“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”
– E.B. White
** Image credit: Christian Schloe, The Quest
“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”
– E.B. White
** Image credit: Christian Schloe, The Quest
There was a movie called Flashdance
(stick with me).
The main character said,
“I’m not a dancer like that.”
She wasn’t trained, didn’t have degrees
on the wall (hung mostly to impress).
She could just…dance. No one knew how.
No one saw her sweating it out in her living room,
practicing behind closed doors,
away from human eyes.
She was also one of “those” dancers—
the ones that don’t call themselves strippers
since they’re still wearing a string of cloth;
she had bills to pay, and besides, it was the one place
she could shake without judgment.
I am not a writer “like that.”
I don’t have a scroll of accolades
trailing behind me like a wedding gown.
I’m not hip to who is currently the “best” in the country,
nor do I have a clue about the New York Times Book Review,
perhaps because so much of what moves me
isn’t making it to the bestseller lists
(you’d need to buy your own copies for that)…
obscure mystics like Evelyn Underhill,
and whisperings from the past by Blake and Rilke,
Dickens and George MacDonald—
people who wrote in blood and parchment, ink and blotter.
So I took “stripper” jobs (there were bills to pay).
Or what felt like their equivalent to someone
who writes for the love of writing, the written word,
and the power it has to bring light—
like music, like film, when it’s done well.
And I wonder: if artists were paid for
sheer love of what they do—
for the doing of it with heart’s blood—
not for applause,
not for kudos and thumbs-up,
not for being deemed part of the new trend,
how many would be rich, and how many poor?
There are the rare ones who hit the jackpot
without selling their souls—
those who stay true to their core
regardless of others’ jealousies, despisings, and misunderstandings,
unmoved by the questioning expectations left and right,
(nevermind words like “marketable”),
the C. S. Lewises, the Woody Allens.
But many are pushed aside by the loudmouths,
the narcissists, those pretending to shine,
and threatened by those touched with fire.
Little do they realize
that the glow of the True cannot be snuffed out.
Darkness has a go, but cannot overcome them.
Theirs is the final conquest,
the limping triumph of those who have made mosaics
from the broken pieces of themselves and their lives.
It is not registered in anything but
the peace and tranquility
If money comes in a rushing wind,
it is the frosting, not the cake.
The cake is a soul
at peace with itself.
© Monique Amado
written November, 2012
This past weekend I went to an interview and Q&A that was part of a book release for a new book called Brandpsycho: Four Essays on De:Branding. It’s written by a man who is a Jungian psychoanalyst in training and is part of a project he co-founded in Switzerland called the Zurich Lab. I started devouring the book waiting for the talk to begin and I’m now fully engrossed. It’s a small, but deep book. 94 pages.
The author spent many years of his life working as a brand director which possibly led to this new part of his journey in analyzing the very world he formerly inhabited. The questions the book poses and the ideas it presents relate to the culture of branding that has developed in the last couple hundred years, but especially during the last 30-40 years of the internet age. This is a topic I’m really interested in because more and more we hear this word “branding” as if it’s so much par for the course in marketing. It’s become an accepted term in business and entrepreneurship. And it makes me uneasy.
My concern is that, like I said to the author, “I find the word ‘branding’ disturbing because, correct me if I’m wrong, it’s related to how cows and animals have been ‘branded’ for hundreds of years by having their fur and skin singed with a scorching hot torch to burn a name or brand into them. That way they could be quickly and easily identified as to who they belonged to and where they were going.”
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Branding comes from the Norse term for burning.”
It dawned on me: like the German word “brand” which means fire.
How apropos that people are, like cattle, allowing themselves every day to be branded by their stuff. But perhaps not just by their stuff, but with their ideas, their images, and the very longings that they claim to have.
The author mentions Starbucks and Apple and addresses the power and control they, and other big names like them, have over people and yet how there is room to take the very narratives that have been used to manipulate society and turn them to help people tune in to their spirits and to who they actually are underneath all the façade.
So what would help humanity stop giving in to making purchases they don’t need or eating food that makes them sick only to line the pockets of billion dollar corporations? What would help people to stop being subliminally coerced by their appetites and wants and desires, most of which have been put on them from outside, and help them realign with what they would desire if they hadn’t been programmed with what to desire?
Well, from my point of view, the place to start is always the same. It has to do with a word I was happy to come across in the first pages of Brandpsycho. The word is imago. As in Imago Dei. Image of God.
