Fresh Air

I have discovered something about myself—that one of my biggest faults is self-deprecation.  It’s a nasty thing, surely.  Yet, this bit from Zephaniah keeps coming back to me: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

I tend to demean myself—to make myself so small and little that it feels like I could creep into insignificance and oblivion, and remain there, and perhaps be happy, because no one would come into contact with me, and no one would be injured by me.  (T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and bad dreams about emotionally injuring many people have not helped matters much.)  But to live in seclusion is to live in fear—to live in fear of myself, and of the world.

And what have I always desired?  Bravery, I suppose, though I didn’t know it.  I always desired to be strong enough to be brave.  And I kept thinking today, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I embarrass myself perpetually.  I am so cognizant of all my mistakes.  And I just now read in a Wendell Berry book: “What has been done needs undoing, and cannot be undone. As many times before, it is not the present that surprises him but the past, the present slipped away into irrevocability.  As many times before, he would like to turn away, find an opening, get out.  He feels his own history crowding him, as near to him in that heat as his clinging shirt, as his flesh itself. He feels the weight of the history of flesh.  He feels tired.” I feel like it was written for me, for me alone.  And then I realized, it was written for every human being on the face of the planet.

Which brought me to another realization.  That self-deprecation is at the heart of selfishness.  So what I have really struggled with is selfishness.

I have a need.  An inborn desire, and a strength and hopefully a capacity (by God’s grace) to fulfill that need.  This need is to look beyond the confines of my taut comfort zone, and to gaze freshly upon the world, and to ask, “How may I be of service?”

And I cannot be specific about this one, about a way to serve.  I must be open and available to every situation, especially the ones I feel less and less inclined towards.  Self deprecation is not humility—but sacrifice leads to humility, and that is what I desire.

The odd thing, though, is that I’ll never know if I am humble, because the truly humble person doesn’t know that he or she is being humble.

I have a habit of going out of myself, and looking at me from a different perspective.  That version of me shakes its head, looks up to God and says: “Keep chiseling, please.”

Please be patient with me.  My desire is to sink back from everything—blog, facebook, twitter—whatever I have an account with.  To wipe myself completely off the internet, and to settle down and read a book.  But I’m not going to do that.  I was considering giving up blogging.  Partly because I had hoped that this blog would be entirely objective.  It’s been anything except that, I believe. I’m not going to give it up.  If you don’t like it, please don’t read it.  I can’t think that I have anything of worth to say, but if there ever is anything that speaks to you, please take it and be blessed.

He rejoices over us with loud singing.  He loves us.  Can’t I rejoice in that? Jesus is enough.

“The benefits that in this life accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification are assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.” – Westminster Shorter Catechism.

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Rant – Creative Writing | not depicted but revealed

I don’t usually make a habit of posting my creative work.  I have tried, a few times, and 56 Stories (which most of you may remember) I keep public only because it was a “public exercise” so to speak.  One reason I feel very strongly about not posting any poetry/fiction or any of my personal ideas for those two genres in the way of inspiration is because I feel like both these things are a very private, very personal.  As Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a type writer and bleed.”  Now who wants to see my blood all over the screen?

I thought so.

But I’m going to break out of this routine—not completely.  You’re not going to get any original work, I promise, but I did have an inspiring thought, which I am writing out here because I think people will find it interesting, perhaps.

I like to be organized in the way I lay out a poem (or at least I like to imagine that I’m organized).  I like to have a firm idea of the thought I want to convey, the atmosphere I want to create, the kind of language I want to use.  It all sounds very simple when you write it out like that, but thinking abstractly about how to use very concrete images… that’s a challenge.  It’s almost like you have all these concrete images, and then you look at them from an abstract viewpoint, but then come out of the abstract viewpoint with different images that relate to the first…. As I read in a review of a movie recently that something was… “not depicted but revealed.”  The hope of poetry isn’t to merely convey a feeling, or a thought, or to create an atmosphere—though I would say that all these are goals.  Something would only be depicted if you used the images you wanted to reveal, and there’s something dead about that.  Part of the wonder of poetry is its mystery.  “What… does he mean?” I think that the real hope is to reveal something, without saying: “This is what I want to reveal.”

