a handful of words from good friday

There’s this feeling that steals over me sometimes, starting flickeringly in my heart and moving up into a lump in my throat – it’s the quiet feeling you get right after you wake up from a nap or after you’ve cried out everything there is to cry.  It’s a specific sort of peace – I thought I would call it rest, or relief, but now I think it’s deeper, the type of rest you only get after you have given everything and embraced the stillness.

I feel it when I’m writing, sometimes, when I hit that unstoppable stride when nothing else in the world matters – I think it’s called flow.  But mostly it comes when I’m praying, when I’m worshiping, when Christ strikes me so deeply and so ecstatically that I open my mouth to cry out but nothing really emerges.  I can sometimes call it the Holy Spirit, but he speaks in various ways.

I walked out of today’s Good Friday service like this, this mix of sweet and salty, of pleasure and pain.  God is awesome, and in that word lies both fear and beauty, glory and ferocity.  There is still a lump in my throat, the inexplicable pleasant urgency of suddenly having a great and terrible tale unfolded and laid out before you – a tale intricately woven through our entire lives, existences, species, and fabric.  It’s a story of death and betrayal, but it’s mostly a story of redemption, life, and love, because the former allow the latter to manifest more beautifully and fully.  It’s ours only because God has made it so; he has humbled himself to human life and to death in order to let us be a part of it.  He pulls us into his world.

In these moments I see all the themes that I have loved for their truth emerge, the themes that have summoned up this feeling of rest in my soul – life, death, the substantiality that waiting affords, the pain and the broken striving of our race, the eventual renewal and much-awaited resurrection.  I see them converge and connect and my soul falls to its knees.

I have been worrying about thesis preparations for a while, now.  I am considering writing on these three days we have entered into – the days between Good Friday and Easter, the gap between death and resurrection that occupies the historical space, the lives of those who are dead in sin, and the waiting we all do while we still live in a land laid waste.  When the priest quoted T.S. Eliot I nearly cried – perhaps I should take it as a sign.

So, I leave you with this very short, very scattered post – take substance from the waiting, rest in the lull after your tears, and continue to seek out the things that tie us together and make us human.

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Read this: “East Coker,” T.S. Eliot

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reading aloud

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent, all: I just found this post that I’d forgotten to put up, so here you are.

When I was younger, I hated reading aloud.  I loved to read, of course – I’ve always known that stories carry magic – but I remember sitting in my second grade class as we circled around with Charlotte’s Web and I just knew that my tongue would trip over the words in a way my mind never did and my mouth would get dry and my voice do something I didn’t want it to do.  When I read to myself, I was swept up in the world of the book in a way that mimicked restfulness, and I’d look up from my book with the feeling that I’d just woken from a nap.  Reading aloud, though, scared me.  As I got better, I’m sure I became more cocky about it.

But recently, I’ve realized that there is a specific and dense magic that comes from speaking the written word, a magic that transcends what I’d expected from printed ink on a woven page of pulpy tree.

I think that children understand this magic deeply.  I always love to read aloud when I babysit (once I read a self-abridged version of A Wrinkle in Time), but this summer, something really captivating happened.  I was filling in for a family’s nanny for half a week, and the second day on the job was Homework Day.  Everyone was upset about it, obviously, moaning and half-heartedly scribbling on their math sheets.  The youngest’s only remaining homework assignment was to be read to.

I grabbed an abridged children’s copy of Treasure Island and began to read to him in a hushed voice, glancing up at him every once in a while.  When I started, he was squirming, sliding out of his chair, and rolling his eyes up at the ceiling.  Halfway through, he was looking at me.  When I stopped after the first chapter and started to put it away, he grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t stop!”  By this point, the other two weren’t doing their homework either but had started listening to the story.  One of them had crept around to look at the illustrations.  After lunch, we relocated to the couch, huddling together to read about poor Jim Hawkins.  I did some growly pirate voices and we all giggled over Ben Gunn’s cheese obsession.

