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

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)

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.

I Preach to Myself

If I’ve learned anything, and if there’s anything that I will reiterate over and over again, it is that the time we have to live fully is too little to be rushed and too long to be wasted.  You’ve heard it from me again and again on this blog.

But mostly I say it to myself because my life is the life that is rushed.  The stages surge together into one big current, and it no longer matters to me how old I am or what my maturity level is.  Because life is too short to wonder about that, to concern myself with it.

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” – Wendell Berry

And when Anne Frank talks about finding happiness in yourself… I have come to see what that means.  It’s not a form of selfishness or self-centeredness.  It is simply the ability to embrace who you are.  For me it has been a recognition of personality traits.  That I never cry, or that I like watching people’s feet underneath the dressing room door, or that I will sit in Starbucks and read perfectly contentedly for three hours, or that I love people, or that I’m a Facebook addict, or that I don’t mind working two part time jobs, or that I love my family, or that I enjoy doing things that shock people.  I laugh loudly and violently.   I have learned to embrace the loneliness of the moment, or the moment gone, because it’s only looking back at myself sitting all alone in a place that I feel loneliness—and so it exists only in retrospection.   I find contentment.  Or rather, I come into contentment.  It’s one of those things that you will never find if you try and pursue it, if you use it as an end.  It’s a gift.  You enter into it, and you feel its pervasive power in every minute.

I have been that person who listens and rests in the grace of the world.  I have been the one who has stood out under the stars and sought refuge from the force of rush and busyness.  Not even events or activities—but the rush of the head, the mind, the heart.  The stress that pushes out total equilibrium.  I have been the person who has exhaled empty feeling and bad feeling and anger and resentment and bitterness into the cold air and watched it dissolve, and felt the grace spring new, felt my soul reverberate with vitality.

I can’t tell you how to rest in grace.  There are things that I did, things I should have done that I didn’t.  It’s not a recipe, it’s not a check-list.  But this is a peculiarity of Christianity, that we are able to receive peace and not fight against it.  It is a gift.  And gifts are given to people that are undeserving, least expecting, even us as we are—humans.

Pursue joy.  Don’t let yourself be overtaken by your own desire for the world or yourself or others, let yourself be overtaken by joy.  Stop trying to live, and live.  Experience that release of the world, and be content.  Then you can find joy… joy in the God who created you, joy in you for Christ in you, joy for this whole life, this wonderful thing that was given to us to toil in and to enjoy.  “But we do not have to live as if we were alone.” – Wendell Berry.  He’s right.  We were given a whole fellowship of Christians, believers, to learn and grow with.  Humans were made to love.  Love your brothers and sisters.  Love the whole human race.  Give yourself totally over to love, and let it be your life.  When you begin to live in love, you begin to live in contentment, because God is love and in him is ultimate peace.

“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.” – Wendell Berry

In honour of a very dear friend…

On this day in 1874 G.K. Chesterton was born.  Throughout my life—ever since I heard his philosophy on magic from Orthodoxy—he has been one of my nearest and dearest companions.  I know he’s dead, but his thoughts and words are very alive to me, and I feel more of a camaraderie towards him as a friend rather than respect and admiration as a great person who has died.  He’s probably the person whom I quote the most—as I’m sure you’ve noticed—and my favourite author and hero.  So happy birthday, Chesterton.

 

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

 

“No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself.”

 

2011 Favorite Books


Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much reading in 2011 as I hoped to do.  Or rather, I did a lot of reading, but only in the beginnings of books.  Hence, the list I have to put up are only the books that I finished completely.

Reading is a gift.  And when I say that, I don’t mean that it’s a talent.  It is a gift to be able to read the books we have access to.  It’s a gift to have access to them! I was thinking the other day, what if Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) came true? What if books were outlawed and people went around burning your house up if you had one? Would you really have the stamina to memorize the books you love, so that they never cease to be a part of you?  I like to think about this a lot.  A poem is much easier to memorize because you can quite easily follow the themes of the writer, the different patterns (especially in rhyming poems.) But books? If I were to memorize my favorite book? It would take five years to complete The Idiot (Fydor Dostoevsky).  So then I look on all those shelves of books, books holding stories, ideas, philosophies, saving grace, wars, policies, catharsis all in their strong straight arms, and I think: “This is all a gift.”  Please, appreciate this gift while you can.  Read books, but read the good books.  And I don’t mean the ones whose ideas agree with yours, or the ones that only have things you like in them.  I mean books that are well written.  Books that consciously present paradoxes, relevant in our cultures or past cultures, that are worthy of notice.  Books that tell the heart of the author.

I’m done talking about reading.  Here’s my top… well, I’m not sure how many there are yet, but my top favorite books from 2011.

Can You Forgive Her?