My hope this Easter was to write a poem that talked about the atmosphere on Good Friday.  During Easter weekend I wonder how many people realize that after Jesus died… saints were raised from the dead, and walked, and lived, their tombs broken open because the earth was twisting and trembling and there was uncanny darkness and the ripping of the temple curtain and—God.  To me this is an amazing thought and my mind runs with it.  This was an astronomical point in history, it was a writhing, twisting point, and what was happening metaphysically became manifest in the physical world.  Not even the earth could calmly bear the crucified Lord.  And at that moment, that one moment, when he died, and there was blood and vinegar and darkness coming on, chinking of dice… and he cried out again in a loud voice and yielded up his spirit… yielded up his spirit… that was the moment, wasn’t it—when sins were forgiven and there was direct access to God, and we were atoned for.  It was the final sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice, something that humans hadn’t even considered on their own—that the Son of God would descend from heaven in the form of a man, and in that mystical wholeness of “fully God, fully man” put himself on the altar, and only He knew the depth of the matter, the importance, I think.

The fact about the saints rising and appearing to many in different cities is very interesting.  I haven’t explored it in depth, but it happened after Christ’s death—he didn’t have to be there to say something along the lines of, “Lazarus, Lazarus…”  The power of God was enough to raise the dead without Jesus even being there.  Even at the resurrection of Lazarus, there must have been an air of expectancy, a certain apprehension as Jesus stood in front of the tomb.  But imagine if you randomly saw people coming out of their graves—not in zombie fashion, but perfectly normal, in their grave clothes, on their way to appear to people.  People would have known that Christ had raised people from the dead before—but now that Christ was dead, even more people were coming alive—he may have been dead, but his power was not dead.

But I’m not ready to write this poem about the broken tombs and graves, and the terrifying thought of direct “access” to God, and the death of Christ, and his blood.  I’m not ready to write about how people wear pastels on Easter, and I’m not ready to contrast the happy behavior of today with the dread of the future when the Lord was crucified, and the terror-like joy of his resurrection.  It takes more than just lists of images, though those count too.  Yet this thought is so fresh poignant to me right now—I had to say something before Easter was over.

Happy Resurrection Day!

Tend

Words, single words, their singular shapes, lines, curves; their meanings that splatter themselves on the window of your soul like a raindrops, exploding.  With multiple words we draw up a sentence that conveys a feeling, produces a spark, spurs an emotion, ignites a flaming soul.  But one word—say one word, and what do you see? what do you think?

Say one word to me, and an image is drawn up in my head, the same image for the same word, and then thoughts come, and more images, and they play off each other, streaming seamlessly like a movie.  It’s like watching a movie.  And all because of a single word.  I hear one word, and I might know its literal denotative meaning, but what leaps into the face of my mind and imbeds itself in my soul is the connotative meaning.

Tend.

I tend to things.  Things tend to me.  I am tended. Things are tended.  Tend.  I tend, because he tends.

My soul is being nurtured, honed, beautified.  And through this glorious, painful, burning process of sanctification, a broken, shattered, rotten garden is reviving, the stream is flowing, and there is holiness in this place.  This is the nature of tending. Where there was fear is reconciliation, total unity, and we abide.

Abide.

To not only live, inhabit, be in a place, but to thrive there.  To rest there, to gather strength and sustenance.

Sustenance.

Feeding on grace.

The mental images come up, the movie plays, fast-forward smooth, because my mind moves like the wind.

…Time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of toast and tea. (T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

This is how fast we think.  That in one minute I can explore the logistics of a decision, and decide for it, and also decide against it after weighing the pros and cons again.  Every second is filled with images, with thoughts moving thousands of miles per hour across a limitless landscape, gathering and reaping.

Tend.

Allow myself to be tended; allow the hand to lay heavy on my shoulders; allow my body to bow before holiness; allow my soul to be nurtured toward holiness.  Thigmotropism—an organism’s growth response towards touch.  Phototropism.  An organism’s growth response towards light.  God’s touch, and his emanating light. I feel it, see it, and my soul is enlarged to receive more love, more joy, more spiritual gifts, to empty more and to fill more. I grow to conform to his image (Romans 8:29).

