No matter how cool and detached you are, with an aura of earthly immediacy and cynical skepticism, you can’t run from the question “What does it all mean?” And when you grow up in Western Civilization, you might find yourself in old age doing things that you never imagined. Such as taking up golf. Or Christianity.
Some of you will remember the article I wrote this summer on Dr. Jordan Peterson. Since then I’ve continued to listen to countless hours of his lectures on, among other things, what he likes to call the psychology of religion.
I even had a revelatory experience on my recent trip to Newport. I was wading in the cold waters at the beach, as I had the day before. But whereas the first day I’d plunged in spontaneously, with my shorts, belt and everything, this day I felt less inspired. It wasn’t spontaneous, and the whole town had come out to surf, and I couldn’t find myself a board. With no board, I was bored.
Then, as I looked out to the horizon and concentrated more deeply on the ocean’s rhythms, I was able to tap into a higher consciousness, where our mythologies and religions and longing for transcendence lie. I made up a challenge, and said, “OK Poseidon, let’s see what you got,” and began diving into the crashing waves and swimming into the next one. Suddenly my human, physical actions had meaning. I was challenging the gods, and in doing so, finding the god within. I thought of the movies we see of warriors we see in films who invoke Zeus or Odin before battle, to inspire them to transcend their trembling, earthly shells. I could see how the invocation of god gives meaning where there was none, and inspires action where there had been lassitude.
Next week a documentary film will be showing at select theaters around the country, that charts the little-known journey by Steve McQueen to Christianity. It’s called “Steve Mcqueen, American Icon: The Untold True Story Of The Spiritual Quest Of A Hollywood Legend.”
And here are a few reminders on the immortal style of McQueen, who, whether dressed up or down, looked perfectly at ease in his mortal coil. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD