Favorite Things

I have favorite things, a lot of them, and sometimes I love to blurt them all out, so I’m going to right now.

1. Spring. The way it feels on my skin, and the shivers it sends through my body.  The tension between the wind that freezes and the sun that warms.  The heavy clouds that want to drop on the earth, and empty their burdens on my uncovered head.

2. Books. The way a book feels in my hand, the way my mind responds to it, the way my forehead creases into worry before I realize how anxious I must look to any passerby.  The way I get so immersed into it, as if the book was a culture in and of itself.

3. Colors. How the colors of my room remind me of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its snatches of beauty and color splattered here and there, the primroses on the sill of my window, a shelf filled with vintage collections from grandmothers, and old books.

4. Freedom. Personal freedom. How free my life is now that I’ve deactivated my facebook.  I feel more private, personal, and original, less busy, less of a nosey person. Really I’m just so happy, because now people have to ask me what’s going on.  They have to call me or come visit.  I love hearing your voices and getting your letters and seeing your faces much better than I like hearing about it all on the internet.

5. Guitar. Hearing my older brother play the guitar at night.  For six years he’s been out of the house.  Now he and his wife are staying with us a few months before moving to Scotland, and I realize how much I’ve missed hearing his fingers strum out the songs in his head.

6. Youth. The grace God has given me to realize the short time I have now, and the strength he’s given me to use my time wisely.

7. Forgetfulness. How often I don’t write on this blog, and how many times a day I say: “I should really write a blog post on that…”

8. Cemeteries.  Feeling myself living and breathing, and knowing that I will decay and rot, but someday, I will meet some of these souls in eternity, and my heart-beat quickens when I think of my approaching death, because it will bind me to my Saviour.  Another favorite thing is bound up in this: fighting the fight I was called to.  For though I look forward to death, I take joy in this life, in this battle, that is weary at times and painful, but I take joy in it because I do it for the sake of Christ, and he has given me a mind, a taste, a sense for the beautiful.

9. Flowers. Tulips and daffodils, and how, when I’m going to sleep, the spring breeze carries their scent from the vase where they stand to me, everything sweet and lovely about it.

10. Music.  The Water, sung by Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling.  It’s so simple, almost melancholy, but it appeals to my mind.

11.  Silence.  How, when I close my eyes, everything is filled.  The soul-waves that bear me almost to the brink of the unbearable, that fill me with pain, joy, thankfulness, and love.

12. Love. True love, and you’ll probably get a post on it soon.  I am rather fed up with the world and how most people deal with love, because to my eyes it is sacred.  The ties between siblings, children and parents, husband and wife, friends, the love that binds them together is sacred.  Alright… more on that later… maybe tonight…

13. Fifty-Six Stories.  I am truly addicted to it.  I love writing my little story each night, I love how it’s become a natural part of me.  I love seeing my writing progress and regress and then progress again.  I love the critiques my friends give me.

14. Memories.  I have many, and they seem bitter sweet.  A smell of something will remind me of days when I was little and ran freely in the joy of youth.  I am still basking in youth, loving it, embracing it, meeting it full in the face, trying to capture every moment of it.

15. Dreaming.  Purposeful dreaming.  A sudden lull in the beat of every day life, where a dream comes, the excitement it brings, and the joy.  Another purpose, a new goal, something to pursue.

16. Problems.  I have had a lot of problems this year.  I’ve felt pretty messed up sometimes, but looking back, I see how they’ve strengthened me.  Even in the midst of them, I enjoyed in a rather odd way how low I was, how completely laid low, just because I knew that I would be raised up with new courage.

17. Learning.  Ideas, thoughts, philosophies, dreams, adventures.  I love these things with my heart, and I love talking about them with other people.  I’ll settle for reading, but I much prefer looking at the sky through the branches of a budding tree and talking about people’s ideas, and learning from wiser people.

18.  Fairytales.  The lost meanings, the misinterpreted beauty.  I love the originality, the sameness and yet variety.  I love folklore too.

19. Friends.  The good friends who inspire you, who help you along the road of life, encouraging, honing, giving all they can and accepting what you give.

20.  Family.  My mother, good and kind, wonderful and inspiring.  My daddy, strong and wise, who can answer any question I ask.  My brothers and sisters, dearly loved, with all their quirks and eccentricities, all their wildness, their different characters and personalities.

At the end of this list I find myself blessed, as always.  Almost burdened by so much goodness, so much joy that has been given to my soul.  Some people find me quiet, some find me loud.  I express myself in different ways, but I am a thinker.  I think when the joy is too much for me,  I laugh loud and sing when it is too much for me.  I am thankful and happy in the life God has placed before me, abandoned to the race in front of me, ready to fight His battle.

Of Primroses and Books

On this warm Spring day, my primroses are dying.

I killed them.

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

I should take care of my flowers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Is God Bored?

Well? Haven’t you ever wondered?

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

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

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

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

I think that’s enough.

The End!

Just kidding.

To continue…

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

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

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

I don’t think he did that.

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

Q. What are God’s works of providence?

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

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

Earlier in the book, he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainy Day Thoughts

Ever wondered why you can’t seem to articulate the fulness of something inside of you?  Like that half-thought that comes and almost takes shape, but then vanishes? Reminds me of something from The Idiot:

“In every serious human thought born in anyone’s brain there is always something left over which is impossible to communicate to others; not even if you were to write volumes on it for thirty-five years; there will always be something left which cannot be coaxed out of your brain, and which will remain with you forever; you will die with it, without ever communicating to anyone what is perhaps the essence of your thought.” (Hippolite) – The Idiot

Slightly depressing, yes?  But true.  I have a whole series of half-thoughts, and whenever I try to write about them, they never do justice to the real thought.  Is it even worth it to rack your brains in order to find the right way to express your thought so that you can communicate not the blunt edge of it, but the essence?

This is why I haven’t been able to finish all my drafts.  I feel like I can’t communicate the essence of the thought, and that without the essence, the thought is worthless.

This might be my only articulate thought at the moment:

Today we are going to get flowers.  The day is rainy, cold, and absolutely grey.  But we’re getting flowers! Dozens of them.  Bright and cheerful.  Do you know what they’re for?  A wedding.  On this grey and rainy day, we’re getting tons of happy flowers for my sister’s wedding on Saturday.  Only four more days!

I will tell you a secret.  Several, actually.

We have three people staying with us currently.

Our kitchen is still under construction.

We’re painting the halls.

The house, in short, is upside down.  And there’s a wedding in four days! Chloe’s boxes of things are packed up and stacked neatly in a corner of the room, while the results of hurried showers, rushed dressing and undressing and all sorts of things are strewn all over the floor.  Yet in the midst of this, we’re getting the cheerful flowers.  Yes, in all the tumult there is a bright thing, something that makes you smile and forget the mess.  We will defy the mess and the rainy day with the dozens of bouquets of flowers.  They put the wedding in perspective.  It’s not a gloomy and sad day.  It’s a joyous day, a symbol of a bright future where a man and a woman make a covenant before God to be a living representation on earth of Christ and His Bride.

So that is my full-thought for this rainy day. :)