This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org
By Jason Lee, Timothy Dwight ’22.
We ended up meeting Saturday nights from seven to whenever we couldn’t possibly keep talking anymore. One man was in charge of ordering enough boneless wings to reassemble our own deep-fried heavenly host, while the others settled in around a sun-paled coffee table and disposed of the preceding week’s high school atrocities. Eventually, the dungeon (or game) master would call, shout, then pelt us with a collection of dice and mechanical pencils in a vicious mockery of a gavel beating and we’d get started. Three, four hours later, the books would shut, papers folded into the inside covers, and all but one of us would carpool home to Brockhampton or a playlist of offseason Christmas carols.
This carried on for most of senior year in the same we’re-not-hiding-it-but-also-we’re-not-talking-about-it secrecy afforded to first semester grades and pre-DTR significant others. Some of the guys I only really met when they were pretending to be some fantastical version of themselves, but all of a sudden I’d see them in the hallways, asleep in lecture, and the question “oh how do you guys know each other” was answered with obfuscatingly brisk verbal hand-waving. After all, there was this inimical hesitation through the first few sessions, as in, do we really call each other fake names? At what point do we take a step back and take a hard, voting-age, college-bound look at what our maturity has brought us? The game’s — what I’m told is called dorky, not nerdy — social branding aside, every so often there’d be the lurching realization that I was really sitting in my friends living room with seven other guys pretending to fight monsters with unpronounceable names and conducting morally questionable acts in a conjured world.
It wasn’t that we lacked the self-confidence to enjoy what we enjoyed. We did; I’m just wondering if there’s something more to pick at than the visceral, if transient, appeal of playing mental dress up. It’s worth thinking about why anyone would want to pretend to be more powerful, or more capable, or just different from how one actually is. For some of us at those weekend events, it was because we wanted to be able mold ourselves for a change, rather than be molded. For others, it was a lot easier to tackle pretend problems in pretend worlds together with a handful of friends, than it was to reorient alone after admissions rejections, or process their parents’ divorce, or weather the host of mental issues that nobody ever seems to have the time to confront and is therefore consigned to an emotional pocket veto. Whatever the case, a large part of D&D was the fact that life felt easier when you both knew and believed there was a plan and you were prepared with your own sword and durable leather boots rather than just a tape-and-pin faith.
Of course, a lot of the time it was just a way to be together before we all left and not necessarily a ploy for existential evasion. All I’m saying is that sometimes it was, and that that brings up larger questions about perfect and divine (as opposed to pencil and paper) plans and our feelings of security, powerlessness, and control in such a context. Between returning to God, penance and repentance, and self-denial, there’s a parallel aspect of self-recognition I’m trying to work out. We can know that God works all things for his glory, and can know that God, being who He is, we can cast all our anxieties upon Him, because where we are puny he is strong, and ask and you shall receive, and don the full armor of God, and and and and. But many times we feel an embarrassing, or shameful weakness. We feel alone, and sometimes the resulting cry isn’t for the aid of the supremely merciful and generous. What’s not often talked about, and too often chalked up as “something to work on”, is that sometimes we just wish we could change ourselves, overcome our own natures, confront our problems and smite them with our might. The situation comes out like this: there’s a whole lot happening in our tiny existence that we either want to hide from or confront, and when we hide it’s because we can’t bring our hearts to believe what we know theologically, and when we confront it’s because we wish that we could accomplish something on our own for once, because it is exhausting to feel powerless, and oh so very small, all the time.
This way of thinking is worth examining, yes. There’s something like forty-two different aspects pride and steadfastness that you could dig up and crack open with just the book of Matthew. What’s most troublesome is that if the issue is a disconnect between one’s intellectual knowledge of the Word and one’s basic, emotional belief in it, there’s not much anyone can say that can help you twist those two things together. It’s seems an experiential, spiritual due diligence process undertaken between oneself, God, and the world that sometimes insulates the two. But, on the off chance that we can help each other work on this, I want to say two things. First, that the visible reality of the power of God is as much a function of our belief in it as it is lightning bolts and quail flying low, and that even what feels like projection or pretending to see is not pretending at all. That we would even try to turn to God is testament to an unrecorded, unworldly strength that we can claim through Him. Second, that even if, in our hubris or our earnestness, we fail, this world and its challenges are shadows of the won war, and its consequences are not eternal, not real to our souls. Even so, I know I’m still feeling a little adrift, and it’s alright to be in the sense that we have eternity to work it out, come closer. This is faith, as best as I can tell, so for me, this Lent season is about not pretending, but preparing for rain.