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!

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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.

What I Called Mine

My youth was what I called mine.  And more and more, I realize it never was.  As I grow older, I see it was only a part of me; something that defined me; but it never belonged to me, nor I to it.  It was something fleeting, something that gave me a glimpse of everything I would wish to be, and then threw me headlong into something like grief, and I saw it was gone. And suddenly I faced something much darker, and there were more shadows than before, but behind me was that bright light, and sometimes I looked over my shoulder at it, and reached out towards it.  But we never go back, because there is no going back. There is only forwards, and that’s the best we can do, just the next thing.

And O, I wish that I wasn’t quite so old.  Today in the store I saw an old friend of my family.  She worked at the hospital where I was born.  She asked me how old I was, and when I told her, she said: “Oh my, I never thought you would get that old.” “Well I certainly didn’t think I would either,” I said.  And we laughed, but my heart broke.

Even now my memory is fading, and with a kind of desperation I try to cling to something that loses itself, and I feel a dull kind of ache in place of it.

I’m still young, I’m still young.  There is still so much to learn, and ahead are years packed with new memories. But I am so hesitant to let go, so unwilling to part with something I always associated with truth and light and goodness and purity, so unwilling to walk steadily into the unknown.

Eyes wide open, full of images.  Ears filled with many sounds, and a heart so full I think it will break, mind open, thirsting for learning.  Soul reaching out with love, receiving love, binding itself to my Savior.  And from that perspective, I am blessed.  I might go mad, I might forget everything.  But how can I ever forget the essence of my life, the Redeemer of my soul? I can’t ever, and that is the important thing.  I am eternally bound.

Sustenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Voices of My Life

There are so many voices of my life.  They inspire me, they clear my head, they make me feel.  I absolutely love music.  Today I was doing some Algebra on the couch with Tirzah…. I had my headphones in, and I was singing along with all four movements of Beethoven’s fifth symphony… and pretending I knew how to conduct.  I did it because the music enthralled me.  I made her laugh, partly because I couldn’t hear myself sing and probably sounded very sharp through the — ahem — shall we say difficult passages.

There is another song that inspires me to the -enth degree.   Listen to it.

I cannot tell you… how… amazing that is to me. How wonderful.  As Bugs Bunny would say, “I have goosebumps, on my goosebumps.”

I realized that music like this song and Beethoven’s fifth form the voices of our lives.  I mean that they are the most inspirational—the ones we listen to over and over and over again.   The voices of our lives… it sounds beautiful, but it also does not imply that they are good voices.

In the beginning of the Silmarillion, in the thought of Iluvatar, the Ainur spun him a melody that was glorious.  Together they created a chorused that pleased Iluvatar.  But Melkor, one of the highest Holy ones, had it in his thought to create his own melody, and not follow the one that Iluvatar had instructed.  Therefore, he began to spin and weave, and the theme was no longer melodious, and the Ainur sensed a powerful music being played.  Melkor’s self-will was great, and he challenged Iluvatar to a duel of Melodies.

“Then Iluvatar rose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power an had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no long, and Melkor had mastery.  Then again Iluvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Iluvatar, and they were utterly at variance.  The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came.  The other had no achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn patter.

In the midst of this strive, whereat the halls of Iluvatar shook and a tremor ran out into the silences yet unmoved, Iluvatar arose a third time, and his face was terrible to behold. Then he raised up both his hands, and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Iluvatar, the Music ceased.

Iluvatar told Melkor that no one could invent a theme that did not have its uttermost roots in himself, and he threw him out.

There are voices in our lives, and not necessarily songs, that are like Melkor’s melody.  They bring discord, they are loud and violent, making more noise than anything.  But there are voices in your head that inspire you to do good, to think wonderful things, voices that turn your head to all things wonderful and beautiful, voices that bring you back to the center of everything: to the Creator.  These voices are things that guide you, that influence you.

So then there’s the bad voices. What a clever discrimination—the good voices, and the bad voices.  Well, what would you have said? For these bad voices, I cannot name any one element of intellectual study or cultural products because it changes for each person, depending on their strengths and weaknesses.  But we must be wary of what our Voices are.  We must be ever so careful… and we must always ask if it matches Iluvatar’s melody, to use the metaphoric image.

