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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2011 Favorite Books


Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much reading in 2011 as I hoped to do.  Or rather, I did a lot of reading, but only in the beginnings of books.  Hence, the list I have to put up are only the books that I finished completely.

Reading is a gift.  And when I say that, I don’t mean that it’s a talent.  It is a gift to be able to read the books we have access to.  It’s a gift to have access to them! I was thinking the other day, what if Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) came true? What if books were outlawed and people went around burning your house up if you had one? Would you really have the stamina to memorize the books you love, so that they never cease to be a part of you?  I like to think about this a lot.  A poem is much easier to memorize because you can quite easily follow the themes of the writer, the different patterns (especially in rhyming poems.) But books? If I were to memorize my favorite book? It would take five years to complete The Idiot (Fydor Dostoevsky).  So then I look on all those shelves of books, books holding stories, ideas, philosophies, saving grace, wars, policies, catharsis all in their strong straight arms, and I think: “This is all a gift.”  Please, appreciate this gift while you can.  Read books, but read the good books.  And I don’t mean the ones whose ideas agree with yours, or the ones that only have things you like in them.  I mean books that are well written.  Books that consciously present paradoxes, relevant in our cultures or past cultures, that are worthy of notice.  Books that tell the heart of the author.

I’m done talking about reading.  Here’s my top… well, I’m not sure how many there are yet, but my top favorite books from 2011.

Can You Forgive Her?

Save all the depressing elements of Anthony Trollope’s plots (especially He Knew He Was Right and The way We Live Now) I actually rather enjoyed this dusty, dry novel.  Can You Forgive Her? explores the mental confusion that can come from never really deciding on one thing or another (in this case, for the heroine Alice, a husband.)  In the midst of her going back and forth, telling one man yes and another no and then switching soon after, people are always trying to influence, are looking down on her, and controlling her.  The title was a bit deceiving.  I really thought it was going to be some Gothic novel like Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) and the main character (a woman) runs around melodramatically ruining everybody else’s lives. But it wasn’t like that at all.  It deals much more with mental strain and confusion than anything else.  All in all, it was a pretty satisfying read.  I knew I had to schedule myself in order to get through it, so I forced myself to read two chapters every day and I finished it in a month and a half. (That schedule didn’t work with Don Quixote, but I would recommend something like it if you’re having trouble getting through a 19th century novel.)

 

Mere Christianity

Ah, C.S. Lewis.  I do love you.  Not much to say here about this book except that I love reading apologetic type things, especially from 20th century thinkers.  C.S. Lewis fascinates me.  Although I disagreed with some of the theological principles in Mere Christianity (only slightly disagreed) I would say that it remains, to me, one of the clearest cut pictures of the doctrine of Christianity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narcissus and Goldmund 

Please welcome Narcissus and Goldmund to the front.  By far, this was one of my favorite books this year.  I really liked this book simply for its comparison on the spiritual passions versus the physical passions, and what it meant for Narcissus (the more cynical, stern, ascetic man) and Goldmund (the beautiful, passionate, wandering man).

Besides being an excellent writer, Hermann Hesse is a great thinker.  I appreciate literature written by deep thinkers because I think they combine so much of their own personal mental thought process and struggle in their books. (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky… Hesse.)  It makes it so much more interesting to read a book when you know it’s written with the mind and soul of the author all through it’s pages.

 

 

Hannah Coulter 

Wendell Berry is an excellent writer.  He’s real. When you read him, you feel like he’s tangible, like he’s been sitting next to you the entire time, telling you the whole story. (Except for maybe Remembering, which had some different writing techniques that made it seem a bit abstract.)  Hannah Coulter tells her whole story in the first chapter.  You know everything.  Who dies, who lives.  But you keep reading on because there’s something so beautiful about the way she thinks, about the way she remembers things.  And you know, you just know, that there has to be something she hasn’t told.  Some little secret, something that redeems all her troubles.  It’s a story rich in real, genuine love, between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, etc.  Wendell Berry loves the idea of unity.  He writes about it everywhere.  Keeping the family together.  Being close knit even when the birds grow up and leave the nest.   If you enjoy his fiction, read his poetry.

