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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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.

a week with nothing to say?

Well.  That’s certainly new.  I’m getting a little concerned, though.  You see, for the past two-ish weeks, I’ve been doing work pretty much non-stop.  It hasn’t been the most fantastic, but it hasn’t been bad.  What concerns me, however, is the nature of writing.  Is it an acquired skill?  Is thinking deeply an acquired skill?  If you get into the habit of not thinking, of living down here in the physical world in perpetuity, of not writing or considering eternity and the bigger questions, does it get easier to not do these things?

I don’t have that burning desire to write something right now.  I don’t have time.  Not really.  Do I make time?  Instead of making me want to write more, does the time gone without writing anyway slowly dull my mind and lull me into a sleepy sort of obscurity, taking away that desire all together?

I don’t really know.  I do know that habits are easy to form, however, good or bad, and that’s something I need to be careful of.  I, like most of humanity(?), am a creature of habit and addiction, willing to cling to comfort before giving it up for something harder.

So, this was quick (for me).  I’ll continue to find lees of time to hide from the winds of busyness in, and maybe I’ll shore some fragments there.

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expatriates

Sometimes, I kind of just want to be an expat.  I don’t want a “real job”.  Not really.

I just want to sit outside of a Parisian, Sevillan, or Venetian café, sipping tea and scribbling things into a notebook as I watch the people pass me on the sun-inundated streets, laughing with each other and babbling on in the Romantic cadence that these languages possess.  I want to look at cobblestones, and old architecture, and great stone edifices and feel a connection with the past and the people around me, thinking of who else walked those same streets before I did.

I want to sit nestled in the corner of some Irish or English pub as the rain drizzles on outside and talk about life with locals, or talk literature with the Inklings.  I want to be a part of something like that where I can listen and contribute, mentor and be mentored, and be in the presence of great minds.

I want to experience different cultures, and travel, and live somewhere entirely different, and meet people as I travel.  It doesn’t matter where, really.  Or for how long.  I’ve never been somewhere that I didn’t like in its own unique way.  I dream of far off markets that bustle with the life of a different group of people, museums of art and history where I can wander for hours, and quiet moments shared with friends in front of the ancient and the modern.

T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Ezra Pound and Henry James were all expatriates from the early twentieth century, when that sort of thing seemed to happen quite frequently.  I’m sure there are thousands more, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

I feel like all of these famous authors were male, though, which could pose a bit of a problem, but no matter.

I suppose I don’t have to be an expat to be involved in a literary discussion group or salon (in the old French sense), though.  Something like the meetings of the Inklings shouldn’t be something that has become outdated and extinct with the advent of the Internet, modernity, and everything else.  I could still discuss fiction, life, God, the eternal, and writing with people here.  Any takers?

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Read this: just because I’m a little obsessed with Holmes: http://www.online-literature.com/doyle/study_scarlet/