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.

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What Changes The World

There is a rather large, bulging problem that is about to burst through our culture and overtake the world.  The problem has many aspects to it.  Humanism.  Marxism.  Darwinism. Pantheism. Atheism. Socialism.  The underlying issue is that people in societies around the world are drifting further and further away from truth.  It’s happening in our government, politics, literature, music, art.  Anything that defines our culture.  But the worst part of it is this.  Our culture is shaped by smart people who know what they want, and our culture is made up of people who are blindly following the smart people around, because they think the smart people are wise.

But there is a difference between being wise and being smart.  Wisdom is founded in truth; smartness is founded in how quickly our brain functions, how we size people up, our intuition.

Our presupposition is that truth is something external, something that’s not found inside ourselves.

Napoleon didn’t change the world.  He wanted to, but he only ended up changing France, really.   Darwin changed the world.  Marx changed the world. Voltaire changed the world.  Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, all these philosophers changed the world by their influencing thought.

Many of these philosophers had a problem.  They did not believe that truth was external.  They looked inside themselves for the answer.  It reminds me of when G.K. Chesterton talked about the Hindoo saints.  Their eyes were closed, looking inward.  The Christian saint’s eyes were opened wide, looking for truth without.

Now, I need to say something about Darwin here, because I listed him as one of the greatest influences.  You may say that he was looking for truth externally, because he was studying the natural world.  The thing about looking for truth internally is saying: “I will explain truth, what I think truth is.”  Which is what Darwin basically did with his ideas.  He used evidence to explain his ideas (granted he explained the evidence against his ideas.)  But the Christian saint who is looking with eyes wide open for truth externally is looking for something that is not explained by him, but is explained to him by the source of Truth

Changing the world does not begin with finding one good person and getting him into government.  It starts with making influences that will make better people.  It doesn’t start with a general who thinks he might be able to overrun the world and rule it.  That ends in chaos.

No, changing the world starts with our literature, our music, our art.  If you want to change the world by being a politician, that’s fine.  But do something that influences the young generation.  We need to be a generation producing books, music, art, philosophies, that point to ultimate truth, so the next generation can be better.

We can’t be the people blindly following the smart people around.  We have to be the smart people.  And even if you’re the follower, be a smart follower.  Be smart enough to resist the flow of culture.

But don’t be proud.  Pride is what makes us fall, pride is what leads us away from truth, down our own path.  Remember that life every is a struggle, a fight.  It has its moments of bliss and joy, but overall, we are struggling for what is right.  We are fighting the world, the flesh, the devil, and the fight never ceases, especially in this reformation of our culture.

We must go through some of the pain of learning.  I would like to say now that we’ve become pretty stupid people.  Here we have a wonderful brain and only use a small fraction of it.  The temptation is to use less and less of it.  But let’s take care of our bodies and our minds.  It’s not easy, it’s hard.  We don’t feel like doing these things.

But really, we live in an education driven society where no one learns anything.  Let’s change that, please.  Love learning, love studies, love the hard, laborious work.  It will do you good in the end.  It doesn’t matter who you are.  You don’t have to be a rich city kid who always got straight A’s in school.  You don’t have to be a grown up.  It starts now, with whoever you are, and however old you are.

But just remember something.  We can only know the extent of something to an extent.  Learning is a frustration.  It takes faith to learn, so if you have any, expect to use it.  We will never know the full extent of something.  But as long as these other smart people are shaping our culture, we have to be just as smart to counterbalance them.  We must be strong, confident, courageous, but we must be humble, accepting the fact that our bodies are finite, that our minds are limited, that we can’t know everything, or know everything about everything.

Just remember it starts with the books.  The latest song.  The newest painting in the art museum.  That’s where you start.  Be a painter, an architect, a writer, a musician and reform our culture.  That’s where it starts, with ideas.

Who is Like Him?

