tragedy

When I first set out to write this, I was thinking in purely literary terms of the four genres of expression – comic, tragic, lyric, and epic.  My friend texted me last week after I read the Waste Land, “What do you think the purpose of tragedy is?”

In light of this week’s nearly apocalyptic events, however, I think it apt to discuss, at least a little bit, the purpose of tragedy in literature and in our own lives.

I hadn’t really known the answer to that question before.  I’d read Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear, Death of a Salesman, and related to them in a deep, basic way – I could feel the twisting of my gut as the inevitable suffering played out.  And there’s a lot to be said of it – it reminds us of the inevitability of our own mortality, provides us with a cathartic pity and fear so we can better live our own lives.  It shows us that there are forces at work far outside our own power.

All these are important – wildly so.  But there is one more, very simple thing that I realized while reading through Eliot’s Waste Land for the thousandth time: tragedy shows us the brokenness in the world and in relationships, and, by our deep, instinctive reactions to the events, shows us that things were never meant to be like this.

We live in a gloriously constructed world, filled with great beauty and a great potential for love, experience, and happiness.  At the same time, however, I think that we can forget its inherent brokenness – even as Christians, we tend to think that we are basically good, that this world can make us happy, and that we don’t really need anything else but ourselves.

Until, in a week of darkness, a city is bombed and riddled with bullets, a plant explodes and levels everything in its path, a sinkhole opens in the middle of a city, deadly letters are sent to world leaders, an earthquakes shakes miles of nations, and an already hurting country is bombed, its civilians murdered.  Oof.

Seeing this is so, so hard.  I’m not going to go into detail about the problem of pain here, about what God’s doing, or how He could possibly let these things happen.  I don’t know.  Thankfully, I’m not Him.  That can be so hard, and so frustrating, and so painful to see families broken and people grieving and souls hurting so desperately.  But I do know that He’s got a plan in all of this.

I do know that this world was once a beautiful thing, where relationships with God and people could be whole and lovely.  And I know that we sinned, and we used that free will to break that relationship with God – and consequently, everything else fragmented as well.

This is the world that the Waste Land shows us so precisely, a fragmented, perverse, and lost world.  Critics have labeled it as a generational issue with “the modern world”, but there’s a reason we’re still reading the poem.  In our era of flickering images and sound bites and texts and tweets, we’re more fragmented than we’ve ever been before.  Relationships were already cracked, but this constant “connectivity” has widened those cracks until they nearly splinter apart.  We’re more isolated than we’ve been.

But here’s the great beauty of this revelation, this painful truth about our world: it’s where the gospel starts.  We think to ourselves so often that we aren’t that bad and that we don’t really need God.  This realization of the state of our world – more than that, the state of us – leads to either despair or resurrection.

We live in the Waste Land, and we can see that.  But the Waste Land also lives in us, which should scare you.  Eliot’s whole poem hovers on the edge of a knife, between death and resurrection.  The bones of the Phoenician sailor are at the bottom of the ocean, the land is dry and cracked and broken.  But, something begins to stir these dead bones, and the thunder cracks across the sky, waiting.  We hover on a rebirth into eternity.

When we begin to see our own brokenness, we see that we need to be rescued, and that we can’t do it on our own.  As mortals, we will fail, and die, and the tragedy will end with a poisoned sword or a watery suicide.  But God saw this broken world and came down into it as one of us, and he died – and when he rose from the dead to new life, the healing began.

If we accept our brokenness, we can now accept the salvation that’s so freely offered to us.  Eliot did, and was able to find new life in Christ five years after the hopelessness of this poem.  We come to hopelessness so that we can understand hope when it is offered us.  If we live in Christ, we live forever, and we live in hope of healed people and a healed world.

The dead bones of the drowned Phoenician sailor don’t die, “but doth suffer a sea-change, into something rich and strange”.  So then do we.  The rains fall upon the thirsty, dry ground, and we learn how to love each other again.  It has to start here, on an individual level, where the Waste Land of your soul is inhabited by a loving, personal God who revives you and brings you back to life.

As hard as we try to instill goodness into people, this world will still be broken while Satan roams it.  Does this mean we should stop fighting against the brokenness, accept the evil in the world, and give up? By no means! The devil has no power where God is concerned.  He can only bend what is already good and try to break what God has already created.  We can fight against him.   And sometimes it’s awful.  But we have the hope of an empty tomb with us, and that is more powerful than any desolate, hollow Waste Land.

My prayers for safety, justice, and deep healing are with Boston, West Texas, China, Iraq, Iran, and the rest of our world.  May God bless and renew you.

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Read thisThe Waste Land, T.S. Eliot ; Mark 13:8 ; my other friend’s post

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journalling

I am in favor of journalling.  As catharsis, as a thought-process, and as a recording of not only events, but the way that God moves through them and your feelings and perceptions in them.

I finished my most recent journal a few weeks ago, and it was an odd feeling.  Accomplished, yes.  I realized that almost all of it detailed my summer and its decisions.  Each successive volume that I complete seems to cover a shorter and shorter span of time.  That’s a good thing, I think, because it means I’m writing more and more about less trivial things.  Looking back on Volume 1, which spanned several years and simply kept a record of events, I’m glad I’m growing.

I thought I’d post the last few pages of this one.

I’m sitting on my bed, per usual.  My desk is cluttered, and I haven’t used it.  I have three Czech Mucha posters above my desk, and it’s no secret that Hamlet is my favorite.  My super classy bookcase. Posters: El Greco, Rene Magritte, Sherlock, Vertigo.

