holy saturday

You wouldn’t expect the day between Jesus’ death and resurrection to be sunny and windy, full of spring and allergens and life, but here we are.  Regardless of the weather, this day and its conceptual meanings has always been really important to me, capturing imagination and emotional interest.

This time last year, I was in Luxembourg with Hannah and Jessie, about to head back to Oxford and unable to get T.S. Eliot out of my head. What I saw then as a potential thesis turned out to be something deeper, a lifelong obsession with the space that we’re occupying right now: the space between death and resurrection.

Every year, I feel like we overlook this day. While our theological focus is (rightly) fixed on the crucifixion of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday, there are no services for Holy Saturday (I had to look up that name because I’d never heard it). There’s a reason for this: today is the day that we practice waiting.

I can’t imagine what today would have been for Jesus’ disciples: the man that you’ve followed for three years, that you knew was the anointed one, that you thought would free you from Roman rule, has just been put to death by that very regime. For the disciples, it was a day of fear, a day of doubt, and a day of despair. I’m reminded of Hans Holbein’s painting of Christ in the tomb:

holbein-christ
It struck Dostoevsky enough for him to include it in The Idiot, and looking at the painting brought him to the brink of an epileptic seizure. When he spoke to his wife about it, he said, “A painting like that can make you lose your faith.” With good reason: seeing Jesus in the tomb, beginning to decay with a thin form and discolored extremities, lets us know just how much we need the resurrection. This is the darkest moment, the nadir of kenosis (emptying out); it is also the most essential moment, when human incarnation meets divine power. Everything – everything – hinges on the fulfilment of the resurrection.

This isn’t just an important lesson for a single day, either.  We live, right now, in that vast space between our own death and resurrection as we continue to wait for the return of our resurrected Lord. We struggle with fear, and with doubt; but we know that, because of Christ, we refuse to despair.

I’ve talked about Eliot’s Waste Land before on here, and a lot of people look at this poem as a hopeless picture of a lost and broken generation.  When I read it, though, I see the same space we’ve been talking about: a land yearning for restoration – for the Fisher King to be restored by the Holy Grail, which holds, unsurprisingly, the blood of Christ. Last year, I was having a lot of doubts about the nature of God. Did he really love me? Was he really good and just, strong and saving? And it sounds so strange to say this, but Phlebas brought me back.

I reread part four of The Waste Land, which has always been my favorite:

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

This may not seem like the most hopeful passage, but it gave me hope again. Phlebas hasn’t been left for dead. As he sits in his watery tomb, the current comes. Something new swirls around him – a sea-change, something that will alter everything. A resurrection.  His Death by Water is a baptism.

After the torch-light red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

The waste land captures this Saturday perfectly, for the disciples and for us. The space of this world is corrosive. We are surrounded by death – it’s the trajectory of everything in this fallen world, and without Christ, it would be ours, too. But we just have to fix our eyes on him and wait.

This is why this space matters.  We’re not good at waiting. We want things immediately – Christ’s return, or God’s answer for the pressing questions of our lives. This is the space I’ve found myself in right now, as my friends’ future plans roll in in waves and I continue to be suspended – like Phlebas, it seems. I don’t know where I’ll be this summer, or next year, or the year after that. I don’t know what I’ll be doing. Like Elijah did in 1 Kings 19 (thanks, co-leader Matt!), I’m trying to listen for the voice of God past the winds, the earthquakes, and the fires – I’m trying to hear him in the gentle whispers that come into my life. And I’m trying to serve him, not my own ideas of success or the world’s ideas.

I’ll leave you with one last Eliot quote, this one from “East Coker” (my favorite of the Four Quartets).

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

Find yourself here, in the middle way, between death and resurrection – and learn to find peace with God in the waiting.

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keats, classes, and the future

So this morning, at 8:30, I signed up for classes for next semester.  Translation: I had freaked out about it all day yesterday, talked to several professors and parents until I finally had some semblance of a schedule… So I woke up at 8:25, clicked some buttons on my laptop while still in bed, and went back to sleep instead of going to Calc.  Uh…

Basically, I’ve decided to take Chem next semester, just to keep my options open.  And… well, lots of angsty feelings and miniature crises.