Blessed be God…

That is all I can say.  He has blessed me so richly, in everything I have right now, everything around me.  You find me writing in the middle of a moment, a moment that will last for awhile but not forever.  It is a golden moment, and I am wrapped in it.  Everything, right here, right now, is beautiful.  And it won’t be the same way again.  Perhaps it will be better!  But there will be something sad in the fact that it won’t be the same.

I am a dreamer by nature.  And sometimes God blesses us so richly, that it goes beyond everything we’ve dreamed.

I have found so much love, that is the most important thing.  I have felt cared for, protected, helped.  I have felt friendship, and immeasurable kindness has been shown to me.  God has blessed me with beautiful sisters, strong brothers, wise parents.  Our family members, the ones at home and the ones married, are knit together closely.  We have been bound together closely, through grief and through joy.

I have been reading, as always.  Yesterday I finished “Hannah Coulter” by Wendell Berry.  My definitions of love, gratefulness, family, grief, and hope were all redefined.

“Love held us. Kindness held us. We were suffering what we were living by.
I began to know my story then. Like everybody’s, it was going to be the story of living in the absence of the dead. What is the thread that holds it all together? Grief, I thought for awhile. And grief is there sure enough, just about all the way through. From the time I was a girl I have never been far from it. But grief is not a force and has no power to hold. You only bear it. Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.”

This passage changed the way I thought.  Grief is not a force and has no power to hold.  Love is what carries you.  It burned into my mind, and the first time I read it I knew its importance.  Too often we think ourselves in bondage to suffering.  But we are not.  We are in love, we are in grace, we are in mercy.  True, we live in an estate of sin and misery right now, but we have a Hope, and a blessed assurance.  This pushes us on towards the end, and all that is bright in us spreads all over, until we are fully sanctified.

Grief has no power to hold. Even now, in the absence of grief, I am comforted by it, when I don’t have any reason to be.  But when grief does come, I will remember it.  I will look for love.  It will always be there, for God’s love is sufficient to satisfy my very soul.

I will pray.  I will pray fervently, and I will try to pray without ceasing.  I will try to be good, and sensitive, and willing, and loving, and kind.  I will try to be humble, and joyful, and zealous.  I will try to be faithful in everything I do, diligent to the utmost, and persevering.

These are qualities that will not grow old.

And who is like God? Who is like Him who comforts, loves, reproves, guides, leads, encourages, disciplines, saves?  There is no one.  At the end of everything, it is only Him.  He is the first and the last, eternal, unchangeable.  In this rock I have put my hope, and my faith.  And this anchor will hold, though the storm is strong.

There is no one like my God.

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)

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 Flame Burns

Dear Dreamers,

In my room I have a cupboard.   At any other times, my room appears to be very ordinary (excepting the fact that it’s in the attic.)  There are four bookcases, a desk, a dresser, a bed, a bedside table with stacks of books and journals and fountain pens.  I am a scholar at times, a student seeking to learn from the great thinkers of ages gone by.  But at night, when I open the cupboard, I am a dreamer.  Inside the cupboard there is a tea tray, a jug of water, five different kinds of tea, a teapot/cup, a little dish of sugar, a pitcher of milk, and a honey jar.  So when I take this out, and prepare my tea, I become a dreamer.  I don’t know what it is, but the idea of having an electric teapot and barely making a move to make tea was such a wonderful idea, that it goes right along with my reverie-filled life. My “third eye” is open tonight, and I am gazing an on old dream.

It all started when we went to buy me jeans for the first time in… Well, actually I can’t remember when I bought a pair of new jeans.  A few years ago I got a pair of Harley Davidson’s at the Thrift Store that have become one of my favorites, but most of my jeans were hand-me-downs, and never quite fit me right.  I have come to the conclusion today that it is impossible for me to find a pair of jeans that fit just right.  And for one simple reason: I don’t have the body type.  Let’s face it, I’m short and sturdy, solid.  I’ve described myself as a “big-boned Scottish lass” before.  (That was during the Scottish lass dream.)  And it’s hard to find pants that fit just the right way.

