New Blog

Dear readers,

(if I still have any!)  I, personally, rejoice to announce the birth of another blog, Things Remote.  I am going to discontinue this blog, even though it will remain in tact, in case anybody wants to read old posts.

the purpose of Things Remote is to give a more visual representation of my life and things that I’m doing.  I hope you will find it interesting and perhaps refreshing.

thank you for reading Carpe Diem, and I hope that new adventures of a different sort await you in Things Remote.

-Ruby

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Love and the Pursuit of God

“Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m stranded in the wrong time, where love is just a lyric in a children’s rhyme.” –  (Keane) Everybody dreams of true love.  Everybody dreams of loving someone and being loved or falling in true love.  And though the aim of this post isn’t to define true love, I’d like to point out a few things about love.  If we say that it’s impossible for anyone to find true love, we are saying that either nowadays love has lost something it once possessed, or that it never existed at all.   For the sake of time and space, I’m going to skip a few arguments and just say that that true love does exist, since it is born of God and God is infinite and eternal.  If love is one of his attributes, it is part of his character, and if he is immutable then love hasn’t just evaporated like November mist at nine o’clock in the morning.

But then why do so many people end up unhappy? (On the radio today the morning show on all stations was on this topic: “Is it better to marry safe, or sexy?”  Some people went as far to say that if you marry a sexy man then you’re always going to worry about him cheating on you.  All right people.  Human nature is human nature, and it’s found in both sexy and un-sexy humans, both male and female.  The best thing to do is to go-godly and marry someone filled with the spirit of God.)

The reason so many people end up unhappy is because they marry or enter into some kind of “romantic” relationship based on the vibes that person gives them, whether it’s his/her looks, personality traits, or the way he/she loves that person.  For example, I could fall in love with someone simply because of how fiercely they loved me.  Or that could completely turn me away. But essentially, love is demanding—it demands reciprocation.  God loves us relentlessly.  No matter how far we stray he is on our heels chasing us down, and we cannot outrun him.  He brings us back into the fire of his love, that all-consuming and all-sanctifying fire.  “Is Ephraim my son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I remember him still.”  God is faithful, and he demands our love—our entire love.

Attraction.  I think it’s safe to say that everybody is attracted to some kind of look or some kind of laugh or some kind of movement about another human being multiple times during the day.  Physical attraction, intellectual attraction, emotional attraction.  But how satisfying would it be to know someone to be attracted to you not by your own merit or any of your personality traits or looks but because that person saw God’s Spirit in you, flowing out of you into everything you said and did? What if you found someone so passionate about God that nothing except the Spirit of God would attract them to you in such a way that would make them want to marry you?  What if you were so passionate about God, what if your life was no longer about making yourself happy but about discovering the mystery of God’s will, and laying down your life to become his servant—what if you were such a bondservant of God that no one except someone who spoke that same language would approach you?

Maybe you want to be loved for you.  Maybe you wanted to be loved for your looks or your mind or the way you can make good love.  Let me tell you—that might last for some time, but in the end it’s going to disappoint.  “Behold, in the morning it was Leah.”  Just as you will be disappointed, you in your essence will disappoint.  But you in God’s essence?

God is unchanging.  God does not disappoint.  He is the all-consuming fire.  He is the faithful lover.  He is the one who hears us when we call, who has never left us or forsaken us. Even if he has seemed silent for a time, we discover that he has been working in us.  He is the one who has punished us for our own benefit, who has blessed us out of his goodness, and who has shown continual mercy and grace to us day after day.  He has sustained us, he has filled us when we were bereft and empty, he has picked us up when we have fallen, and he has steered us on to the right way when we have strayed.   He has not disappointed!  Do you want to be happy? Or better yet, do you want to have endless joy? Pursue God.   Let his Spirit enter you.  Let it penetrate you.  Let it shoot out your fingers and your eyes and your toes, and touch every person you encounter.  If his Spirit is in you, you cannot fail to impress.  If his Spirit is in you, you cannot disappoint.  And nothing but a Spirit-filled man/woman is going to satisfy you, because guess what? Only God satisfies.