He is tending me.  Taking care of me, and using sandpaper to smooth the rough surface, rounding the corners.  Being tended is being sanctified.  We are not allowed to rot away and wallow in our blood (Ezekiel 16:6).

Tend.

Compelled

Here we are at the end of February—Leap Day, it is, and there are changes in the air.  For one thing, the wind isn’t so bitingly cold, and even if it is, it smells like Spring.  Like dirt, and roots reaching down deep in the earth, and molding leaves.  There are snowdrops blooming in abundance in various patches all over the woods, and little flocks of daffodils pushing up towards the sun, which seems to be growing bigger and nearer.  And here I am, enjoying it, and thinking of the irresistible call of God.

Today, as I was reading parts of Genesis 3, I forced myself to think through something that has been lingering at the back of my mind for quite a few years.  And it’s simply this.  I was struck by the fact that though Adam and Eve hid themselves from God when they knew their nakedness and his presence, they spoke and answered him truthfully when he asked them: “Where are you?” and “What have you done?”  Coming into the knowledge of sin and misery, beginning the sharp descent from the state of perfection to this must have been shocking and grieving enough.  But then to know, “God is here;” must have produced the greatest feeling of fear and shame.  What I found amazing, then, is that even in these new feelings of shame and fear, Adam and Eve both answered God when he spoke to them, and they both told the truth.

Now, Adam did lay the blame on Eve, and Eve did lay the blame on the Serpent.  But the point is, they both confessed essentially what had been done: they had given in to temptation and had eaten the forbidden fruit.  And here is the thought I came up with.

God is compelling.  When he speaks to us, we have no choice except to answer.  We could be hiding in the depths of the sea.  We could be ignoring him with all the concentration of our minds.  And yet, if he spoke to us, like he did to Adam and Eve in the garden—if he said, “Where are you?” What choice would we have but to say: “Here I am, Lord.”  Perhaps that the idea of God being compelling is a bit too… hard? Too much force and pressure involved? Think of it this way.  No matter what the situation, God elicits a response from whomever he’s speaking to.

This idea then of God compelling man to answer him also relates to the Calvinistic view of irresistible grace.  I do believe that of all the five points, this is the most interesting.  Just as God compels Adam to speak when he confronts him, he compels us to accept him when he presents us with his saving grace.  In our feeble human life, we are so weak and cannot even resist our own nature sometimes.  How, then, can we resist God when he says— “I have called you by name, you are mine;”? (Isaiah 43: 1)

The blood is on the lintels.  Around my left wrist I have a red ribbon tied, to remind me of the blood that was spilled.  It is folly to some, and a stumbling block to others.  For me? It is my salvation and my deliverance.  Since I have felt this call of God, I have had no choice (and neither have I desired one) but to say: “Save me, O God!” (Psalm 69:1)

No, I’m not saying that God’s grace is irresistible or that his call is compelling because that is simply what I have gathered from what I have heard and read.  It’s what I truly believe, because I have felt it.  I feel it day after day.  Looking back, I see that there was no other option but to follow him.  There was nothing else I could have possible done, other than follow God, and submit my whole self to Christianity, to turn myself inside out so that the soul is on the outside, not hidden away with secret desires and ambitions in the crevices of my mind and heart.  We dream of hearing the voice of God, but I don’t think we know truly how compelling it is that it makes Adam and Eve, in the depths of their shame, to speak.  He has called us in the uttermost parts of our wickedness and our misery, so that we feel we cannot lift up our faces, but he says: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)

Psalm 51, over and over again.  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise.” “Purge me with hyssop…” “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…”

“Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?”
“God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 20)

So by his blood we are healed.  “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22)

And he sheds his blood why? “…I have called you by name, you are mine… Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…” (Isaiah 43:1, 4)
“…Sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy, but real love has always ended in bloodshed.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This grace poured out for us, we can’t resist. We are brought into his call, into his love, drawn there by grace and by a love so powerful and mighty and tender that it is beyond our comprehension.  This time of Lent and approaching Easter—for Christ, was not a time of peace.  It was a time of violence.  His death was not something brought about with tranquility.  It was terrible, so that even the earth quaked with the mightiness.  Even the earth could not bear up this great, terrible, wonderful thing that had happened. It was too much for human capability, for mortality, you might say.  And all because of grace.

