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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On Sunday The Church Bells Are Ringing

It is a lovely, cool morning with an empty sky and a bright sun, and the church bells are ringing every hour or half hour or even every fifteen minutes.  I haven’t counted yet.  I slept for a long time last night, and in my subconsciousness was thinking of verb conjugations for my Italian homework.  So much knowledge has been crammed into my brain this last week I have little time to think about anything else.  I’m still trying to sort it all out, and when I woke up this morning to the beautiful sun, I had a sense of peace and calm.

Last night at 8pm I finally stopped studying to go find myself dinner.  Claudia and the family are gone for the week, and I ran out of food last night.  I walked around various places, almost stepped into one or two restaurants, but decided against them.  Finally, not being able to ignore my hunger, I picked a restaurant that had the Tuscan soup which I love (and have forgotten the name of.)  The soup is made with bread, beans, and vegetables.  It was the only thing I ordered (besides some house wine), which the waitress seemed to think was strange.  But what was even stranger for her was when I ordered fresh bread after I was finished with my soup. “Solo pane? solo pane?” she kept saying, looking at me. “Si, si—solo pane!” I said, making some weird gesture with my arm to give her the idea that I knew it was weird to order only bread.

When no one was looking, I crammed a few pieces of bread into my purse.

I felt like some sort of character from a Dickens novel, spending the last of his money on a meal, and saving some of the food—stuffing it away—so no one would know how desperate he was.  Of course, I wasn’t desperate, I just knew that the bread would come in handy for today when I would take myself out for a picnic to the gardens, and I could make a sandwich with the bread I took.

I paid the bill and went to sit in the Piazza, perfectly alone and perfectly content to be alone watching all these interesting people, listening to the only sound there was to listen to: the blended hum of people talking, with an occasional screech from a child or cheering of a crowd.  I walked home in the dark and tried to concentrate on more Italian, but my eyes were heavy and I went to bed, leaving it all for today.

And when today came, I had breakfast with a Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger placemat, my typical cocoa with orzo in warm milk, and some kind of biscuit.  I sat quietly eating, while listening to a refreshing sermon that I heard once a long time ago.  When it was over, I kept wishing it hadn’t ended.  Now the rest of the Italian waits for me, and I’m about to go in, resolutely, to butcher conjugations.  I have half an idea my teacher will be horrified with me tomorrow, but if she is we’ll have to have some one on one time.

Today I’m going to try to find the botanical gardens.  I am ready for some rest—not the rest of sleeping, but the willed kind of a rest.  The kind of rest you experience when you say: “I’m not going to let this or that worry me.”  I am ready to walk out of this apartment, into the old stone street shaded by the city wall, up the hills, and into beauty.  I am ready to experience beauty, to become one with it and reconciled with it, because it is peace and comfort to know that Christ is beauty and everything lives and breathes in him, and I can hear him when the wind blows and I can hear him in the light of the sun and the birds when they sing.  So I go out to be at rest.

After my verb conjugations are complete.

To Observe, Or Not

The walk from the car to the library seemed to take an eternity, and I felt Bedshaped, yes, just like the Keane song. My legs felt like I was dragging stone, and I kept coughing and coughing.  I felt like I was going to have a heart-attack when I was talking to the librarian, holding in the coughs that wanted to explode in my throat.

“What’s the name of the author?”

“Rosemary Sutcliff.”

Silence for the longest time, and I hemmed and tried to breathe as calmly as I could.  After eternity, she found the author, turned the screen to me to show me the only book they had.

It was fine.  As long as it was one I hadn’t read before, and it was.  I thanked her.  She got up and found it for me, and all I wanted to do was cough inconspicuously—impossible.  The librarian handed me “The Shining Company” and as it came into my hands I felt a sense of completion.  It’s the kind of feeling a reader gets when a book comes into her hands and she knows, immediately, that it will be worth the time she invests in it.

“Thank you,” I said, and the lady moved out of the way.  I snuck a quick little cough into my sleeve to tide me over till I could get outside.  Then I went straight to the Fiction section.

B…. B…. B…. B…. Why was the B section so long?  Why were there so many books by Steven Berry?  Then I skipped too far, had to trace with my fingers and my head flung back to see where Steven Berry ended and Wendell Berry began.  Only one book—but as long as it was one I hadn’t read.