This raises the standards in so many ways.  If you’re the kind of person who makes up lists for the kind of soul-mate you want, you’ve replaced so many qualities with just one: Let him be a man of God. Let her be a woman of God.  Of course I realize that there are also practical sides to this—your visions for life should probably complement or coincide, and I am not totally botching that electric vibe you might get from someone, but what will your foundation be?  Someone who makes you feel good, or someone who is striving after God, the God you’re both going to spend eternity with?

And what a glorious thought!  Here we are, trapped in a world cubed into hours and minutes and seconds, struggling with our flesh and waiting and yearning for God, for our empty, black souls to become purged and filled, we are waiting, waiting, w a i t i n g for the morning, for that day when we will be delivered from our hourglass bodies that die the moment our time has run out, and exploding into eternity, living infinitely with the Husband who will not ever, in all eternity, give one moment of disappointment, but who rather gives an eternity of joy and love and satisfaction?  How can we not worship such a glorious God?  How can we not eagerly anticipate the day when we can worship him undistracted, and without sin?

We are on earth to fight a battle, to pursue God, or pursue ourselves.  It perhaps sounds like a dramatic choice but think—every little decision we make every day has to do with ourselves.  Think about that every time you decide to do something.  See how many decisions you make for yourself.

I ache for my Lord.  I ache and feel bereft because I know that I am a disappointment to him. But then I think that when he looks at me, and sees the righteousness of Christ instead of my own guilt and sin, he is glorified! God is glorified in me. He is rejoicing over me.  How could I want anything more than that?

If you want to truly fall in love, pursue God, and study the way he loves you, and imitate his love.  If you want to be truly loved by someone (and I mean in a marriage relationship) then find someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Yes we will fail sometimes, yes we will stumble.  But once saved, always saved, and that means sanctification.  And sanctification means uphill, always uphill, with some backsliding, but eventually, we reach the top—though not in this life.  That is God’s purpose and desire for you.  Find someone who is being sanctified just as you are, whose heart is hot with the refining fire, whose soul you will find, not filled with fruitless loves and ambitions and mediocre thoughts, but with God.

And you will be blown away by them, just as they will be with you.

The Lees of My Better Being

Shaking off the sleet from my ice-glazed hat and jacket, I seated myself near the door, and turning sideways was surprised to see Queequeg near me. Affected by the solemnity of the scene, there was a wondering gaze of incredulous curiosity in his countenance. This savage was the only person present who seemed to notice my entrance; because he was the only one who could not read, and, therefore, was not reading those frigid inscriptions on the wall. Whether any of the relatives of the seamen whose names appeared there were now among the congregation, I knew not; but so many are the unrecorded accidents in the fishery, and so plainly did several women present wear the countenance if not the trappings of some unceasing grief, that I feel sure that here before me were assembled those, in whose unhealing hearts the sight of those bleak tablets sympathetically caused the old wounds to bleed afresh.

Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing among flowers can say—here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these. What bitter blanks in those black-bordered marbles which cover no ashes! What despair in those immovable inscriptions! What deadly voids and unbidden infidelities in the lines that seem to gnaw upon all Faith, and refuse resurrections to the beings who have placelessly perished without a grave.  As well might those tablets stand in the cave of Elephanta as here.

In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included; why it is that a universal proverb says of them, that they tell no tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands! how it is that to his name who yesterday departed for the other world, we prefix so significant and infidel a word, and yet do not thus entitle him if he but embarks for the remotest Indies of this living earth; why the Life Insurance Companies pay death-forfeitures upon immortals; in what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly, hopeless trance, yet lies antique Adam who died sixty round centuries ago; how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.

But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from those dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.

