Perspective is everything. When its lost, headaches and heartaches set in, take root, and begin to dominate our lives.
When we lose perspective everything is reduced: the wide horizon, the depth of our minds, the compassion of our hearts, the enjoyment of our lives, and the consolation of our God. When perspective is lost, the world turns upside down: contentment gives way to restlessness, humility to ambition, and patience to a hopeless pursuit of a consummation, renown, and immortality that this life can never give.
I know. It’s happened to me, countless times; in fact it happens to me most all of the time. In my life, forever it seems, I keep losing perspective and becoming obsessed with a love I cannot have, with hurts that I cannot let go of, and with an ambition that leaves me too preoccupied, too self-absorbed, and too hurried to fully notice what’s around me.
Like most everyone else, I spend too many hours waiting for a special phone call that doesn’t come, for a special letter that doesn’t arrive, for a special glance of affection that isn’t given, and for a special daydream to turn into reality. Like most everyone else who’s lost perspective, I spend too many hours stewing about hurts, replaying again and again the real and imagined rejections, insults, and misunderstandings that have come my way, and dwelling on where I’ve been cheated, where life is unfair, and where others have been given what I don’t have. Like most everyone else, I am driven, restless, ambitious and I live a pressured life, a life too hurried and demanding to be fully enjoyed. Like most everyone else, I dwell too much upon my own emotional, sexual, and moral loneliness and this preoccupation robs me of most of the simple, and deepest, joys of life. And, like most everyone I know, for me, it won’t be easy to die, to let go, to return, with grace and gratitude, to the dust of earth, content enough with the astounding fact that I have lived, felt life, walked the earth, been loved, and have been and remain part of the Body of Christ.
But to have perspective, I must be praying, mystically feeling the other world, and content enough in my anonymity to take my place, but no more than that, among others, as one small but integral member of the billions of men and women who have walked, and will walk, the earth and will, one day, be presented by Christ to his Father. It is not easy to keep perspective and to claim no more, and no less, than my true place in history.
When my own prayer and mysticism is too weak for me to properly do this, one of the things I can still do is to stay in touch with those who have kept things in perspective. One of the persons who has helped me in this is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French scientist/priest/mystic/philosopher who died on Easter Sunday in 1955. Like the rest of us, his life too had its share of hurts, ambitions, cold lonely seasons, and obsessions. He spent most of his life unsure that anyone really understood him. But, and this is where he is rare, he invariably was able to put things into perspective, to regain the wide horizon, and to see things, no matter how bad they appeared on the surface, as making sense in Christ.
Because of this, this perspective, he was a gifted man, gifted not just with extraordinary insight, but also with exceptional joy. He could see God in a stone. A chip of rock in the desert or an opera in Paris or New York, both held equal potential for delight. The simple pleasures of life, the elementary act of looking at the world and feeling its elements: the weather, the soil, the sun, the very dust could give him a joy bordering on ecstasy. It didn’t matter whether he was with his loved ones, at home in France, or away from his loved ones (and loved land), in exile in China, every kind of everyday experience could leave him feeling deeply grateful just for the fact of living, for the privilege of being part of what God is doing on this earth.
He could love deeply and he could also let go, and this letting go was what saved him from the always-present fear, ambition, and loneliness that so often asphyxiates me. He was able to keep things in perspective and so he didn’t need to dwell on past hurts, on present loneliness, and on future fears. Thus, for example:
At age thirty-five, in 1916, he found himself in the front lines, as a stretcher-bearer, in the First World War. Before the battle to recapture Douaumont, fearing that he might be killed, he wrote the following:
I tell you this: I shall go into this engagement in a religious spirit, with all my soul, borne on by a single great impetus in which I am unable to distinguish where human emotions end and adoration begins. And if I am destined not to return from those heights I would like my body to remain there, molded into the clay of the fortifications, like a living cement thrown by God into the stonework of the New City. (Hymns of the Universe, London, Fontana, 1970, p. 51)
Humbling words, noble words, from a rare person with a rare faith. We all need to read and write words like this , and then, perhaps, we won’t live in restlessness and ambition, waiting for that special something that never comes.