Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Amazing (Human) Race

Nature attains perfection, but man never does. There is a perfect ant, a perfect bee, but man is perpetually unfinished. He is both an unfinished animal and an unfinished man. It is this incurable unfinishedness which sets man apart from other living things. For, in the attempt to finish himself, man becomes a creator. Moreover, the incurable unfinishedness keeps man perpetually immature, perpetually capable of learning and growing… (Eric Hoffer)

Thinking today about what it is that makes people so much more fascinating than almost anything else. Perhaps it is our unique ability to become. Not just change or grow, which is also fascinating and lovely when you see it in an animal or a plant. No, people have the possibility to do something more. By the choices we make, we actually become more or less than we began. It's mind-boggling, if you think of it. What power, not in doing, but in willing - !

And then, to consider that someday we will be what we have created; what we have willed. Is that the frightening part of death - to have our choices ended, our state-of-becoming completed? To be finally formed, finished?

I read an article the other day about artist Brian Eno, who has been challenging the idea that art needs to be controlled by the artist. His installation 77 Million Paintings is currently on display at Calgary's Glenbow Museum. It consists of a digital kaleidescope of paintings that shift and change at random; what emerges is something Eno did not choose. Eno says he believes that surrender ought to be thought of as an active verb. To be frank, I don't really like Eno's work, but the philosophy behind it intrigued me. In fact, it reminded me of the work of another Creator. The first one. He too created something and let go.

His creation, like Eno's, is not entirely what he would have it. God made an earth that is held together by a vast number of physical laws. He made animals of every sort. It is interesting to consider that when Noah built the ark, and God called every kind of animal in twos and sevens to enter it, they went. There was no complaining, no arguing. And then I think of Jesus in the boat, speaking to the wind and waves, saying, "Peace, be still". No hesitation. Entirely within his control. Humanity, though, is a wholly different kind of creation. Remember what Jesus said about us? O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets, and stone them which are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:37)

But while 77 Million Paintings operates on randomness, humanity does not. For each of us, there are choices, and a choice. We ultimately become, not what we were made, but the result of what we will. We can change; become something different. Jericho's Rahab and Mary Magdalene both began as something many despise - prostitutes - and became women of great honour. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, became a laughingstock.

What our mortality means is that we do not know the day when our choices will end; when we will be frozen forever into what we are; the ultimate result of what we have willed.

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