I pulled Jayber Crow off the shelf and into my hands, and I held it there.  It didn’t matter that I was in a library, that these books were stamped by the libraries claiming possession—they were mine, they were for me only to discover in what would remain of the time between when they were unread and read.  I would give back the books, but they would still be mine.

We checked out of the library and by the side of the van I keeled over with my hands on my knees and coughed for a really long time.  Feeling much better, I drove home, and spent the rest of the day on the couch in the company of Rosemary Sutcliff and her magic of the 7th century.  She makes the men of history slow down, downsize, and think and feel like human beings, but she talks—oh, she talks like one of them, like people not from this time and place.  The next day I finished the book, and started Wendell Berry.  I leave in so little time, and am constantly aware that what I read in the next four months will most likely be assigned to me.  I have this great desire to read so much of what I love before I go so that it will still be with me in the months ahead.

Jayber Crow is the kind of book you settle into reading.  Not a long kind of settling, like War and Peace.  The kind of settling where you think, “I am going to enjoy this—a story—beautiful writing and thoughts.” And then you really do.  The story seems so simple, but it’s really a story crammed with a thousand stories, and I dare believe that most of them really happened, or at least were inspired by similar stories.  Wendell Berry tells the tale of Jayber Crow, who in the first chapter of the book takes note of all the people on the street of Port William that he, as a barber, sees and interacts with on a regular basis.  And I could almost picture Wendell Berry standing there in the shade of the barber’s shop, just watching, calling out hello to a friend, laughing at something funny.  He probably heard stories as a kid, probably saw crazy things happen on the main street and in the fields and the farms.  He is himself an old box bursting with every kind of story, with almost eighty years worth of living and a hundred stories for every day he lived. I know because I’m a writer.  You begin to write the moment something happens, the moment you hear a story and tuck it away in the corner of your mind.  The power of observation.

I had my eyes examined today.  Before the retina exam, the drops fresh in my eyes,  I kept blinking and opening them wide to try and see, and move the film I felt over my eyeballs.  I couldn’t see anything clearly.  While I was picking out my glasses I kept saying: “Oh, I like this pair! Isn’t this pair cute? Wait, I can’t see them actually… What’s that on the side? Excuse me, ma’am, could you tell me what that thing is on the side? Oh—a circle with a sparkly thing? Okay, thank you!” And it went on like that for fifteen minutes.  I kept getting up close to peer at something, only to discover that that was worse.  Then I would make my brother walk off about six feet with it and see if I could see it from there.  I suppose it was all rather funny, and it felt odd.  I just wanted to get home so I could read more Jayber Crow—more about the people of Port William.

“Your pupils look like Alex’s [our cat] after he’s come out of a dark closet,” from my ten year old brother Luther. I didn’t think of it at the time but I thought of it later, that Luther must have had to watch Alex’s eyes very closely to notice how his pupils changed.  I could just imagine him shutting the cat back into the closet, taking him out, shutting him in, taking him out, testing every time to make sure that the pupils really did get bigger than usually when he was in the closet.

“They really do look like Alex’s!” and, even later, I caught him peering up at me while I was slicing watermelon—trying to, anyways, considering I couldn’t see very well—and he said, “I like your pupils big.”

It never occurred to me how much I observed things until my vision was so blurred by the drops for the eye exam.  She had told me it would wear off in 2-6 hours, and it seemed like an eternity (again).  I stood in front of the sink, watermelon juice streaming down my chin, hands, and wrists, staring out the window at what I could see.  That wasn’t so bad.  But when I tried to look at the seeds of the watermelon? Blurry.  And I couldn’t imagine struggling so hard all the time with seeing clearly when the time came to observe. But it made me realize something very important.

As important as observation is, we can be too conscious of it, too aware of it.  We might observe something too closely, and then it will lose its originality and beauty.  We will miss the bigger picture.  And if we are too conscious of it, it will not present itself in the right light.  As a writer, if I am so concerned with a certain story—for the use of getting it into a novel or a poem—then I am cut off from all the people who are taking part in the story, whether it be my siblings or my friends.  It’s part of living.  We can’t always be just the observer.  It is when we listen and hearken to the stories told anywhere, when we respond with sorrow or laughter or disapproval that we can write about them because they have become real stories to us—real in the sense that they have meant something to us other than good meat for our books.