Save all the depressing elements of Anthony Trollope’s plots (especially He Knew He Was Right and The way We Live Now) I actually rather enjoyed this dusty, dry novel.  Can You Forgive Her? explores the mental confusion that can come from never really deciding on one thing or another (in this case, for the heroine Alice, a husband.)  In the midst of her going back and forth, telling one man yes and another no and then switching soon after, people are always trying to influence, are looking down on her, and controlling her.  The title was a bit deceiving.  I really thought it was going to be some Gothic novel like Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) and the main character (a woman) runs around melodramatically ruining everybody else’s lives. But it wasn’t like that at all.  It deals much more with mental strain and confusion than anything else.  All in all, it was a pretty satisfying read.  I knew I had to schedule myself in order to get through it, so I forced myself to read two chapters every day and I finished it in a month and a half. (That schedule didn’t work with Don Quixote, but I would recommend something like it if you’re having trouble getting through a 19th century novel.)

 

Mere Christianity

Ah, C.S. Lewis.  I do love you.  Not much to say here about this book except that I love reading apologetic type things, especially from 20th century thinkers.  C.S. Lewis fascinates me.  Although I disagreed with some of the theological principles in Mere Christianity (only slightly disagreed) I would say that it remains, to me, one of the clearest cut pictures of the doctrine of Christianity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narcissus and Goldmund 

Please welcome Narcissus and Goldmund to the front.  By far, this was one of my favorite books this year.  I really liked this book simply for its comparison on the spiritual passions versus the physical passions, and what it meant for Narcissus (the more cynical, stern, ascetic man) and Goldmund (the beautiful, passionate, wandering man).

Besides being an excellent writer, Hermann Hesse is a great thinker.  I appreciate literature written by deep thinkers because I think they combine so much of their own personal mental thought process and struggle in their books. (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky… Hesse.)  It makes it so much more interesting to read a book when you know it’s written with the mind and soul of the author all through it’s pages.

 

 

Hannah Coulter 

Wendell Berry is an excellent writer.  He’s real. When you read him, you feel like he’s tangible, like he’s been sitting next to you the entire time, telling you the whole story. (Except for maybe Remembering, which had some different writing techniques that made it seem a bit abstract.)  Hannah Coulter tells her whole story in the first chapter.  You know everything.  Who dies, who lives.  But you keep reading on because there’s something so beautiful about the way she thinks, about the way she remembers things.  And you know, you just know, that there has to be something she hasn’t told.  Some little secret, something that redeems all her troubles.  It’s a story rich in real, genuine love, between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, etc.  Wendell Berry loves the idea of unity.  He writes about it everywhere.  Keeping the family together.  Being close knit even when the birds grow up and leave the nest.   If you enjoy his fiction, read his poetry.

 

Cyrano de Bergerac 

Well, I rather liked his nose.

I forced myself to read Cyrano de Bergerac in a moment when I thought I wasn’t appreciating tragic writing very much.  (Well, after all, I was studying Bolshevism, and Marxism, reading Mein Kampf and Macbeth at the time…) But Cyrano de Bergerac is a wonderful story.  I yelled at Roxanne quite a bit.  She annoyed me with her sentimentality. Yet, Cyrano was deceptive.  Even though he wrote letters to her in Christian’s name, it probably gave him some self-satisfaction.  And Christian.  If you love the woman, say so, and woo her for yourself. And if she can’t see beyond your inability to make up poetic lines, then maybe she isn’t worth it after all.  (How quickly she loved Cyrano at the end when she discovered it was him all along!) Roxanne was only in love with words, not an actual person.

And after that little rant, here we are.  I love plays. This year I read about ten or twelve plays.  It was a very interesting experience.

Much Ado About Nothing

Oh, if you ever wanted me to recite something all day long over and over again it would be this play.  Shakespeare was a genius.  In this particular play he presents the comparison of courtships, the comparison of deception and honesty, and so many other things.  It’s important to note about the title, that in Shakespeare’s day, the word “nothing” would have been “noting,” which meant eavesdropping.  Also, nothing, in its literal sense, refers to that which does not happen, but which might.  In other words, you have a circle and inside of it are all the things that did, do, or will happen.  But outside that circle are all the possibilities of what might have happened, in other words, Nothing.  Both possibilities are relevant to the play. My favorite line from this play?

“Shall these quips and sentences and paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor? No! The world must be peopled! When I said that I should die a bachelor, I did not think that I should live to be married.” – Benedick

 

A Room With  A View

This was such a delightful novel.  I read somewhere else that it has to do with the enchantment of Italy and how it can affect even the most sensible of people.  I think it’s very true. But I haven’t been to Italy so I would exactly know.  I think there are several odd things in this novel, but none the less, it’s wonderfully written and for once things really do end up right in the end.  E.M. Forester has such quirky characters. (These things I’m writing really aren’t intended to be in depth reviews… I’m just observing.)

 

 

 

The Great Gatsby 

I have nothing to say to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I admire him too much.