We sat for more than two hours and read that whole book, cover to cover.  They never once got bored or wanted to stop.  The story had pulled them tight in a sort of magic, and even when my voice began to dry up they wrapped themselves around each word.  Treasure Island has no deep moral or spiritual truth (upon first glance, at least); it’s an adventure story, but it knows how to speak.  It understands the power of story, and so did the children.  This got them focused like nothing I had ever tried before – no sports break, homework incentive, or movie grabbed them like Treasure Island did.  It was absolutely unbelievable.

I think I finally understand the bardic tradition of the Celtic tribes, why the poets advised the kings and were revered as they were.  I understand how powerful it would have been to have everyone gathered in a castle hall for their Michaelmas celebration, shuffling quietly as they listened to the bard unfold the tale of the brave, perfection-seeking Gawain and a Knight, green from the hair of his beard to his very skin.

As Tolkien best put it, it is a “Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.”

Also this summer, my grandmother, while visiting us, fell and broke her hip.  It was terrible and scary, but she did such a wonderful job recovering.  We would often come visit her to talk and chat, catching her up on everything and discussing different things.  One night, her trigeminal neuralgia was acting up badly, and she was in a lot of pain.  We headed over, and she couldn’t talk.  In half an hour, the nurse could come and give her a dose of pain medication.  I figured I would distract her.  I held her hand tightly, pulled up my story on my dad’s iPad, and began to read.

I got very quiet as I did so, for I was self-conscious of reading words that I myself had written.  I shook it off.  My grandma relaxed perceptibly and smiled at me.  The time passed.  It was crazy, the feeling that filled the dark room, a comforting sort of heaviness that blanketed us.  Before we left, though, we all prayed for her.  I was fervent and earnest, and I could feel that the words coming from my mouth were not my words, and I felt the Holy Spirit there.  It was love I was speaking, just love.  The power of prayer was tangible and suspended, and the next day, Grandma was better than we’d seen her in weeks.

I keep running into the reading aloud.  Oxford’s Keble has a chapel built into it, and it’s absolutely beautiful, with storytelling stained glass and a massive organ and echoey, cavernous ceilings.  In one of my first weeks here, at the urging of the Bursar, I crept into the empty chapel’s side-room.  There was a Bible and a list of the readings for the day, and I read them aloud in a whisper, turning from Jonah to Luke and having the privilege of letting God’s Word permeate the place through my voice.

I wrote a play for Oxford’s Cuppers competition, and that was a completely different rush, the joy of watching people speak your words in their voice and telling them how to act around them.  There would be moments when they pulled something out that was exactly right, better, inventing, embodying an imagined thing.  That’s magic, too, isn’t it?

And now we come to the vehicle of my remembrance of this post.  My Paradise Lost essay from last week was all about speech: I wrote about God creating beautiful things through speech and Satan perverting them, about a blind Milton speaking his words aloud and fashioning himself into the old recitative epic poet, and I spoke my words aloud to my tutor.

Words are important, living, and active.  God spoke the universe into existence through the force of his speech, creating the universe through a word and through the Word.  The Word has saved our people by becoming like us, by dying for us, by refusing to stay dead.  Do not discount what you speak; God’s words have power, and so do yours.

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Read this: my story (“The Mason Jar”) if you like;  Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories  (you have to)

calvinism, Christianity, and the weight of the gospel

I’m studying 14th-17th century literature right now at Keble– I can hear you all groaning.  I was wary, but it’s actually been incredibly interesting.  I’ve learned a whole lot (I hope).  Of course, you can’t talk about this time period without breaching the subject of the different Christian sects of each time.  I, honestly, have loved this: I have been able to write my essays on God’s grace and mercy.  I have been able to commune with John Donne (my love) and attend lectures on religion in the Elizabethan era.  I was assigned Augustine for reading.  But a few weeks ago, our class on Calvinism hit me like a load of bricks.

Let me first clarify.  The class was on 17th century Calvinism, and it brought up a lot of uncomfortable things.  Calvin believed that man’s free will would cheapen God’s sovereignty, and so God controls everyone; he also chooses his elect and rejects the reprobate on seemingly arbitrary whim.  Because of this, you can never really know if you’ve been saved or not, and you can never know if you’re going to heaven or to hell.  According to Calvin, God even causes the rejected to feel like they have experienced God’s grace and Spirit.