I’ve finally opened the window, and a cool breeze is drifting in.  I can hear it softly moving the trees.  It’s carrying fall, and the seasons will change and change again until I am grown and dead and gone, and then they will continue to change.

I’ve been trying to name the breeze in the leaves.  It’s not quite an ocean. The best I can do is to call it breathing, living.

I’m reminded of the moment when Aslan approaches the statues in the White Witch’s castle, breathes softly on them, and brings them back to life.  Yes.  It’s carrying magic.

Deeper magic.

And God’s been breathing softly on my heart, and I know He’ll continue to do so as I turn and grumble and strive and harden.

It’s apt that this journal, filled with so much anguish and confusion and so many places, faces, worries, and miracles should end on such a note as this.  It isn’t what I expected. I was going to write about my doubts in writing, my feelings of inferiority in fiction, and my fear.

No.  Instead, I speak of peace, of changes, and of growth.  I speak of the God who breathes life into my own heart as surely as He moves the trees with an unseen power.

I worry, and I strive.

But there is One who takes my worries and shoulders my strivings, bearing them to death and beyond.  There is One who forgives and gives me life and stills my frantic soul.

So.

I will write.  I will write and write and look forward and backward.  I will live and not just exist, I will follow my God wherever He leads and trust in Him.

I will not write for others, afraid of their judgement.

I will write for myself a small bit, and for my readers, if they exist, and I will write for my God.

May the God of peace and life-giving breezes melt your frozen soul.  May the God who has the power to move mountains and dig rivers, who deserves all awe and glory yet loves us still, and who has the power to move our broken hearts in an immensely personal way, be with you always.  In the name of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ,

Amen.

On to Volume 5.

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the poet

The Diviner

Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions.
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly,
He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.

~Seamus Heaney

Excuse me while I try to form my feelings and hazy ideas into something that makes sense.

So the week before Spring Break (two weeks ago, I suppose), we were talking about Seamus Heaney in my Irish class.  I adore Heaney, and his poetry is beautiful and meaningful and very much a living thing.  Among all of the things that he has to say about life and Ireland and all the rest, something that struck me the most was his talk of the role of the poet.

Now by poet, I don’t mean strictly someone who writes poetry.  That sounds funny.  Let me explain.  I mean “the poet” in a broader, more ancient sense, one that encompasses more than rhyming or what you may normally associate with poetry.  I mean the poet as a sort of epic hero, who brings truth to his people, sometimes painfully.  This is the traditional Irish view of the poet, or senchaí: someone with great power that speaks the truth, even to the king, and that some fear.  He has the power of sight, and can use his words in satires against his enemies.

Or like the Oracles of Ancient Greece: someone who is chosen to be a mouthpiece of the divine, someone who is spoken through. Which brings me to the most important parallel to the poet, the true calling of such a person: the prophet, someone who carries the truth from God to the people.  Although this brings to mind the prophets of the Old Testament who spoke with God (how amazing!), you can still be a prophet today.  Anyone that God uses to speak through is a prophet, and God most certainly still speaks to people.

And around this time in my class, as we’re talking about poetry being made up of partly scop, or craft (being a good writer), and partly vates, or prophesy or vision, speaking the truth, I start freaking out.  Really freaking out, and zoning out of some of the discussion or being way too much into other parts of it.  I can feel myself getting excited all over again as I type this.  I’m looking at my paper right now, and I have little notes scrawled all over it, like:

my heartbeat shakes my whole body in trembling rhythm with the hand of God,

Or this overly-excited realization of the poet’s job:

poet as a go-between!
a translator of truth!
a diviner!
a mouthpiece!
a prophet! an oracle!
a tool in the hands
of He who holds all Truth
a liminal, ferried between
two worlds,
granted another sight by the
Everlasting

poet as messenger
of the eternal, birthright
of an oracle
why am I almost twitching?

a mortal body and an
eternal soul,
like all the amphibians of humankind.

and I am suddenly restless,
yearning, churning, swelling
with a feeling I don’t know
and a desire for something past
this mortal coil.
My heart is beating with desperate purpose.

So, I was freaking out.  And still am.  Because I couldn’t, and honestly can’t, imagine a greater purpose than being spoken through.  The lump in my throat tells me that I desperately want that, to have a purpose, to have this purpose, but I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.

We read another poem that day called “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” (click), where a bird makes a nest in St. Kevin’s hand and he is responsible for their lives and can’t move until they leave.  I talked to my professor about the role of the poet and such things after class on my way to study for my calc exam (that was easy to focus on after all of this).

I wrote down all that I could remember of what he said.  He looked at me and told me that the calling of the poet is not an easy one to accept.  He asked me to remember St. Kevin.  What did he do?  He went out to the wilderness and hid away from everyone else.  But God found him anyway.

You were made with a purpose, and you’re here for a reason.  I watched the movie Hugo a few days ago (which I heartily recommend), and was nearly moved to tears by certain parts of it.  There’s one part in there where Hugo and Isabelle are talking about purpose.  Hugo looks at people like machines and wonders if they too become “broken” when they lose their purpose.  It’s beautiful.  And then he says this:

“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason too.”

You are not an extra part.  I really identify with Isabelle.  I wonder what my purpose is, too.  But I know that I have one, because God has given me one.  We were each made for something.  And I trust that He will help me find that something.

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See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcdEXHIuTxw  Seriously, watch this movie.

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.