Enough For One Man’s Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Clarity

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

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

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

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

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

– Wendell Berry, A World Lost

On Sunday The Church Bells Are Ringing

It is a lovely, cool morning with an empty sky and a bright sun, and the church bells are ringing every hour or half hour or even every fifteen minutes.  I haven’t counted yet.  I slept for a long time last night, and in my subconsciousness was thinking of verb conjugations for my Italian homework.  So much knowledge has been crammed into my brain this last week I have little time to think about anything else.  I’m still trying to sort it all out, and when I woke up this morning to the beautiful sun, I had a sense of peace and calm.

Last night at 8pm I finally stopped studying to go find myself dinner.  Claudia and the family are gone for the week, and I ran out of food last night.  I walked around various places, almost stepped into one or two restaurants, but decided against them.  Finally, not being able to ignore my hunger, I picked a restaurant that had the Tuscan soup which I love (and have forgotten the name of.)  The soup is made with bread, beans, and vegetables.  It was the only thing I ordered (besides some house wine), which the waitress seemed to think was strange.  But what was even stranger for her was when I ordered fresh bread after I was finished with my soup. “Solo pane? solo pane?” she kept saying, looking at me. “Si, si—solo pane!” I said, making some weird gesture with my arm to give her the idea that I knew it was weird to order only bread.

When no one was looking, I crammed a few pieces of bread into my purse.

I felt like some sort of character from a Dickens novel, spending the last of his money on a meal, and saving some of the food—stuffing it away—so no one would know how desperate he was.  Of course, I wasn’t desperate, I just knew that the bread would come in handy for today when I would take myself out for a picnic to the gardens, and I could make a sandwich with the bread I took.

I paid the bill and went to sit in the Piazza, perfectly alone and perfectly content to be alone watching all these interesting people, listening to the only sound there was to listen to: the blended hum of people talking, with an occasional screech from a child or cheering of a crowd.  I walked home in the dark and tried to concentrate on more Italian, but my eyes were heavy and I went to bed, leaving it all for today.

And when today came, I had breakfast with a Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger placemat, my typical cocoa with orzo in warm milk, and some kind of biscuit.  I sat quietly eating, while listening to a refreshing sermon that I heard once a long time ago.  When it was over, I kept wishing it hadn’t ended.  Now the rest of the Italian waits for me, and I’m about to go in, resolutely, to butcher conjugations.  I have half an idea my teacher will be horrified with me tomorrow, but if she is we’ll have to have some one on one time.

Today I’m going to try to find the botanical gardens.  I am ready for some rest—not the rest of sleeping, but the willed kind of a rest.  The kind of rest you experience when you say: “I’m not going to let this or that worry me.”  I am ready to walk out of this apartment, into the old stone street shaded by the city wall, up the hills, and into beauty.  I am ready to experience beauty, to become one with it and reconciled with it, because it is peace and comfort to know that Christ is beauty and everything lives and breathes in him, and I can hear him when the wind blows and I can hear him in the light of the sun and the birds when they sing.  So I go out to be at rest.

After my verb conjugations are complete.

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!

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)

The Life Worth Living

I wonder sometimes why people don’t think life is worth living.  As a Christian, I see it worth living because of its great end, because of the afterlife.  I see it worth living because I’m fighting for something, and I know in advance that the battle is as good as done.  But that’s me.  And to an extent, I’m wrapped up in my own Christian worldview, and have a difficulty understanding the world views of others when I come into one on one contact with them.  It’s easy enough to define a worldview, or to name a worldview and list all the things that people believe, but people are themselves are much more complex than that.  Sometimes you find them to be a whole mix of things.

The point is, I never expect to hear from people that life isn’t worth living, unless they tell me right up front they’re an Atheist.  In my mind, the question is always “Why isn’t life worth living?” and the answer is: “Because you have nothing to live for, nothing lasting.” It’s nothing personal against Atheists, it would just make much more sense for them to say it than for a Christian.

