July 22, 2013

Yes, But

I'm fascinated by learning. We just got back from the library this morning, and among our plastic bin's worth of books, I checked out a few on Mexico's history. I read a chapter of Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth to my kids, then picked up the Mexican history volume about the Spanish Conquest.

The Aztecs have intrigued me before. I've been to Mexico City and climbed a few pyramids. I've read of their amazing engineering (aqueducts, floating agricultural islands called 'chinampas' [right], military schools) and their religious ceremonies. It was a new experience to feel a pang when I started reading about them this morning.

Aztec legends told that once upon a time, their people lived in a garden paradise. They angered a great and powerful god, and were exiled from the garden. They wandered in deserts in northern Mexico, eventually migrating south to the Valley of Mexico. Hated by other tribes, they became fiercely loyal to each other and hired out as mercenary soldiers to warring tribes. They believed all of life was war: the sun didn't rise; light fought the forces of darkness every morning. Rain gods fought foes to water crops. Intervention by the gods was heavily dependent on human choice and action. The gods wanted human hearts, and so entered human sacrifice.

I see again and again that (as Solomon is supposed to have written) there isn't anything new under the sun. I used to feel comfortable reading things like this and thinking them far removed from me. I don't believe in a rain god; I don't cut open prisoners' chests to remove still-beating hearts. Today I read this and saw the our society, our culture, in the Aztecs.

Many of us believe perfection used to exist for the human race and that choices we made created all the bad things around us. Many of us live as though we could get back to perfection again, if only we find the right combination of choices and actions. Many of us believe that each day is a struggle, a fight in which the good or the bad (whether in me or those around me) triumphs.

I feel like we're so close to truth, but miss it. Yes, but... Yes, Paradise is lost, but I need to quit telling myself I can bring it back by my actions and effort. Yes, my choices matter, but I cannot manipulate God into giving me rain, a roof, or a raise by appeasing him. Yes, God wants human hearts, but not the physical tissue of one; he wants the outflow of my thoughts and feelings and impulses directed first toward him. I don't like my selfishness and pride, but I am not able to stop these by trying. They only change as I direct those feelings toward God and listen for his response once I've emptied myself of self.

I didn't expect reading about the Aztecs to make me feel homesick for heaven, but this Aztec poem did just that:
We only came to sleep/ we only came to dream
It is not true, no it is not true/ that we came to live on earth

It has me thinking of my own "yes, but" thin slices of half-truth that I believe, things that lead me to charge forward bravely to capture human hearts. My "yes, but" beliefs that end life instead.

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