It needs scarcely to be told, with what feelings, on that eve of a Nantucket voyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the murky light of that darkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen who had gone before me. Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine.  But somehow I grew merry within.  Delightful inducements to embark, fine chance for promotion, it seems—aye, a stove boat will make me an immortal by brevet.  Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity.  But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death.  Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.  Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.  Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being.  In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.  And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.  – Moby Dick, Chapter VII

I love this chapter so much that I cannot seem to get any further into the book.  Every time I go to continue, I find myself simply rereading.  There is so much to take from this, so much to tuck away.   Try and wrap your mind around the thought—what is your soul? At my shallow points I tend to think of it as some kind of mist that rises up out of my throat when I die, like this weird, gaseous vapour founded in a dark crevice of my blood-pumping heart.  But no.  When I plunge deeper into the thought, I see a soul as an everlasting being, who knows whether it has substance or not?  My soul is the glory of God.  My soul is part of the image of God.  My soul is not in fact mine, it is a piece of a light that is scattered over the world.

I wake up in the morning, sometimes tired, and groaning to the Lord saying, “I don’t want to die today! I don’t want to die.”  Physical death? Death that would free my soul that is pounding and yearning to be freed—death that would “bundle me into eternity”? Death that would release me from the sin and misery and weariness of this world and unite me with Christ?  That death I would gladly accept and enter into.  (To clarify, I would also gladly live, and be alive to God in Christ Jesus, if that is his will for me.)  No, the death that I am so reluctant to die is the mortifying-kind of death that I spoke of in my last post.  It aches to die.  How can you explain, too, that it is not a kind of death that comes and you can’t do anything about it! You give up your dearest thoughts, you put yourself to death with the knowledge that you are mortifying sin, sacrificing all your plans and dreams and aspirations for Christ.   And every day.  Every hour.  Constantly giving up to Christ.  And you do it because you choose to do it.  You choose to let yourself suffer, knowing that it will bring true joy and contentment, and that when you are doing so God is delighting in you, rejoicing over you with loud singing because you are his beloved son or daughter, you are his you are striving to become more like him and what he wants is for you to be sanctified for his glory.  I mortify myself.  I put myself to death, and then—I’m 20 years old.  A ripe age.  I am strong, I am ready-spirited, I am capable of doing things.  So, Lord, what shall I do for you?

I have to admit that sometimes all I want to do is stand on a cold beach in boots and a coat with a red scarf and recite all my favorite book passages to a raging tempest.

Or sit next to some sleeping sheep in a barn on a snowy day and dig my fingers deep into their dirty wool.

But what specifically is my calling?  In worldly terms, I have a lot of ideas as to what I could do, and a lot of opportunities if I wanted to pursue them.  But what is God calling me to do? How does he want me to use his gifts? How can I use this time best and for his glory?

When I do die, I am free to serve him.   When I do die, I free part of that better being, and it rises to him.

Mortification

Who would have thought something as grimy as tearing your desires from the aorta of your being and laying them, bloody and mangled, at the feet of Christ and saying, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” could be one of the most beautiful processes in this long life?

I didn’t.  It comes with weeping and the pain that ripping something out of yourself usually gives.  Not that I’ve lost an arm or a leg before, but we all know the empty, bereft, wounded feeling that replaces something inside of you—when something is taken.  It’s not a pain we would willingly bring upon ourselves. 

Would Christ demand that of us? 

Did I think he meant so much when he said to leave everything and follow him?  I know what it meant for the disciples, I know what it meant for Peter to leave his fishing, but what does that mean now, for me, here in the present, fifty minutes after midnight on 21 August, 2013? 

What is everything? How does one sacrifice it? 

My desires fog any clarity I might have for God’s calling for me.  I find ways to make them seem like they are his will, when really it is just my fleshly self pining for satisfaction.  I long to have my selfishness and laziness justified, somehow.

