An Exposition on Obscurity
I’ve been thinking about aloneness and obscurity lately. I know that sounds depressing, but I don’t mean for it to be. I guess I should change the former ‘lately’ to ‘for a long time’. The thinking actually started when I first comprehended the rags to riches story of Cinderella. The thought of being unseen, misused, and alone, to then being the object of attention for an entire kingdom, rich, and loved by the most handsome and important man appealed to something deep inside me. I longed to be a princess, to be beautiful, to have attention. All my favorite stories would hold this theme, in some way, as I grew up. When my teacher at school told me that I could be whatever I wanted if I worked hard enough at it, I believed her. I wanted to be great. I wanted to be an expert. I truly believed I could be president, an astronaut, or a great author one day. My heart was wrapped up in the extraordinary— it beat to encapsulate it.
Aloneness and obscurity holds such negative connotations, and for many, they are where fear is birthed. As Luc de Clapiers wrote, “Obscurity is the realm of error.” It is the image of failure. Or Taylor Caldwell wrote, “It is human nature to instinctively rebel at obscurity or ordinariness.” All of me resounds with that rebellion, it is the core of my nature to long for greatness. Don’t get me started on the importance of vanity in western culture either. Not only have I grown up in the most self-centered, narcissistic, and vain culture; but I’m a part of the first generation who is able to take a picture of ourselves, self-publish it to the internet, and receive feedback on it from the world.
We have been bred to long for fame, we are obsessed with it. What’s more—the average person has access to tools that secure attention in a way no other generation has had in history. We market ourselves flawlessly. Obscurity is becoming endangered in our world.
Suddenly the charm of being seen, the pursuit of it, the longing for it, showed its true face to be ugly to me. I began to be fascinated by aloneness. Introverts were the most beautiful species of man to me. I wanted to learn about self-sufficient living in the wilderness. I hated that innate longing for attention that was so deeply rooted inside me. My new fear became the thought that my motivations were being fueled only by other’s opinions. Afraid to live a life in pursuit of status, pride, and a false sense of honor. I not only feared, but became disgusted by my natural distaste for being unknown.
I’m a recovering attention addict.
There is plenty of commentary around the social media craze – how our society is being crippled by the obsession with our own image and individuality— and this isn’t meant to be an addition to that conversation. Rather, I’d like my main point to center on the life of Christ; being the absolute picture of obscurity, and yet the perfect realization of greatness.
Cue the excerpt that shocks every attempted form of embellishment I’ve committed, to all the little corners of my life, for acceptance and vanity’s sake:
“Gradually the valley opens into a little natural Amphitheatre of hills, supposed by some to be the crater of an extinct volcano; and there, clinging to the hollows of a hill, which rises to the height of some five hundred feet above it, lie, “like a handful of pearls in a goblet of emerald,” the flat roofs and narrow streets of a little eastern town. There is a small church; the massive buildings of a convent; the tall minaret of a mosque; a clear, abundant fountain; houses built of white stone, and gardens scattered among them, umbrageous with figs and olives, and rich with the white and scarlet blossoms of orange and pomegranate. In spring, at least, everything about the place looks indescribably bright and soft; doves murmur in the trees; the hoopoe flits about in ceaseless activity; the bright blue roller-bird, the commonest and loveliest bird of Palestine, flashes like a living sapphire over fields which are enameled with innumerable flowers. And that little town is Nazareth, where the Son of God, the Savior of mankind, spent nearly thirty years of His mortal life. It was, in fact, His home, His native village from which He did not disdain to draw His appellation when He spake in vision to the persecuting Saul. And among the narrow mountain-path which I have described, His feet must have often trod, for it is the only approach by which, in returning northwards from Jerusalem, He could have reached the home of his infancy, youth, and manhood.
What was His manner of life during those thirty years? It is a question which the Christian cannot help asking in deep reverence, and with yearning love; but the words in which the Gospels answer it are very calm and very few. Of the four Evangelists, John, the beloved disciple, and Mark, the friend and “son” of Peter, pass over these thirty years in absolute, unbroken silence. Matthew devotes one chapter to the visit of the Magi, and the flight into Egypt, and then proceeds to the preaching of the Baptist. Luke alone, after describing the incidents which marked the presentation in the Temple, preserves for us one inestimable anecdote of the Savior’s boyhood, and one inestimable verse descriptive of His growth till He was twelve years old. And that verse contains nothing for the gratification of our curiosity; it furnishes us with no details of life no incidents of adventure; it tells us only how, in a sweet holy childhood, “the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.” To this period of His life, too, we may apply the subsequent verse, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” His development was strictly human development. He did not come into the world endowed with infinite knowledge, but, as Luke tells us, “He gradually advanced in wisdom.” He was not clothed with infinite power, but experienced the weaknesses and imperfections of human infancy. He grew as other children grow, only in a childhood of stainless and sinless beauty— “as the flower of roses in the spring of the year, and as lilies by the waters.” There is, then, for the most part a deep silence in the Evangelists respecting this period; but what eloquence in their silence! May we not find their very reticence a wisdom and an instruction more profound than if they had filled many volumes with minor details? In the first place, we may see in this their silence a signal and striking confirmation of their faithfulness. We may learn from it that they desired to tell the simple truth, and not to construct an astonishing or plausible narrative. That Christ should have passed thirty years of His brief life in the deep obscurity of a provincial village; that He should have been brought up not only in a conquered land, but in its most despised province; not only in a despised province, but in its most disregarded valley; that during all those thirty years the ineffable brightness of His divine nature should have tabernacle among us, “in a tent like ours, and of the same material,” unnoticed and unknown; that during those long years there should have been no flash of splendid circumstance, no outburst of amazing miracle, no “sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies” to announce, and reveal, and glorify the coming King—this is not what we should have expected—not what anyone would have been likely to imagine or to invent.”
The Life of Christ (Farrar, Frederic William)
The only one who is found worthy, in all of creation, lived His life in the humblest way. The man who made the ultimate impact on the world as we know it, the one who created the world as we know it, lived without sin and in anonymity. The only One who deserves all the fame the world can bestow, didn’t receive it.
All of this changes the way I view obscurity. I’m not trying to say that the right response is to go into hiding, and despise when you have opportunity to influence on a large scale. But should we pursue extraordinary lives that radiate with glamour, and the approval of others? Should our encouragement to our children include greatness and glory? Should the vacuum of the human heart attempt to be satisfied by applause, acknowledgement, and titles? I may be alone in the struggle, but I feel it’s important to admit that I am often motivated by such pride, and futility. Could a heart that is motivated by such, ever embody a faithful witness of the Man whose life was an exact picture of the opposite? That question humbles me in a way that is hard to articulate. I don’t want to be disillusioned by fleeting attention. I want all of me to convey what matters most, whether I’m known or not. The thing that grants me deep comfort, as well as elicits the fear of God in me: He sees the hidden person of the heart, and it’s the only motivation that matters.