 

Cyrano de Bergerac 

Well, I rather liked his nose.

I forced myself to read Cyrano de Bergerac in a moment when I thought I wasn’t appreciating tragic writing very much.  (Well, after all, I was studying Bolshevism, and Marxism, reading Mein Kampf and Macbeth at the time…) But Cyrano de Bergerac is a wonderful story.  I yelled at Roxanne quite a bit.  She annoyed me with her sentimentality. Yet, Cyrano was deceptive.  Even though he wrote letters to her in Christian’s name, it probably gave him some self-satisfaction.  And Christian.  If you love the woman, say so, and woo her for yourself. And if she can’t see beyond your inability to make up poetic lines, then maybe she isn’t worth it after all.  (How quickly she loved Cyrano at the end when she discovered it was him all along!) Roxanne was only in love with words, not an actual person.

And after that little rant, here we are.  I love plays. This year I read about ten or twelve plays.  It was a very interesting experience.

Much Ado About Nothing

Oh, if you ever wanted me to recite something all day long over and over again it would be this play.  Shakespeare was a genius.  In this particular play he presents the comparison of courtships, the comparison of deception and honesty, and so many other things.  It’s important to note about the title, that in Shakespeare’s day, the word “nothing” would have been “noting,” which meant eavesdropping.  Also, nothing, in its literal sense, refers to that which does not happen, but which might.  In other words, you have a circle and inside of it are all the things that did, do, or will happen.  But outside that circle are all the possibilities of what might have happened, in other words, Nothing.  Both possibilities are relevant to the play. My favorite line from this play?

“Shall these quips and sentences and paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor? No! The world must be peopled! When I said that I should die a bachelor, I did not think that I should live to be married.” – Benedick

 

A Room With  A View

This was such a delightful novel.  I read somewhere else that it has to do with the enchantment of Italy and how it can affect even the most sensible of people.  I think it’s very true. But I haven’t been to Italy so I would exactly know.  I think there are several odd things in this novel, but none the less, it’s wonderfully written and for once things really do end up right in the end.  E.M. Forester has such quirky characters. (These things I’m writing really aren’t intended to be in depth reviews… I’m just observing.)

 

 

 

The Great Gatsby 

I have nothing to say to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I admire him too much.

Things do not “end up right” in this book.  That’s no secret. I can’t imagine, though, a book plainer or truer to the drama of life than this.  And yet, you wouldn’t even say that the style is dramatic.  But it is.  In the midst of a fight between a husband and his wife who’s trying to leave him for another man (this is a big fight…) the narrator suddenly says: “I’ve just remembered it’s my birthday. I’m thirty.” And it’s funny, because I don’t find that strange.  I would probably say something like that too, if there was a fight like that going on.  But writers these days don’t think to make their characters go off on these weird trains of thought, and then, without relating what the train of thought is, have them say something they ended up at, just out of the blue. Somehow, it all makes sense.

 

 

Screwtape Letters

Oh, C.S. Lewis again.  I would read this book a hundred times over and again.  I’ve never seen the spiritual battle depicted so neatly and truthfully.  I knew it was true because I had experienced some of the exact things described in here.  Everyone should read it.  Twice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it.  Can you believe it?  Once I get one book up there, I remember all the other books I’ve read.  I want to bring them all up, and talk about them all.  But I can’t.  These are just nine books from 2011 I thoroughly enjoyed.  Next post I’ll give my 2012 to read list.

What I See

When people first read my blog, I wonder if they consider me a sentimentalist.  If so, just bear with me through this post.

My family is caught up in a whirlwind.  My father has been accepted for the position of a worship leader and music director at an EPC church in Pittsburgh, and we are trying to pack up and move.  At the same time, things are rapidly changing and progressing in my own life, which keeps me very busy with many projects.