85° and sun.  Eleven o’clock AM.  Buzzing sound of insects and humidity lingers over the fields.  I pull weed after weed out of the long row of a plant similar to kale.  The plants are still young.  It feels like I am sweating blood as I pull, and I am angry fighting the weeds, angry at the way they choke the plants and twist around their roots, and how they grow to look so similar, to blend, but how they poison and kill in the end.  And then I think, “What of the weeds choking your own soul?”  I pull harder and faster, a weed snaps near the roots and I know that that wouldn’t do any good.  I sweat more as I dig my fingers in the moist earth, pulling on the long, whitish root. It comes suddenly and I fall back with the release. 

How much harder it is to clear those spiritual weeds, to find our true, Christ-centered being beneath the maze and tangle of thorns that must be uprooted. So yes, we emerge from this war with our flesh bloodied and bruised, but He will not let us be put out.  Always, at the darkest moments in our lives, He sustains us, and we find that we can after all live another moment, and then another.  After all, when you whittle it down, the passing of years is a matter of seconds, j u s t  o n e  a t  a  t i m e .

That’s what the sacrifice feels like.  But I have made it sound joyless, I think.  Certainly it does feel like a war we are waging, us running beneath the weight of our burdens into the arms of Christ, straining to him while our flesh is straining in a different direction, but Christ is always stronger, and His Spirit will renew us every morning, will give us the will and the courage and the desire to give up all we have, because He gives us eyes to see that He is the only race worth running, the only prize worth treasuring. 

Our own sun sets in all its colossal fire when we die our glorious death, and fails under the rising power of the sun of righteousness, healing in its spreading wings, reaching to all who have feared Him, reaching places and dark souls I could not have fathomed.  I stretch my arms up, stretch out my fingers, wanting the light to enter me.  It shoots through me, out my back,  it warms my whole being, it sets me on fire, it burns and purifies and leaves me whole and cleansed and purged.  No longer a body, but a soul, boundless and immortal, in the company of immortals, all together the spotless Bride coming into the presence of her Bridegroom, finally, after a history of thousands of years and countless griefs, ready for endless rejoicing and a marriage that not even death can dissolve. 

After this vision, daily mortification becomes worth it.  The prize makes it bearable, his grace is all sufficient. 

Holding On To The Frays

Was it 9 cm or 9.2 cm? Which side got sanded down?
What is the kettle stitch?

Little by
little, these things start to fade. With all my might I reach
back and stretch my fingers into the fogginess of those memories
from Siena. I remember well enough how to fold and cut pages,
measure the covers for the coptic binding, I think if I had the
needle and thread I could sew it all together. I detest the
idea of using books, because they were not written by her. I
want to remember…. everything she said, every rule she gave me.
I remember her saying that patience was the best policy in
making a book, to never settle for anything less than
perfection.

When Jennifer Storey Macintosh
died all I could think about was what a great person this world had
lost. Then I tried to remember all the riddled stories she
told me. Then I began to think of all the things I meant to
ask her, all the things I meant to write
down.

There’s a shop in New York that sells
the best something. But I can’t remember whether it’s bone
folders or paper, and I can’t remember the name of the
shop.

She used to tell the story of a fish
that wanted to go somewhere, was tired of being in the same place
all the time, and he never realized that he was in a river. It was
something like that.

I grasp at the
straggling remnants of what I know of her. I devoured the
story told after her death, that she believed the ghost of a nun
lived in her villa, and she told the people who stayed with her
that when she died she would take the nun with her. She was
brimming with stories, all the time. She knew her craft well,
to perfection. She loved and cared for her children, the few
her husband had from a previous marriage, the “two of her own
flesh” as she said, and the several foster children. Her children
were scattered all over the world, her husband had died several
years before, but she spoke about him like he was alive still.
And though all her achievements could have been a source of
pride for her, she put it all away, would sit quietly in her chair
in the studio, and dwell on the music that filled the room.
The Hallelujah Chorus. “What a wonderful thing the human
voice is,” she said. She was kind to every one she knew.
She stretched herself to the utmost. The day before she
died, I saw how she struggled to breathe, how moving took the
greatest effort. But she exerted herself, would not go home
until every student had been helped, and she never complained.
My heart ached for her. The next day I cleaned her
studio. I washed all her brushes. Collected the
scalpels. Gathered the bone folders, threw away the scraps,
put the lids on the glues. Covered the gesso. Swept. Made sure the
leathers were in order, the papers where they were supposed to be.
Thinking how happy she would be to come in and be able to go
straight to work on the book she was making. I remember what
it looked like. She used kangaroo leather, I think, and this
sort of stain to make the stamping she used on the leather come
out. Dark brown on taupe.