My sister brought me a pair to try on, after about seventeen pairs in the Levi Outlets store.  I put them on, and loved them right away.  They were PERFECT.  Chloe could tell I was 100% for them because I actually put on my low Western looking boots when I showed her and mom.  “These are just right!” I drooled.  Chloe replied, with a smirk, “Okay, so the men’s jeans fit you just fine.”

. . .

THESE ARE MEN’S JEANS?

Well, it didn’t matter.  They didn’t look like men’s jeans on ME, let’s just say. But it awakened that old dream: In spite of my books and being a writer and having my tea every night, I still want to be a cowgirl.  Really, really bad.  Hey! I may live in Cleveland, but I do have a pair of Justin boots. And I can ride horses.  And when I got the men’s Levi jeans, it just made that dream ten times more appealing.  Don’t worry, it wasn’t a kinda of feminist sort of “be a man!” feeling, it was simply a, “Wow, I forgot how awesome the world of the West is.” And then I had to put on a plaid shirt…

O, I’ve been so many things in my dreams.  I’ve been a gypsy, a Hindu Princess, a Siberian orphan, a simple English cottager, of course the Scottish girl roaming the highlands (well I actually was that in reality once) but the cowgirl…  I felt like such a country-girl tonight, and you know I definitely feel like a girl because I am using lots of italics tonight.  I love cows, I love horses, I love dogs, in short, I love animals, I love anything that lives and breathes and is warm.

So, I had cow-girl inspired tea.  I carried my tea tray to my bed, I hummed a tune, I even tried to light a match on my boot, which didn’t work because my boots weren’t real cowgirl boots.  I lit a candle, and even though it smells like fruit and sugar, it is faintly reminiscent of my brother Peter’s candle that he used to burn—the flavor was leather.  Whenever I went in his room it smelled like cowboy boots and saddles and belts.

So I’m sitting here, dreaming about that kind of a life.  There are the kind of dreams that you cannot pursue any further, but you still hold on to… And there are the kind of dreams that you act on, that you start building for.  Mine is the first kind of a dream.  In my mind I’m like Annie Oakley or “Little Sister” (I forget her name) in True Grit, or just Ruby Jean, riding her horse… which she falls off of a lot… and shooting her gun… which always misses… but going home and reading her books and having tea, and writing, and doing the dishes, and milking the cow.  And I have a dog named Berenice.  And there in the mountains there is even more room for my wild and free imagination.  As soon as I am a cowgirl, I will be dreaming of being a native of Hawaii with hibisicus in my hair.

But really, I think the love of the country, for animals, that smell of leather, the hard-working, farm oriented life has always been a part of me, somewhere.  And maybe someday it will be fulfilled—who knows?  You’re never too old to start working on a childhood dream.

I cannot leave off a post without something… So I’ll just say something a little dangerous.  It would not be exciting if it were not dangerous. Dream, and dream often.  I really truly mean it.  Don’t just read this and smile and say: “Aw, that’s cute; she’s seventeen and she still dreams.”  Or perhaps, “Wow, this girl needs to get a life,” (believe me, I have one!) or “Yeah, yeah, dreaming’s for babies and kids with fairies painted on their walls.” I wish I had a little shovel, because I would take it, and dig a little hole in your mind, and plant that seed of dreaming.

I read just the other day that it is only through reading things like fairy tales and fantasy that we can really begin to use our imagination, and it is only when we use our imagination that we begin to know ourselves.

It’s true.  Dream, and analyze your dreams.  You might be horrified at something awful and terrible—maybe that dream should bit the dust.  You might be shocked at something—maybe not because it’s bad; I would say that that dream needs a little looking into!  You might be delighted with something, you just can’t stop dreaming it!  It is not the dreamers who sit on the front porch all day watching the sky doing nothing.  We only do that first.  Then we “grasp time by the forelock,” as my grandpa would say, and see what we can do about creating a reality.