But I wanted to talk a little about moving—oh, here comes the nostalgia and the weeping and tearing of hair and ripping of garments and the pouring of ash over the head, right?  Well the title of this post can be a bit deceiving.  It’s not what I do see, but what I don’t see.  And what I don’t see are my books.  They’re packed away snugly in square boxes. The old ones whose color rubs off are wrapped in paper towels because we don’t get the newspaper. But I can’t see them.  I packed them up, and I feel all empty and withered, and I half-expect when I reach out my hand to find all the bones well defined because they are skinny and wrinkly. That’s what happens when you have to say goodbye to your friends.  You get old and withered up. I won’t see them for more than two months, and I am used to seeing them every day, to having them at my beck and call.

Other relaxations are peculiar to certain times, places and stages of life, but the study of letters [books] is the nourishment of our youth, and the joy of our old age. They throw an additional splendor on prosperity, and are the resource and consolation of adversity; they delight at home, and are no embarrassment abroad; in short, they are company to us at night, our fellow travelers on a journey, and attendants in our rural recesses. – Cicero

If I have a little money, I buy books.  If there’s any left over, I buy food and clothing. – Erasmus

I am sad about packing my books away.  I feel a little frantic, and it’s funny, because the more books I pack, the more I buy to try and replace them.  But I always find myself thinking—where’s that one book?  Just when I think I’m ready to read Ernest Hemingway, I remember that, well, I can’t.   I am dull when I pack away my books.  And what does that show me about myself? That I am too dependent on them, perhaps?  Indeed. Apart from Christ, books are what define my personality, and help give me scope for who I am.  But then—isn’t that what they’re for?  Aren’t books are choicest companions, apart from actual human beings?  Aren’t the stories the things that inspire us, that spur us on, that strengthen our inner being? For me, yes. It’s taken awhile to realize that sometimes it’s good to pack away your books because then you don’t end up taking them for granted.  I have kept out a few treasures.  I’m leaving for Scotland tomorrow, and who goes anywhere without books? You didn’t think I packed them all, did you?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers
Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern
The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill

And, of course, my Bible—if I can find it.

I have revolutionized my way of thinking, a little.  I used to have an aversion to change.  I used to sing with Keane “So little time Try to understand that I’m Trying to make a move just to stay in the game I try to stay awake and remember my name But everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same.”  But I am a bit done with that kind of thing.  I have decided to live each day by itself—to seize the day.  To find the truth of each day, to get to the root of it.  Digging in the dirt of life can be a pleasure to the gardener, who enjoys the warm earthiness on his hands—to others, a bore and a gross task.  My books are packed away, and the empty shelves point to the small pile left and seem to imply that these are what I have now.  This is what I can read.  This is what I have to enjoy—so, enjoy it.

A Young Thinker

This young man’s name is Luther Whitfield Closson Hopkins. Now, with a name like that, you can’t help but be some sort of thinker, or at least a person with very special and intelligent thoughts.  Luther is a quiet sort, but sometimes he likes to ramble.  He can tell you all the habits of all the different kinds of lizards, and he’ll tell you exactly what sorts of things they like as if he had a conversation with them.  Today we were out in some woods, and we were reptile hunting together.  I remember exactly where he said something that made my heart ache it was so beautiful.  All his own words too.  We had passed by a space where long grass was growing in front of a forest of dead, mysterious looking pine trees.  We had been commenting on how bright the grass was, and how mysterious the forest looked.  All of a sudden, this came out of his mouth.

There are sometimes when you feel hot, and you want water, but you want to wait til you’re even hotter, so the water will taste even colder. And you lay there, waiting, and then the cicadas start singing, and you feel like you’re going to die.”

Whoa.  “And you lay there, waiting, and then the cicadas start singing and you feel like you’re going to die.” That struck me as being beautiful. I asked him, later on, if he felt like he had lived a really long time.  He answered no, not really, but when he thinks of a hotel we went to a long time ago with our cousins, and he stepped in the hot tub and the water went over his head, and when he got set on the refrigerator to watch everybody, well, when he remembered that he felt like it was a long time ago, and it made him feel old.  Luther and his whole nine years. He has the ability to draw up a wonderful image, and make you feel that you are living something so simple and beautiful that it aches.  Perhaps it was his attitude.  He had no idea what he was saying. It came naturally to him, as naturally as breathing, and he didn’t know that he was creating something so beautiful to me that I couldn’t answer him right away at times.  I wish I could write it all down, I wish I could remember everything he said.