And in my little Lent devotional book is a quote that stared up at me just now as I read it, relating to all of this. “When we speak of grace, we think of the fact that [God’s] favorable inclination towards the creature does not allow itself to be soured and frustrated by the resistance of the latter.” (Karl Barth)

Pre-Moving Thoughts

God’s victory means our defeat, means our humiliation; it means God’s mocking anger at all human arrogance, being puffed up, trying to be important in our own right. It means reducing the world and its clamor to silence; it means the crossing through of all our ideas and plans, it means the Cross. The Cross above the World. It means that man, even the noblest, must, whether he likes it or not, fall in the dust and with him all the gods and idols and lords of this world. The Cross of Jesus Christ, that means the bitter scorn of God in all human depths, the rule of God over the whole world.
The people came to victorious Gideon; it is the final clamor and the final temptation: ‘rule thou over us!’ But Gideon does not forget his history or the history of his nation… ‘God shall rule over you, and you shall have no other Lord.’ At these words the altars of the gods and the idols are cast down, all worship of man is cast down, all apotheosis of man by himself, they are judged, condemned, crossed out, they are all crucified and flung down into the dust by him who alone is Lord. And beside us kneels Gideon, the man who has been brought to faith out of the midst of fears and doubts, kneels before the altar of the one God, and with us Gideon prays: ‘Lord on the Cross, be thou alone our Lord. Amen.’ – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1933

I was sitting alone in Panera bread around 7:30 AM when I read this.  I had left the house an hour before to have study time.  In this tortuous storm of moving, I needed the quiet.  The morning air, the grogginess, even the cheap, bad tasting caramel latte. But it was all worth it.  This time was spent writing a letter to a dear friend, studying the Bible, and reading Bonhoeffer’s biography.  I knew I needed to wake up early this morning, even though it will be the first of two of the busiest days of this year.  Not to run away from what needed to be done, but to grab some time and in it, revert into peace and calm and good cheer.
I’ll be leaving the home I’ve lived in for ten years, and the area that I’ve lived my whole life in.  But strangely, I don’t feel nostalgic or anything.  I feel excited, eager, ready for a challenge and ready for an opportunity to embrace my challenge.  “But for those who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” – Malachi 4:2.  I feel like those fresh cows now, leaping with the vitality of life.  I was particularly encouraged by that passage of Bonhoeffer’s sermon up there.  To just be reminded: “It’s not about you.  Nothing is about you.  It’s all about God.  He is not only the reason everything is here, but the reason that everything is happening, and to him belongs the glory,” is not only convicting, but a great relief.  To keep things God-focused is hard at first, but after awhile, it becomes joy and relief.  To know that my sinful human self will not conquer.  It won’t conquer in the short run or in the long run.  I have given myself up to God once, but I do it again over and over, every day.  To say, Lord, lead us, guide us, be our God and our one Lord.   I have been encouraged to know that my strength is crushed, and that I must depend entirely upon God.  Even this knowledge strengthens me.
I will miss things about this house (mainly all the built in bookshelves) but it is amazing to me to see how at first I didn’t want to move, and now, because it is God’s will, he has brought my mind and my heart about face, and has confronted me, and graciously made me ready.

Another thing, before I close.  I was reading about Gideon today in Judges, and I noticed that when he’s getting ready to go down and defeat the Midianites & Amalekites, God commands him to go at once, but then says: “But if you are too afraid… go down to the camp tonight and listen to what they say.”  He knows Gideon’s weaknesses, and takes care of him.  He knows my weaknesses, and is compassionate and kind as he takes care of me and guides me.  He will do the same for you, if you trust in him.

Now, I tell myself, more than ever, seize the day!