This mentality wreaked havoc on the people of the time period.  They assumed God was punishing them for sins or for their own reprobate status; people even convinced themselves that, although they believed in Christ, they were still going to hell.  I’m not saying this was Calvin’s intention; I’m just saying that regardless, this is how it was taken by people of the 17th century.

Can God fairly and justly punish someone who He controls completely? This is when I realized that my greatest fear is not a nonexistent God; my greatest fear is that the universe is ruled by a cruel and arbitrary tyrant.

Do I believe this? I don’t think so.  If God were not good then our idea of order and justice and morality would be a sham, and the fabric of the universe would unravel.  Do I wrestle with questions I will never be able to answer on this earth? Yes, constantly.

The reactions of my classmates were telling.  They responded to the cruelty of Calvinism in a way that triggered their moral outrage, their sense of right and wrong.  And perhaps we can cite this same sense as evidence of a loving and justice-seeking God.  God, of course, does not have to follow the rules we make up for him.  But my heart sank as they spoke of these concepts as nonsense and rubbish, as they conflated this with Christianity and with Christ himself.

I cannot believe they are the same thing.

The constant fear of hell that Calvin expresses is not Biblical. Romans 10:13 tells us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”; 1 John 3:19-20 that “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” We have assurance in Christ – John has even written: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  We are confident and assured – we know.

But I still came out of that class with a realization: regardless of Calvin, and regardless of what others believe, people will still go to hell.

It haunted me for days. It still is, honestly.  That day I sent frustrated messages to my parents as I tried to reconcile these concepts of agency and sovereignty.  I sat on my bed at the thought that my classmates, the strangers I pass on the street, the homeless man on the corner, the musicians behind each song I listen to, the friends I share my life with – that they could all be barred from heaven.  And I wept.

I think this is the proper response.  A friend told me that when we draw close to the heart of God, we become grieved for the same things He grieves for.

I don’t know how all of this works.  I hate that people have to go to hell.  I don’t understand how, if God can harden people’s hearts to keep the Israelites in slavery or soften them to accept the Holy Spirit, he can’t just do this for every human being on earth.  I have heard of dream-vision conversions, and I can’t understand why God will not send them to every living person on this earth.

But I trust him, and I think that this deep, heaving grief is also God’s response when we refuse him.  I think that free will has to exist, because without it, love cannot.  Without it, we have no choice to accept or reject.  But I trust God because I believe these things about him: that He is sovereign, and that He is good.

I trust that I cannot fathom the idea of hell as he can. I trust that he, as the ruler of the universe, knows better than I do.

I’m sorry if this feels like a cop-out.  I know it must.  But the simple truth is that I do not understand, I will not understand, and I will mourn.  And as we follow these truths out to their logical conclusions – as we struggle with these things – we act on where they take us.

We cannot simply weep over the non-Christians in our life and in our world.  We cannot mourn them as though they have already been damned.  There is hope for every human being in Christ, and we are mandated to share it: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

This is the scariest part.  There is a piece of me that does not want to post this, because if I do, I become a hypocrite if I don’t tell others of the grace and glory and beauty of Jesus Christ.  So that’s probably a good reason to put it up here.

I will confess that I feel uncomfortable telling other people about Jesus.  I’m scared they will avoid me, and I’m scared they will shy away from preaching and proselytizing.  I’m terrified.  But I can’t hold my own discomfort as more valuable than the lives of my brothers and sisters.  If you love someone – really love someone – you are compelled to show them the cure for eternal death.  Penn Jillette, an atheist, says this:

“If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

I know this is really heavy.  It’s been weighing me down.  But to forget would be folly.

My fellow Christians: hold me accountable.

