The Way of Living

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to the things around you
maybe the swelling rain
that makes you blink in the dark,
and inhale the wet air,

or maybe the expectation
that tells you something perfect will happen,
if you only believe.

Watch the flowers, and see how the honey-crisp
bee plots and sticks his feet on the petals,
probing further and further;
watch him gather the honey, and fly away,
watch the flowers grow till they droop to the earth.

Listen to the wind, in its circuit across the lake
catch with your eyes the flip of the water’s surface;
hold in your hand a slimy earth-worm, and feel it writhe
or, if it’s too gross for you, a moth, holding it cleverly
between the cages of your fingers,
delicate.

Think about the things that matter,
the robin chewing up food for its young,
the eternal beat of our steps on the earth,
or the poem that told you: “live.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Excerpts From My Antonia

I’ve been reading My Antonia today by Willa Cather.  I can’t tell where it’s going to go, but I thought I’d share a few beautiful passages.  There are lots more that I would like to share… the book has a beauty and charm all its own, it’s singular and unique.

 

I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin.  There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit.  I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines.  The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground.  There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave.  The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers.  Queer little red bugs came and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots.  I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened.  I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.  When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep. (My Antonia, chapter 2)

All those fall afternoons were the same, but I never got used to them. As far as we could see, the miles of copper-red grass were drenched in sunlight that was stronger and fiercer than at any other time of the day.  The blond cornfields were red-gold, the haystacks turned rosy and threw long shadows. The whole prairie was like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed.  That hour always had the exultation of victory, of triumphant ending, like a hero’s death—heroes who died young and gloriously.  It was a sudden transfiguration, a lifting-up of day. (My Antonia, chapter 6)

Of Primroses and Books

On this warm Spring day, my primroses are dying.

I killed them.

I really did, because I didn’t water them. And now I’m sitting calmly writing about it while their drooping leaves are draping themselves over the pots.

I should take care of my flowers.

I used to think  I would be a horrible gardener, because whenever I went outside I would most likely read and not attend to the earth.  At other times I think I would make a wonderful gardener, because I love feeling the dirt on my hands, and tending the flowers and herbs.

I admire people who garden.  When I’m gardening, I usually think: “I wonder how many pages of such and such a book I could have covered,” or, “I wonder how much I could have written in a blogpost or a story or an essay.”

I’m sitting here writing about all my faults, all the while neglecting a comparison essay on Darwin and Marx…

There’s been a thought in my mind that I’m sure has been there for my whole life, but has been experiencing micro-evolution, and has been growing with me.  It is the idea of a holistic life.  I do know how to cook, I know how to write, and I know how to play piano.  But I also know how to read, and that seems to send all the other things into the water.  I read when I’m supposed to write, I read when I should cook, and sometimes I grow impatient when I’m playing the piano so I go read instead.

As a writer, I have become convinced of the importance of “being accomplished” as the Jane Austen prigs would say.  I’m not saying that I have to know French, German and have “a general knowledge of all contemporary languages,” or that I have to play the piano incredibly well, or that I need to be able to paint screens and embroider cushions.

But I do believe in experience.  I believe that experiences form the most poignant stories.   That’s why true stories grip us.  When Gene-Stratton Porter writes about birds, insects, and nature in fiction you appreciate it all the more because she was, in fact, a naturalist.  The same goes for any author who describes the way a drawing or portrait is done, if he has a knowledge of art.

Beatrix Potter’s stories are charming because she wrote and illustrated them, and because she kept many of the animals she writes about as pets.  Arthur Ransome wrote and illustrated his own works as well.  And we mustn’t forget J.R.R. Tolkien, whose illustrations for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings lend a whole new perspective into the work.  They are truly beautiful, and you know that this is exactly what he wanted things to look like.

Historical literature is a wonderful thing, let me tell you.  But what makes it so interesting?  That the writer has knowledge enough of history to know what he’s talking about in fiction that he knows how to write. (We’re talking about the good historical fiction here, yes? Yes.)

What I’m trying to say is that fiction is always more interesting when it’s not just a romance where people talk back and forth about how they can’t live without each other.  (By the way, I think that romance in literature is biblical and sometimes, depending on the context, necessary, but I think it needs to be well-mixed with other elements.)  Fiction is always more interesting when there’s a law intrigue (Bleak House by Charles Dickens, for example) or when there is an art theme (A Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevelier) or when there is historical background (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.)  But if you think about it, all these books have many, many other elements combined.  In order to have a variety of characters, there must be a variety of characteristics.

Imagination is a beautiful thing, but imagination also tends to go overboard. (I always tell myself that I can’t write stories about Switzerland until I go to Switzerland… but maybe that’s beside the point.)  Imagination tends to make things out to be more than they really are.  The problem with mine is that it tends to blow up a circumstance—one I’ve never been in— like a balloon, and then make the character respond as I would imagine they would respond, not taking the time to see the character as a real person with their own personality.