Just remember the three aspects of Iluvatar’s melody… Truth, beauty, and goodness.  This famous guideline doesn’t say happiness, or sorrow, or non-violence, or violence… but if it fits into those three aspects, it is probably a beautiful and wise Voice.

A Scholar’s Archive of Favorites

I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading.  I’ve finally stopped wondering if it would be possible for me: it just isn’t.  No matter what’s going on, no matter what I’m doing, there will always be a book.  I have not decided whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

Sometimes I am inspired to read fast, sometimes I am inspired to read slowly.  With the rates of different books, I find that the ones I read slowly get grouped together.  So, unfortunately, I have 18 currently reading books.  I decided to knock a few of them off the list, recently, so I’m working on it.

Last year I made a book of 100 books to read in 2010.  I only read 50 of them, but I think that 2009-2010 were the two best reading years of my life.  I discovered so many different worlds and writing styles and characters.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been heartbroken and was forced to play Chopin for days at a time in order to sympathize with myself.  But I also cannot tell you how many times my heart has been filled with joy at wonderful stories or deep-meaning themes.  It’s been an adventure.

So without further ado, here are my top 11 books of 2009-2010. :) They’re not listed in order of favorites… since it’s so hard to have a top favorite book.

The Royal Road to Romance – Richard Halliburton

I never found Geography to be so thrilling.  This book inspired me to look at maps more… Richard Halliburton uses his sense of romance and passion for the wild and “unheard of” to pen his tale of his first adventure.  The style is invigorating and colorful, the stories and myths he combines with the exotic places he visits are wonderful to read about.  He took forbidden pictures at Gibraltar, and then mailed copies to the officials saying he was sorry, but he wasn’t staying in one place so it was impossible to leave an address.  He always traveled first class with a third class train ticket.  He camped on the Cheops, and took a bath in the Nile.  He spent the night in the gardens of the Taj Mahal, he climbed the Matterhorn in winter—and Mount Fuji.  His fearless approach to travel and adventure make the book exciting to read.

An adventurer like Halliburton deserved no less than a heroic and dramatic death.  He thought of jumping off of Gibraltar rock and flying down into the sea where the moon flirted with the waves.  He thought of many drastic ends.  I suppose he was quite satisfied: he died at the age of 39 years (quite tragic, don’t you think?).  His grave is unmarked—his ship was lost in a storm, and no traces were ever found.  I think he would have been satisfied.

The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey was the pseudonym used for Elizabeth Mackintosh, Scottish author.  The hero of most of her books is Alan Grant, a detective of the Scotland Yard.  After an accident, he is forced to lie in a hospital bed for a few months.  He memorized the ceiling and made up every kind of geometric figure he could.  He soon got bored.  When looking through pictures he found one of Richard III.  His detective’s eye, before he discovered who the person was, thought the man to be one whose life was burdened with grief.  He was astonished at discovering it to be the famous murderer of the two Princes in the tower.  He goes on an adventurous research trip in his hospital bed through all the different sources he can find, and finally comes up with a brilliant alternative.

I’m not quite certain whether the research done in the book is accurate or fictional, but certainly, several of the facts of the murder and the circumstances do not match up. Reading this brilliant little mystery made me realize that many of the stories in history cannot be taken for granted.  You cannot say that a myth is untrue and a story with facts is true, because sometimes it turns out to be quite the opposite.  The only thing you can do is look up all the books ever written on the subject, then decide your own opinion.

The Idiot – Fydor Dostoevsky

The Idiot… Where to begin? This is an incredible book.  There is no other word to describe it.  I was thrilled to the very last chapter, and then I was crushed.  It is the only novel where the good people don’t die, but it’s almost worse that way, if that makes any sense.  Now you’re not going to read it, I imagine, after such a dark report.