My non-Christian friends:  I love you so dearly.  I do not want you to die.  I love you deeply, and that is why I tell you this:

We’re sinful.  When God gave us everything, including our very lives, we rebelled against him.  We chose death.  But God does not want us dead.  God is love itself, and God enacted this plan – he saw us in our suffering and sent us a remedy.  Jesus came to earth as God in human-skin so that he could take the penalty that we deserved.  He died – God took on the pain and death of humanity – for love of us.  We’re humans, we’re nothing compared to an eternal God – and yet he loved us.

He rose again from death, he defeated death itself.  For you.  And here’s the deal, now – we are offered grace.  We are offered redemption and future perfection and life with a wonderful and life-giving God.  If we take him up on the offer, we have to give up some of our idols and sins.  We have to serve God instead of our friends or careers or desire for money or fame or pleasure.

But it’s worth it.  I can’t express how much it is worth it, how content you can be when your worth is derived from the love God has for you instead of from your own accomplishments.

Ask me about this.  Tell me how weird this sounds, how improbable it is, tell me honestly what you think and why you cannot consider it.  I’ll tell you how much it’s worth it.

Peace, my friends.  Thanks for sticking this one out.

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rest

Spring Break is finally here, and I know that it’s going to run through my fingers like water, but before that happens, I’m going to try to be nourished a little bit.  It’s good to be home, especially after the craziness of the first half of the semester.  This was the most needed break I’ve ever encountered.  I was sick for exam week last week (as I always seem to be), and after the staying up too lates and the studying for exams but not maybe enoughs and general exhaustion… I was immensely ready for Spring Break to start.  Coming from the ice to the sun was startling.

Much of the time, I use this as an excuse.  “I’m tired” is my knee-jerk response to anyone’s “Are you okay?”, even if it isn’t entirely true.  And often I justify my own laziness by telling myself that I really need the rest.

And here’s where it gets so confusing for me, because I can never quite draw that line between merited and lazy excuse.  I always have something to do.  Even if I ignore it with outward laziness and the procrastination of watching too much TV, my insides are twisted and fighting with each other.  Even if I don’t have something to do, I’ve got something to do.  School projects are queued in my head in a different line than personal ones, and there’s always a story I should be working on, a goal I shouldn’t have missed, things I should have done.

It’s a hard mental balance for me, but I’m trying to learn, and I’m trying to slide that scale somewhere in between apathetic procrastination and frustrated perfectionism; between extroversion and the life of a hermit.  What often happens is that I end up staying up much later than my body can deal with because procrastinate homework, try to keep up with my own writing (in this and in stories), and eventually do that same work.  I’m trying to limn.

We need rest.

We need to take breaks to refresh ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually.  I should have learned this long ago.  Physically speaking, I am prone to sickness, and I need more actual rest and sleep than many people.  I keep trying to push myself past that, but I need to stop and take care of myself.

Spiritually speaking, I need it even more.  The Holy Spirit will never deny you peace if you ask Him for it, but I must remember to ask.  The most common excuse for not praying or reading my Bible is “I’m too busy”.  But even Jesus went off by himself in order to pray and be renewed (Luke 5:16).

And here’s the thing.  It may take up more of your time than you think you can spare.  But there comes a moment when rest becomes the priority, because you are no good to anyone killing yourself over your work, whatever it is.  The “wasted time” that periodic rest takes up is small in comparison to what will happen if you burn yourself out.

It happens all the time, especially with artists of any sort.  The manic sort of focus on your work can be good, to a degree.  Constant desire to create is comforting and wonderful, but you have to balance it with the rest of your life.  God himself rested! And then put the Sabbath into place – not for us to follow the rules, but for us to have a set time of not working.  Sure, maybe I use my exhaustion as an excuse to be lazy sometimes.  But I think it’s better to give yourself room to breathe.  

So, no.  I probably won’t finish that play I’ve been working on this week.  And that’s okay.

On my way home, I encountered a group of guys on their way to an infinitely more needed break.  My friends and I hung out with a group of young soldiers who were all going home briefly before they headed off to their different assignments.  We talked while we waited for our delayed flights, and they told us that they were the military’s “truck drivers”.  Their group often drives over the IEDs.