Sweet Dreams, Dreamers . . .

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.

Wise Words of the Church Fathers

I Am
by Chrysostom c. 349-407 AD

“For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.” – Colossians 2:9-10

Isn’t He right in turning from us and punishing us, when He gives Himself up for us entirely and yet we resist him? Surely, it is plain to everyone. For whether you desire to adorn yourself, “Let it, He saith, be with My ornaments” ; or to equip yourself, “with My arms”; or to clothe yourself, “with My raiment”; or to feed yourself, “at My table”; or to travel, “on My way”; or to inherit, “My inheritance”; or to enter a country, “the city of which I am Builder and Maker”; or to build a house “amongst My tabernacles.” … What can equal this generosity: that, “I am Father, I am Brother, I am Bridegroom, I am dwelling place, I am food, I am raiment, I am Root, I am foundation, all whatsoever thou willest, I am”?—and “Be thou in need of nothing, I will be even a servant, for I cam to minister, not to be ministered to; I am Friend, member, Head, Brother, sister, and mother; I am all; only cling closely to Me. I was poor for you, and a wanderer for you, on the cross for you, in the tomb for you; above I intercede for you to the Father, on earth I have come for your sake as an Ambassador from My Father. You are all things to Me, brother, joint heir, friend, and member.” What more could you ask for?

Tea With Lewis and Chesterton… and Alice

I can just picture it.  Lewis and Chesterton are having tea, talking about the impossibility of the reality the world is talking about, and the probability of greater morals existing in other worlds.  They both turn, Chesterton has a marmelade roll Lewis has brought with him halfway to his mouth.  Lewis’s teacup is suspended three inches above the saucer.  Both of them smile at the little blonde-haired girl next to them.  “What do you think, Alice? Do you think everything in Wonderland is impossible?”  And Alice probably said no, she didn’t.

And Chesterton would smile approvingly and continue complimenting Lewis on the “excellent marmelade,” and Lewis would nod and smile and begin observing how the world would be much better off if all little children were like Alice.

Reality.  The word used to hit me in the face.  I used to think of something covering up or tinting my passion for beauty.  When I thought of the stars, or flowers, or mountains, or love I got excited… My imagination felt alive.  I felt alive.  But then the word came—reality—and I felt guilty for thinking of those things.  It seemed as though reality was something that covered up the stars… something that made love seem “idealistic”… unreal…  Impossible—something people only dreamed of.  To me, reality seemed like finishing highschool at seventeen or eighteen. Going to college for 4+ years. Pursuing a career.  Maybe getting married between 27 and 35.  Maybe have a kid.  Maybe two.

Then I had a realization.  I suppose that means I came to terms with reality.  Reality is now my friend.  Facts and reality coincide… to an extent.  I see the flowers.  I can touch them, feel them, smell them.  There are flowers—that, in fact, is reality.  Reality isn’t something blurring the stars… it is the stars.  As for love, it’s the most realistic thing I can think of.  I was quite wrong in thinking there is no beauty in reality.  You could say that reality is beautiful, or that Beauty is reality, for there is a God.  Or it might be better to say that God is.  That is reality, because that is a fact. I was reading C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity and I was struck by something he said towards the beginning.  Before now, I had never really thought about the existence of God being a fact. I thought that because not everyone believes in God, it couldn’t be a fact.  If I had thought seriously about this, I would have slapped myself very hard for that philosophy.  If I didn’t believe in God—why, my life would be the unrealistic one.

“If the universe was really without meaning, we should have never found that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe, and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should have never known it was dark. Darkwould be a word without meaning.” Further back he says: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got the idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be a part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?” [Mere Christianity, book 2 chapter 1.]

