Monday, March 15, 2021

The Need for Deep People

(Monroe County)

Years ago I had yet another experience that exposed my vast ignorance. I was in my favorite bookstore in the world, which is adjacent to the University of Chicago. I browsed the new books section, and then explored the rest of the store. Seeing the countless books I have not read, I found myself questioning how much knowledge I have. I concluded: not much.

I felt like the Self-Made Man in Sartre's novel Nausea, who lived in the Paris library. His life goal was to read every book from A to Z. At the end of his life he had not advanced out of the As, since more and more new books that began with the letter A were published, and he had to read them as well. For Sartre, this was another example of the futility of humanity (akin to Camus's Sisyphus). We are, truly, shallow people.

So, I am ignorant. Mostly, I view people as ignorant. This is where philosophers like me land when, e.g., we read someone like Wittgenstein. We get humbled, quickly.

But there is hope! We can acquire wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as book knowledge. One can acquire some wisdom in books. But the kind of wisdom described and sought after in the book of Proverbs is, ultimately, something that cannot be gotten by reading more books. Such wisdom is God-imparted. I have met a few people who have this. Their souls run deep.

What is most needed today are deep people. People with wisdom, and discernment. Pondering, meditative people.

We need people who have an inner stability that cannot be uprooted during the storms of life that surround them, breaking their despairing waves upon the shores of their hearts.

These are people who see the face and hands of God, and impart hope.

Deep people are stable people. Shallow-rooted people are surface people who skim over the internet world of disconnected data. 

Shallow people mistake knowledge for wisdom, and claim to have it.

Here is Henri Nouwen writing on spiritual depth.

"Trees that grow tall have deep roots. Great height without great depth is dangerous. The great leaders of this world - like St. Francis, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., - were all people who could live with public notoriety, influence, and power in a humble way because of their deep spiritual rootedness. Without deep roots we easily let others determine who we are. But as we cling to our popularity, we may lose our true sense of self. Our clinging to the opinion of others reveals how superficial we are. We have little to stand on. We have to be kept alive by adulation and praise. Those who are deeply rooted in the love of God can enjoy human praise without being attached to it." 

Think of Psalm 1, and do it.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law 
day and night.
That person is like a tree planted 
by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.