The Hebrew word for glory is kabowd (כָּבוֹד), but its literal meaning is “weight” or “heaviness”. Of course, we humans are said to have been made for glory—for God’s glory. And this sounds so wonderful, but doesn’t it so often feel like weight—heaviness?
Adulthood catches most of us unawares. The scales suddenly tip; the stuff belonging to others surrenders to that which belongs to me. It’s weighty.
When we were children, clothing was purchased under the assumption of “growing into”; kneeling shoe store clerks prodding tips of Pro Wings, glancing up to indicate between thumb and index the allowance of space. It was silently ritualistic. Mom or dad or grandma nodding or wincing the verdict. Then, one unceremonious day, it stopped. Did the show fit or not? The starkness of that question sobered like cold water; it dizzied like a landed jab. And the adults, for their part, had made themselves scarce. Was this some prosaic right of passage? Yes.
More such moments follow closely the heels, and, yes, the pun was intended. That apartment to rent. That job to take. That ring to buy for that girl to marry. That baby to take home. That mortgage to pay. Am I old enough to do this? The rolling waves of adulthood swell and crest, break and crash into a foam of minutia: that diaper to change, that lunch to make, that bathroom to clean, that wiper blade to replace. I don’t even know how to do half this crap! Inwardly, you hold out hope that one day the adults will show back up; some days you act as though they might.
Peter Pan flies for a reason.
The Swiss patriarch of psychology Carl Jung once noted, “We all walk around in shoes too small for us.” The reverse might be expected; that we would persist in purchasing shoes with room for growth long after reaching maturity. But we know Jung didn’t have actual footwear in mind, don’t we? He observed that human proclivity to shrink from our station—to wish through small living that our lives mattered less. Scripture describes this as falling short of our glory—our weight. Its an understandable regression.
Depending on the day, or sometimes the minute, this all may feel more like glory or gloom; each moment a fulcrum. To feel one’s weightiness and sense the registration of one’s life upon the scales is both terrible and animating. The only thing more dreadful than than a sense of crushing weight is that of existential weightlessness.
We mollify ourselves with aphorisms: it’s the pressure makes the coal a diamond! More often we palliate through addictions and escapes as varied as snowflakes. Whole industries bloom into existence like mushroom clouds to fill this yawning abyss.
Then we read what Nelson Mandela said in his first inaugural:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same!
The soaring rhetoric from this singular man lifts you into a renewed thrill of living, and sends you scrambling in search of the rest of this address. You discover this actually comes from a 1992 self help book. Am I being filmed? John Eldridge, can you believe this?
What does one do? Laugh like you get it. Mandela said you should be “fabulous”? In his inaugural address? Really?
Can we remember Aslan’s kind and winsome words to the jackdaw, so mortified at blurting something awkward after only just being endowed with the faculty of speech that he had buried his face under his wing?
Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.
“You need not always be grave.” Grave is metonymic of both serious and dead, each coming from the selfsame root as gravity—gravitas, heaviness. We exert such effort in denying our absurdity, not realizing it to be the Philosopher’s Stone with alchemical properties for transmuting our gravity into glory.
What did Van Morrison say?
Even my best friends, even my best friends they don’t know
That my job is turning lead into gold
When you hear that engine, when you hear that engine drone
I’m on the road again and I’m searching for the philosophers stone
Aren’t we all trying to turn lead into gold here?
We’re meant to muddle the fruits of laughter with the bitters of gravity. Our glory must befriend absurdity, or bifurcate our very humanness. “What God has brought together, let no one put asunder.”
Don’t misunderstand. Human existence is meant to be weighty, and our world groans for those who will share the load. We’re not talking about “laugh it off” here, but rather “laugh it on.”
If we’re all a lot of little Atlases, and shrug we must, let it be from suppressing a snicker at the absurdity of our glory.