It is so interesting to read how Lewis himself sees and describes how, when he was an Atheist, in the very act of proving that there is no God, he was proving that there is a God.  (I love reading Lewis—Mere Christianity is brilliant, and he’s really a fantastic writer.  When I read his fiction, I feel like I’m sitting right next to him, and he’s telling the story.  When I read his apologetics, I feel as though I am standing right there, arguing in a friendly way with him.)

Is reality, in fact, something cold and hard that you land on when you’re head is in the clouds?  Is the logician right when he says Wonderland is irrational and senseless?  It’s not just wonderland.  When I use this word, I am referring to any fantasie. (As opposed to fantasy—spelled with a y.)

Fantasie means more than Twilight or Harry Potter. (Sorry to any fans out there.)  It refers the beauty of mind and soul… the world in our subconscious, all things beautiful and imagined.  Things are only impossible when they cannot be imagined.  All possibility is contained within imagination.

If a child actually wondered if the moon were made of cheese, is it really impossible?  Perhaps the logician would say: “Yes, it is; cheese is made from curds.  It goes through a certain process, and it is impossible that there could be enough cows even in the world to make enough cheese to fill a moon.”  But the child has already had the idea.  The idea has become a possibility.  There is a certain amount of logic that must be combined in the imagination.  For instance, as soon as the possibility has been birthed with the idea, one must find out if the possibility is real.  For all we know, God might have made the moon out of cheese.  And he still could.  And once you admit that, you denounce the word “impossible.”

I have never seen a blue talking and smoking caterpillar.  I have never seen the Jabberwocky.  But because I have never seen them I can’t say that they don’t exist.  It simply hasn’t been proved to me that they don’t.

If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties. But we cannot say why an egg can turn into a chicken any more than we can say why a bear could turn into a fairy prince.  As ideas, the egg and the chicken are further off from each other than the bear and the prince; for no egg in itself suggests a chicken, whereas some princes do suggest bears.  Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of science and the “Laws of Nature.” When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o’clock. We must answer that it is magic. It is not a “law,” for we do not understand its general formula.  It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen… We risk the remote possibility of a miracle as we do that of a poisoned pancake or a world-destroying comet.  We leave it out of account, not because it is a miracle, and therefore an impossibility, but because it is a miracle, and therefore an exception. All the terms used in the science books, “law,” “necessity,” “order,” “tendency,” and so on, are really untinellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, “charm,” “spell,” “enchantment.” They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.  The sun shines because it is bewitched. – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter IV

I had to try very hard not to type out the whole book just now. I think he has a point.  In his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton cleverly combines logic and fantasie in a wonderful way.  He makes fantasie a reality, and reality a fantasie.  Is there anything blasphemous about saying a tree grows because it is magic?  No, there is not.  Because a tree does not grow by any law or power of our own.  It grows by a supernatural power, something altogether outside of our understanding.

So why should the world of dreams and imagination and idealism be praised?

There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind —what they are in their thought world determines how they act.  This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword. – Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? Chapter I.

Because it determines how we live.  It is not only the imaginative person who has a thought world.  Even the mathematician (I am very unjust towards mathematicians) has a thought world.  Even in his logical mind there are thoughts that determine his actions.  I’m sure even he has had dreams at night about yellow rabbits eating chinese takeouts. (Sorry – bit tired here.) But at any rate, think of what the world would be like if everybody was a logician.  We would all be the same.  Where’s the fun in that?  What if everybody was an idealist? Everybody would be the same – still no fun.  And note – idealist here does not mean Sir-Thomas-More-Utopia-Idealism.  Or Avatar, for that matter.

Napoleon Bonaparte had dreams.  Most people would have called him idealistic, but he almost succeeded in becoming the emperor of the world. He almost made his dream a reality.  The world was thrown into chaos because of one man.  His dreams, his thoughts, his idealism helped shape the world.

