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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And then there’s that other thing…

Well the reality of the situation is that after four months in Italy I’m returning “home” and sometimes I think I’m just dusting my hands and saying, “well that’s that,” but really it’s much more than that.  I keep thinking: “and then there’s that other thing…”  One more reason why I can’t wait to go home, one more reason why I’m reluctant to leave.  It’s always an area of interest, when your heart feels so torn and beat up about something.  An area of pain or suffering, perhaps, but adding yet another layer to life and as a writer I can’t help but say: “I hate that this is happening to me, but I love that this is happening to me.”

Honestly, there are going to be problems anywhere you go.  And I’m not raining on anybody’s parade here, I’m just saying.  You go to a place thinking that it’s as emotionally easy as looking at a photograph of that place.   Then you go, you meet people.  Not only do you eventually have to leave them, sometimes they leave you, and they leave you forever, and you’re left grieving for them in a place foreign to you, feeling more alone than ever.  Because of your turmoil, the place begins to be a special place to you.  You develop a way of living.  You become accustomed to certain things (for me, the church bells ringing all the time, the pigeons, and these huge keys for all the doors) and then you find that you have to leave all of this behind, to practically start over.

Life is all about “continual beginnings” and “habitual fresh starts” as J.R.R. Tolkien would have it.  But I think it’s a matter of realizing that it is a “fresh” start.  You don’t pick up right where you left off, when you come home.  You start exactly as you find yourself in that moment.  And if I may be allowed to quote Tolkien again….  “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?”  We live too much in the past.  We experience one thing, and instead of accepting what it has been, we go back to try to experience the same thing again, but it never works like that.  Nothing is the same, and you are left feeling empty and dissatisfied with yourself and everybody else.

And in a sense this is going into the idea of home more than the idea of being abroad.   I love home.  It’s a crazy place filled with love and stupid fights about who gets the last piece of pie, and tons of people, not just siblings but aunts and uncles and it’s this time of year, Christmas, that I get to enter back into that circle of family, that just keeps stretching with more births and marriages.

But I find that when I am dreaming of home, I am dreaming of my home in Cleveland.  When I realize that I no longer live in Cleveland, I am dreaming of the old house in Pittsburgh, where we had fires in the winter and out of my window at night I could see the stars, and in the morning see a damp, dull light fingering its way through a bleak sky.  I loved those mornings.  And it’s a harsh reality to remember the summer before I went away, the summer we moved (again) into a house where I was never at home in the literal sense.  And this is nobody’s fault, it’s just the way it was.

What is important in coming back? Things are never as you expect them to be.  They always end up being different.  Here I am filled with nostalgia for my old homes, and yet I have the spirit and the joy of those old homes waiting for me in this new house.

Sure, life is hard.  And I’m not saying that lightly.  (Well, I am, but I’m not saying it thoughtlessly.)  I have a few brutally hard things running through my mind.  The things that keep me up at night. Yes, life is hard and it’s something to accept and something to deal with.  And also I have been reading Thomas Watson’s “All Things for Good” and he has been laying particular emphasis on the fact that some of the best things come from our difficulties and our sufferings.  God is constantly nurturing and growing us, growing us to him, always.  He’s not stomping on our heads or starving us or deserting us entirely or leaving us to die.  The simple fact that everything is, in the end, for our own good is in itself a hard thing to believe and accept, but once you can accept it, it frees you from so much fear and worry and doubt.

I have learned so much while I have been here.  I love so many things, I will miss so many things.  But this is wonderful about the human capacity to love and appreciate—there are even more things for me to love and develop the further I plunge into life.  And really, even though “going home” seems to imply a sense of safety and security, it feels more like an adventure right now, almost like home is a place I’ve never gone to before.

And I cannot, absolutely cannot resist quoting Wendell Berry as my closing thought: “I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality, that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle.”

Smaller Things Called Life

For example, the joy of being able to tell something as precise and mysterious as time.  I was overwhelmed by this revelation.  At any given moment to be able to glance down at your wrist and pin the day to a time line in half a second.  Even disregarding the fact that with every tick a second of your life is taken away from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the week there is the flurry of school and learning.  Sometimes, there is that moment of calm, peace, where I make things and nothing else exists except the thing I am making.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturdays life is full, and I clean by vacuuming and mopping floors and scrubbing the bathroom, and then I do my laundry, sometimes in the sink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there are the days when I work late in my studio at school, and there are tea and biscuits there on the table, a thousand things to write, but I get up and go to the window and look out into a blue night and a white moon, and a thousand lights moving as if they were fire instead of electricity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And sometimes I have to wonder, what would it be like it I had never come here at all, if my shoes never made such a sound against the floor, if I never felt my way along to the door in the dark and then burst out of the door into the lights of an Italian night, and I have to wonder, would I miss what I never experienced?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even here, the little things in life go on.  Eating, doing laundry, going to the bathroom, taking showers, sleeping, walking, coughing, sneezing, feeling hot, feeling cold, cleaning, listening to music, tapping your foot, waiting.  Everything is happening in the midst of the adventure, and the normal things that go on are what make the experience seem so real, so natural. And still, when I pray, I thank God for sending me here.