I rediscovered John Keats a few months ago, when I found a book of his poetry in a bookstore and bought it on the spot.  He has a marvellously sad and beautiful story (let’s add him to the list of my historical crushes who die young…).  Basically, he was a doctor, and he was torn between practicing medicine and writing poetry.  The enormous amount of time he spent being a doctor meant that he didn’t have time to write, and eventually (and scandalously), he left his career in order to pursue poetry.

Thank goodness he did, because he didn’t have much time to do so.  He was engaged to Fanny Brawne when his tuberculosis worsened, and because of his medical training, he knew that he was going to die.  It’s absolutely heartbreaking.  He died in Italy in the arms of his best friend.  He was only twenty-five.  Twenty five!

But as I sit in my MedPrep class (which basically tells you what it’s like becoming a doctor), I feel like Keats.  Okay, no, I’m not an amazing poet who will forever be remembered by history.  But I understand why he felt the way he did.  I understand feeling split between two very different things, feeling like that Raskolnikov, like a split soul.  I understand worrying that writing isn’t a real job, that I don’t have anything good to say.

Honestly? I hate making decisions.  Thinking about my future makes me feel a little sick to my stomach.  And I’m just tired, and burnt out, and just focusing on getting through finals and to summer.  But that also means another year passing, getting one step closer to making a dreadfully important choice.

And I don’t want to choose something, because I can see myself doing so many different things.  My problem? I love everything.

Alright, that’s a lie.  I don’t love diseases, or ants, or not sleeping, or being sick, or mosquitos, or homework, or fatty foods, or people reading over my shoulder, or getting bad grades, or axe murderers (oh… wait, also a lie… see Rodion Romonovich Raskolnikov…).  I don’t love decisions.

But you know what I mean.

My friends call Wednesdays, when I have MedPrep, my existential crisis days, which is pretty accurate.  It’s frustrating, because it reminds me of all the reasons I wanted to be a doctor in the first place and shows me how hard it is to balance medicine with anything else.

I love problem solving, people, helping others, learning new things, and seeing the beauty of the human body.  I love the logical side to it, the fact that it’s a puzzle with a solution.

But I don’t love how much time it takes.  It’d be years before I became a doctor, and then once you’re there, it’s so time consuming.  Medicine takes over your life, and I don’t know if I could deal with that.  That and people dying.

So, I’m struggling with this.  And thinking about it terrifies me.  Honestly, I just want to go and travel the world or live in a big city where I can learn and meet new people and collect their stories as I go.  I love meeting people and talking to them about the things that really matter.  The eternal things.

I’ve tried to give it up to God but a) I’m very good at worrying and b) I don’t know what He wants me to do.  Honestly? I just want to do whatever He would use me best in.  I know that He’ll use me in whatever I do… but still.

I want to do something that matters.  And sometimes I don’t know if that’s fueled by my own selfish desires for greatness or for the right reasons.  But I don’t want to waste my life.

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P.S.  I’m terribly sorry for the poorly-written, intensely personal post.  I don’t think I was very clear and or insightful.  Excuse me while I melt into an awkward puddle of feelings.

EDIT:I just got back from my meeting with my Christian group, and we talked about… worrying.  God is good, all the time, and He keeps reminding me to trust in Him and find my worth through that.

a confession

Hear this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpI5tJoncS0  <<Pertinent and on repeat.

Okay.

Lately…

I’ve been feeling a certain unrest in my soul.  By lately, I don’t mean the-past-week lately, although it’s certainly been resurfacing within recent weeks.  I want to do something important- something that matters.  I was talking to my friend about this, and she pointed out that that unrest wasn’t necessarily a bad thing- that in those moments, we don’t become complacent, but instead notice the things that we need to change and fix.  And I completely agree.

But I’ve been entirely too hard on myself.  I beat myself up all the time for not doing anything important, for not doing as well in school as I think I should do, for being less than others are.  I want to be great, and that sounds terrible as I type this, but this is a confession of sorts.  As I read these fantastic authors’ work, Dostoevsky, Keats, Joyce, Dickens, Shakespeare, Eliot, Donne, Lewis… I can’t help but want to join them in some way.