P.S. If you haven’t noticed, please read the text below the header (Carpe Diem.)  It used to be a quote by C.S. Lewis— “Reason is the natural order of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning”—but I changed it to something more fitting for the purpose of this blog.

A Eucharist: Feasting

I love being in the kitchen, knitting molecules of food together, feeling the sense of wholeness that it brings to me to prepare a full feast with someone I love, my sister, and laughing and consulting and feeling everything become whole and warm inside.  Everything is transfused—the chicken broth seeps into every unseen crevice of the carrot, and what was sweet becomes unbearably savoury.  That’s what we do.  We mix and match, throw a little of this in, a little more of that, and every scent and smell and texture that is different in every way fuses together and changes completely.  A chemical change.  We create a feast.  We use every dish in the house, even though none of them match.   Every dish is laid out, all the varieties of colors, everything we’ve made from scratch (and perhaps one or two things not made from scratch).  And we thank God for the feast, the fellowship.  We eat.  Breaking the molecules apart, and suddenly I feel broken, especially the next day when it’s all over.

But then I have heard since my earliest days a story floating around like the whisper of something great that’s going to happen.  It has passed from the lips of Christians in the church, passed with a smile of relief, and an absent-minded look, as if the speaker isn’t entirely there.  A continual feast.  No brokenness, no end.  Everything is whole, all the time.  Feasting on joy, feasting on wholeness that remains whole, feasting on gratitude and love.  This is what was in our food, and yet, these things when they’re on earth, they disappear.  Love disappears so quickly, and is replaced with lust and passion. Gratefulness sinks into criticism.  Joy slowly digresses and is replaced with discontentment.  These things are gifts, and we fail to retain them all the time.

The wind blew cold today, and it blew freshness into my hot soul, and a new kind of life into my lungs.  The slap of the waves on the sea as they rush up to wash around my boots, and I leave my hands open and free, seeing how long I can go with them cold, how long before I must tuck them into the warmth of my wool sweater.  The cathedral, every single grave is bathed in a flitting sunlight that flashes here and there, but through the dark clouds above, warms me, and makes even death seem golden.  To the North, the hills are capped in snow.  Winter is coming fast, I sense it in the wind as I sit in its breath writing my gifts.

Can I think of one thousand gifts? Can I even think of one gift?  During Thanksgiving season, all over Facebook, all over blogs, I see people being thankful for one gift every day.  And after Thanksgiving—are we done being grateful? Why is it so important only during this season? I wish we could spend all the time in the kitchen, stealing time to take a walk above the fields and stopping for a moment to write down a thought, a story, but returning to the kitchen, always, making feasts every day, washing the dishes every day, baking again, knitting molecules again, creating wholeness.  I wish we could do it every day, and I wish that every day we could celebrate this Eucharist, even without the food.  Why are we so quick to overlook the opportunities for joy now, here? Why are we so eager to accept brokenness and depression? And finally, what does it mean to live a good life?

I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy. – Anne Frank

I wake up smiling, thinking of gifts now, because I feel like I should.  A good life.  Living a good life.  Being grateful, truly grateful, and living out thankfulness.  That quote up there—I am convicted about it, and feel myself wanting to weep.  That I should be unhappy and ungrateful when I have a life with no misery, while Anne Frank who lived a hunted life filled with horror and blood should be grateful, and happy!

Embrace your life.  Live your thankfulness, not only during November, but every day, all day.  Live slowly, purely, live well.  We always talk about this—about living thankful lives.  But don’t just say: “I’m thankful.” Think of what you’re grateful for.  Think of your gifts—gifts that have been given to you.  Material and immaterial.  Individual things.  On one piece of paper, on a chalk board, or on your heart write one gift—only one.  And then, continue writing.  Write these gifts for the rest of your life, and live the thankfulness you feel for them, and for the One who gave them to you.

In heaven there’s a feast for the saints, a feast that will not end, and there will be no end to our thankfulness.