But now here’s the point.  If you feel that life isn’t worth living, find the life that is.  There is only one, because the life worth living is the one that takes everything away and then gives you something back after the end.  It’s the Life that deprives you even of your clothes and your body, your personal belongings, your family, the people you’ve loved, leaving your bare, shivering soul that is laying its eyes on this Life, and embracing it, and finally living it to the full. O, yes, I am an idealist, and this all sounds very idealistic, because it’s true idealism.  The grimier life gets, the harder it gets, the bloodier, the more painful, that makes this Life more worth living than ever before. It gives you hope, and hope has never been like a beacon, or a light, in my experience.  It has always been a desperate prayer, and faith that the prayer will be answered.  Because in my darkest moments, there is only one way to look, and that is forwards, and forwards has always been black.  There never was any light.  Hope was desperate clinging, but knowledge and faith that there was something to cling to.  We know when we live a nightmare of a life at times, that that life is not lasting, but the Life worth living is what we fight for, and it will come later, and last forever, and never give us the blackness or pain.

The Life worth living has love, and righteous anger, and hope, and faith, and self-sacrifice, and virtue. It is peaceful, and does not seek a quarrel, yet it is a war-filled life, battling against the forces that seek to push it down to the ground.  But it will come out victorious.

But there have been those times, in the physical life, where you may have gotten up early in the morning and walked in your bare feet, and felt the cold dew on the grass sink into your skin.  Or you may have stayed up late, and listened to the humming of nature, or heard that one bird that sang clearly and wouldn’t let your mind rest, its song was so beautiful.  There may have been someone you loved, someone who loved you back who made your work seem light just because of the thought of them.  There may have been a day where it rained and ruined your plans, so you sat with a cup of coffee, and felt the pulsing, trembling life pass around the world. And if you have experienced anything like this at all, hasn’t it made you feel like perhaps there is something, something in this life that has given you grace to be alive and enjoy it all?

Be like Henry David Thoreau, and suck out all the marrow of life.  Find out what it is really is, and live it.  Don’t waste your time.  You’re alive now, and you might as well find out why you are so.

Love Revolution

Youth is the time for ideals.  Adulthood is the time to achieve those ideals.  It’s what the stages of life are about, it’s what we live for, these ideals.  Each person changes the world, because the world cannot stay the same. We can’t help having ideals, we can only guide them.

One of the greatest ideals is love.  Real love, the love that everyone seeks for and few find because they look for it in the wrong places.  What kind of love is the ideal? Divine love or earthly love?

Unlike divine love, earthly love does not have the power, the knowledge, or the will to achieve what it longs for. (Wendell Berry)

What we long for is the love that can achieve what it longs for: the love that will satisfy, divine love.  Though we don’t often know it, we are consumed by a desire to be completed, and this desire, some find too late, does not come from our physical being but from our soul.

The sober person lives deeply. His pleasures are not primarily those of the senses, like the pleasures of the drunkard, for instance, but those of the soul. He is by no means a stoic, on the contrary, with a full measure of joyful anticipation he looks forward to the return of the Lord but he doesn’t run away from his task. – William Hendrickson

Imagine a love that is founded in respect, that contains gratitude and humility, that takes its chief delight in sacrifice in order to serve.

Maybe I always saw the past as beautiful because it was fleeting.  As the future met me, it passed, and became the past, and was beautiful.  I had an aversion to change, and it seemed like everyone was changing, breaking out and flying away.  I didn’t see myself as changing, but others must have thought so, because I was caught up in the change of those closest to me, and it was their change that changed me.

The only changeful thing I did was to get married, and even that had been predicted.  Clyde was sick, had been crippled from birth.  I had known him since I was born, and when I was a girl I used to go and read to him, or amuse him.  He liked that, though he was six years older, and I liked to make him laugh.  He became a natural part of my life, and I never wanted anything more than to take care of him.

When we were still children, he asked me if I would up and leave the town someday. I told him no, because then he couldn’t come with me.  Later when I promised to marry him, he was hesitant to tie me down.  I told him I would make the same commitment if he was well or sick, but I liked it best when I could take care of him.

We live quietly, others come and go.  My heart aches with all this change, because it doesn’t happen quietly.  They are caught up in an external change.  They don’t know what it is to care for someone so as to sacrifice your life to their service, they don’t know what it is to do so joyfully.  They missed the inner change in their rush, the quiet, the sublime.

The above was a story I wrote when I was thinking deeply about this idea of real love.   I thought about how it is founded in sacrifice, I thought about how my heart beats and how my life is sustained by the breath of life, but how my soul is saved and redeemed by a sacrifice, and so, by love.

If we could have this love!  If we could only love each other in the way love was meant to be demonstrated!  We cheapen it, we make it less than it’s worth, and you see it rampant in the culture and even, sadly, in the Church.  It is more than a feeling; love is your soul, your existence.