Is it bad that I yearn for greatness, to make a difference, to be known or remembered?  Not necessarily.  But my motives bear an explanation.  What has been driving me to such distress?  Do I crave this because God has placed it in me and because I want to say something important, change people’s hearts, and speak his truth as an instrument of his will?  Or do I simply want to make a name for myself, draw attention to my own talents and abilities, and be remembered by humanity for my skills and intelligence rather than the Holy Spirit inside of me?

I want to know I’m doing something important.  I want to have a purpose in this life.  And yes, I know my purpose is to praise God in whatever I’m doing, but it’s frustrating not knowing what he’s created and formed me for.

Comparing myself to others to gauge my own worth or progress isn’t helpful, either.  In fact, it’s terribly detrimental.  Whenever I try to measure myself off of others, which is something I struggle with every day, I can never come close.  I end up feeling stupid, out of place, and worthless, and that’s certainly not a good place to be.  I read the work of these beautiful, fantastic, amazingly brilliant authors and think to myself almost every day, I will never measure up.  I could never create such a thing of beauty as they have already, so why try? 

I focus in too closely on myself and let this selfishness grow until these worries consume me, pull me down, and pull me away from the problems of other people.  I could be showing them the love of God, but instead, I tear myself down from the inside out with worries about the future, about my calling, and about what I do with myself right now.

And… here’s the thing.  I’m not writing the next great American novel right now.  I haven’t produced anything radically world-altering or brilliant.  I don’t do something every day that would be considered successful in the eyes of the world… and that’s okay.

Trusting that God will guide me is hard, because I’m fallible, and I’m human, and I doubt and forget what he’s done for me every single day, getting mired down in stupid things.  But I’m trying.  Scratch that.  I don’t have to try, because nothing that I do could get me any closer to God.  He’s already done and given it all for me.  In my weakness, I rely on His strength.  And I’m not saying that I won’t relapse, or that everything will be fixed tomorrow.  I will, and it won’t.  These are things I struggle with all of the time, doubting and idolizing my intelligence or personal glory above God and His power and plans.

But He is changing me, and will show me what He has planned for me in His timing.  That’s a beautiful thing.  And although it’s dreadfully hard to rest in this uncertainty, He makes it a possibility.

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Read this: “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.” Hamlet, V.i

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will” V.ii

We’ve been in Hamlet for my Shakespeare class (it’s GREAT, I have a minor crush on him… problematic?), and he’s got a lot to say about fleeting greatness and God as the orchestrator of fate.  Well, he gets there.  Eventually.

shakespeare

“I can remember at school how we would read together in class an Ode by Keats, a Shakespeare sonnet or a chapter of Animal Farm. I would tingle inside and want to sob, just at the words, at nothing more than the simple progression of sounds. But when it came to writing that thing called an Essay, I flubbed and floundered. I could never discover where to start. How do you find the distance and the cool to write in an academically approved style about something that makes you spin, wobble and weep?” –Making History, by Stephen Fry

WARNING: this is a ridiculously long post in which I obsess over and fangirl about the intricacies of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Prepare yourself or ask me later…

I’m taking a Shakespeare class right now, and it’s quickly risen to become my favorite. It’s actually fun to do the reading. Granted, it becomes a little bit awkward when someone walks in and catches me reading Richard II in a kingly British accent or angrily yelling Shylock’s lines to myself from Merchant of Venice, but it’s worth it.

I’ve learned a few general things about Shakespeare’s plays as a whole already: Firstly, they’re made to be seen. We haven’t watched any in class, yet, but our professor always talks about viewing the plays. He excitedly tells us to watch as we read and listen and create these worlds in our own minds.

Secondly, and most amazingly, these plays are so layered. This is why I’m glad I’m taking this as an actual class, because each allusion that we pick up and explore, every plot symmetry and carefully placed speech, every piece we dig up from the play makes it even more beautiful than it already was. What seemed like simple entertainment at first grows and flowers and shows you that there’s even more behind this play than beautifully poetic words and clever plots and characters. It’s absolutely MIND BLOWING.