This is why the study of life is so important to those who are going to write.  I know I’ve said it before, but I like to say it again because it sounds nice and studious and thoughtful.  I would like to have a general knowledge of art and drawing and painting… Then I could draft my illustrations and have some other painter who’s good at the thing paint them.

It’s always nicer reading a book where the mother is cooking something and you know that the author knew how to cook because of the way he describes the food, lovingly, in a way, and thoughtfully.  He knows what he’s talking about.  I’m guessing Dickens didn’t cook because the way he approaches food is rather indifferent.

Chesterton is another matter.  If he didn’t know how to cook, he certainly was passionate about his food (see here Chesterton on Cheese) and that fact alone makes the meals described in his books more interesting to read about.

Then there is the aspect of music.  I love music.  I play piano, but not like I should.  Every day I sit down to play and I think: “Good heavens, I wonder why I’m so sloppy.” I shouldn’t be surprised when I never really practice.  I know enough about music, the history of music, genres, and composers to appreciate it in literature.  The First Violin, by Jesse Fothergill, is not very well known, and the romance is a bit sentimental  but I was able to appreciate the many musical aspects of it because I was introduced previously to Beethoven and Bruckner and others.

The thing of it is, people don’t appreciate books that were written by unintelligent and misinformed people.  Perhaps the majority of America love Stephanie Myer, but I have to wonder if she really knows what love is.  Awhile ago there was a rumor that J.K. Rowling was a witch.  If she was, then we know that Harry Potter was truly penned from the heart.

All this gets back to the idea of a holistic life.  It is not enough to imagine myself doing the gardening, or cooking a meal, or painting a picture.  It is not enough to simply read about them.  Even on a small scale, it is enough to experience.  This is because sight, sound, texture, smell, taste… these are all part of it.  I love the way the air tastes around the basil and oregano plants.  I love the way it feels to play Chopin passionately.  I love the way the paints swirl together while your mixing colors for a picture.  I love the way bread dough feels under my hands.  You cannot experience the feelings that come as natural consequences of these activities through reading.  You must do them.

Sustenance

The man declares, I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God, and worn out.
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. (Proverbs 30:1-3)

I felt it.  The overload, the depression, the fogginess.  My brain was going to explode, but I couldn’t stop studying.  I felt like I had plunged myself on a 100mph highway with no exits or pull-overs.  You might call it an obsession.  I felt so disconnected from everything.  All my studies were depressing: from Macbeth, to Bolshevism, to Hitler.

Thankfully something broke up this awful regime.  Today is one of my close friend’s birthday.  So another friend and I drove down to visit her.  Though we must be running on adrenaline, I feel refreshed already.  I can’t study.  I have to loosen up about it and just accept it.  My friend lives on 62 beautiful acres of wilderness in southern Ohio.  The three of us went for a drive today, just to drive.  I enjoyed this kind of driving: the dirt backroads, stopping occasionally to catch a view from the top of a ridge, looking down on the fields and woods, and the huge sky.

We visited an old graveyard, and we had a photo-shoot on top of a line of hay-rolls.  We laughed and kicked our shoes off, enjoying the earthy smell of the hay, and feeling the wind against our backs.

It was around this time that I realized the meaning of the word sustenance.  It’s not being fed until you’re satisfied, but it’s the grace that’s given daily: the little ounce of strength or refreshment that resets your mind and your soul, and puts you into a new perspective.  It’s the grace that gets you by, just enough.  Never too much.  Never too little.

Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to mebefore I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God. (Psalm 30:7-9)

Tired as I am, this break from my studies and every day life has reset my focus.  I can’t really imagine myself returning to school with vigour and excitement, but I will feel refreshed: no longer closed in by death and socialism and governments and countries falling apart.  There’s something refreshing in having a clear mind.  And I certainly have one.

I have been sustained.  Not filled, but given enough grace to persevere.  I have had a chance to get out from behind the pages of a book and enjoy the sun filtering through my skin, the wide sky, the lofty hay-rolls.  I am enjoying the love and fellowship of friends I love dearly.  I have been experiencing more of the important things in life, and for that, I am grateful.

(All photo credits to Rachel Clarke @ Photographie is Felicite)

Is God Bored?

Well? Haven’t you ever wondered?

I always have so many things to do it’s almost impossible to be bored – and life is certainly not monotonous.  But I always wondered about God.  He created the earth.  He knows how to do everything.  He is omniscient.  He has the book of Life, he has known and planned since before the foundations of the earth.  There is nothing new to him.  Is God bored?

Are you tired of G.K. Chesterton? (Assuming negative answer.) Good.  Because I’m going to post him… again. Take a deep breath.  Let it slowly out. Close your eyes for a second and forget about your job or everything you need to do before you go to sleep tonight.  Listen to your heart beat for a moment, relax your body.  Listen to the voices of nature – the autumn wind, the wild, rasping leaves against the pavement. (I am hoping you have a window open.)  Now open your eyes, and read this.