More than
anything, this is a tribute to her. She taught me so much.
She discovered a natural talent in me, and was never content
to let me linger to long in one place. She pushed me to
harder projects, praised my work, suggested altercations. She
was open to my idea of designing my own cover out of multi colored
paper, reminiscent of Siena’s colors, for a book of my poems
written in Siena, which I would print out in book form. We
never did it. I lost the heart for it after her
death.

I want to start my own book arts
studio, using everything she taught me. I have my own books,
approved by her, as guides to begin. Someday quite soon this
will happen. And how many times I’ve thought of sitting down
and writing her for advice! But she has given me so much.

Image

Pigeons

I look out the window

and light stretches over the
sky

I stayed up all
night

working and
restless and

bereft

in the cold morning
wind

I see
them

pigeons
fighting

silently

onlookers impassive

the fighters peck at each
other

pick and
prod

push and balance
with half spread

wings

their bird feet

scraping the terracotta
roof

for five minutes
they bang each other up

and then stop

and sun themselves on the
warming

tiles

nobody wins

pigeons have a way about
them

even when they
fight

they are
calm

when they rest in
a line on the rooftop

in the rain

they are calm

their cooing calms me

and have you seen them
when

they
kiss

later I am at school singing at the
window

and serenade
two as they kiss

the
gentle bending of

their grey heads

giving taking

shyly

beady eyes regarding each
other

as they keep up
the smooth

dance of
head

and
neck

bending

caressing

ceasing they dance slowly about each
other

then sit on the
corners

of the
roof

and wait but
pigeons

what do you
wait for?

pigeons

give me your rest

a friend has died

and I cannot think

in the rain

standing in their line

they ruffle themselves

grey day

but shake their
heads

and preen
and flap like it’s

washing day

pigeons

soak in some rain for
me

my grief is
dry

and
sleepless

(R.J. Hopkins, November,
2012)

Enough For One Man’s Life

I never realized how big the difference was between the words “of” and “from” until I went to Italy.  I have never studied much English grammar.  Most of what I know, grammar wise, has come from observation in reading, with a little help from some studies in Greek.   So I never gave the difference between “of” and “from” much thought.

But the Italians do.  It was on every single test.  Where I would say, “I am from Pittsburgh,” the Italians would say, “I am of Pittsburgh.”  Because “from” implies a leaving of a place with no real relationship, whereas “of” implies belonging.  This is the place where I was born.  This is the place where I belong.  This is the place I am of.  This is not to say that where you are born is where you will always belong.

My soul and my body stretch with the places I have been.  I have felt a belonging, a being of, in some places with which I have not had much connection before besides family heritage.  I can yearn for a place, wanting to go “back”, and feeling that I am going to a place of origin, returning.  But it is not only places that demand our sense of belonging, our being of.  It is people too.  My children will be of me as I am of my mother; a wife and husband become as much “of” each other as if they had been biologically related, but this being “of” is a much deeper and sacred union.  I am of the earth, and also, I am of God.

Being of God, his Spirit lives in me.  And so, I am filled.  I am blessed.  And when I brood in my mind over the things I desire, the places I want to go, the person I wish to be, the life I do not have that I want to have, a small voice in the back of my head says: “Isn’t He enough?”