Why is it that the hero who gives up his life or himself for love inspires us?  We admire those Sydney Cartons and those Cyrano de Bergeracs, and yet we throw our love away, or we throw away the feeling that might have, with effort and work, deepened into an actual reality.

Love cannot be restored.  How can it be restored if it can never be taken away? It is fixed—real love is.  If you stopped loving someone you never truly loved them.  Love never ends, it is always there, always present, always with us, in us, around us.  It is either our failure to see, or our misuse of love that makes us believe it is a sham.  The word sham reminds me of a quote.

Sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy; but real love has always ended in bloodshed. – Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton)

Chesterton also says that because love desires personality it desires division.

It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say “little children love one another” rather than to tell one large person to love himself.

Love was meant to be given away, not with-held.  But there is a difference between emotional love and soul-love, just as there is a difference between sibling love and marital love, though the parallel is different.  Soul-love, the real love, cannot be hurt or offended in the way emotional love can be.  It is constant, and cannot be quenched.  It can only be given, like a sacrifice.  It delights in returned love, but does not require it.  Emotional love that is rejected, whether by just any person or by a prospect for marriage, will always tear the heart down. I’m not saying emotional love is bad.  The emotions must be contained within soul-love, but emotional love should not exist as its own entity.

Do you know how the Christian old-maid can be perfectly content?  Because she is already loved with real love, and she is preparing for the day when she can return that love perfectly.  She will go through phases of discontent, but will always find her tranquility and peace in something deeper.  For when the mind and soul are truly committed, the senses can be controlled.

I admire such a woman, and I would be like her if I could.  Even if I get married, I want to be like this before marriage, for I would learn how to love the true Object, Christ, and be fulfilled.  1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful passage, but isn’t paid attention to as it ought to be.  It describes love as the essence of life, basically.   It describes it as being patient, self-sacrificial, never-ending, able to endure the stormiest weather.   Love can bear all things, yet it is tender, it is strong, yet kind, it is not arrogant or rude, but it is truthful, desires truth, and rejoices with the truth.

Death and love are seldom thought of together in a proper sense.  I have two friends, the first friend told me: “You get annoyed with love and fascinated by death.”  And it’s true.  I get annoyed with the meaningless expression and feeling that people call love.  The second friend told me: “The funny thing is that death and love are intertwined.  Without love, death is hopeless.”  They are so connected with each other, because love pushes for death that it might attain the perfect love, that it might finally reach its object.  Also, because the ultimate death occurred by and through love.  Christ died for us because he loved us, was willing to suffer infinite humiliation and death because he cares for us.

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

The love described there was the kind of love that achieved what it longed for.  It was a love not created by us but developed in us, and realized by death and rebirth.

If the purpose of marriage was love (not real love) then the divorce rate would be 99.9%.  The .1% is for the couples who actually stayed “in love” for the whole of their married lives.  Thankfully, marriage is not about love.  It is a commitment with divine sanctioning, that aims at deeper ends than for the participants to be near each other for the rest of their lives.  I realize I’ve never been married and have no right to speak in depth about this, but I have to say this.  There is work in marriage I think, hard work, and if it is the right kind it results in satisfaction.  If we could try to pursue real love then we would find that we could really be satisfied.  For to me, marriage is partly a joint-effort, not to find love for each other, but to pursue real love and to reach the Object of that real love.

It is a zeal tempered with prudence, softened with meekness, soberly aiming at great ends by the gradual operation of well adapted means, supported by a courage which no danger can intimidate, and a quiet constancy which no hardships can exhaust. – A Practical View of Christianity (William Wilberforce)

This is a description of the Christian’s zeal in the Church.  I imagine that love is the exact same.  Yet listen to what he says about the Affections within a Christian.

Of the two most celebrated systems of philosophy, the one expressly confirmed the usurpation of the passions; while the other, despairing of being able to regulate, saw nothing left but to extinguish them. The former acted like a weak government, which gives independence to a rebellious province, which it cannot reduce.  The latter formed its bloated scheme merely upon the plan of that barbarous policy, which composes the troubles of a turbulent land by the extermination of its inhabitants.  This is the calm, not of order, but of inaction; it is not the tranquillity, but the stillness of death. (To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and call it a peace. – Tacitus.) – A Practical View of Christianity  (William Wilberforce)

I’m not proposing stoicism at all.  I think that passion is an important part of love, but I believe most fervently that it is not love.  It can be its own entity, but when separated from Love, it becomes a beast, and makes animals of us all.

