I started reading the classic novel East of Eden by John Steinbeck the other day. Besides enjoying it as a great story and excellent piece of writing, I also experienced some moments of inspiration that I wanted to share with you.
At the end of chapter two, the following paragraph lay neatly nestled between the story lines, inconspicuous and unassuming. Yet in its humility is where I found its splendor.
“They and the coyotes lived clever, despairing, submarginal lives. They landed with no money, no equipment, no tools, no credit, and particularly with no knowledge of the new country and no technique for using it. I don”t know whether it was a divine stupidity or a great faith that let them do it. Surely such venture is gone from the worl. And the families did survive and grow. They had a tool or a weapon that is also nearly gone, or perhaps it is only dormant for a while. It is argued that because they believed thoroughly in a just, moral God they could put their faith there and let the smaller securities take care of themselves. But I think that because they trusted themselves and respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units– because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back. Such things have disappeared perhaps because men do not trust themselves any more, and when that happens there is nothing left except perhaps to find some strong sure man, even though he may be wrong, and to dangle from his coattails.”
First, this is one of the reasons I love older literature, because what is above is simply one paragraph, a short side note on the state of things that does more than just characterize the setting, it unravels a human truth that is potentially life-changing. Yet even carrying all that significance, it is so plainly stated that when the next paragraph continues the story a reader coudl easily miss it. The author doesn’t make a big deal of it, possibly because that’s just how it was done, or possibly because he knows that words written with humility take on more weight than those self-praised. It is the element of writing that takes a story from being ordinary to excel it to something so outstanding it is like watching a flower bloom in one instant.
Second, since Steinbeck was too humble here too call attention to the genius in this side note, I want to take a moment to emphasize the significance contained in the passage. The concept of a man’s improbable success coming from either divine stupidity or a great faith is the key to what I think real success is. My last post talked about living a crazy life, and certainly when lived correctly great faith appears to those outside as some kind of divine stupidity or craziness. It is the thing that makes us crazy, but crazy successful at living life the way God intended.
Like Steinbeck said, surely such faith is rare today, dormant in the sleepiness of a busy life that we think we have the freedom to control. That misunderstanding comes from thinking we trust ourselves, but as Steinbeck points out, really trusting ourselves means having the faith to give God all our dignity first, and only then will we receive it back. We are dangling on coattails, desiring to be lions when truly we will be more content when we find ourselves to be coyotes.
What would it really look like if we woke up to a day where we trusted ourselves fully as individuals, secure in God’s presence, and having enough courage to give all of ourselves up to him so that he may bless us with it in return? What would it take to assure ourselves beyond doubt that we are valuable and potentially moral units? Somewhere in there lies an answer to living a crazy life, one that smiles each day and can see the sunshine through even the darkest of clouds.
Do you have a favorite Steinbeck novel? Or other classic story?