I counter, I argue, I try to find a way around it.  But I am of God and his Spirit is in me; therefore, I cannot keep on avoiding the truth that is also inside of me.  He is enough.  And if I immerse myself in him, if I am constantly plunging into his grace and offering myself to him as a vessel for him to use, that is enough.  It is not that I cannot have desire to pursue, to carry out.  But if I am so rooted in Christ, he will open up the door for me.  And being in him, and him being in me, if I have an open mind, I can see ways that I didn’t think existed, or dreams that I never thought of dreaming.

I tend to separate the spiritual from the physical. My mistake is that I do not see Christ everywhere.  If I try very hard I can, but it doesn’t come without trying.  I don’t look at people and see Christ. I don’t look at the world and immediately think of God.  I don’t live slowly enough to grasp the full meaning of the moment, to look at that person and think: “He is made in the image of God.”  I know though, with the grace that is of and flows from God, that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Again, if I am so immersed in him, then I cannot fail to see him everywhere.  I want to see him everywhere. I want to be reminded of him in every face I see, in the sun and the moon and the unblinded stars at night, and in the fresh wind that smells wet and fragrant like the earth.

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.” (T.S. Eliot) Everything I have is enough.  Or if I do not have it, it is within my grasp, through him who gives me strength.  Because there is a difference between getting enough and having enough.  I have everything I need.  To do useful things, to be of service, to think about the beautiful things, to speak truth—all this is within me.  I have the ability to live the Christian life, and I can be fully satisfied, fully filled and even overflowing.

“My God, a moment of bliss. Why, isn’t that enough for a whole lifetime?” (Fydor Dostoevsky)  Neither do I need to be searching for happiness, or bliss.  One moment can last forever.  He is in me, and that can and will be my constant joy.  I feel it when I think on him, that happiness, or joy, is not a feeling, it’s a state of being, it’s like a place that we enter into by decision almost, like love.  And that place that we enter into is Christ.

 

Same New

I sat at my desk, just thinking, when it occurred to me that I had lived these moments before. I couldn’t remember when, or whether I had dreamed it some night or whether I was simply imagining things, but as I sat there thinking the same old thoughts, those few moments felt familiar.  It was an intense feeling, and it made me nostalgic as if there was a time when I had lost something important, and I came into the realization that the life I was living wasn’t anything new.

These nights I have taken to reading.  Each night is different in when I go to sleep. But  I always start out reading Harry Potter, thinking that it’s high time I read the whole series.  After I turn my light off, settle, begin to rest and wait for sleep, all of a sudden I get to thinking and find myself staring into the darkness.  The light goes on and I reach for my favorite piece of fiction, A History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

Every night my sister comes and sits on my bed.  Sometimes we read, sometimes we laugh and talk until late in the morning, sometimes I tell her stories of ancient kings and queens of Britain, or the Roman Britain period, my favorite subject when I was in school.  She listens enraptured, and I am filled with pleasure as I pass on what I have learned to someone else.

Often I read until I fall asleep.  In the wintertimes here we usually get a spurt of warm weather. During one of these few warm nights I left my window wide open to get the fresh air inside.  It was late and my sister was reading on my bed with me.  I was fully relaxed, my mind was soaking in the beauty of what I was reading, I was tired from a long day of work, and the next thing I knew I woke up with my face pressed against the pages of my book, and I heard a hard rain falling on the porch roof just below my window. 

Sometimes I wake up to the snow that wrapped itself around everything during the night.  I suck the air into my lungs, I breathe hard, I live.

I always like to think of myself as strong and healthy.  Yes, I live, I am alive, but far from healthy.  And I think to myself, “I am so young, I am full of life, why am I not well?” And I have to realize that it’s not just me.  Every human being suffers in his or her own way.  Every child is born with its own set of physical imperfections, and I am no exception.  I desire perfect health just like everyone does, but also I know I must fight for it.  Every day I can wake up dissatisfied, or every day I can wake up feeling myself wrapped in grace and mercy even as I am burrowed in my warm bed.

