Another rumination sparked by PrairyErth. I just can’t let it go. This time I was thinking about one of the author’s (William Least-Heat Moon’s) observations on the limits of the prairie.
I was thinking about the limitation one might experience based on grades in school, or getting into this college but not that one. Is it always a bad thing that there might be limits on one’s options? It’s all about having our steps guided by God, and that requires communion with Him and discerning where He would have us go, and that requires accepting the channels in which He guides us, both good and bad. Our lives are not like the prairie, that William Least-Heat Moon described thusly:
Whatever else a prairie is — grass, sky, wind — it is most of all a paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power comes from its apparent limitlessness; there is no such thing as a small prairie any more than there is a little ocean, . . .
I think this description is compelling to us precisely because that feeling of limitlessness is foreign to our everyday experience. In this life we are hemmed in on all sides by limitations. That’s not a bad thing. Imagine a glass of water, and then imagine you take away just the glass. The glass gives form and shape to the water.
In the same way, we all live inside of external limits all the time – on income, wealth, relationships, opportunities, the accidents of birth in a particular time and place with its prevalent mores, worldview, prejudices, prosperity, technology, and so on. We also live inside internal limits: talents, health, idiosyncrasies of personality.
Whatever analogous boundaries we might have in our own life, they refine our options with the realities at hand. Having too many options can almost be a burden. It can make you feel like the hiker in that same section of PrairyErth:
I was hiking in a chamber of absences where the near was the same as the far, and it seemed every time I raised a step the earth rotated under me so that my foot fell just where it had lifted from. . . .
My guess is that heaven is a bit like that limitless realm, but we are not yet equipped to handle it. We’re used to the limit of time, and can scarce conceive of a reality without that limitation, and countless others besides.
3 thoughts on “Limitations”
I think this is right on. We buck against our limitations and – excuse the mixed metaphor – muse wistfully on the roads not taken. But we need to embrace our limits as a blessing. Wendell Berry’s stories are good at cultivating a taste for this (have been for me, anyways). Thinking about this in broader cultural terms, we can see the results of a culture that has tried (with increasing success) to abolish limits on personal choice. To borrow the language of Philip Rieff, we live in a Therapeutic Culture, one that has rejected its former sacred order in favor of an ideal of uninhibited self-fulfillment. At the same time, material abundance allows unprecedented consumption (not a bad thing in itself). We know the results. There were plenty of things wrong with the old order, to be sure, but perhaps more people will come to see that limits are underrated.
Thanks for commenting. I think you’re exactly right, there is an ideal of “uninhibited self-fulfillment” that is taken to be a birthright. So much so that we’re encouraged to think of something as fundamental as our sex as being just a matter of choice.