(I had to get you calmed down enough, you see…)

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight alement of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God….”

I think that’s enough.

The End!

Just kidding.

To continue…

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance. (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, ch. IV)

Are you still breathing?  I could almost swear that when I read that for the first time I had stopped breathing for a full five minutes.  I find apologetics to be as exciting as a novel.

I do not think God’s bored.  I don’t think he wound up the earth at the beginning like a clock, and let it run its full course and then – whoop! the end! Haha! O Man, your play is ended. Thanks for the entertainment. Let’s calculate how many of you made it into heaven. Oh look! 144,000.

I don’t think he did that.

Question 11 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts into perspective my thoughts on how God acted after creation.

Q. What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful perserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.

He didn’t wind it up like a clock and let it run.  He didn’t create it and leave it, sit back, and wonder what man would do.  Though he knows all things, though he ordains it, he yet takes an active role in the “perserving and governing” of all his creatures – not just humans – and all their actions.  His work is evident in creation.  He still makes the daisies.  I thought perhaps he must get bored making the daisies, because it must be monotonous, and there was nothing new or exciting, but there… Chesterton proved me wrong.

Earlier in the book, he says:

How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?

I feel that we must look at the world this way.  God makes the daisies all alike – not because he must, but because it is his joy and delight to make all daisies alike.  He makes the sun rise every morning – not necessarily because the sun MUST rise every morning, but because he wants it to rise every morning. He has created this cycle of life, and though he could change it with no difficulty, and blow up all the scientific laws and confuse the minds of men, he doesn’t.  He runs it with skilled hands.  Remember how he made the sun stand still in the sky in Joshua?  How could he stop the cycle of life for that long? Even for three hours!  Yet he perserved creation.  “Yet we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we…”  Monotony is boredom to us, yet I believe that we should look upon the “same and old” of nature as though it were “different and new.”  Every time we see the “fields of rye, that clothe the world and meet the sky” (Tennyson) we must see it as though we had been blind at first.  We have heard of the grass, and felt it, but have never seen it’s beauty… those billions of green fingers reaching and stretching towards the sun.  For the five hundredth time, we must see it for the first time.

I used to think that everything was the same because it MUST be the same… that oaks were like oaks because God created an oak in the beginning, and now all oaks must resemble that first oak. Genetics, wot. But…What ho! Chesterton! I will take my bow, exit stage left, and allow you to take the floor.

“…I found the whole modern world talking scientific fatalism; saying that everything is as it must always have been, being unfolded without fault from the beginning. The leaf on the tree is green because it could never have been anything else. Now, the fairy-tale philosopher is glad that the leaf is green precisely because it might have been scarlet. He feels as if it had turned green an instant before he looked at it. He is pleased that snow is white on the strictly reasonable ground that it might have been black. Every colour has in it a bold quality as of choice; the red of garden roses is not only decisive but dramatic, like suddenly spilt blood. He feels that something has been done. But the great determinists of the nineteenth century were strongly against this native feeling that something had happened an instant before. In fact, according to them, nothing ever really had happened since the beginning of the world. Nothing ever had happened since existence had happened; and even about the date of that they were not very sure.

I feel as though our world is too rushed to feel the excitement and beauty of the green, green earth.  We get up in the morning, sometimes feeling like slugs, and we don’t notice the fresh wind, or the autumn rain, or the warm sun, or the delirium of colors in the world.  After a time, if our conscience really gets to us, we might say “Good morning” to people.  Yet, putting aside all convention and politeness, perhaps we could reach the point at which we say “good morning” because we feel that it MUST be a good morning.  We have taken the time to recognize the joy of a new day, of a fresh start.  We have stirred up our cup of determination and cheerfulness, with which we will face the so called drudgeries and hardships that might come later on.  And amidst the rush of life, we might occasionally stop, and we will start laughing with joy because the sky is blue!  And at thanksgiving, we might thank God for the reds and oranges and golds of the leaves – for his perserving and governing all his creatures and all his actions.

Here are five things that I am convinced people need to do on a regular basis:

  1. Think
  2. Dance
  3. Sing
  4. Dream
  5. Pray

All of those things can contain many sub-categories, but in their essence, they are important.  Thinking deeply through things helps us to understand and appreciate.  Dancing helps cleanse you of any pessimistic parasites lurking in your soul.  Singing does much the same thing – it is an outburst of joy, or of sorrow.  Dreaming makes the world go round, I am convinced, because dreams determine who we are, what our pursuits are, and how we will live.  Praying is the most important of all.  Through prayer our faith is strengthened.  Through prayer our trust is placed out of earthly things and into Christ.  And thus, through prayer, we do not have to be anxious about anything, and we can sing, dance and dream.

Alright, I am done.  But I’m sure that’s not the last you’ll be hearing of G.K. Chesterton…