Things do not “end up right” in this book.  That’s no secret. I can’t imagine, though, a book plainer or truer to the drama of life than this.  And yet, you wouldn’t even say that the style is dramatic.  But it is.  In the midst of a fight between a husband and his wife who’s trying to leave him for another man (this is a big fight…) the narrator suddenly says: “I’ve just remembered it’s my birthday. I’m thirty.” And it’s funny, because I don’t find that strange.  I would probably say something like that too, if there was a fight like that going on.  But writers these days don’t think to make their characters go off on these weird trains of thought, and then, without relating what the train of thought is, have them say something they ended up at, just out of the blue. Somehow, it all makes sense.

 

 

Screwtape Letters

Oh, C.S. Lewis again.  I would read this book a hundred times over and again.  I’ve never seen the spiritual battle depicted so neatly and truthfully.  I knew it was true because I had experienced some of the exact things described in here.  Everyone should read it.  Twice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it.  Can you believe it?  Once I get one book up there, I remember all the other books I’ve read.  I want to bring them all up, and talk about them all.  But I can’t.  These are just nine books from 2011 I thoroughly enjoyed.  Next post I’ll give my 2012 to read list.

Marrow

I’m always thinking about education, what it really means to be educated and learned.  I’d love to call myself that, but I constantly become confused by the standards of today’s society.  If I measured myself against them, I would most certainly be uneducated.  I like to face the facts.  It makes everything so much simpler.  So here’s me facing the facts.  No, I’m not as learned as everyone I meet—not by the measures and standards of today’s culture.  But what am I? What makes me feel that perhaps it’s alright?

A heritage.  I consider myself to be peculiarly blessed.  In my head are stories, thoughts, ideas.  In my soul there’s fire and passion, the will to live a good life.  And in my hands there is a yearning to work, change, create.  An artist’s urge, perhaps; but then, man was created an artist, by an Artist.  We all create.  We all feel the urge, the call to build something, paint something, write something, to get what we feel is inexpressible to be, in some way, expressed.

In a previous blogpost I demonstrated the longing I felt to climb a certain hill.  And I don’t know why, because the way was right in front of me and the means to do it obvious, but I only just climbed that hill the other day.  Less than a week before I was scheduled to leave St. Andrews.  And as soon as I reached the top, I wondered why I had never done it before.  My lungs were stretching to suck in all the air they could, and my heart was opening up, expanding, enlarging to receive gifts and be blessed.  There were gifts all around me.  It amazed me that my eye could see so far, and so many details.  The town was below me, small, like I could pick it up in my hand and crumble its ancient stone cathedral between my human fingers.  But I had no desire to.  My desire was to stretch myself, body, mind, and spirit, and hold fast to all that is good in life.  Again and again I find myself astounded by beauty, engrossed in this unity with God that gives me eyes of a different nature.  All because of him I can truly say, whenever I am overwhelmed by the glory of the earth, “God, oh God, your work is too wonderful for me!”  And I do say it.  I try to delve into the mind of God.  He talks about drawing circles on the face of the deep, laying the foundations of the world.  But it was never as simple as legos or building blocks.  These mysteries of gravity, the earth’s pull, the structure of a tree, the structure of a blade of grass, its roots, the peaty earth—no, I may understand how, but I can never understand why. Only speculate.  But then there’s that aching wonder, that bliss that comes from just letting yourself be astounded, by forgetting everything that you want to learn, and to confess: I don’t know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Oh, Scotland I love you.)

Sometimes that bliss makes me feel that perhaps I have not missed out on education.  That bliss makes me feel like there is something more important in life, something deeper than this stereotypical education, like the expressing of these thoughts and ideas, finding the root of them.  Whenever I go out into the fields and listen to “the beauty that discharges itself again and again” (Anne Frank) I feel that I am finding something really important, something that is meant to be discovered, loved, appreciated.

I walk home from church every Sunday night, and I feel blessed and invigorated for life.  I am ready to live, ready to die to self, ready to do the work of Christ.  And I look up, and stop, and I see things that astound me again.  The sky is deep blue, dark, and the stars are singular and bright.  I walk with my head up, and maybe I walk into things, but I don’t really care because what is above is too beautiful to ignore. Astounded by beauty.  Plunged into unity.

The winter wind goes clean through me, purging as it goes.  I breathe in December air, and as I exhale, I exhale all the bad feeling, all the dirtiness and filth and grime.  And I become refreshed and strengthened.  Ready.

I’m ready to live my life now.  I know that I may not know as much as everybody else, but I have a passion for living and for living well.  I know what it is I want to do.  “I enter the world, as every person born enters it: with clenched fists.” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts).

If you’re in a boat with me—you know, the boat with people who haven’t written very many essays, didn’t complete a math course, dropped a language—then don’t feel overwhelmed or dumbed down.  The important thing about life is knowing how to live it.  I am open to the fact that some day, perhaps, I might go to school.  Very well.  But for now, I have ideas and things I want to try, things I feel called to do.  And I love my life because I know that it is the life I am supposed to be living.  Half the adventure is not knowing where God is going to call me, or what I’m going to do exactly; but it’s my job to find out.  And it’s the finding out part that excites me because really, from my perspective, anything could happen.