Maybe the point isn’t doing something new.  Maybe it’s not being someone new or living new minutes.  True we’re plunged further and further into the future that none of us have experienced yet.  Maybe it’s about finding the beauty in every minute, even if it feels like a used minute, a second-hand minute.  There’s is nothing new under the sun, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing beautiful, nothing unique. 

I have to think of this every day when I feel like I’m living the same life, the same happiness and sadness, satisfaction and dissatisfaction over and over again.  Nearly always I fail. But I know I can keep running, I know I can persevere until the end because of the grace given to me. 

It should be with delight that I live the same moments over and over again.  God delights in doing the same thing, making the same daisies over and over again, making the sun rise in the same place every morning, the planets spinning in their orbits.  He delights in running creation, even if for us doing the same thing every day is reduced into the category of the mundane.  We must strive to be more like God.  It shouldn’t be with a sinking feeling that we go to our work every day, that we feel ourselves living used minutes or hours or years.  It should be with freshness and vigour and the will to live fully that we embrace the life that is laid out before us.  Because I know that in order to live fully, I don’t need to have perfect health, I don’t need new minutes or more minutes.  As Gandalf would say, “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” And it’s true. 

What can I make with this time, with this life? And as I look, I see that the answer is full.

And then there’s that other thing…

Well the reality of the situation is that after four months in Italy I’m returning “home” and sometimes I think I’m just dusting my hands and saying, “well that’s that,” but really it’s much more than that.  I keep thinking: “and then there’s that other thing…”  One more reason why I can’t wait to go home, one more reason why I’m reluctant to leave.  It’s always an area of interest, when your heart feels so torn and beat up about something.  An area of pain or suffering, perhaps, but adding yet another layer to life and as a writer I can’t help but say: “I hate that this is happening to me, but I love that this is happening to me.”

Honestly, there are going to be problems anywhere you go.  And I’m not raining on anybody’s parade here, I’m just saying.  You go to a place thinking that it’s as emotionally easy as looking at a photograph of that place.   Then you go, you meet people.  Not only do you eventually have to leave them, sometimes they leave you, and they leave you forever, and you’re left grieving for them in a place foreign to you, feeling more alone than ever.  Because of your turmoil, the place begins to be a special place to you.  You develop a way of living.  You become accustomed to certain things (for me, the church bells ringing all the time, the pigeons, and these huge keys for all the doors) and then you find that you have to leave all of this behind, to practically start over.

Life is all about “continual beginnings” and “habitual fresh starts” as J.R.R. Tolkien would have it.  But I think it’s a matter of realizing that it is a “fresh” start.  You don’t pick up right where you left off, when you come home.  You start exactly as you find yourself in that moment.  And if I may be allowed to quote Tolkien again….  “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?”  We live too much in the past.  We experience one thing, and instead of accepting what it has been, we go back to try to experience the same thing again, but it never works like that.  Nothing is the same, and you are left feeling empty and dissatisfied with yourself and everybody else.

And in a sense this is going into the idea of home more than the idea of being abroad.   I love home.  It’s a crazy place filled with love and stupid fights about who gets the last piece of pie, and tons of people, not just siblings but aunts and uncles and it’s this time of year, Christmas, that I get to enter back into that circle of family, that just keeps stretching with more births and marriages.

But I find that when I am dreaming of home, I am dreaming of my home in Cleveland.  When I realize that I no longer live in Cleveland, I am dreaming of the old house in Pittsburgh, where we had fires in the winter and out of my window at night I could see the stars, and in the morning see a damp, dull light fingering its way through a bleak sky.  I loved those mornings.  And it’s a harsh reality to remember the summer before I went away, the summer we moved (again) into a house where I was never at home in the literal sense.  And this is nobody’s fault, it’s just the way it was.