Scotland | Journal Excerpts |

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there.  The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote.  It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every other book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written.  It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth.  I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills.  It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hillside like the colors and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large, and too close to be seen.  – The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton, Introduction

Stories—that is how a reader is able to look at and analyze his or her life.  It is how I cope with mine.  That all this—the gypsy man on the street with the accordion—it’s all part of something bigger.  That the slightest thought is not without meaning or consequence.  Material things spark the train of the immaterial—the train of thought, the stretching line of feeling, and even those material things, like the man who made music, that tangible things has been inspired by an immaterial feeling. These are intricate parts of a story.  Looking at my own life teaches me how to write a story.  Let’s start at a new, important period of my life.  Okay.  Going to Scotland for seven weeks.  So that is the beginning of my story.  That is where I begin. Later we find out why, what brought it about.  Throughout the story we learn what we don’t know in the beginning—how this trip affects my life when it’s done.  How I change.  And thinking of that makes me aware of everything around me.  The people I meet.  The strange coincidences that urge me to record them, for reasons of their own.

I wonder how many “red herrings” I will write down. Probably none, because whatever I write I feel called to write.  Whatever the object it has struck me in a singular and subjective way, and that in and of itself makes it interesting and important, at least to me.

When I come out of the town’s center and start down the hill—which will eventually lead me up another hill—towards home, I can see yet another hill, higher than all the rest.  The very top of it is green, and its slope is brown—long, deep, furrows of brown that the tractor has been making all day.  And there is a group of trees that I can see beyond the roofs of the houses.  Their branches are dark against the misty ground and the cloud-swollen sky.  It’s November.  I want to climb that hill, and I almost don’t care that there’s a fence on it, marking it as someone’s property.  I have a desire in me and an urge to climb.  I feel it when I stand on my chair every morning to look out the window towards the North and see jagged, low mountains.  This thought in particular has been with me ever since I got here, and yet I don’t know what significance it has.  Maybe it doesn’t hold any significance, except as a defining point of my personality. But that’s the exciting things.  I’m going to find out, sooner or later.  And maybe when I do I won’t care anymore, but maybe it will bring on something exciting.  That’s how it happens in stories.  One thing leads to another.  And those are the things we tell about, so that when you think about it, nothing that happens in life is without importance.  We all have about one huge plot, and ten thousand subplots. A lot goes on that we don’t even think about. And all of it is flowing into the throbbing, pulsing blood of history.

What I See

When people first read my blog, I wonder if they consider me a sentimentalist.  If so, just bear with me through this post.

My family is caught up in a whirlwind.  My father has been accepted for the position of a worship leader and music director at an EPC church in Pittsburgh, and we are trying to pack up and move.  At the same time, things are rapidly changing and progressing in my own life, which keeps me very busy with many projects.

But I wanted to talk a little about moving—oh, here comes the nostalgia and the weeping and tearing of hair and ripping of garments and the pouring of ash over the head, right?  Well the title of this post can be a bit deceiving.  It’s not what I do see, but what I don’t see.  And what I don’t see are my books.  They’re packed away snugly in square boxes. The old ones whose color rubs off are wrapped in paper towels because we don’t get the newspaper. But I can’t see them.  I packed them up, and I feel all empty and withered, and I half-expect when I reach out my hand to find all the bones well defined because they are skinny and wrinkly. That’s what happens when you have to say goodbye to your friends.  You get old and withered up. I won’t see them for more than two months, and I am used to seeing them every day, to having them at my beck and call.

Other relaxations are peculiar to certain times, places and stages of life, but the study of letters [books] is the nourishment of our youth, and the joy of our old age. They throw an additional splendor on prosperity, and are the resource and consolation of adversity; they delight at home, and are no embarrassment abroad; in short, they are company to us at night, our fellow travelers on a journey, and attendants in our rural recesses. – Cicero

If I have a little money, I buy books.  If there’s any left over, I buy food and clothing. – Erasmus

I am sad about packing my books away.  I feel a little frantic, and it’s funny, because the more books I pack, the more I buy to try and replace them.  But I always find myself thinking—where’s that one book?  Just when I think I’m ready to read Ernest Hemingway, I remember that, well, I can’t.   I am dull when I pack away my books.  And what does that show me about myself? That I am too dependent on them, perhaps?  Indeed. Apart from Christ, books are what define my personality, and help give me scope for who I am.  But then—isn’t that what they’re for?  Aren’t books are choicest companions, apart from actual human beings?  Aren’t the stories the things that inspire us, that spur us on, that strengthen our inner being? For me, yes. It’s taken awhile to realize that sometimes it’s good to pack away your books because then you don’t end up taking them for granted.  I have kept out a few treasures.  I’m leaving for Scotland tomorrow, and who goes anywhere without books? You didn’t think I packed them all, did you?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers
Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern
The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill

And, of course, my Bible—if I can find it.