All For Good

All Things For Good.  The book by Thomas Watson has been sitting in my bookcase for a year.  It was given to me by a dear friend at our old church who enjoyed keeping tabs on my spiritual life, and who frequently just gave me books that he thought would inspire me and challenge me.  I read some of them, but I hadn’t read All Things For Good.  Now, we’ve moved away from dear old Ohio, and away from my quiet, uneventful life.  Things are beginning to occur, and as I have finally begun to settle into my busy schedule I have learned to make time to be quiet and to reflect and study the character of God and to nurture my soul with his word.

I wake up sweating in the night, sometimes, because I worry myself over application work, visa issues, financial matters. I stay awake at night thinking about all the things that could go wrong, how some things seem just too good to be true, that I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve it and all it will be in the end is an empty dream. [More details on this in a later post.]  But then, a few nights ago, I started Thomas Watson’s book.  The old language of the Puritans was like cold water on a hot and dusty day, just poured right over my head.  I could feel the essence sinking into every part of my mind.  And I was convicted.  If things go “wrong”, it’s still for our good.  I am still a child, because I must remind myself over and over again that God does not leave us to ourselves but is constantly proactive.  All things for good.  Not, all for naught, but all for good.  For our ultimate good.  Of course, I can’t always see how it will be good or why—sometimes I’ll never see, but I have to trust in his promises.  He has promised.  Unlike me, he keeps his promises.  And in trusting him I find rest.  I can sleep thinking, “He knows what he wants for me, and he’s working towards that end, and he’ll work in me.”

Here are just a few practical excerpts from the book.

“The Word preached works for good.  It is a savour of life, it is a soul-transforming Word, it assimilates the heart into Christ’s likeness; it produces assurance.  ‘Our gospel came to you not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance’ (1 Thess. 1:5). It is the chariot of salvation.

Prayer works for good. Prayer is the bellows of the affections; it blows up holy desires and ardours of soul. Prayer has power with God.  ‘Command ye me’ (Isa. 45:11). It is a key that unlocks the treasury of God’s mercy. Prayer keeps the heart open to God, and shut to sin; it assuages the intemperate heart and the swellings of lust.  It was Luther’s counsel to a friend, when he perceived a temptation begin to arise, to betake himself to prayer.  Prayer is the Christian’s gun, which he discharges against his enemies. Prayer is the sovereign medicine of the soul. Prayer sanctifies every mercy (1 Tim. 4:5). It is the dispeller of sorrow: by venting the grief it eases the heart. When Hannah had prayed, ‘she went away, and was no more sad’ (1 Sam. 1:18). And if it has these rare effects, then it works for good.”

One thing I love about the Puritans is that as antiquated and unapproachable as they seem, the essence of their words transcend time.  Just because they’re four hundred years old doesn’t mean that what they say is not practical.  No: far from it.  They speak straight to the heart of the matter, with understand and wisdom that is hard to find in this day and age.   I find myself renewed, comforted, and invigorated to continue in my spiritual journey, to continue trusting Christ and putting him before everything that I do.

Just as a closing, one of my favourite Westminster Catechism Q&A’s, which I think can be applicable.

Q: “What are the benefits that in this life accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?”

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

Introspection

There are those certain things in life that surprise you, amaze you, and you become lost in their beauty and significance, which brings you full circle to glorifying God.  Sometimes these are little things.

I seek quiet, when I can.   Lately I’ve been working 5-6 days a week, and am rarely home.  I have been trying to train myself to seek out the quiet moments, find them when I can.  Maybe on the short fifteen minute break I get, sitting in a quiet room, just enjoying the silence.

Two seconds count.  In less than a second a small insect disappeared in front of the red toad named Pimples (I didn’t name her).

“Do it again!” I said.  And it reminded me of when Chesterton talked about the repetition of things.  How the sun doesn’t rise every morning because it’s on a cycle, but because God is actively commanding the sun to, “do it again.”  We have become discontent with repetition, with the simple things like the rising of the sun, or the look of a daisy.  We desire something new because we have grown weary and tired of the things that used to amaze us.  “We have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we.”  It is from a great energy that a child is able to enjoy a trick performed in front of him a thousand times over.  We have lost something as we have grown.  When we weary of the little things, we pursue new things, and we are constantly on a running journey to discover something new, to be pleased in a different way.