I love this about Luther: his deep, thoughtful mind. the questions that he asks, his understanding and his simplicity.  All of my siblings have this element about them, but Luther has seemed a bit scholarly since the time he was born.  When he was a toddler he would put on glasses and pretend to read “The Tale of Jeremy Fisher” but he couldn’t read…. instead he was reciting it from memory.

I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this young man.

Reaction… And Dreams

“O, what good is it to live

With nothing left to give

Forget but not forgive

Not loving all you see?

O, the streets you’re walking on

A thousand houses long

Well that’s where I belong

And you belong with me

Not swallowed in the sea.”

~ Swallowed in the Sea by Coldplay

There are some songs, like this one, that just hit a spot in you.  I can’t explain why they do this, but they slap you in the face, and they make you think: “There’s a lot of people in this world who have less and have lost more than I have. What can I give to them?” Because even if you run out of physical, tangible things to give away, there are always gifts in your mind and your heart, if you have taken care to become that kind of a person.  And you realize soon that nothing is about you, that there is a tie you have to other human beings, an inborn ability to help them, to become their brother and sister, so that if we had a correct picture, you would see the whole of humanity stumbling up a mountain, and every person would be holding someone else’s hand, or pausing to bind up each other’s feet. Idealistically.

But I have to interrupt my own thought, and I have to put it to rest, and realize that before we can paint that picture, we must have the model.  Unlike a mirror, which falsifies its object by showing the exact opposite of what it sees and makes you believe it’s not, the artist would paint exactly what he saw, exactly what was there, with no pretending on the part of the subjects. The problem with dreamers is that we tend to dream of the results instead of how we get to them.

Because we are not naturally good.  When I see a person who looks absolutely perfect, I remind myself: “Well, I bet they pulled their sister’s hair and scratched their brother when they were two.  Those sinners!” And then I laugh.  And then I blush, maybe, because I realized that I did that, and then I want to go hide so no one can see me because I think that they can see all my memories of all the horrible things I’ve done. But a line from a Muse song comes to mind: “I choose to hide from the All-Seeing Eye.” And I shrug my shoulders, thank God for his mercy and forgiveness, and trudge on.

I think the greatest lie in humanity is the lie that people tell themselves when they say: “I am alone.” And the lie that says you were meant to be alone.  If only we were not deaf, we could hear each other’s voices, we could hear the birds, the wind, and we would realize that there is something out there, and then we would reach out our hands and still not feel anything, except a sense of fullness and satisfaction.  For when you open your heart, you open it to a great danger, and that danger is that something might enter it, and when something enters it, everything you know, your whole life, all your plans, become the bits and pieces of a smashed monument: for when your heart is open, you no longer have the heart to live for yourself.

Songs like this make me want to create.  They make me want to capture a quiet moment, a meaningful moment, and show it to the whole world.  They make me want to catch images in my mind, and plaster them to the walls of my mind so that the force of their meaning will always be with me, staring me in the face wherever I go, and I will remember most of all that picture of humanity climbing the hill.

Love Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Fifty-Six Stories

THIS EVENT STARTS ON MONDAY, 21st MARCH, 2011

Kent Nelson took only two English courses as an undergraduate at Yale University, where he was majoring in political science, but one of these was crucial to his eventual decision to make a career out of writing. In a class called “Daily Themes,” the students had to write 300-word stories every day for eight weeks, and it was this process, he noted in a 1992 interview, that taught him some crucial things about writing: “It gradually dawned on me that to write fiction you had to know everything. You had to listen to the way people talked, you had to observe how they acted, you had to study the environment. That was a powerful revelation to me. Twenty-four hours, a day you’re paying attention to everything you can pay attention to with the intention of learning from it. You have to train yourself.” – Literature and the Environment, a Reader on Nature and Culture by Lorraine Anderson, Scott Slovic, and John P. O’Grady

I have challenged myself to this, and now I am resolved to do it.  Some of these little stories I write may be horrible, some might be good.  The point is not whether they are good, but whether this process is teaching me anything.  Of course I hope I shall be able to do it well, but the main thing is discipline, that’s what it is.  It’s training myself to be steady, to take everything I notice and turn it into a story.  Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, Arthur Ransome, and countless others took in the food of their natural surroundings, the places they loved, and turned them into stories.

