Thursday, July 23, 2009

"This is Water"

One of the most brilliant American authors in recent years was David Foster Wallace. My personal favorite is his nonfiction Everything and More about the mathematical history and philosophy of infinity. He took his own life in 2008, and this spring a graduation speech of his was issued posthumously, titled This is Water: Some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion, about living a compassioante life.

To an astute reader, the book is a modern rewriting of the book of Ecclesiastes. Midway through, Foster Wallace writes, "In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worship. The only choice we get is what to worship." He goes on to examine the various idols of modern life: money, the human body, power, and intellect. He concludes about each that they are inadequate for worship, like Ecclesiastes chasing the wind.

The conclusion goes further, however, by positing that the main reason these worships are poor choices is that they are default settings. He argues that people mindlessly make the big decisions of life to focus on the minute freedoms of daily life. He writes, "The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort..."

The real freedom of church and worship and music is to focus our attention, to sing and pray and meditate mindfully. Like the title metaphor, those of us who attend church regularly can be surrounded by hymns and liturgy and miss their vitality and meaning without careful, thoughtful attention.

Incidentally, since the book is a graduation speech, it can be read in less than 30 minutes. Pick it up from the library, if you're interested.

1 comment:

  1. I am in New Orleans for the national Luther League convention. Do you have young people here? I was also here in 1976, when the theme was "Walking Wet." It dealt with this same idea of being mindfully aware of the many blessings we have through baptism. It is certainly easier to be "in the moment" when the music inspires us.