Monday, March 03, 2008

Postmodern Devotion

I consider myself postmodern. Kinda. Maybe postmodern with a squirt of empiricism and sympathy for foundationalism. And a good healthy dose of global skepticism. That is, I consider myself all those things if I thought labels could describe me; I hate labels.

In other words, I consider myself postmodern.

For me, postmodern leanings are a constant battle to figure out the truth of a thing - to figure out how to make it subjective and meaningful to me as a single individual. The postmodern battle for truth is complicated.

As I daily embark upon the narrow way, I've recently come to reflect on what it means to be devoted to something. In the Christian faith, it is not uncommon to hear calls to "simple", "pure", "undivided", or "sincere" devotion. To be honest, I have no idea what that means.

Devotion, it seems, is anything but simple. If devotion were as easy as just saying you were devoted, then the word wouldn't have any meaning. We could all be devoted to whatever we wanted to be, by merely speaking the words. But that's not devotion. Even a casual observer would realize I'm not devoted to my wife if I cheat on her, even if I say with the loudest voice that I am devoted. It seems that devotion is more than wearing a label, or pledging allegiance. It seems that devotion must be a more extensive act.

So is devotion where your mind and effort dwells to the exclusion of other things? Can a person be devoted to clinical depression, or to substance addiction? Should a person who is ensnared by that which they hate, be called "devoted" to their misery? Returning, over and over again, to things you hate is a sign of a split mind. That seems more like addiction than devotion. On the other hand, being single-mindedly devoted to things you enjoy, to the exclusion of other things, like your friends, or your family, or your personal identity feels more like obsession than devotion. It seems that devotion is a more balanced act than that.

Is devotion doing what it takes to accomplish the good things you desire? After all, when you love someone, wouldn't you do whatever it takes to make them happy? But the ugly side of this is that happiness can be a fake - a manufactured reality based on false promises. Anyone can tell a sincere lie to further a cause. Devotion must be more substantial than that. It must be courageous enough to speak the truth in love, but also realistic enough to realize that devotion is much deeper than words alone. Devotion, it seems, must come from within and spread, in a certain way, to what is outside yourself.

What if real devotion is complicated in its origin and multi-layered in its approach? What if it is more than words spoken and actions taken, since any of these, on their own, can be a lie?

Devotion, it seems to me, is not a prospective act, in which I say I'm devoted and then prove it to you later. Instead, it is a retrospective act in which I look back and see unmistakable trail of devotion. Devotion isn't words spoken or actions taken. Devotion is a life lived, colored by the complicated past that drives a person to unite heart, mind, and strength. Devotion can only be seen in the rear view mirror. Perhaps that's why a person is said to be "devoted"- which is a past-tense word.

So as I wake up each morning, and wonder what a person devoted to the narrow way does today, I know that future devotion can only be approached with fear and trembling. This, it seems, is our daily postmodern devotion.

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