Love does not concern itself with advantages.  It is not competitive.  It allows us to confront in kindness, but it has nothing to do with self-pride.  It allows us to live in humility.

We need a love revolution.  And a revolution takes work.  When looking for a husband or wife, the first person to catch your eye is not always the right one.  (“Less vividly is the mind stirred by what finds entrance through the ears than by what is brought before the trusty eyes. . . ” – Horace)  Don’t listen to your heart, which is and has proved to be deceitful above all things, but listen to the principles that are firmly grounded within you.  Why should we forsake all our work?  The woman preparing to be a spinster loses nothing in all her work when she unexpectedly gets a husband.  She has someone to work alongside now, a further encouragement, another object for the love she’s seeking to imitate.

I have been convicted about love.  Adulthood is the time to carry out and pursue ideals, and I am entering on that stage.  This is the one pursuit that will not disappoint.  How can it, when it is founded in Christ?  It is done for him, and for him alone.  He is the only Object.  He has brought me into the world in his providence, he will take me out, he will greet me in death, he is sanctifying and will finally perfect me.  He is the solid foundation, the aim I’m working towards.  He is love, and I pray for his love to flow through me, so that I become wrapped in it, enamored with it, so that it is in me and through me, so that it becomes my very being.

Turkish Rugs

I want to be a Turkish rug.

Because I am saying it now, it probably seems ridiculous to you.  After all, why would I want to be a rug? Even metaphorically speaking?

I often amuse myself by looking at questions in my science book before I read the material.  It amuses me because it shows me how reading one or two paragraphs can teach me so many things.  The phrase “I want to be  Turkish rug,” acts like the science question.  It makes no sense now, but after you read my post it will, and I hope you will want to be a Turkish rug with me.

I was reading about Edmond Dantes apartments in Rome in The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.  It talked about the rugs, the tapestries, the paintings, the vases, and everything else.

“Of course,” was the first thought that came to my mind.  The description didn’t surprise or astonish me, because everything was relative.  It is not surprising that some of the best composers were German, because of Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann.  French silks, Egyptian cotton, Indian spices.  The best glass is, of course Venetian glass.  Dutch cabinets are quite common, and Arabian horses are said to be the fastest.  All well-plotted and planted gardens must be English.  If you wish to describe a richly woven tapestry or carpet, it will probably be Turkish. None of these things surprise or shock us—they are all in their element, especially when put together.  It is only right that they should go together.

Let us look at the reverse of the Count’s room.  The hovel.

A broken table, three-legged chairs with pieces of rotten wood replacing the missing support.  The floor is of dirt, pieces of soiled rags are stuffed in the cracks of the walls.  Rain drips from the roof, but there are no buckets to place under it.  The children are hardly dressed, the wife has greasy hair and filthy clothes.  The husband sits at the table, head in his hands.  A rat investigates a broken cupboard, but there is no food.  A piece of yellowed canvas stretched over a smashed window pane.  Rivulets stream under the door and gather into a puddle underneath the table.  The walls are stained, the ceiling is of rancid straw.

This is the way I imagined the poor man’s house in The Idiot.  I do not remember his name, but it was not surprising to me.  When his poor, ragged clothes were described, it was only right that he should live in a hovel.

But could you imagine the bright, rich, warm Turkish rug in this hovel?

Or could you imagine the dirt floor in the apartment of the Count?

Those two things are startling, when you think about it.  If I walked into the hovel, I would not gape in astonishment at the natural surroundings.  But if the Turkish rug were there, I would be puzzled, confused.  Likewise, the Count’s room would only surprise me if I saw that he had a dirt floor, or a thatched ceiling.

It’s because the Venetian glass and the Turkish rugs, the rat and the broken window are all relative.  When the glass and the rug are by themselves, they stand out.  When they are put together, they compliment each other.  It is the same with the rat and window, but in a more repulsive sense.  Yet, if the Venetian glass was set by a broken window, the thing becomes confusing, as does the rat on the Turkish carpet.

The latter combination does not fit, and does not belong.  It never will.

If this world were our hovel, then I would want to be the Turkish rug.  The bright, cheerful element that lifts the utter depression of the place, and shocks and surprises the onlooker at the same time.  But it is a good sort of surprise and curiosity.