I have revolutionized my way of thinking, a little.  I used to have an aversion to change.  I used to sing with Keane “So little time Try to understand that I’m Trying to make a move just to stay in the game I try to stay awake and remember my name But everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same.”  But I am a bit done with that kind of thing.  I have decided to live each day by itself—to seize the day.  To find the truth of each day, to get to the root of it.  Digging in the dirt of life can be a pleasure to the gardener, who enjoys the warm earthiness on his hands—to others, a bore and a gross task.  My books are packed away, and the empty shelves point to the small pile left and seem to imply that these are what I have now.  This is what I can read.  This is what I have to enjoy—so, enjoy it.

Morsels

A month, more or less, since I’ve posted.  And here is not anything original with me—not any thought or idea that has come.  Life has been busy, and I have been working in it.  But this is something which has given me sudden comfort.  Like the person who continues drudgery, the mundane, and suddenly finds hope in it, a certain satisfaction and justification.  Let any one who suffers, any one who is in grief, any one who is simply having a down day or a frustrating mood read this.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. – 1 Peter 4:19

Oh the implications.  It brings to mind a quote by C.S. Lewis, on my sidebar, I believe.

Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.

Our grief, our misery, our sorrow, deep as it may seem, too unfathomable to render precisely—it is all present, and passing, interminable as it may seem.  We have a faithful Creator. We suffer according to God’s will.  And we suffer so that we will not forget him.  The life of our Saviour was one of great suffering on our behalf.  This world we live in is a torment and a grief to me—but can’t I live in deep joy in spite of it?  And it is not about ourselves.  We must be doing good—always.  Being kind, being attentive, sympathetic, loving, tender.  And what are we at heart? Warriors—and sufferers.  But our comfort is great, the end eternal and wonderful.  Don’t give up.  Press on, and hold fast.

It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. – Psalm 119:71

Lost Wit

This is an article I wrote for an online magazine for young ladies called Verita. I am honoured to be a regular writer for this magazine.  If you have a moment, take a look! Verita is a wonderful website with varied, good, and creative writers. Enjoy!

Wit is a lost word, a word that has no bearing on today’s society.  However, in the time of the Puritans, wit was regarded as a virtue, and if you had it, you would be respected and revered.  In Shakespeare’s play, Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice’s sour and fiery attitude are forgiven because her wit is so clever: “My, but she has a fine wit,” they usually say about her.  Also, in Shakespearian times, there were five wits, parallel to the five senses.  They were imagination, common sense, fantasy, estimation, and memory.  It is rare to find someone nowadays with an abundance of these five wits.  Speech begins with thought (or it should) and the realm of thought includes the five wits. What our society and culture needs first and foremost is a Reformation of Speech, or, like William Wilberforce pursued, the Reformation of Manners, which would include speech.

Not only do we speak carelessly and without thought, but we speak too much. Henry David Thoreau said: “The tragedy in human intercourse begins, not when there is a misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.”  And I recently read in a book something about the “silence that is communion still.” Most assuredly, there is a time to speak, but also a time to keep silent.  Speech should come from a well-informed, or a questioning mind. I would venture to say that the main problem is that we are not pursuing wisdom; we are not wishing to be wise and acting accordingly.  We are more concerned with… well, with nothing.

Do we listen?

Do we think?

Do we ask questions?