Prince Myshkin, aka, the Idiot, tells Lizeveta Prokofyevna Yepanchin and her three daughters a story that takes up three chapters out of the book.  They go back and forth between loving him to death and thinking him entirely weird.  But what the Prince relates, which takes you back in his past to the Swiss mountains and legalistic villagers, is wrought with quiet passion and beauty.  The first 200 pages barely cover 12 hours of one day.

The themes in this book are almost too deep to discover.  Everybody is almost too dramatic and passionate to be real, but it’s purposeful.  The intricate plot, the progression and digression of the characters, the streak of epilepsy, and the philosophical tone of the novel produces something that will change your thought-life forever.  It’s a haunting book.

The Great Gain of Godliness – Thomas Watson

Lately I have been appreciating more and more the writings of the Puritans and early church fathers.  An older man at church got me into Thomas Watson’s books—really, hidden treasures!  The Great Gain of Godliness is precise… it’s written by a passionate, godly man seeking to encourage Christians in the right way.  It’s the most humbling book I’ve ever known, as well.  It makes you want to run into the arms of Christ, yet cringe with shame before him at the same time.  For those who believe, it follows with a definite tone of hope.
The most amazing passage in this book was the chapter on thoughts.  I thought it strange how someone who lived 400 and some years ago could get inside my head so accurately, or gauge my thoughts so exactly.  He talks about how, in guarding against sinful thoughts, one must not only “not think of that….” we must look higher and set our minds on heavenly things.  It sounds simple enough, but when thoughts become truly tempting, thinking of the Kingdom of God and its righteousness is not an easy thing to do.  So this is a wonderful treasure to read.

William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity – Kevin Belmonte

William Wilberforce… a hero for humanity… the greatest man that ever lived… my hero.  If I ever get married, I want it to be to a man with the mindset like William Wilberforce.  I have never enjoyed a biography so much.  He was such a passionate man, he was such a humble man…. he was so magnanimous.  This book is filled with journal entries, excerpts from letters to him and letters he wrote, different opinions of different critics.  It is a well researched, well-written book by someone who loved Wilberforce and everything he stood for.  It is truly wonderful, and I have never stood more in awe of any person than I have of him.  Wracked by physical illness and pains, his purpose remained clear, and his determination strong: he lived and he finished what he set out to do.  His story is amazing, and if you have not read it, this is a wonderful place to start.

Wilberforce was loved by everyone who knew him, and his aim was to think the best of everyone—even when they spoke of him in harsh and bitter terms.  He always strove to seek out the best in them.  One thing I love best about him was that he read and studied the philosophies of different men for a few hours every morning.  His books were always underlined—he memorized passages of great books: but his most studied book was the Bible, no matter what.  Even though he was a great and wonderful man, and I am a girl, he inspires me to the -enth degree.

The Children of Hurin – J.R.R. Tolkien

This was a birthday present from a very good friend.  Unfortunately, said friend’s sister had read me the ending so I was a bit spoiled.  At any event, if you want to see the powerful hold that evil can have over a human being, this is the book to read.

I have never been so stunned as I was at the end of this book.  I remember lying on my bed just thinking, praying and hoping about my life, and my relationship with God.  I remember shaking my head and being shocked.  It was a terrible, but a good feeling at the same time.  I felt like Pandora, after beholding all the evil she had let loose, and then peering inside and seeing hope.  Not that I had leashed the evil….

Reading Tolkien is easy and hard at the same time.  He uses such interesting expressions and phrasings that sometimes it’s difficult to grasp his meaning. But this was a truly wonderful book, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a depressing read.

Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom (Sequel) – Louisa May Alcott

I don’t know about you, but after the reviews on The Idiot and The Children of Hurin I’m ready for something lively and bright and cheerful.  Eight Cousins (and Rose in Bloom) is precisely that.  Alright, how could you not want to read a book about a small lonely girl with eight cousins who go around proclaiming their Scotch heritage?  Having four brothers I can appreciate the humor that goes on between the main character, Rose, and her eight boy cousins.  But like most fun stories, these have many growing up themes, or important lessons that one is learning all throughout life.  Rose is not portrayed as the perfect heroine: she’s just a young girl who’s growing up and learning her life lessons.