“Where did this rug come from?” they would ask.

But I would never want to be the dirt floor in the count’s apartments.  I would want to replace the hovel with a mahogany table, French paintings, Venetian glass, Roman marble floors.  I would want to make it into the count’s apartments, but I would never want to be the stain on the beautiful.

Hitler was a stain on the beautiful.  He destroyed many of the carpets and smashed the Venetian glass, reducing the spectacular elements of the room to more like that of a hovel.

But I am determined to be a Turkish rug, and I want my friends to join me in this.  Be something outstanding, be as startling and shocking to the world as the rug in the hovel.  Remember that the world is watching you.  It will not be surprised if I revert to being the dirt floor—in fact, it might feel a little less uncomfortable if all things remain in their own elements.  “Leave Heaven to itself, and let the world be, though it is a hovel.”  But I cannot do that.  If the world is a hovel with all its proper elements, how can those who enter have any idea of a salvation from such a life?

So I want to be  Turkish rug, or the Venetian glass, or a German symphony, or an Indian spice.  Join me.

The Half-Thought

I experienced something the other night and I said to myself: “There! that would make for a wonderful blog post.”  And now the thought is gone, and I can’t remember what it was that I was going to say.

Life is half-filled with these half-thoughts, and their completion is lost somewhere on a ribbon that stretches on and on in my mind.

How can I reach that infinite space?  How can I touch the substance of something so far away? How can I be effective?

How can I leave my little throne of Self, where I am protected, and how can I stretch beyond the confines of my little world to try and reach the lives of those outside?

I forget that there are people who crave completion, like the half-thought in my head.  I forget that there are people who inwardly starve themselves for something that they can’t find.  And I forget that I am supposed to give them an idea.

All I see is the result of their deep thinking.  All I see is where they’ve gone wrong, and think it’s such a shame.  All I see is what they don’t have, what it is they’re missing.  What I don’t see is how I might help them.

But how might I help them?

This is the question of my life right now.  I am a writer, and I could write books.  But what’s the use in writing books to try and reach the wandering souls if only Christians read them? And yet, how can I tell that that’s how it will be? How can I know that maybe a word, a sentence, or a thought will drive deeply into someone’s brain, causing them to think?

How can I know how God is using me?

“Every step that you take, could be your biggest mistake

It could bend or it could break, but that’s the risk that you take.” – Coldplay

Do I stop walking? Will I let the fear of messing up drive my feet into the ground like nails, and keep me at a standstill, reaching, but never gaining?  What if a piece of truth escapes on that endless ribbon, and I mess up people’s lives?  Am I adequate?

But if I wait till I am adequate, nothing will ever get accomplished.

I am only a sinner—a saved one, but still, a sinner—releasing the love inside of me to other sinners like me.  Because there is love inside of me, and there is a desire, a yearning for the hungry souls that I’ve never met.

I want to know them, and I want to help them. I want them to know what I know and more.  I want to be a tool for the salvation of this world I love and hate so much.

“‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”.  – Frodo Baggins

I want the people living in misery to know the joy of Christ.  I want them to know his love, to accept it.  I want them to have the faith that I have in Christ.  I want them to be comforted in affliction; I want them to have a reason to hope.

And I want Christ to use me.

So the end of this matter is simply this: To walk by faith, not by sight.  To rely only on God.  To look beyond my desires and ambitions to see the greater purpose, the much more important road.  To not stay still or be silent, but be diligent in the proclamation of my faith.

I do not want to state my faith here and then hope that it reaches some people.  That is not enough.  A proclamation is not enough.  A pursuit is needed, a constant active awareness of someone’s state, a love, a gentleness for that person.  Faith is not something to hammer over someone’s head.

So I must be humble, and I must be reliant on God; lowly, as it were, and yet proud.  Never assuming or unapproachable, never judgmental.  Only loving, only kind, only gentle.   And if I can do nothing else, if no other road is presented, to pray fervently and steadily for those who are seeking but not finding, and craving but left unsatisfied.

Let me be a light, or a word, however small, that is effective, so that the half-thoughts are completed, so that the joy is infinite, and the love almost unbearable.  So that what is lost may be found, and what is lacking be given.  Only Christ can do this, but let me be an instrument, for it is He who works in me.

Winter Clarity

My head has been so full of thoughts and ideas, but they get mixed up, and I feel like each one of them is a snowflake in a huge storm: single, disconnected, and then mixed as soon as they settle.  It reminds me of a line from a Mumford and Sons song:

“I stand alone in this winter clarity which clouds my mind.”

