Pull lens in tight for life’s best view

I’ve lived in San Francisco for a long time and yet never had any reason to go the Twin Peaks. I meant to and people rave about the views and it’s a cool twisty drive you see in car commercials to embody that wonderful feeling of the open road and… yet… eh. Never really bothered.

Then suddenly I decided I wanted to see it. So off we went on a clear day. It felt just a bit like being Chevy Chase in Vacation staring at the Grand Canyon, nodding my head saying, “Yep, yep, yep… now gotta go!”

It was… nice.

Then a few days later I watched the movie Boyhood, which was one of those too long, too slow, too moody independent films that by the end have your mind in a twist that takes about three days to fully untwist. In short, I (mostly) loved it. But what I really loved was a scene at the end when the boy pulls into a dumpy gas station in the middle of nowhere that you only find on those great road trips that let our minds and spirit truly soar on the open road. (My daughter who hates road trips texted me from one of hers recently asking, “Why is you love road trips?” to which I’d respond… that scene… that look and feeling and moment right there in that movie. That’s what I love). He pulls out his camera and takes the lens in tight, way too tight on single subjects: An old fire hydrant, a rusty lantern, a stop light. He takes beautiful shots of the most mundane things in life.

“That’s the art I love right there,” I told The Bride.

She looked up from her game of Candy Crush to see a too-tight shot of the stop light with its chipped paint and said, “huh?”

I started to explain, but let it drop. Instead I thought about it and compared it to the vistas of Twin Peaks. One was a nice view and sorta of beautiful, yet distant and removed. The other was an ugly old thing that emoted the artistic expression of life and the toll the hands of times take on a thing — even when its us who are the thing. I prefer the ugly old thing. In life especially, I’ll take the ugly old thing every time.

The temptation is to try to live above life as if we are entitled to lofty views far above the noise, pain and erosion of it all. We even envision our gods “up there” “looking down on us” and all those other ways of describing “removed.” We want to be removed from our own lives. We accept gods who would not be bothered to be among us, perhaps even taking comfort in the vain hope that someday we too can join them. We build edifices of removal, be they mansions or skyscrapers or retreats, or less literal notions of the same idea like emotional detachment to the point of addiction. What is alcohol and drug abuse if not escape?

But if the close up is so ugly, why do artists find it so compelling? Why is truth so alluring? Why is it so unsettling and provocative whenever we get close, be it to another, to a god or even to ourselves?

Perhaps because it’s real. I believe our soul hungers for what is real, not the streets of gold our mind imagines in an incessant urge to flee.

Perhaps this also explains why the story of Jesus is so compelling, a rarity in the library full of spiritual beings. Unlike Marduke or Zeus or even the enlightened Buddha, Jesus is the ugly, rusty god, the one with dirty feet who is at home with prostitutes and drunks who came through the birth canal to dwell “among us,” and even when he got here avoided the lure of the ivory tower, king’s palace or heavenly throne in exchange for the bloody, terrible, sweaty, tear-stained perch among two criminals on a cross.

This is the divine plan as the divine modeled for us in his own life. The closer we get to it, the more we learn to celebrate its beauty. The more we reject the notions of beauty others striving to live above life concoct.

Or as Thomas Merton wrote, “The logic of worldly success rests on its own fallacy–the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real.”

The more I work out of my spiritual slump, the more I find the joy I lack when I pull my view of life in tight and see what is truly, really, wonderfully, beautifully real.

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