No. Don’t observe too carefully, or you will miss the entire picture.  At the same time, don’t be proud and think it all comes from the imagination, don’t think that it’s already known.  It’s all there, to be observed.  That is, the grass and the mountains and the blue-jay’s song in the dead of winter, when his streak of blue on the pine branch causes you to look up and wonder: “What was that?”  And the things your mother used to say to your father that you would laugh at, when your grandmother tells you what happened at her mother-in-law’s deathbed, and the pranks your siblings played on each other, the places you loved or the places she loved, smells that remind you of another time and place.

Perhaps there wasn’t much point to this post.  I am still young and enjoy the creative rant when I get a chance!

-RH

All For Good

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

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

Here are just a few practical excerpts from the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introspection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Eucharist: Feasting

I love being in the kitchen, knitting molecules of food together, feeling the sense of wholeness that it brings to me to prepare a full feast with someone I love, my sister, and laughing and consulting and feeling everything become whole and warm inside.  Everything is transfused—the chicken broth seeps into every unseen crevice of the carrot, and what was sweet becomes unbearably savoury.  That’s what we do.  We mix and match, throw a little of this in, a little more of that, and every scent and smell and texture that is different in every way fuses together and changes completely.  A chemical change.  We create a feast.  We use every dish in the house, even though none of them match.   Every dish is laid out, all the varieties of colors, everything we’ve made from scratch (and perhaps one or two things not made from scratch).  And we thank God for the feast, the fellowship.  We eat.  Breaking the molecules apart, and suddenly I feel broken, especially the next day when it’s all over.

But then I have heard since my earliest days a story floating around like the whisper of something great that’s going to happen.  It has passed from the lips of Christians in the church, passed with a smile of relief, and an absent-minded look, as if the speaker isn’t entirely there.  A continual feast.  No brokenness, no end.  Everything is whole, all the time.  Feasting on joy, feasting on wholeness that remains whole, feasting on gratitude and love.  This is what was in our food, and yet, these things when they’re on earth, they disappear.  Love disappears so quickly, and is replaced with lust and passion. Gratefulness sinks into criticism.  Joy slowly digresses and is replaced with discontentment.  These things are gifts, and we fail to retain them all the time.

The wind blew cold today, and it blew freshness into my hot soul, and a new kind of life into my lungs.  The slap of the waves on the sea as they rush up to wash around my boots, and I leave my hands open and free, seeing how long I can go with them cold, how long before I must tuck them into the warmth of my wool sweater.  The cathedral, every single grave is bathed in a flitting sunlight that flashes here and there, but through the dark clouds above, warms me, and makes even death seem golden.  To the North, the hills are capped in snow.  Winter is coming fast, I sense it in the wind as I sit in its breath writing my gifts.

Can I think of one thousand gifts? Can I even think of one gift?  During Thanksgiving season, all over Facebook, all over blogs, I see people being thankful for one gift every day.  And after Thanksgiving—are we done being grateful? Why is it so important only during this season? I wish we could spend all the time in the kitchen, stealing time to take a walk above the fields and stopping for a moment to write down a thought, a story, but returning to the kitchen, always, making feasts every day, washing the dishes every day, baking again, knitting molecules again, creating wholeness.  I wish we could do it every day, and I wish that every day we could celebrate this Eucharist, even without the food.  Why are we so quick to overlook the opportunities for joy now, here? Why are we so eager to accept brokenness and depression? And finally, what does it mean to live a good life?

I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy. – Anne Frank

I wake up smiling, thinking of gifts now, because I feel like I should.  A good life.  Living a good life.  Being grateful, truly grateful, and living out thankfulness.  That quote up there—I am convicted about it, and feel myself wanting to weep.  That I should be unhappy and ungrateful when I have a life with no misery, while Anne Frank who lived a hunted life filled with horror and blood should be grateful, and happy!

Embrace your life.  Live your thankfulness, not only during November, but every day, all day.  Live slowly, purely, live well.  We always talk about this—about living thankful lives.  But don’t just say: “I’m thankful.” Think of what you’re grateful for.  Think of your gifts—gifts that have been given to you.  Material and immaterial.  Individual things.  On one piece of paper, on a chalk board, or on your heart write one gift—only one.  And then, continue writing.  Write these gifts for the rest of your life, and live the thankfulness you feel for them, and for the One who gave them to you.

In heaven there’s a feast for the saints, a feast that will not end, and there will be no end to our thankfulness.

