Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In Praise of Excess

I'm sitting at McDonald's, bastion of fine dining and tasteful elegance. Can you hear my arteries clogging from all the way out there in cyberland? Actually it's the young'un who has partaken today, and only of an afternoon snack and a solid length of playtime on a rainy afternoon. But sitting here in this monument to instant gratification and supersizing has me thinking about moderation. I'm not going to claim that they are healthy, but burgers and fries and chicken nuggets are fine in moderation. So are donuts and burritos and eating ice cream for dinner. Everything in moderation, right?

But maybe moderation has taken center stage too much; maybe excess has gotten a bum rap. "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," William Blake tells us. Moderation may help us stay the course or walk the line, but can it take us to the palace of wisdom? Saints and madmen through the ages would tell us otherwise. They have believed in excess, and led lives outside the mainstream to follow it.

Do we really want compassion in moderation? What about kindness? And let's flip that coin: do we want even a moderate amount of evil? Personally I'd like an excess of good and a dearth of evil, but I don't get to be in charge of the world. I can watch the work of the one who is, though, and see excesses of fragile beauty in spring and riotous color in fall, of heat in summer and cold in winter. If ever I get away from the lights of the city, I can see excesses of glowing stars and darkness like velvet upon my skin. But there are also lovely golden afternoons and blue sky mornings and the peace of sitting beside water. God works in excess as well as in moderation, and I think maybe we humans do as well.

Maybe we're not seeking moderation so much as wanting to avoid an excess of excess, everything thrown hurly-burly about until there is no telling top from bottom and no way to be anything other than numb in the face of all that stimuli. Maybe we want our excesses in moderation. An excess of love and a moderate amount of disappointment, an excess of laughter and crying in moderation. Maybe we can praise the excess that comes our way and know that we are richer for it.

"Excess of sorrow laughs," Blake tells us, and "Excess of joy weeps." Excess can lead us beyond ourselves, or what we think of as ourselves, and maybe beyond is just where we need to be sometimes.

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