There Can Be Only One: Grail quests and the lessons of discontentment

My friend Alan Cornett of Pinstripe Pulpit fame lets his light shine in several venues (including this one). He wrote recently about the metaphorical "grail quest" familiar to every obsessive consumer, the dream of finding the One. His post at No Man Walks Alone sums up certain characteristics of the Grail. It should be rare and worthy. It should require some hunting to find. It should merit sacrifice, and perhaps most important: it ought to satisfy. For Alan the grail was a pair of Hermes cufflinks. I've seen them. They fit the description. I've never asked whether he had visions of them in the night, but I could well imagine John Boorman directing such a scene. For me the object of the quest is different. I've been looking for the ideal edition of the Bible.

Many of you are on a similar quest, longing for editions that are hard to obtain, either because they are out of print or out of your price range -- or because they've never existed anywhere but in your imagination. (That's me.) Along the road you may have picked up many close-enough editions, perfectly good as far as they go, but ultimately unsatisfying. But of course you don't know they're unsatisfying until you buy the next one.

Personally, I don't collect Bibles. For the blog, I do accumulate them, but that's not the same thing. My dream has always been to find the One, and then to be content. Alan sold a bunch of other cufflinks to fund the Hermes ones, and once he'd slotted those knotted puppies through his double cuffs, the urge for more subsided. That's the way it will be for me, too, I hope.

I know it's fashionable to dismiss such longings as mere consumerism. You're just dreaming of acquiring more stuff. To me the experience seems more complex. For those of us who are Christian, isn't there something more to be gleaned from a universal discontent that aspires to an ideal perfection which the mind locates in obtaining the One? I've always taken such intuitions, pitting the way things are against the way things ought to be, as echoes of the conflict between being made in the image of an ideal perfection, and the shattering of that ideal through a fall so catastrophic that longing for any ideal now seems like self-deception. The longing is good, in other words, though it requires channeling to remain so.

While giving up on such unobtainable longings may seem the wisest course, isn't it really a form of denial masquerading as wisdom? To purge oneself of hope in the name of realism -- to condemn the desire on one hand, or to embrace it as a cyclical expression of human emptiness never to be fulfilled -- feels cynical to me, and about as moral as giving up on justice because we will never in this life be fully just.

Perhaps a pair of cufflinks or a nicely made book -- physical objects, mere trinkets in the overall scheme -- are not enough of a foundation to support such philosophizing. Call me crazy, but I sometimes think they are the only foundation. These things aren't much in themselves, but as objects they represent, perhaps even incarnate, certain ideas which are everything, and which never seem to find expression without first taking on some form, even a trifling one.