We just finished Merchant of Venice, and I was loath to leave it behind and move on to the next play. On the surface, it’s a play with several different subplots: Antonio, a merchant, becomes indebted to the Jew, Shylock, who demands a pound of flesh from him if he cannot pay his dues. Bassanio, Antonio’s best friend, sails to Belmont, a magical kingdom where fair Portia is bound to only marry the man who can choose the right casket. Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, falls in love with Lorenzo, a Christian merchant. And in the end, fair Portia is evidenced to also be clever, brilliant Portia as she poses as a lawyer and saves Antonio’s life with her wit.

But there’s more. There’s so much more that my notes slowly converted themselves into a dance of arrows and lines and deeper connections and dichotomies.

The play opens with Antonio’s isolation and a description of ships on the sea. Antonio is a closed-off riddle, just like Portia’s caskets. The opening lines paint ships as people, and talk of them being opened. Antonio, too, needs to be opened to solve the riddle of his heart, and later in the play, he very nearly is (pound of flesh).

Also, the myth of Jason and Medea circles through and haunts the entire play. Jason quests for the fleece just like the men quest for the women’s hearts. Medea, instead of just being a fairy-tale princess, is also a cunning sorceress, just like Portia is an interesting mix of damsel and savior. In the Jason story, Medea ends up renewing Jason’s father by cutting him up first. Like taking a pound of flesh. Sort of.

And speaking of a pound of flesh, that also alludes to Communion, eating the body of Christ. Which segways into the Jewish and Christian themes in the play and shows those dichotomies.

And when we dug into a seemingly pointless scene of “comic relief”, we discovered all of the major themes of the play. All of them. And they’re all dichotomies: Shylock and Jessica as an expression of New Comedy. Portia’s father and Portia. Old Testament and New Testament. Judaism and Christianity. Justice and Mercy. Old and New, Law and Gospel. Not only is the play split, but each of the characters is divided into two sorts of people, reflecting the schismatic nature of the human heart (the raskol – see? I can relate anything back to Crime and Punishment…). But. Like the Old Testament is taken in and made new by the New Testament, all of these things can be taken in or work together in a new way. It’s absolutely brilliant.

I’m sorry this is so long. I couldn’t help myself. Ask me and I’ll give you the SparkNotes instead of the word vomit. But, in any case, Shakespeare is far more brilliant than I even knew.

And during our last class, my secular professor told the entire class to go home and read 1 Corinthians and Romans. Now that’s beautiful.

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Read this: The Merchant of Venice : http://shakespeare.mit.edu/merchant/full.html

self-portrait of an artist…

Although it’s a fabulous novel by James Joyce, this post doesn’t actually have anything to do with dear, searching Stephen Dedalus (although he may be referenced in the future).

In my Irish literature class a few days ago, we discussed O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of a Nation”.  Basically, some Irish soldiers are holding British soldiers, but they’re friends with them.  Eventually, the Irish recieve the order to execute their “chums” and regretfully do so.  The interesting part is this:  Frank O’Connor’s real name was Michael O’Donovan, and he gives the name “Donovan” to the most detestable character in the story.  That Donovan is ruthless and actually looks forward to fulfilling his duty of killing the two British soldiers.

When O’Connor was in the Irish army, there came a point when he did not fulfill his duties to his superiors.  Was this self-portrait a mark of regret, or disdain for himself?  Or was he simply drawing from past experiences?

When we talked about this in class, it triggered several other memories of artists inserting themselves as less than flattering characters:

In his Persistance of Memory, Dali inserted himself as the centrally-located melting face.

In the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the disgustingly vulgar, self-centered, and lustful patriarch is named Fyodor.

Caravaggio painted himself into several of his works, including a broken and prayerful St. Francis (painted after Caravaggio himself killed a man) and as both David and Goliath.

Michelangelo painted himself into the Last Judgement as nothing but a flayed skin held by St. Bartholemew.

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So what does this tell us about these artists’ souls?  They were quite aware of their own mortality, that’s certain.  Is this a sign of humility and an admission of their own brokenness and need for salvation?  Does this show us that, despite their greatness, they are nothing more than men?  Are they projecting to the world, “I am fallen, and sinful, and not like you think I am?”

I’m not entirely sure.  But it’s very, very interesting.  Thoughts?

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Read this: “Guests of the Nation”, Frank O’Connor ; The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky ; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5