If the answer is no, our desire is not to learn, but to gain a certain end.  You see this apparent in education, in the work force, the political systems, etc.  There are levels of achievement.  And everyone is studying their hardest to get to the next level, the higher level.  Think of the information—the history, literature, science, anything you learn—as a human body thrust across a chasm, serving its only purpose as a bridge, and pretend you stomp over that bridge, and perhaps some of Education’s ribs get broken. Education, work, politics, sports, etc. have become machines, and if we are involved in them, they simply transport us to the next level, and leave no lasting idea or impression on us.

So little occurs within us that we have become, let’s be honest, stupid.  We can’t begin to understand Beatrice’s wit, for example, which comes from a well-informed mind, much less speak it fluently.  How do we fix this? We must begin by controlling ourselves.

Think about the meaningless exclamations you utter every day.  Things like: “Crap!” “Darn!” “Shoot!” “Rats!” “Snap!” “Oh my gosh!” “Oh my goodness!” “Wow!” “Holy cow!” “Cool!” “Like, like, like, umm, like…” the list could go on and on.  These things have no importance, they are merely hand-me-down, worn out phrases that we use in place of a genuine expression of how we feel about something.  I am not speaking in ignorance when I say that sometimes they come from a feeling of having to speak. From the beginning of August a friend and I have been trying to refrain from exclaiming, and I realize when I’m refraining that I feel lost for words, and I wondered: “Do I even need to say anything? Maybe a smile will say more than anything.” Perhaps not everyone feels this way, though.

First things first, we need to cut out the exclamations.  They are meaningless and most of the time, insincere, especially with the youth in America.  Then we need to start systematically sorting through our thoughts, and if we have questions, ask them.  And if we have no questions, then listen, and really, truly, think ten times before we speak, but perhaps ten quick times or one slow time so we don’t lose the opportunity if it’s right. Next we need to exercise our imagination, our common sense, our fantasy, our estimation, and our memory.

  • Imagination – Imagination is the ability to draw up an image of something external that is not present to the senses.  Imagination allows us to picture something somebody tells us, without ever actually having seen it.
  • Common sense – Good sense and sound judgement in practical matters.  Pretty basic, isn’t it? But most people allow anger, fear, and other emotions to get in the way of their common sense; we do it more often than we know.
  • Fantasy – The ability to imagine things impossible or improbable.  Close to imagination, but a bit different.  In Cyrano de Bergerac, there is a passage where Cyrano sinks into a reverie about how he might grow soft in the evening, how he might fall in love, what he might see, how everything might seem. His ability to fantasize enables him to draw up images for the audience.
  • Estimation – Being able to value and calculate something, typically a person and their character.  This is truly a lost art.  We get too caught up in impressions, especially first impressions (and I am very guilty of this), to use our common sense and try to judge fairly and soundly.  However, at the same time, we fail to take the little signs of the impressions that may give a clue as to the real character of someone.
  • Memory – The faculty used to remember information. Sure we remember things.  All the unimportant, juicy facts.  What was that about education? It’s only a bridge, that, when crossed, is forgotten? No, education should be stored in the memory, ready for reference, ready for support, ready for ideas and structure of thought.  Memory can quickly draw up something learned long ago, and apply it.
And after that, I see how far our society has really digressed.
J.B. Priestly said, “The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”  Technology is a good example of this.  We use worn out phrases on the internet all the time (e.g. omg, lol, btw, brb, ttyl, np), we say unimportant things so often, that when something important does happen to us, it gets lost in the endless stream of people who are just like us: recording and saying meaningless things that are of no benefit to the people around them.  I have found that letter writing, even as opposed to emails and phone calls, regulates thoughts and ideas because it takes a longer time to write, and your mind has time to work through things.  I find my writing is much more coherent, much cleaner when I write with a pen.  But, truthfully, I don’t do it often enough.
Sometimes I believe we need to shut our eyes, for there is too much to see, and focus on what we have in our heads already.  We have so much information—if only we could shut our eyes, and live by faith, not by sight.  If we were so focused on living righteous and godly lives, I doubt we would have the time to talk and prattle and in doing so be unkind to others.  Say things that, no matter whether or not they’re overheard by anyone, will not hurt anyone. “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato.
Think more, listen more, speak less, and be care-taker of your speech.
Let’s start a reformation, shall we?