And after complaining of my own tiredness for so long, this was a paradigm shift.  Talk about perspective.  I don’t know what will happen to them, and I don’t think I’ll see them again, but I will pray that they enjoy their short rest now and be able to find rest even in the midst of such hard lives.

In conclusion?  Sleep!  Rest!  Take time to step back and renew yourself for whatever you will create in the future.  I’m going to spend some time with God, my family, my friends, and my books.

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P.S.  Help, I’m still listening to Bastille… to use their wording, they’re properly mental.

nothing else matters.

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.  When human souls have beome as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.” Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis

Last night, I went to a worship event in another state.  It was sort of a spur of the moment decision, but it was one of the best ones I’ve made in a while.  Clearly, it was a lot of fun, and I got to bond with people, have milkshakes, and be silly afterwards.  But the actual worship was fantastic.

I worry about the same things a lot.  My thoughts cycle through future job woes, how I’m dreadfully undecided, the amount of homework I have, etc.  But, here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter.

Jobs, your future, work, what you’re going to wear, problems in your social life.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our best in these things (because of course we should).  But in the long run, they don’t matter at all.  When it comes right down to it, this world will pass, and you and I will pass, and we can’t take anything with us when we are translated over except our souls.

Nothing matters but Jesus, and what he’s done, and who he is, and what he’s sacrificed for us.  He loves us astoundingly, amazingly, in such a way that we can’t even comprehend the volume of his love.  He came to us, even though we don’t deserve it, and gave his very life in order to share it with us.

It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

I can’t remember much of the particulars of the worship night.  I don’t remember exactly which songs we sang, or if the band was good, or what the content was exactly of my desperate, fervent, muttered prayers.

But I remember the peace of the God of the universe filling me up until I thought I would overflow or burst or laugh or cry, and I remember God grabbing my heart and refusing to let go.  I remember knowing that he was there, with us, ready to take us in and change us entirely and turn our lives upside down in order to put them back together in a better way that centers completely on Him.

He’s still here with me, now.  And I know that he’s not going to leave.

It doesn’t matter what I end up doing, as long as I’m doing it for Him.  I pray that he’d take away my pride and fallen-ness and fill me up so much with the Holy Spirit that his love would flow out of me and reach those that need him desperately.

I hope I won’t lose sight of what’s important.  And I know I will, at least a little bit.  I still live in this world, and that will distract me.  I have to be refreshed every day and refocus on what truly matters.  But one day, we’ll get there.  One day we will truly understand the weight of God’s glory.

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Read this: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Romans 8 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8&version=NIV )

Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis: http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf  .  I really struggled with finding a quote to start this post off with because every word of this is absolutely amazing.  READ IT!!!

sobriety

“It is a great advantage not to drink among hard drinking people. You can hold your tongue and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care.”  ~The Great Gatsby

As yesterday was the final day of classes, and as we are on a college campus, a good number of my classmates managed to reach quite a high level of inebriation last night.  I would say I don’t understand it.  But I do, if I shift my frame of mind…

Reasons people get drunk:

* to completely let go of their inhibitions and have fun
* not knowing how else to have fun
* not knowing how else to be happy
* as a social activity — it’s very awkward to not drink at a party where everyone else does
* to feel good in that moment
* to forget

Reasons I choose not to drink:

* to preserve my dignity (consciously, at least.  :P)
* it’s against the law… (people forget.)
* the damage it does to my body
* the fact that my family has a history of alchoholism
* to be in control of myself and be the person that I want to be
* God calls me to fill myself with the Holy Spirit, not with alchohol (Ephesians 5:18)
* I want to remember my life in its entirety.  Not remembering something I did… terrifying.
* I can have fun while still being in control of my faculties (as my best friend once said, “I’m glad we don’t have to be drunk to have this much fun!”)
* and finally, have you seen me?  Me drunk would just be a bad idea all around.

So, yes, I have, and will continue to dance in a public fountain, dress up like a superhero with my brother and go to Yogurtland, or play on playgrounds meant for small children.  But I don’t need the alchohol to be weird… these are choices I can make while sober.  🙂

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