• Aarik Danielsen

Lose Control

Pages of outstanding books form whole rooms of mirrors. The best authors never lead the mind’s eye toward recognition in only one way. Reading them, we identify with characters who fear what we fear and face what we face; who burrow into loneliness as we long to do or hum the songs we love.


Great writers also tilt our chins, helping us see ourselves through language we rarely invoke, at angles we dare not take alone.


 
Great writers also tilt our chins, helping us see ourselves through language we rarely invoke, at angles we dare not take alone.
 


In his 1997 opus Underworld, Don DeLillo’s prose spans manifold topics. It’s about baseball and lost love, the last shavings of nostalgia and distinctly American gasps. Underworld also challenges soul desire and human innovation to a foot race, observing how they do and don’t keep pace with one another.


At least that’s what I think so far. Just an eighth of the way through its 800-something pages, I trace threads but can’t see the garment DeLillo is weaving. Surprises await, with the breathless beauty of each sentence stoking my anticipation.


Whatever fate DeLillo transcribes for his characters, he made me look myself in the face on page 88. There he describes protagonist Nick Shay’s teenage son, eyes boring holes into the Phoenix blue while planes depart from Sky Harbor airport.


Seized by a counterfeit Holy Ghost, the boy fears his own mind—maybe someday, he will set an aircraft aflame with one stray thought.


“He believed, at thirteen, that the border between himself and the world was thin and porous enough to allow him to affect the course of events,” DeLillo writes.


The scene continues: “His sister used to tell him, Go ahead, blow it up, let me see you take that plane out of the sky with all two hundred people aboard, and it scared him to hear someone talk this way and it scared her too because she wasn’t completely convinced he could not do it.”


Those sentences jogged my memory, summoning moments when I wondered what I might will into being.


Banal visions surfaced: my gaze fixed on a TV screen, wishing for a curveball to break a few inches back toward the plate. Just enough for a called strike three. All in the name of a late-July win for my beloved San Francisco Giants.


 
Take every thought captive, I told myself with eyes screwed tight, or else you’ll stumble into unpardonable sin. With a wild mind and fluttering heart, I mouthed prayers.
 

More serious pictures resurface. Drawing only dotted lines between the spiritual and material worlds, my teenage self seized up at every momentary lapse in kindness or intrusive thought.


Could my inner monologue become answered prayer? Would even the most half-hearted wish, bent toward anger or malice, cause someone’s ruin? Fear birthed more fear, gasoline-soaked thoughts setting themselves on fire.


Take every thought captive, I told myself with eyes screwed tight, or else you’ll stumble into unpardonable sin. With a wild mind and fluttering heart, I mouthed prayers. Prayers absorbed at spiritual warfare seminars. Prayers to cast out darkness. Prayers no teenager should know or stake the future upon.


“It’s the special skill of an adolescent to imagine the end of the world as an adjunct to his own discontent,” DeLillo observes—and he might as well be writing about who I was, who I’m trying to no longer be.


But even grown Christians correlate holiness and self-control more closely than the Bible allows. Fruit given freely by the Spirit becomes a means to our end, either in glory or undoing. That is to say, we traffic in illusions.


Divested—mostly—of the youthful concern that I might turn airplanes to ash, I still act like I can muster faith enough to move someone else’s mountain. Toward the kingdom of God or toppling into the sea.


 
But even grown Christians correlate holiness and self-control more closely than the Bible allows. Fruit given freely by the Spirit becomes a means to our end, either in glory or undoing.
 

Hope concentrated might loosen sin’s grip on a prodigal friend. Set craving, my heart can love someone out of addiction.


Or maybe it won’t.


Someday I will believe my son into belief, I swear to myself. Or perhaps I’ll damn my mustard-seed heart for not wanting it enough.


Life always takes place outside our jurisdiction, beyond our best and purest faith. All we truly control is the response we offer as it happens to us and around us.


Wringing my hands over the damage I might do prevents me from wrestling my real, everyday sins, unexamined words and deeds rippling into other lives. Twisting my devotion into the shape of someone else’s salvation crowds out a love offered fully, regardless of effect.


Maybe I will sway what happens next, but not by squeezing life a la Steinbeck. True influence comes as we breathe free. In and out, trusting God to remake us into the kind of people he loves making.


 
We create new laws, measured in desire.
 

Staring holes in the sky—even with good intentions—distracts from the work set before us all. Split the next second and look beside you. A sibling often stands alongside, daring you to keep trying. Scared of what it means when you can’t manifest the future, they sell a false gospel.


We create new laws, measured in desire. Leave your lamps burning hot and bright. Believe just a little harder—heaven and earth will match up. May God free the church from its penchant for making the gospel central, but leaving the work of belief up to you and me.


Reading DeLillo and remembering each version of myself, Psalm 8 comes into relief. What is man—this small control freak—that you, O God, are mindful of us? The call comes back, bouncing off pages as mirrors: Lose control, and relax into a providence that lives everywhere.




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