What is important in coming back? Things are never as you expect them to be.  They always end up being different.  Here I am filled with nostalgia for my old homes, and yet I have the spirit and the joy of those old homes waiting for me in this new house.

Sure, life is hard.  And I’m not saying that lightly.  (Well, I am, but I’m not saying it thoughtlessly.)  I have a few brutally hard things running through my mind.  The things that keep me up at night. Yes, life is hard and it’s something to accept and something to deal with.  And also I have been reading Thomas Watson’s “All Things for Good” and he has been laying particular emphasis on the fact that some of the best things come from our difficulties and our sufferings.  God is constantly nurturing and growing us, growing us to him, always.  He’s not stomping on our heads or starving us or deserting us entirely or leaving us to die.  The simple fact that everything is, in the end, for our own good is in itself a hard thing to believe and accept, but once you can accept it, it frees you from so much fear and worry and doubt.

I have learned so much while I have been here.  I love so many things, I will miss so many things.  But this is wonderful about the human capacity to love and appreciate—there are even more things for me to love and develop the further I plunge into life.  And really, even though “going home” seems to imply a sense of safety and security, it feels more like an adventure right now, almost like home is a place I’ve never gone to before.

And I cannot, absolutely cannot resist quoting Wendell Berry as my closing thought: “I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality, that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle.”

Clarity

One by one, the sharers in this mortal damage have born its burden out of the present world…At times perhaps I could wish them merely oblivious, and the whole groaning and travailing world at rest in their oblivion. But how can I deny that in my belief they are risen?

I imagine the dead waking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed. It is Hell until it is Heaven. Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punishes them by their own judgment. And yet, in suffering that light’s awful clarity, in seeing themselves within it, they see its forgiveness and its beauty, and are consoled. In it they are loved completely, even as they have been, and are so changed into what they could not have been but what, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.

That light can come into this world only as love, and love can enter only by suffering. Not enough light has ever reached us here among the shadows, and yet I think it has never been entirely absent.

Remembering, I suppose, the best days of my childhood, I used to think I wanted most of all to be happy–by which I meant to be here and to be undistracted. If I were here and undistracted, I thought, I would be home.

But now I have been here a fair amount of time, and slowly I have learned that my true home is not just this place but is also that company of immortals with whom I have lived here day by day. I live in their love, and I know something of the cost. Sometimes in the darkness of my own shadow I know that I could not see at all were it not for this old injury of love and grief, this little flickering lamp that I have watched beside for all these years.

– Wendell Berry, A World Lost

There Goes Life

It’s almost like you are waiting and waiting and waiting and you could wait years or you could wait a few days and you wait for one second one part of a second before it’s gone and you don’t even have time to wave goodbye because you are plunged into the next waiting.  I am always waiting, and I used to think it was patience but now I know it’s not.  I am waiting because I am waiting to live my idea of one moment.  I am waiting because I am not living now.  I am waiting because I see no importance in now.  How existentialistic.

I want to be the person who stops waiting and looking ahead for the train that will take her to the next place and just stops to look around at everything to sing a song or two not because she is good at singing but because she can sing, the person who just breathes deeply, breathes so deeply that she can taste the smell of a place.

Because I strive too much.  I strive to finish things, I strive to do too much, I strive to please too many people, I strive to get the things I want and does that sound so healthy? Typical American, obsessed with busyness.

But what I desire more than anything is to be able to seize the second, what I want is to be able to rest completely in the grace of God, what I want is to be free from all the weight and pain and worry I bring upon myself by not resting or else I wear my life away striving.

And what is it really, what’s at the back of it all? Is it really the fact that I don’t think I have a story, and I am striving to get to the point where I will have a story? As Mumford and Sons would say… “Now how I long to grow old.” However,  Fydor Dostoevsky popped up in my newsfeed the other day, and I won’t say anything else after what he says because after he says this… there’s nothing left to say.

“But how could you live and have no story to tell?”