Fairy tales might be the most realistic thing on earth. Why? Because a true fairy tale always has a knight-in-shining-armor, always a damsel in distress, always a dragon or evil witch or king of some sort.  Why is this realistic?  Because Christ is the knight-in-shining armor, the Church is the damsel in distress, and the dragon is the devil.  The consequence of the dragon is the judgement that’s inevitable unless a savior comes to save her from the thing she cannot save herself from.  That is why fairy tales are realistic. And if they are, reality is no longer a stone wall you walk into when you think you’re walking on clouds.

Makes me think of love.  Is love idealistic? Yes, because it ought to be.  Idealistic because true love is perfect.  The love on this earth that is exchanged between people is warped and shadowed by sin.  Yet, in marriage vows you will hear the phrase: “Love her as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  Perhaps our view on love is a bit irrational.  Love itself is not a fraud; it is the idea that depraved humans came up with and accompany love with that is a fraud.   If you read Ezekiel 16 you will see that love is not about obsessing over someone, or even saying: “I love you.”  It’s a sacrifice.  It’s a sacrifice of life, on the part of a perfect person, for a person who’s wronged again and again.  Love is a covenant.  And a covenant is more holy and sacred and beautiful than any kiss in the moonlight.

Lots of rabbit trails here.  Where were we?

If J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were such great thinkers, then why did they write fantasie?  If G.K. Chesterton was such a great writer and thinker, why did he uphold fairy tales?  Because fantasie reflects the world we live in today.  There might not be a Jabberwocky, but there is a president Obama. (Okay, sorry.)  You might not find someone by the name of Sauron here but you will find someone very, very similar.  That great Being who created middle-earth and spun melodies out of the stars, Iluvatar, might not be found by that name here, but you will find Him, certainly, if you search for him.

Idealism is not something to be scorned.  It is something to be admired.  The pursuit of perfection exists, though perhaps that pursuit ends in heaven, when we are fully sanctified.  Reality is beautiful, and idealism is beautiful.  But you cannot have one without the other in order for them to be beautiful. Idealism, as we understand it, becomes foppish and empty.  Realism, the logician’s world, without idealism, because hard and empty.  There must be a perfect blend.

To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. – Orthodoxy, chapter II.

Belief must come without explanation.  If Christianity could be understood, there would be no reason to believe.  The whole point of belief is that you must put your faith in something you are absolutely certain of, but that is not fully explained.  Because Christianity isn’t.  There is a degree of mystery, a depth of understanding that is beyond our human comprehension.  If I understood that, they would have to add a fourth person to the Trinity.

That is why it is a hundred times easier for a child—who still maintains the child-like imagination and simple faith— to believe that God created the earth out of nothing than for the scientist.  Yet how beautiful it is when the scientist, logician, and mathematician all lay aside their stuff about laws and impossibilities and believe with the same child-like faith this truth.

So why do I like Alice in Wonderland? Book and movie? Because the idea of something different – of oversized mushrooms and flowers with faces, of smoking caterpillars and mad March hares and a mad hatter – appeals to me.

Even in the physical appearance of the story, the colors and shapes provide such an artistic picture that’s different from things you see in this earth.  It astonishes me, yet it’s not surprising.  I love it, and who can say it’s impossible? I saw it – just the other night.  And I’ve read about it numerous times.  I can’t really get in my car and go there, but I can draw up mental images.  In my thought world I have already made friends with the March Hare (who is one of my favorite characters.) And our relationship is one of the quirkiest, oddest things you’ve ever seen.

I also maintain that dead people are the most interesting ones to talk to.  I would also say that while people alive on this earth are walking around and doing things, dead people understand everything and have a greater level of brilliance because they are dead.  I am jealous of them, because they have seen, as soon as they are dead, the whole value of living.  They know where they are right, and where they are wrong.

I wonder – would Chesterton, now that he is dead, still hold to everything he said in Orthodoxy?  Would Lewis wish The Chronicles of Narnia unpublished?  Would J.R.R. Tolkien still think about Lord of the Rings as though that world actually existed in some form?  Well, I would hope that they would, because I think that they’re absolutely right.