Leading Desperate Lives

Here's a famous bit of Thoreau's Walden:
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go in to the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.
A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left."
Thoreau connects the desperation of most people ("the mass of men") with their deliberate choice to live a "common" life. But to them, he says, there is no other choice.

I've found this to be true at times in myself and in those I've been privileged to lead. I think most of us are so afraid of losing something that we choose the safety of a mundane existence rather than the risk of an adventurous one.

We choose to live in patterns prescribed to us by our surroundings, by the institutions to which we cling and by our own past experiences. And rather than face our fear of failure, we console ourselves by believing that there really is no other choice.

I find it interesting that Thoreau invokes the Westminster Catechism in this passage. That product of our reformed theological heritage asks,
"What is the chief end of man?"
and then promptly answers
"Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."
Isn't that just beautiful? When I read that, I envisage a world full of possibilities - where adventure abounds and the future is ripe with opportunity. In that moment, I believe.

But then sometimes I'll shift my gaze back to my current situation - whatever it happens to be at the time. And then I'll sigh, "It's hard to believe."

But isn't that what faith is all about?  It's believing, despite our current situation, in that which God has promised for His Creation.  It's believing that Messiah will return, restore and resurrect - recreating a world with no more junk.

Believing that somehow we've got a part to play in that grand story, that somehow the fruits of our most noble pursuits in building His Kingdom will survive eternally on the earth.

Father, help us . . . to believe.


Anonymous said...

Is that you on that glacier?? Awesome picture.

Mike Aleckson said...

Yep, it's from a trip to Ouray, CO. Josh and I were climbing frozen waterfalls in the Ouray Ice Park.

I love that place!