The characters have quite a range, from the timid but well-meaning and sometimes vain Rose, to the cheerful and honest servant Phebe, to the good-natured and sensible Archie, to the handsome charmer Charlie, to the grumpy bookworm Mac, to the bright-eyed, mischievous youngsters, and never to forget the good Uncle Charlie, always seeking to instill good principals and habits in all his nephews and his niece.

Shirley – Charlotte Bronte

If you want to learn lots of new words and lots of French phrases, this is the book for you!

Most pro-feminist people nowadays would say that Charlotte Bronte was all for women’s rights and “being equal” with men.  But it seems to me that this was more the journey of a girl finding something useful to do instead of sitting around reading or sewing all day.  She says: “I may have half a century of life before me.  How am I to spend it?” It is the travels of a young girl who first wishes to marry the man she loves and assist him in his work, and then realizes she will probably never be able to marry him, and then seeks to find a way to apply herself diligently and purposefully apart from the man she thought she couldn’t live without.

Don’t worry, I can promise happy endings for everybody.  But the journeys of this young girl, and a mill-owner struggling to survive during the Napoleonic war, and an independent heiress, and a quiet, steady schoolteacher are beautiful.  The character development is phenomenal. :)

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

This book was read aloud to me and some other people by my best friend’s father.  It was a year ago, and I’m still struggling with the themes.  John Steinbeck introduces the dark, questioning side of reality… his books are, needless to say, depressing.  I have heard different opinions on Of Mice and Men, but this is definitely a read again: not necessarily because the story is so good, but because the theme is so intense, and it leaves you wondering.  There is something so raw and morbidly beautiful about the way John Steinbeck writes.  It’s effective without being overbearing.  In fact, the style is almost so simple is complicated.  A lot of modern literature is like that, I suppose.

But anyways.  Why was it on my list of favorites?   Well, it appealed to my love for morbid, tragic literature; but even more than that, I have a weakness for deep books and themes, things that make me wonder and search to find answers. :)

How The Heather Looks – Joan Bodger

Have you ever wanted to get steeped in charming tales on a winter evening, after taking a hot shower and getting in warm clothes with a cup of tea or… wassail, while sitting by the fire listening to a winter gale?

Even if you’ve never had that interesting feeling, you should still read this book.  John and Joan Bodger took their children in 1956 to spend a summer in England.  They went on a scavenger hunt, really.  They didn’t want to see all the touristy places—they were on a mission to find the bank from The Wind in the Willows, or the farm where Jemima Puddleduck lived, or the land of Arthur, the country of Randolph Caldecott.  The two children, Ian and Lucy, provide a humorous side to the story, and you encounter all sorts of things on this adventure: gypsies, two boys riding backwards on a huge farm-horse, a Cornish festival, myths, legends, mysteries, stories, and obscure tales.  She talks about books long out of print—treasures of the past.  On a rainy afternoon they stop in a quaint English/Welsh village and, being hungry, buy some bread, cheese, and fresh tomatoes for their lunch, watching the villagers go to market.  It is filled with charming descriptions, jaunts and rambles, and haunting stories that will make you want to see this wonderful place called England.

Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton

Alright, I said I didn’t have a favorite.  But if you want something as deep as the see, as nice as a fairy tale, and as thrilling as the novel then this is the best book.  Look at his face! He was a genius!

Orthodoxy is packed full of thought.  You could read one sentence of it and write an entire book on the subject.  He deals philosophically (and yet un-philosophically) about maniacs, pessimists, optimists, love, Christianity, Agnostics… and these are only vague ideas of what he covers.  It is an adventure to read this book.

To see the journey of a deep thinker as he battles with thoughts and ideas of Christianity that have not even entered the head of a believer is wonderful.  His method of thinking, his wit and humor, his deep faith are all woven together cleverly with a colorful thread.  I love him best because he believed in fairy tales, and anything that had to do with the nursery.  He saw so much sense and reason inside the world of fancy, and so much to laugh at with the great determinists and philosophers of his era that it’s almost shocking to read.  But you are convinced to agree with him at last!  I would recommend this book to… well, everyone.