What if, instead of people identifying themselves with a pair of jeans, or a handbag, or the latest iPhone gadget, or their bank account, or advertising’s images of happiness and love, they identified themselves with the image of God within them? How would it direct humanity’s purchases, needs, wants, desires, cravings? I think it would not only lessen them, but it would redirect humanity to an entirely contrary way of thinking about life. After all, Jesus was not on the up and up.
People can give all the arguments they want against why they don’t believe in God, Jesus, religion or whatever word they have for what they think it’s about. But in the end, doesn’t it really come down to the aversion to the primary example of dying to self that Jesus lived out? I mean, you can pontificate all day long as to the scientific reasons for why you don’t believe or how suffering proves there’s no God or how the church wounded you, but can we be honest here? It’s just too hard. What’s hard? Believing? Well, that too. But the daily believing. The daily dying to self. The daily command to love your enemy. The daily admonition to forgive an offense. The daily self-denial in holding your tongue when you’d like to tell someone off. The daily observations of people’s cognitive dissonance while you are called to love them anyway. The daily keeping a good attitude and sloshing on when you’re tired as hell. The daily commitment to stay true to something you cannot prove to anyone, but that you know is true. That’s the stuff that wears you down. Unless you’re being powered from something outside of yourself that has taken up residence within you.
G.K. Chesterton was onto something with these 2 statements:
But we don’t want to admit there’s anything wrong with us. We’d rather spend hours going on about the evils of society or government or the annoying person we have to deal with than go within and go, “Hmmm, something ain’t right in here.” It’s not a comfortable place to be, especially not when you have to sort through shame and all the baggage since childhood that aren’t really your issues to begin with, but were somehow made your issues due to someone else’s unhealed issues. Regardless of why, the work needs to be done, so it’s best to get started with it sooner rather than later.
As uncomfortable as all that may be, it’s also not comfortable to live your whole life latching onto false images and icons when really, they’re nothing but idols. And idols aren’t there to be worshipped. They are there to be destroyed. Like Gandalf said in The Lord of the Rings, “There is only one Lord and he does not share power.”
Whenever humans try to put on some other image, I imagine it to be like putting on a cheap party store costume to cover up the fact that you were originally “branded” with the image of God. And when you put on your costume or the mask of your idols, instead of becoming more of yourself, you are actually becoming less of who you are. If Christ would allow himself to be seen in utter nakedness, vulnerability and humility, stripped of everything but love in order to reveal to us not only the face of God, but the face of the ideal human, then why would we think we can pile on layers of idols that bear images which try to rob from us our true identity?
The image of God is branded into the soul of every human being. But it isn’t there to coerce and manipulate you. The crazy part is that you actually get to choose what to do with it. That’s a huge responsibility and a massive call. And because it’s so massive, it might seem easier to cover it up, to try and ignore it, to find other things to focus on instead. But it will never stop whispering to you. It will whisper beneath your pain and struggles as much as in your joys and victories. It will be with you every breath of every day. And every day your life will tell, as much by your purchases as by your actions, whether you are choosing to reveal that image or whether you are choosing to cover up and hide that image.
One of Jesus’ most famous rhetorical questions is “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world yet lose his own soul?” Each day, every one of us gets to decide how we will answer that question.
If you’d like to work through questions like the ones posed here or would like to talk to me as your coach, you can always schedule a free discovery call with me by following this link to my calendar.
I took my copy of ‘The Magnificent Defeat’ off the shelf yesterday to lend to a friend. Frederick Buechner is one of my all-time favorite writers. His prose is like glittering poetry. His heart seems made out of diamonds to write like he does. I constantly have to put his books down for a moment and stare off, saying, “Wowwww,” then go back and hungrily re-read what I just read.
Suddenly realizing I would be without a book I had not opened in a long time, I felt compelled to go through it to re-read all the parts I had underlined. I felt much like a mother kissing good-bye her high school graduate who is leaving for college, unsure when I would see my child again and knowing there would be a hole in my heart (or on my bookcase) in its absence.
I copied down some of the lines that impacted me today, from lines that had impacted me when I originally read the book about 7 or so years ago.
I hope they will do something for you as well…
“Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we know we are loved. Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.”
“The secret of prayer is persistence. Keep at it, keep speaking into the darkness, and even if nothing comes, speak again and then again. And finally the answer is given.”
“We have heard so much tragic news that when the news is good we cannot hear it. But the proclamation of Easter Day is that all is well.”
“To be wise is to be eternally curious.”
“[Christ] suffers wherever anyone suffers.”
“We need poets or children or lunatics to show us the miracles we do not notice.”
“The storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning…The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story.”