Lost Wit

This is an article I wrote for an online magazine for young ladies called Verita. I am honoured to be a regular writer for this magazine.  If you have a moment, take a look! Verita is a wonderful website with varied, good, and creative writers. Enjoy!

Wit is a lost word, a word that has no bearing on today’s society.  However, in the time of the Puritans, wit was regarded as a virtue, and if you had it, you would be respected and revered.  In Shakespeare’s play, Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice’s sour and fiery attitude are forgiven because her wit is so clever: “My, but she has a fine wit,” they usually say about her.  Also, in Shakespearian times, there were five wits, parallel to the five senses.  They were imagination, common sense, fantasy, estimation, and memory.  It is rare to find someone nowadays with an abundance of these five wits.  Speech begins with thought (or it should) and the realm of thought includes the five wits. What our society and culture needs first and foremost is a Reformation of Speech, or, like William Wilberforce pursued, the Reformation of Manners, which would include speech.

Not only do we speak carelessly and without thought, but we speak too much. Henry David Thoreau said: “The tragedy in human intercourse begins, not when there is a misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.”  And I recently read in a book something about the “silence that is communion still.” Most assuredly, there is a time to speak, but also a time to keep silent.  Speech should come from a well-informed, or a questioning mind. I would venture to say that the main problem is that we are not pursuing wisdom; we are not wishing to be wise and acting accordingly.  We are more concerned with… well, with nothing.

Do we listen?

Do we think?

Do we ask questions?

If the answer is no, our desire is not to learn, but to gain a certain end.  You see this apparent in education, in the work force, the political systems, etc.  There are levels of achievement.  And everyone is studying their hardest to get to the next level, the higher level.  Think of the information—the history, literature, science, anything you learn—as a human body thrust across a chasm, serving its only purpose as a bridge, and pretend you stomp over that bridge, and perhaps some of Education’s ribs get broken. Education, work, politics, sports, etc. have become machines, and if we are involved in them, they simply transport us to the next level, and leave no lasting idea or impression on us.

So little occurs within us that we have become, let’s be honest, stupid.  We can’t begin to understand Beatrice’s wit, for example, which comes from a well-informed mind, much less speak it fluently.  How do we fix this? We must begin by controlling ourselves.

Think about the meaningless exclamations you utter every day.  Things like: “Crap!” “Darn!” “Shoot!” “Rats!” “Snap!” “Oh my gosh!” “Oh my goodness!” “Wow!” “Holy cow!” “Cool!” “Like, like, like, umm, like…” the list could go on and on.  These things have no importance, they are merely hand-me-down, worn out phrases that we use in place of a genuine expression of how we feel about something.  I am not speaking in ignorance when I say that sometimes they come from a feeling of having to speak. From the beginning of August a friend and I have been trying to refrain from exclaiming, and I realize when I’m refraining that I feel lost for words, and I wondered: “Do I even need to say anything? Maybe a smile will say more than anything.” Perhaps not everyone feels this way, though.

First things first, we need to cut out the exclamations.  They are meaningless and most of the time, insincere, especially with the youth in America.  Then we need to start systematically sorting through our thoughts, and if we have questions, ask them.  And if we have no questions, then listen, and really, truly, think ten times before we speak, but perhaps ten quick times or one slow time so we don’t lose the opportunity if it’s right. Next we need to exercise our imagination, our common sense, our fantasy, our estimation, and our memory.

