A Center for the Self

A burly one was hiding behind a butte between Dodge and Cimarron. He came right for my car, leaping several feet in the air before landing to pivot in my direction. I’m not sure which is worse: the big ones that barrel down upon you, or packs of smaller ones, surrounding your car.

They certainly seem to be alive, don’t they? They race across the prairie, suddenly surging in speed, changing direction, and throwing themselves at your truck as though they were bent upon destruction, hoping to smash a headlight or to badly scrape your car’s side.

Advertisement

Tumbleweeds aren’t alive. Indeed, nothing could be deader, though, watching them sprint across the prairie, they seem bewitched with malevolent cunning and celerity. Yet they aren’t alive. They’ve dried, withered, and died. 

People can be like tumbleweeds. The fastest can be the most forlorn. Their energy and ingenuity seem boundless, but only because they have no center in which to rest. They fly through their days, impervious to what happens around them—save to exploit opportunity—seeming to accomplish more than anyone else. They have quite literally ignored Christ’s warning in Saint Mark’s Gospel. Gained the whole world only to lose their souls (8: 36).

The deepest teaching of all religions is that the center of our gravity, the wellspring of wholeness, lies outside ourselves. The Western religions call that center-beyond-the-self “God.” Indeed, if one intuits that life and wholeness lie outside the self, somewhere beyond one’s own imagination and desires, then, regardless of whether or not one feels comfortable with the word, one has already acknowledged the reality we call “God.” 

Tumbleweed folk believe that they gather the world to themselves, that their accomplishments, their wealth, their reputations establish them are their own centers of self. Jesus describes them as those “who neither fear God nor respect any human being” (Lk 18:2). In contrast, the persistent widow of the gospel knows that her center lies beyond herself.

Exodus illustrates the selfsame with the arms of Moses. “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight” (17:11). Opening to God brings life. Closing upon the self brings destruction, no matter the number of foes slain.

Saint Augustine described himself, before his conversion, as something of a tumbleweed: swift, destructive, dead.  

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace (Conf. X.27)

Does the saint describe us? Then may the same God have mercy on us, and bring our racing hearts to rest. 

2 Kings 5: 14-17 2 Timothy 2: 8-13 Luke 17: 11-19

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Davis Knight
3 years 6 months ago
Good expression about the center of gravity, when we do something, there are some result also give. In a car race, first it can give a better experience and knowledge for everybody. Volkswagen Repair Ferndale, Wa

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago speaks Nov. 13 during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Cardinal Bernardin’s consistent ethic of life could be helpful as the church grapples with issues like migration, health care and even taxes, some bishops say.
Michael J. O’LoughlinNovember 17, 2017
Giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler in front of a power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany in April 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
“What we need to do is just continue to live out the challenge of ‘Laudato Si’,’ which is to examine our relationship with the earth, with God and with each other to see how we can become better stewards of this gift of the earth.”
Kevin ClarkeNovember 17, 2017
Hipsters love the authentic, the craft and the obscure—which is exactly why Catholicism, in its practices and its aesthetic, is perfectly suited for them.
Zac DavisNovember 17, 2017
In response to a query from America, Steve Bannon said, “The daily examen has become a tool for me to lead a better, more fulfilled life.”
James T. KeaneNovember 17, 2017