Writers are readers first and forever. Once we appreciate the mind-to-mind transmission of ideas and scenes as a craft, words take hold of us. Afterward, it’s our turn to draw from the inkwell and take up our own purpose. What results is a snapshot of sorts, at times representing very well its author’s essence, as preserved through transcription.
Lately, I’ve been working my way through Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, an emperor of Rome in the second century following the birth of Christ. Not an undertaking for the easily distracted or weak-willed, these twelve Books comprise the man’s personal notes, set down for no one but himself. In this they are similar to George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation, composed as a means of self-edification.
The nature of truth being what it is, the date of a valid premise is irrelevant. What is, in a broad enough sense, always has been and ever shall be. Yet today, we may reliably draw on the prim, intellectual propriety of Washington, the Stoic observations of Aurelius, and the selfless clarity of Lao Tzu, whose Tao Te Ching predated them all.
The study of history, apart from the rote memorization of timelines, is also a quest for past perspective. That, if you’ve not noticed, is a factor powering my fiction: the deep points of view relating the personal factors driving its characters—good, evil, strong, and unenduring—to act as they do.
It is something more than an arbitrary delineation dividing history in the period before the birth of Jesus and the epoch Anno Domini. Regardless of any secular designation as Before Common Era or CE, the point of demarcation is the same. To a lesser extent, the line of time in the ebb and flow of cultures, viewed as history, will be reflected in the microcosm of our personal experience. Each of us will have our predating, transformative, and later periods.
Washington, of course, wrote in the context of a Christian culture, one whose eventual adoption of our founding documents acknowledged rights given universally and an essential dependence on blessings bestowed to the reverent. Aurelius worked at the dawn of the Church and from the perspective of a pagan and Stoic, though his text alternates between poly- and monotheistic language. Lao Tzu penned his eighty-one chapters wholly in his own pre-revelation context and more than two thousand years ago.
I was struck almost immediately by the similarity between Lao Tzu and Aurelius. Both depended on naturalistic observation in a moral presentation of natural laws. Likewise marked by a serene acceptance of the overall state of affairs, this is presented as one best lived within rather than striven against. Self recedes in such philosophy as perspective broadens. Each of these wise men, however, reached the limit of their individual vision. Though the What, Where, and When of their reporting is valid, it is also limited in supplying the Why.
Why is an important component of understanding, as it aids repeatability, which in turn helps assure a given lesson will be passed along. Why helps define the observations of validity resulting in the universal canon of natural law.
Why is also the reason we divide history at the point of the appearance of Christ. Without His mission to validate its prophecies, the testament of Judaism would have faded alongside the competing sects of the time in which it flourished, crumpling into the sands of history with the ruins of its Temple. Because He arrived, we can assign rational hope to scriptural promises yet to be fulfilled. In portraying Why on Calvary, He allowed us to assume our place in everything going on, just as Christ exemplified and proved a sure hope through demonstrating the Resurrection.
Absent this resultant Christian assurance, the benefits of anticipation are lost for the faithless. Life fades into nothingness with each year, day, hour and moment of time. Standards of behavior become relative without guiding moral absolutes, and wandering follows to varying ends.
Moral strength isn’t enough. Lao, once his calligraphy brush dried, rode into the desert to die, sick at heart of the ways of men. Aurelius found his end disappointed in a son whose upbringing failed to reflect in its results. Both were denied a sufficiently broad vision to bestow hope, yet allowed wisdom enough for their observations to endure through many centuries. To what end we can debate without knowing, but not without something to which we might, in our present era, hold onto.
God, in His essence as embodied in the mission of Christ, has an inclusive plan for those receptive to wisdom. His equations balance our inadequacy with overwhelming sufficiency in our favor, somewhere, I need to believe, past legalistic boundaries and strictures set in limited understanding. The brightest of us see only, as Paul said, through a mirror darkly, on a path toward clarity as starkly terrifying or joyously fulfilling as His just judgment or coverage in grace might decree.
Such questions on the way from here to there remain worthy of consideration. Truth remains what it is, now as in times past: a treasure sought by the living.
Choose to love, -DA
In production news, my ninth novel and Boone’s fourth, now approaching the three-quarters mark in primary editing, continues toward an early summer release. We remain optimistic this will occur in June, but also are determined to hold off until it’s ready, and without applying arbitrary deadlines. You should expect a read worth the wait, once the second half of Boone’s File launches with Meat for the Lion.