A Meditation on Truth
"In the beginning was the Word…."
The Gospel of St. John the Divine
Truth arises in an interaction between ourselves and others, whether or not
those others are living or dead. We interact with the dead through an encounter
with their memory and the artifacts they have left, their values, their culture.
We interact with the living in a similar fashion. Whether the exchange is
between those present or not present, the process is the same: we interpret what
others have offered, we respond, and then our companions respond in return.
Every response contains a question, one that desires from each of us our
thoughtfulness, a search of our depths, then a response of our own, a response
that itself is as much a question as an offering. Together we share our thoughts
and anguish, honor and bear witness to others’ gifts.
This is full participation in a culture.
Christianity offers a way to think about this. Jesus said: where two or three
are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them. What is the name of
Christ? Besides the unknowable and ineffable Name, St. John tells us that "in
the beginning was the Logos" – logos in Greek being "word," but also "reason"
To speak the word is to give the reason and meaning of something; so God the
Father eternally speaking the Word is giving the Reason and Meaning of all
reasons and meanings. The sacred breath of His speech is the Holy Spirit who is
life and unfettered creativity; the Word bears this creativity and comes as an
Eternal Gift, a standing invitation for intimate discussion with God and with
The Logos is "true light from true light" as truth is always a light that
unifies and brings forth what was lost in the darkness of ignorance and
nothingness – the Divine Logos is simultaneously like a word and like a light;
and our souls are reflections of that Light and reverberations from that Word.
Each of us comes into the world as a reflection of the blazing Divine Face and
as a living message, a message each of us is to deliver through our lives and
struggles with meaninglessness. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable, and
special word we were sent here to share with others; and others have their
messages we are meant to hear and hold dear.
We were meant to speak with one another, share our creativity with one another,
attend to one another and truly consider what is shared. We were not meant to
shout at one another, to ignore one another. We were not meant to simply assume
we know who we are and what it is we are supposed to be doing; we are not
supposed to ever see ourselves or truth in this world as finished and static –
we and truth are an activity, an activity that requires everyone else. Truth is
no one’s property. We are the property of truth, each of us being unfolded in
the ongoing conversation of culture, the conversation in the midst of which
truth arises and dwells, granting us meaning.
A culture is a gift, one which makes us truly human. Without culture, we become
less than animals, for without care for one another, without tradition, without
a living connection to our shared past and its joyous and painful lessons we are
rootless and pointless beings. We quickly descend to savagery when the hard-won
truths that represent the long advance from barbarism are cast aside and our
favor granted to power, technology, material wealth.
These three things, tools in themselves, cannot provide us guidance. They are
the very things that require guidance to be used correctly, which is to say,
moderately. In themselves they are meaningless – they open paths without
foresight, they do not scout ahead to look for danger, they do not ask others
for insight, especially not those long gone beneath the earth.
In our day, it has fallen to us to watch as power, technology, and the lust for
material wealth attempt to replace the dialogue of culture. It has fallen to us
to stand stupefied while societies convulse, precious values and truths, our
orienting constellations, difficult enough to perceive, obscured by gleaming
superficialities on display like bayonets in the starlight.
The perpetual conversation that asks us each to be citizens of the world,
children of one Father, has been given over to experts and specialists, locked
away in libraries and museums few visit, sometimes spoken of from pulpits,
sometimes lectured about in classrooms, sometimes present on canvas, in cloth,
in stone, in music, in poetry. We should be thankful for those who preserve and
transmit the wisdom of the past and try to add to it; but is that conversation
for most a living reality, a reality that informs their lives?
The world demands of most people that they work constantly, often for little in
return, to support those few who have devoted their entire existences to the
exercise of power, the accumulation of material wealth, and those who think
technology is a fair replacement for the pursuit of truth – as if technology
were a force capable of mysteriously creating truly human values.
We are being left with pseudo-values – created without a conversation, without a
dialogue with the past, without a dialogue with our neighbors, without dialogues
across cultures, without a dialogue with our own souls, without a dialogue with
future generations about what it is we intend to leave, or not leave, them.
We have makeshift "truths" created without a conversation with the Living God:
This is the mess of pottage that has been offered us in return for a birthright
more magnificent than the crown of a king.
We are left with "talk" – not the sacred interchange that brings meaning and
reason, but empty words that encrust it, words meant to obscure the beautiful
hidden depths that open when we truly question, when we listen, when we dare to
discover and share that wonderful message that is, in the end, ourselves.