In her recent book, Lost in Thought, Zena Hitz examines the question of truth and lies… and comes to the conclusion that we are constantly surrounded by lies What? There are lies told to us by our loved ones, and even lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. She’s thinking along the lines of Yves Simon, a French Catholic and anti-Nazi philosopher who wrote during WWII. Here’s a quote from the book…
“What after all does daily social life consist in? A disparaging remark about another group; a rumor or story meant to draw outrage; a news story dug up by partisans seeking advantage; a crude expression of allegiance to an institution is flawed as its denigrated rivals. All of these are fundamental to the fabric of social life, especially in times when social life is unusually politicized as it was in Simon’s time and is now for us. (Italics mine) We speak to our own advantage: to feel comfortable, to assuage anxiety, to play a part in the struggles for power and status around us. Our purpose in speaking is rarely to communicate the truth about something. In this way we diminish the value of those who speak to; we treat them as our tools and deny their dignity.
Simon predicts our immediate response to the difficulty of facing the lies and falsehoods of our dearest friends and family members: to try to isolate falsehood and lies and to limit them to our opposite number, the rich (if we are poor) the poor (if we are rich), Republicans (if we are Democrats) Democrats (if we are Republicans) etc., etc. We pretend that others are indeed swallowed by lies, but we ourselves have escaped. We imagine that our social class or group allows us special access to truth. Accordingly our focus on truth and falsehood must begin with ourselves.” (Pp. 83-4)
What is the remedy? How do we find our way back to some kind of authentic living? One place to go is to the desert. Our own interior desert. How do you get there?
The journey starts with closely examining your own capacity to focus and pay attention. Can you really see, in the sense of contemplation? Our exposure to images that flash rapidly from one to another really damages our ability to attend to what’s right in front of us. Hitz quotes the author John Baker (who wrote the book on Peregrine falcons), “The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there.” (p. 128) Pay attention! Hitz recommends making art as a way to recover your capacity to see. Or writing a poem, or making a beautiful meal (think Babette’s Feast)
St. Ignatius advised his followers, age quod agis (do what you are doing). In other words, pay attention! The spiritual discipline involved here really does mean stripping away all kinds of junk that get in the way of your seeing clearly. It means jettisoning the lies and going after your true desires. Your desires, after all, are put there by God to help lead you toward him! At least the ones that come from love. (There are other ones, too. One of the ways to tell the difference is that love leads us by what is good and holy and true.) May God’s grace help you to pay attention and stay awake for his coming at Christmas!