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.

Morsels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Is God Bored?

Well? Haven’t you ever wondered?

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

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

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

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

I think that’s enough.

The End!

Just kidding.

To continue…

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

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

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

I don’t think he did that.

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

Q. What are God’s works of providence?

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

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

Earlier in the book, he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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