Another thing is important.  I must not write about things I know nothing of, or things I am not interested in.  I must not write merely to meet my challenge.  I must force myself to imagine, train myself to notice, discipline myself to love what should be loved.  That is what is at the root of this whole practice.

Fifty-Six Stories, one 300-word story every day for eight weeks.

Of course all writers should do this.  But I would also encourage non-writers to do this too.  Take time out of your day.  An hour, maybe, in the morning or in the evening, it doesn’t matter.  Think quietly for a few moments, and then take up your pen.  Make your plot minuscule, but your moral broad.

It does matter whether you are young or old, single or married, a student or a working person; this can apply to anyone.  It is three hundred words.  Some of you might have trouble.  Some of you might not.  The words might be stuck in your brain, or they might flow easily from your mind through your fingers, like a clear stroke of paint.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what your capabilities are.  You can train yourself.

I have a friend who challenged me to write 1,000 words a day for my novel.  When I complained to her she said: “Well, let’s do a detox.  What are you having trouble with?”  She made me dig down to the root of the issue, which was that I didn’t feel like writing, and the inspiration was dead.  But she told me to go on, and I did.

You must pursue it.  If you lie on your couch all day with a pen waiting for it to come, you will probably never get anything written.  Life must be studied in order for writing to be pursued, and both these things require thinking.

Remember that Kent Nelson did not begin as a writer, but he became one through practice and determination.

Click on the following link to read my eight weeks of stories.  Fifty-Six Stories

Words of a Hibernator

Usually I do wake up to my alarm and get up right away.

But this morning I didn’t.  It was such a wintery morning.  The cold wind was blowing, the hard rain was tapping at the windows.  And I was lying encompassed by my warm, cozy bed.  So cozy.  I thought of telling mother that I was going into hibernation for the winter – after all, it is November.  I thought of saying goodbye on here, and going to sleep till Spring, wrapped in my coziness.

It made me think of G.K. Chesterton.  But then, everything makes me think of him.

“Life would be an altogether supreme experience if only one had a colored pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling with.”

Well, there I am a step ahead of Chesterton, for I sleep in my writer’s garret, and the ceiling is less than twelve inches from my head.

And yes, once as I was doing a very deep back bend, I came up abruptly and slammed my face into said ceiling.

But that’s not what I was going to blog about.  I was lying in bed, singing songs to myself, thinking about hibernation.  I am going into hibernation – in a way.  I will venture out for my daily walk in the cold, I might go to the store.  But for the most part you will find me curled up on the couch reading a good book.

Because that’s what winter’s for.  I really sincerely wish not to get wrapped up in school.  Or if I do, to let school become my friend rather than the enemy I must overcome.  I adore winter, because now I realize what it’s for: it’s for building snowmen, it’s for the privilege of hot chocolate, it’s for being gathered around the fire, laughing, telling stories, reading stories… being together.  Winter is for hibernation.  So what books are you going to read this winter?

Here’s mine (so far):

Mein Kampf – Adolf Hitler (nice little fireside read, don’t you think?)

A History of the Twentieth Century – Martin Gilbert

The Napoleon of Notting Hill – G.K. Chesterton

Bel Canto – Ann Patchett

Seven Men Who Rule The World From The Grave – David Breese

Amusing Ourselves To Death – Neil Postman

The Great Gatsby – Scott Fitzgerald

Middlemarch – George Eliot

How Should We Then Live? – Francis Schaeffer

 

Do you have any suggestions of good books that could be read during the winter?  I love suggestions – and usually follow through with them. :)  What do your lists look like – or what are things that you want to accomplish in the cold, white months ahead?