Finding a "Telos"
As parents, one of the most important things we can do for our children and ourselves is to establish a vision. This vision must answer one basic question: “Where are we going?” Before this question can be effectively answered, it must be argued that our lives, both individually and collectively as a family and family of faith have a telos. A telos is a goal, some proper end for which we were created. The Westminster Catechism, I would argue, gives us good summation of our telos, or proper end: Q: “What is the chief end of man?” A: “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
The great works of literature we read and enjoy depict this idea of telos well, which is one of the reasons they are so revered throughout the generations. Most of them are epics: great tales of heroes/heroines who are caught up a story much bigger than themselves. They resist and battle terrible evils, both outside of themselves in the form of villains, or inside of themselves in the form of some degree of moral transformation. But whatever the plot of our favorite books, they are almost always set around a journey. Our heroes are on a road (whether literal or metaphorical) towards some end. God has planted in the hearts of men to understand that we are all on a similar journey, that we are all traveling along a road of life towards some end, and those who deny this understanding surely bear the burden of proof.
Reality and Remembering
All of this sounds wonderful until we wake up to the same alarm clock, get out of the same bed, eat the same breakfast, and go to the same job. It is easy and tempting to become bogged down with the mundane and repetitious events that can obscure our memory and our view of the road. We forget that we are living a wonderful existence and that we were created for an incredible purpose. Clyde Kilby, a late professor of English at Wheaton College, penned ten resolutions “to remain enthralled at the wonder of existence.” For me, reading these ten facts every morning helps me to dispel the fog of “ordinary” and remember anew that we were created for a good purpose and we are on a journey towards a beautiful and proper end. But, we not only gaze longingly toward that end, because that end can be, in a sense, consummated every day as we live and work with others in our midst. Further, keeping a vision of the road and keeping our family on that journey is not only a duty, but a delight. Recite these facts (or short versions of them) to your children. Teach them to retain that childlike trait of being enthralled at “the wonder of existence.” Never stop reminding them that we all have a telos. So, without further ado,
I give you Mr. Kilby:
“At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”
I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.
I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”
I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.
Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.