Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Seeking the Truth

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6 

The Catholic Church presents to her children the idea of Truth as an unchanging, everlasting reality. To seek the truth in all things is one of the most important missions she sets before her children. This is because she recognizes Truth as being not merely a quality her spouse possesses but something her spouse embodies. Jesus Christ doesn't just tell people the truth. He is Truth, and it is His desire that all men should know Him. This quest for the truth is ultimately a quest to find Christ, and through Him to find God.

The Catholic Church recognizes truth as an objective, rather than subjective reality. In other words, it is not something that is changed by perspective or shaped by man’s views. The Truth is what it is regardless of what man thinks or how he views it. Consider a brick wall. That brick wall is the Truth. Deny that the brick wall exists, deny that it is solid, but if you were to run at it full speed, the reality of its existence and its nature would result in you feeling a great deal of pain. You can try to ignore the brick wall, or pretend that it isn’t there, but it still exists. Stand on top of it and you may find a different view of it, but it is still a brick wall. That is the nature of the Truth. As parents, what we can learn from the Catholic Church is that part of our job is to help our children find the Truth so that they can accept its reality and nature and move around or climb over the brick wall rather than hurt themselves by running into it.

Art and the Truth

In addition to being a mother, wife, professional Creativity Consultant, sister, and teacher, I am also an artist. The great thing about art is that its purpose is to communicate truth. However, in order to communicate truth you first have to explore truth and find out what that is. Thus, part of your training as an artist is to discard all assumptions. You can’t draw what you think you see. You have to learn how to ignore what you think you see and draw only what you actually see.

Your brain is capable of filling in the blanks. When a chair is obstructed from view by something, your brain will fill in the areas where that obstruction is to render in your mind an image of the chair as whole. This is counterproductive for an artist, because in order to render a faithful likeness of what we see we need to take into account the way that obstruction interacts with the chair, the lines and shadows it creates. This is what I mean by drawing only what you actually see.

Art has been a longtime part of a classical education precisely because it trains the brain so well to do what must be done in order to find truth: to observe phenomena in the world at large not only in its relationship to other objects, but in its minute details, to record those observations without presumption, and then to show others those observations. Art often challenges us to see things in a new way precisely because it tosses out all assumptions and focuses only on what is actually there.

The Catholic Church has a history of encouraging art and spending money to finance artists precisely because she understands that the purpose of art is to communicate truth. Even the manuscripts written by the monks included beautiful art work, tiny images worked into the letters that helped to support and reveal the meaning behind the words in a way that the words by themselves could not.

Truth about Ourselves

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. – John 8:32

Most human beings have distorted self-images. Part of the distortion comes from the expectations that our parents and other trusted adults have for us. We shape ourselves to try and fit those expectations, like a fat woman trying to squeeze into jeans two sizes too small, even when those expectations don’t fit us. Part of the distortion comes from negative messages we hear as children and absorb into our world view. Part of it comes from our own internal flaws and challenges. The truth sets us free from these distortions to become who we truly were meant to be.

Art helps our children to overcome those distorted self-images to find the truth about who they really are. When I was 13, I struggled with my self-image. I thought curly hair was beautiful, and I hated my own straight hair. My mother hated her straight hair, and she was always telling me that I would look better with my hair curled. I drew lots of pictures back then of girls with curly hair, always longing to be what I could not be. Then, one day, I decided to draw a girl with straight hair instead. I realized that the girl in that picture was no less beautiful than any of the girls I had drawn with curly hair. Suddenly, I was able to accept myself exactly as I was. I didn't need curly hair to be beautiful, I was beautiful just the way I was.

Of course, that didn't solve all of my other problems with my self-image and self-esteem. I had a long way to go. But as I grew in my skills as an artist, I was able to observe eventually that part of my real problem was that I did not know who I was. I recognized that I had an innate desire to please other people, a desire that was distorted over time and through life experience to causing me to constantly reshape myself into an image of who I thought other people wanted me to be to the point where I really didn’t know who I was. That innate desire to please others was good, but the distortion was not.

Again, relying on my skills as an artist, I observed that every object and creature on earth has not only a form – the shape that it takes – but a function or purpose. The form a thing or creature takes usually gives you a good guess about its purpose. For example, the leaves of a flower are colored differently than the petals, indicating that the purpose of a leaf is different from the purpose of a petal. The petal is designed to attract bees as part of the reproductive process of a plant, the leaf is designed to collect sunlight for food. It’s not immediately evident by observing the flower why those things are different, but the fact that they do have those differences suggests different purposes.

It was easy for me to see my form. It was harder for me to figure out my function. However, the very fact that I was able to observe that I needed to find my purpose led me to looking at artwork for answers. I discovered a book by Rick Warren called The Purpose Driven Life. This, in turn, led me to realize that there was a reason for all the talents and gifts I possessed. I was meant to teach. Later I would get confirmation of this purpose, but I would also find that there was more to it than that. This is the power of art. It leads us through observation to a place where we can discover our purpose and find our path in life.

Truth about Our Relationship to Others

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. – Matthew 22:37-40

One of the grand truths about our universe is that everything exists in relationship to other things. We begin life dependent upon our relationship to our mother, connected through her to the outside world. We emerge from the birth canal and we now find connections to other human beings, a larger family, of those who care for us. In fact, our whole lives are spent growing and developing our relationships to other human beings.

The Catholic Church teaches her children to live in loving relationships with other people by teaching them to respect them, honor them, and serve them. In fact, 6 out of the 10 commandments are focused on our relationship to other people. The eight beatitudes, an expansion of the commandments, are all focused on relationships to others. It is only in relationship to others that our deepest purposes become clear. As parents, part of helping our child to seek the truth is helping them to seek out and build relationships with others. In this way, they will find their deepest purpose and be supported by the help of others as their quest for truth unfolds.

Conclusion

There is a lot more to be said on this subject.  In fact, I struggled for a day and a half to put this chapter together because of the scope of the content. I apologize to those who were disappointed by the delay, but I think the end result was worth the wait. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting.  If you are just joining us, you can find the introduction and earlier chapters by clicking on the link above. I hope you will join us later for chapter 18: Testing the Truth.  If you would like to be notified of each new chapter's release, you can send me an email with a subject line of Please Add Me To Your Mailing List to brandy at nvcreativetechnology dot com.  

If you agree, disagree, liked it, loved it, disliked it, hated it, thought it lacked something, wanted to add something, or just wanted to let me know you stopped and read, leave a comment below and let me know :). I'm always listening.

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