And then there’s that other thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarity

One by one, the sharers in this mortal damage have born its burden out of the present world…At times perhaps I could wish them merely oblivious, and the whole groaning and travailing world at rest in their oblivion. But how can I deny that in my belief they are risen?

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 are so changed into what they could not have been but what, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.

That light can come into this world only as love, and love can enter only by suffering. Not enough light has ever reached us here among the shadows, and yet I think it has never been entirely absent.

Remembering, I suppose, the best days of my childhood, I used to think I wanted most of all to be happy–by which I meant to be here and to be undistracted. If I were here and undistracted, I thought, I would be home.

But now I have been here a fair amount of time, and slowly I have learned that my true home is not just this place but is also that company of immortals with whom I have lived here day by day. I live in their love, and I know something of the cost. Sometimes in the darkness of my own shadow I know that I could not see at all were it not for this old injury of love and grief, this little flickering lamp that I have watched beside for all these years.

– Wendell Berry, A World Lost

Rambling Woman

For one thing, I’m a terribly practical person when you get down to it.  I don’t say “totes” or “adorbs” or “fave” or “legit”.  I’m not sure how often I use the word totally.  When this faithful MacBook hits rock bottom and decides it will no longer serve me, it will be my last computer for a long time. I’ll get a type-writer instead, to write my books on.  I like the ideas of the old world—not just something you think about, but something you live.  I want to live that way.

I’m not caught up in politics or what’s going to happen with the war.  In some ways I’m irresponsible.

But I am quiet in my soul, and the quiet radiates out of me and into my life, and I desire to live simply, as much in the physical company of those near to me as possible, and not so much over superficial places on the internet.

I have a mind to do something purposeful. Not just part-time-jobbing my twenties away, but really doing something that means something to me.  I don’t believe that the earth was made to give to us.  I believe that whatever it gives counts as blessings from God, for the righteous and the unrighteous.  I believe that we were put on this earth to tend it.

Yes, I like to mess around with style and fashion.  It’s enjoyable to pick out a crazy outfit and go somewhere.  But lately it’s felt like more of a strain.  It’s so difficult each morning to decide what to wear, and to know it has to be nice and different.  And then you see all these girls, and they’re all wearing the same type of thing—”what’s in” I guess you call it.  Lately I’ve simply been wearing whatever comes into my hands first.  My priorities are to be clean and presentable, and whatever clothes me should flow with that general idea.

But where I am most at home is outdoors, and above all, with animals.  I like the fresh, cutting smell of pine and wet wood in the fall.  I love the serenity of the woods and the fields under quiet snow.  I like the warmth of a horse’s breath on your cold hand in the early morning, when he’s stamping for his food. I like taking care of things, things that are living, things that are dependent on you for their well-being.

I’m just about ten days from my nineteenth birthday.  The years seem to be going fast.  I’m young and a vigorous blood flows in my veins.  I am ready now to perform these things, to start living out and following a God-given dream I believe I was meant to realize.  To start establishing myself, not independently, but purposefully, as fits a young woman.

In these Wendell Berry books, young people decide that they love each other and they get married and settle down to live life.  They don’t go through this whole ordeal of trying to decide whether or not the girl or boy in question is ready for marriage.  They go ahead and do it, live life, learn from their mistakes.  Now it seems like there are so many inhibitions to marriage.  So much doubt about whether or not “he/she’s the right one! what if he/she isn’t?” And it doesn’t have to be that complicated, because honestly it’s never something that can be answered with logic.  But my point is that our lives nowadays complicate so much, even marriage.  College, career, lifestyles, etc.  So much divides us nowadays.

In those books and in those times women weren’t defined as writers or lawyers or artists or musicians.  They were measured and judged by their character qualities—by their sweetness, obedience, honesty, contentment.  They were admired, and while their husbands worked in the fields and with the animals they cooked and cleaned, fed the chickens and milked the cows, took care of the children, prepared the food for winter, canned, pickled.  She may have had artistic qualities—for instance she may have been a writer.  But her goal as a writer was not publicity.  She would write for herself, and for those around her.  She wasn’t always alone in her work, and neither were the men in their work.  There were always people who stopped by to talk, always people who stopped by to help out.  Even work was a type of community, for both women and men.

The point is this.  I want to be that kind of a woman.  I am strong in both mind and spirit and body, and I know I am capable.  I want to be admired for those qualities, and I want to be known as capable of cooking and cleaning, of being responsible, of being hard-working.

“She had come into her beauty.  This was not the beauty of her youth and freshness, of which she had had a plenty.  The beauty that I am speaking of now was that of a woman who has come into knowledge and into strength and who, knowing her hardships, trusts her strength and goes about her work even with a kind of happiness, serene somehow, and secure.  It was that beauty she would always have.  Her eyes had not changed.  They still seemed to exert a power, as if whatever she looked at was brightened.” (Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry)

God created the woman as a capable help-meet to Adam.  He created her a marvelous thing, as marvelous as man, but in a different way.  How can we expect to be the same?  He created her a beautiful thing, strong and intelligent and above all, with purpose.  We are not as strong as men, but we have our strength.  Our arms are strong for our tasks.  We are created with strength for what we are purposed to do.

And I think it’s noble.

I am old-fashioned. I don’t understand things about these days, or else I do but I disagree with them.  And I live so much in the old world that coming into the new world is like a jolt, a shock.

I am happy.  I have a purpose, and I want to work with the land.  I know from experience it is a satisfying kind of work.  A hard work, but satisfying.

After all, I’m not entirely a bookworm.  If I’m practical in my speech, I make up for it in imagination.  I get that from books.  And in my imagination and in my entire being a dream is born, and I don’t discard it just because it is a dream.  I take it up carefully, tenderly in my hands.  I grow it and I grow it until it is big and strong and ready to be fulfilled.  It’s not just any foolhardy dream.  There are some dreams you can tell are futile.  But then there are others… you feel it to the core of your being, and you can’t explain how or why, but you are led.  And God gives you grace, and grace feeds it, and God gives you opportunity and means, and then, in the end, you realize it.

I realize it.

RH

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

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.

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.

Who is Like Him?

Blessed be God…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are qualities that will not grow old.

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

There is no one like my God.