fresh after many years of familiarity.”
How can we learn to live—like great works of art or literature that are bound by frames, covers, homes, neighborhoods, and communities? How do we within these confines find meaning, stewardship, neighborliness, care, and love that is evergreen?
“LORD, You are my portion and my cup of blessing; You hold my future. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Psalm 16:5-6