A few weeks ago we were eating dinner.  A natural occurrence, and one that happens frequently in our family.  I’ve been reading through Ezekiel, and the conversation around the dinner table was about the detail that was given, by God, for the building of the temple, the allotment of lands, the portions of foods, the sacrifices, etc.  Every square inch was taken care of.  My father wondered, in the most respectful way, why it mattered?  It must signify something important.  I looked down at my food, at the faces around the table, and I laughed.  The circumstance was absurd.

If God were human, we would have said that he took great pains to lay down instructions for the building of the temple.  It probably wasn’t any trouble for him, but he was very particular about it.  The temple was the most important building on earth.  Men spent such great pain and labor building this thing.  It was advancing the kingdom of God, it was fulfilling a decree, it was obeying a command.  Here was a great and wonderful thing happening in the world—it has already happened, and we should not forget it—and here we are, eating dinner.  I didn’t necessarily want to eat, but I needed to.  If I didn’t eat continually, I would die.

I was convinced of my dependence, then.  And not only of mine, but of everybody’s. And I felt minuscule and absurd.

I think I am so proud, that I am the most independent of all the creatures.  And yet, take away the food, the water, the will to live, or the breath of God and I am nothing.  My body is like a machine, and if the battery dies there is no recharging, there is no going back.  It would be so easy to lose my physical life, impossible to regain it on my own.

There have been famines, there have been droughts, there have been oppressive leaders, there have been huge memorials built for great men.

A workman chisels away at the stone for a man he didn’t know, who is now dead and cold.  He is employed by the living, to do something for the dead, so that he may not die from hunger.  Perhaps when he is done with his work he slings his tools over his shoulder and picks his way through dark streets to his home.  Perhaps he has a family, perhaps he lives alone; and once, he covered his face with his hands and wept for something he could not find.  What he made is remembered, but when he is dead, a small stone lies at his head, and people wonder who he might have been, and they don’t know the life he led.

How ironic our life is.

Suddenly everything I have strove for and against, everything I wanted, everything I wept for—it all shrinks back and reveals only me: selfish; using my own means to accomplish my own ends; frivolous.  There are people fighting and dying for my country—for me.  And sometimes I forget that there’s a war; I forget that I am being protected at the price of a life.  I become impatient or unfeeling, and somewhere a young sister is grieving for her brother, who fought and died for us.

The winter becomes so bitter and so cold.  The stark whiteness of the snow blares out any color: it all becomes one.  The world is united under an seeming eternity of white, only broken by the red flare of a cardinals’ wings.  My one clear thought is like that cardinal on the ever-stretching surface of mixed thoughts and ideas.

It is not wrong to be happy; it is not wrong to be sad.  If I sing and dance I cannot be blamed, and if I weep and mourn I cannot be condemned.   There is a greater purpose, a greater meaning in life than leaving my mark upon the world.  It is as particular as the temple, as big, and even more holy.  In the midst of this life I forget that purpose; my tears become selfish, my laugh seeks to banish the doubt in my mind.  I cannot lose sight of the purpose as bright as the cardinal.  I cannot forget about it: it must take up my whole mind, for it demands all my attention, and it is so huge.

And leaving out all worldly pursuits—the dream of being a famous writer or pianist, or any smaller dreams—what is left?  What do I settle my ambition upon?

Christ is as pure and wide as the snow, his blood as striking as the cardinal.  His purpose was deeper than I can ever know, but it was clear and distinct.  No matter what my character, my personality, my position—my purpose will be the same: to pursue holiness.  To become one with Christ.  To spread His Word like a snowstorm, so that all the world lies enthralled in it.

This is my winter clarity.  I must forget about myself.  I must even forget my existence, and I must live only for Christ.  I must be so entwined in his purpose that apart from him I have no inspiration, no ambition, nothing to pursue.

“There’ll come a time you’ll see, with no more tears
And love will not break your heart but dismiss your fears
Get over your hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.”
(Mumford and Sons, After the Storm)

And I know that afterwords I will see how much grace I was given, how my heart will finally be free to love Christ fully, how worthy He was of all the pain and suffering I endured for his sake, and how undeserving I am of him, but yet, how much he loves me.  This is the most important thing of all; and if I die forgotten by the world, I die running into the arms of my King.