But God isn’t like that, he’s not like us.  A truly murmured “Thank you,” for his gifts every day never fails to please him.  He never is tired of hearing our prayers, our prayers that are so repetitive in their essence, never tired of hearing our praises sung to him.  “Do it again,” he says.

I have tried to find little things that amaze me.  I have tried to shut out the loud, the busy, and to welcome the introspection and the quiet.  I’m not trying to isolate myself, I’m trying to discover the secret to living simply.

The toad’s pink tongue flashes out, and my mind isn’t fast enough to catch the movement, but the bug isn’t there in front of her any more.  Pimples doesn’t move.  She’s just there with her never turning gaze, her body sunk back comfortably on her haunches.   I love to hold her in the palm of my hand, and to look deep into her lazy eye, and to run my finger along the warts of her skin.  I know it sounds odd—maybe it sounds disgusting.  She amazes me.

I have seen a mountain, tall, its arm sloping down into the valley, clothed in a suffocating cloak of trees.  In Pennsylvania there are so many trees!  I want to see this mountain heave itself, breath… I almost expect the trees to suddenly fall off, and see a giant rise before my eyes, a giant that has slept for a long time.  The earth quivers and groans, and the mountains let some of their weight go.

I have also seen the mountains stretching down into the valleys, and the shadows of the clouds moving on their backs, dark, and deep.

I have been wakened by the single note of a bird calling clearly in the small hours of the morning.

I have felt a cold breeze in the morning, coming through the window, and moving over everything.  It says, “Rest,” and “Be still.”

And I know… I know that I am blessed.  How could I be anything but blessed?  I have been gifted with a capacity to know, feel, and appreciate these things that I have mentioned.  And I desire to return to the little things, and to marvel at the small things in life, to be small myself, small enough to stand in wonder of this beautiful thing called life.

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)

Pre-Moving Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Morsels

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Sorrow Drips Into Your Heart’

Early in the morning, before you can quite see the sun, but when there is enough light to see the growing sky and the branches of trees, an autumnal wind usually blows scurrying leaves across the pavement and a feeling of life into your soul.  If I listen very intently, I can feel the energy in the atmosphere around me, the beating of my own heart, the urge to stride through the slight mist.  These times, in the early morning, are the easiest times for me to pray.  If I listen I hear nature’s chirps and calls, the wind in the trees, and I feel the air, see the sky growing golden and light blue.  I feel closest to God, for I am reveling in the cycle of Life that he has created.

But this time is also dangerous to me, for it makes me want to be alone, to make myself solitary so I can think.  It makes me want to grasp the early morning, to make it stay.  Once, not very long ago, I hoped that perhaps God would make the sun still in the sky somewhere far away, so I could keep this early light to myself.

So easily we taint our God-given pleasures.  We turn them into things that must stay, that must be present with us always.  Our blessings become our gods, and we give, as I heard in a book the other night, our “living affection to dying things.”  Things like nature serve a purpose, not only for the earth and the ecosystems they’re placed in—not only for the cycle of life but to enhance our appreciation of God and his masterful and intelligent design.  It is not the things we enjoy that demand our love and our undivided worship, it is God.

We waste so much of our sorrow on these passing things because they’re passing.  If our love and our faith and our entire being were implanted and embedded in God, then we would not have any sorrow to waste on passing things.  Rather, we would see nature and all the other gifts and pleasures in life through the eyes of righteousness, and they become what they are: blessings.  Enjoy your youth.  Don’t lament because it’s passing (this is my biggest problem) but embrace the whole cycle of growing up.  Enjoy your motherhood or fatherhood, your singleness or your married life, your old age.  Embrace it and come to terms with it.  Don’t weep because a time of your life you loved has passed, but keep on living with the assurance that you enjoyed it, and lived to the best of your ability, and now there is another adventure ahead of you.  Even we are passing, these bodies we have now, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  But our soul, the essence of our being, is eternal, and when we die, it will not linger on this earth to lament about lost pleasures.  It will haste on its way, called to stand before God and give an account of that life it just left.

The only reason we have for rejoicing is that there is a God in the heavens who has loved his people enough to give his own life for them, in order that they might live.  It’s because of this that we can laugh and sing and dance, that we can rejoice and be glad, that we can find joy in the blessings he has given us, and joy in him because of the assurance that we will one day be called into his presence.  Don’t let the world shape your view of God, but let your belief in God and your faith shape your view of the world.  For the world changes with its fashions and its phases, but God never changes, and that should be our greatest comfort: he is steadfast.