  • Imagination – Imagination is the ability to draw up an image of something external that is not present to the senses.  Imagination allows us to picture something somebody tells us, without ever actually having seen it.
  • Common sense – Good sense and sound judgement in practical matters.  Pretty basic, isn’t it? But most people allow anger, fear, and other emotions to get in the way of their common sense; we do it more often than we know.
  • Fantasy – The ability to imagine things impossible or improbable.  Close to imagination, but a bit different.  In Cyrano de Bergerac, there is a passage where Cyrano sinks into a reverie about how he might grow soft in the evening, how he might fall in love, what he might see, how everything might seem. His ability to fantasize enables him to draw up images for the audience.
  • Estimation – Being able to value and calculate something, typically a person and their character.  This is truly a lost art.  We get too caught up in impressions, especially first impressions (and I am very guilty of this), to use our common sense and try to judge fairly and soundly.  However, at the same time, we fail to take the little signs of the impressions that may give a clue as to the real character of someone.
  • Memory – The faculty used to remember information. Sure we remember things.  All the unimportant, juicy facts.  What was that about education? It’s only a bridge, that, when crossed, is forgotten? No, education should be stored in the memory, ready for reference, ready for support, ready for ideas and structure of thought.  Memory can quickly draw up something learned long ago, and apply it.
And after that, I see how far our society has really digressed.
J.B. Priestly said, “The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”  Technology is a good example of this.  We use worn out phrases on the internet all the time (e.g. omg, lol, btw, brb, ttyl, np), we say unimportant things so often, that when something important does happen to us, it gets lost in the endless stream of people who are just like us: recording and saying meaningless things that are of no benefit to the people around them.  I have found that letter writing, even as opposed to emails and phone calls, regulates thoughts and ideas because it takes a longer time to write, and your mind has time to work through things.  I find my writing is much more coherent, much cleaner when I write with a pen.  But, truthfully, I don’t do it often enough.
Sometimes I believe we need to shut our eyes, for there is too much to see, and focus on what we have in our heads already.  We have so much information—if only we could shut our eyes, and live by faith, not by sight.  If we were so focused on living righteous and godly lives, I doubt we would have the time to talk and prattle and in doing so be unkind to others.  Say things that, no matter whether or not they’re overheard by anyone, will not hurt anyone. “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato.
Think more, listen more, speak less, and be care-taker of your speech.
Let’s start a reformation, shall we?

‘Sorrow Drips Into Your Heart’

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

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

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

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

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

The Life Worth Living

I wonder sometimes why people don’t think life is worth living.  As a Christian, I see it worth living because of its great end, because of the afterlife.  I see it worth living because I’m fighting for something, and I know in advance that the battle is as good as done.  But that’s me.  And to an extent, I’m wrapped up in my own Christian worldview, and have a difficulty understanding the world views of others when I come into one on one contact with them.  It’s easy enough to define a worldview, or to name a worldview and list all the things that people believe, but people are themselves are much more complex than that.  Sometimes you find them to be a whole mix of things.

The point is, I never expect to hear from people that life isn’t worth living, unless they tell me right up front they’re an Atheist.  In my mind, the question is always “Why isn’t life worth living?” and the answer is: “Because you have nothing to live for, nothing lasting.” It’s nothing personal against Atheists, it would just make much more sense for them to say it than for a Christian.

But now here’s the point.  If you feel that life isn’t worth living, find the life that is.  There is only one, because the life worth living is the one that takes everything away and then gives you something back after the end.  It’s the Life that deprives you even of your clothes and your body, your personal belongings, your family, the people you’ve loved, leaving your bare, shivering soul that is laying its eyes on this Life, and embracing it, and finally living it to the full. O, yes, I am an idealist, and this all sounds very idealistic, because it’s true idealism.  The grimier life gets, the harder it gets, the bloodier, the more painful, that makes this Life more worth living than ever before. It gives you hope, and hope has never been like a beacon, or a light, in my experience.  It has always been a desperate prayer, and faith that the prayer will be answered.  Because in my darkest moments, there is only one way to look, and that is forwards, and forwards has always been black.  There never was any light.  Hope was desperate clinging, but knowledge and faith that there was something to cling to.  We know when we live a nightmare of a life at times, that that life is not lasting, but the Life worth living is what we fight for, and it will come later, and last forever, and never give us the blackness or pain.

The Life worth living has love, and righteous anger, and hope, and faith, and self-sacrifice, and virtue. It is peaceful, and does not seek a quarrel, yet it is a war-filled life, battling against the forces that seek to push it down to the ground.  But it will come out victorious.

But there have been those times, in the physical life, where you may have gotten up early in the morning and walked in your bare feet, and felt the cold dew on the grass sink into your skin.  Or you may have stayed up late, and listened to the humming of nature, or heard that one bird that sang clearly and wouldn’t let your mind rest, its song was so beautiful.  There may have been someone you loved, someone who loved you back who made your work seem light just because of the thought of them.  There may have been a day where it rained and ruined your plans, so you sat with a cup of coffee, and felt the pulsing, trembling life pass around the world. And if you have experienced anything like this at all, hasn’t it made you feel like perhaps there is something, something in this life that has given you grace to be alive and enjoy it all?

Be like Henry David Thoreau, and suck out all the marrow of life.  Find out what it is really is, and live it.  Don’t waste your time.  You’re alive now, and you might as well find out why you are so.

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.