Alright! That’s it! :) Those are my top eleven. I hope you enjoyed reading about them, and now if you haven’t read any of them, I hope that at some point you will enjoy reading them. :)

The Demonic Obsession

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memento Mori – William Michael Harnett, 1897.

This painting intrigues me. A few weeks ago we were at the art museum and were asked to pick out a painting we loved.  Well, I picked out this painting – but not because I loved it.  It’s not the sort of painting that belongs in a heart, or a soul.  It belongs in the mind.  It’s title… the whole aspect of the painting seems to send shooting messages everywhere: “You’re only human… so little time… sieze the day!”  I also am drawn to it by the many correlations to Hamlet, by Shakespeare.  I won’t go into detail, but you can look up the painting and study it somewhere.

It makes me think morbidly of everything – of graveyards, and skeletons… death…

Or the scariest holiday of the year.

But really, think about it.  What sensible… what spiritually alive person puts a graveyard in their front yard? Is it a warning? “If you come to my house for dinner, I’m going to feed you arsenic and bury you there.”  “Hey look everybody! My front yard is filled with DEAD people! Isn’t that cute?”

Really….

Halloween is a mix of a bunch of different things.  Probably it’s most relative to the ancient Irish tradition of Samhain, later called “All Hollows Even (Evening)”.  Samhain celebrated the end of the lighter season and the beginning of the darker season.  They believed that during this time, the walls between this world and the Other world grew thin and spirits were allowed to pass through, being honoured guests at their descendants homes.  However, evil spirits also came through, and so, in order to protect themselves against the harmful spirits, people would dress up in costumes.  There would be bonfires… odd sorts of rituals.. etc.  In the late eighteenth century, children would dress up and, going from door to door, perform acts of entertainment in exchange for food or coins.  These traditions have been carried down into different cultures—Poland and Mexico celebrate a similar holiday called Day of the Dead.  All Saint’s Day was celebrated in England, but was called “All Hallows Even” Hallows meaning Saints.  They celebrated the saints, known and unknown, and honored them.  But anyways… that’s just a historical background.  I wanted to talk about Halloween, and what it is today.

Just a fun day to dress up and get candy, huh? Well that’s fine… just fine.  I mean, what sensible child doesn’t want to dress up and get candy?  The fact in and of itself doesn’t bother me.  It’s what they choose to dress up as that irks me.

Goblins… witches… ghosts… Frankenstein… the devil… to name a few.  I’m aware that not everybody dresses up in these costumes – but the majority seem to.  A lot of houses don’t have tons of decorations – but some do have the purple spider webs on the bushes, or a skeleton on their door, or something of the sort.  I’ve seen houses that almost look scary.  A mechanical coffin with a man popping out of it every five seconds.  I’ve seen yards littered with this kind of stuff.

What makes people want to do this?  What is it that’s so appealing about witchcraft, skeletons, ghosts, blood?  It’s in a sickly sense, too.  I think Halloween is an appeal to the dark side of humanity.

Halloween is a dark holiday.  Everything about it is associated with darkness.  It’s rooted in superstition and untruth.

And here’s the real thing:

Why would you celebrate a dark holiday, when you can celebrate one that represents light?

Post Tenebras Spero Lucem (After Darkness, I Hope For Light)


On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the ninety five theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church in Germany.

 

The church, up to this point, had been living in darkness.  People couldn’t even read their Bibles, and so superstitious were they that they believed the fact that salvation could be bought.  They knew literally nothing about their God.  And the church didn’t even help matters – worsened them, actually.  The people’s disadvantage was taken advantage of.  They were falsely preached to – the church itself was corrupt with all manner of sins.  Martin Luther revolted against this.  He… along with John Calvin, John Knox, Jan Hus and other reformers in different countries, instigated a insurrection against the distorted church.  It was the beginning of a Reformation that would spread through many, many countries and bring the light of truth to people who had been living under darkness.

 

Funny how Reformation Day is on the same day as Halloween.

If someone put a choice before you, which would you celebrate?