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.

><>

Advertisements

teen fiction vs. real love

[being human: the absence]

As I was planning out my next post (which should be around sometime soon), I realized that there was an article I’d written a few months ago but had forgotten to put up here.  It goes very well with the theme of the next one – what it means to be human – so I thought I’d present them in loose connection.  When supernatural stories extol the glories of non-human creatures, we can become muddled in what it actually means to be human.

Earlier, I saw a Facebook ad for yet another teen-novel-turned-movie.  I wonder if it’s any good, I thought.  What followed was a dinner’s worth of entertainment as my friends and I read its cheesy quotes out loud.  I considered it harmless entertainment, the equivalent of a dime novel or an amusing television show.

However, as I continued to peruse the teen romance section, my laughter began to subside as I realized it wasn’t as harmless as a poorly-worded sentence or characters clearly designed for self-insertion.  When it comes to how we look at love, these books are warping our perceptions in a disturbing and even dangerous way.

If you walk through a typical “paranormal/dark romance”, there’s a formula that applies for nearly every book.  The protagonist is a “normal” girl, klutzy and a little socially awkward.  All of a sudden, a dark, broody, devastatingly handsome boy swoops into her life (who may or may not stalk her or watch her sleep at this point).  He seems to hate her, but secretly, he’s just fighting his profound attraction to her and has to keep it a secret for (x) reason.  There’s a deep, sudden, sometimes literally electric connection, and they are plunged into a passionate romance that seems oddly serious for two teenagers.  Enter a possible love triangle or vague villain, and we’ve got our story.

Am I generalizing? Sure.  There are some gems in the teen section that deal with real-life issues, beautifully written histories, and a more balanced view of love.  However, they are few and far between.  As a real, live teenage girl myself*, this is an issue that worries me, especially when I notice that the Classics section in my local Barnes and Noble has been moved to accommodate the newest Paranormal Romances.

What are these books teaching?  It isn’t “just a story” because literature carries a heavier burden than that.  It pumps more fuel into the cultural engine of perception and expectation and shapes the way that we think about our world, for better or for worse.

The relationships described in these novels might seem exciting, but they definitely aren’t healthy.  In reality, you will be disliked without that aloofness masking any great affection.  The idea of stalking or very forcefully approaching the girl is written off as romantic in the books due to the fact that the two are “fated” to be together.  In reality, though, that’s called “breaking and entering” or possibly “assault”.  It’s assured us that behind the broody, mysterious stranger lies a deep secret.  If you’ve ever read Wuthering Heights you know that this isn’t a new invention, and although this kind of person might seem interesting in novels, they’d probably be a dangerous partner in reality.  These novels continue to perpetuate a culture in which violence against women is written off as romantic; it’s possible that young readers, internalizing these themes, will mistake abuse – whether physical or emotional – for “secret” affection.

Additionally, teen romance novels focus on a relationship centered so heavily on physical attraction that the personalities or character qualities of the characters are diminished or even destroyed.  These authors, as Faulkner would say, write “not of the heart but of the glands”.  Here, love is built on nothing but the lovers’ baseless passion for one another, and in reality, a relationship spun like cotton candy out of sickly-sweet infatuation quickly dissolves when faced with any sort of storm.  Metaphors aside, half the marriages in our country end in divorce.  When books like these are telling us that in order for love to be real, it must be electric and filled with drama, is it any wonder we end up confused in reality’s romantic endeavors?

As the two begin to say things like “you are my life”, they become so mutually obsessed with one another that their relationship is the only plot point that matters.  And while romance is an important part of life, there’s more to our own stories than a relationship with our significant other – our relationships with God, our jobs, our callings, and our adventures.  The kind of love depicted here might seem selfless because it’s other-obsessed, but upon closer inspection, the character is operating out of his or her own desperate craving for relationship.  As humans, we tend to idolize things, and this does not exclude worshiping other people.  When we derive all our meaning from another equally fallible human being and expect them to be as perfect as the characters we envision, they won’t be able to fulfill that need.  They will disappoint us, fail us, and let us down.  We are human.

I think this is why such a huge percentage of the love interests in teen fiction are inhuman creatures, whether that describes vampires, werewolves, angels, or demons (which presents a whole different brand of theological stickiness).  Because they aren’t programmed to fail like we humans are, they can be perfect, finally fulfilling the void that we’ve felt in our lives.  Young adult fiction is overflowing with supra-human partners because, as humans, we desire a personal relationship with a perfect, protective Divinity who can finally grant us the fulfillment and purpose that we seek.

If we want to know what true love really looks like, we should not look to paranormal romance; instead, we should look to this Divinity who came down and sacrificed himself for us.  When we become filled with God and worship Jesus instead of our significant other, we’re freed to participate in a relationship without the pressure of perfection.  For followers of Christ, we can look at a relationship as a partnership of two people striving toward the same goal – to glorify God – and reacting gently, sacrificially, and intentionally with one another.

Although it requires physical attraction (Boaz first found Ruth attractive before he fell for her, and take a look at Song of Songs) romantic love doesn’t center on that, but looks at the heart – the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).  It isn’t other-obsessed but other-serving.  It doesn’t need to be forceful or dramatic because there is freedom and grace.  Take a new look at the oft-parroted 1 Corinthians 13.  Love may not always be dreadfully exciting, like when your spouse leaves hair in the shower drain or forgets to flush the toilet.  But truly caring for someone means seeing them for who they are, flaws and all, and loving them in spite of it.  That is, after all, what our God does for us.

><>

Read this:  Jane Austen. The subtlety of her love stories is dazzlingly refreshing (and perhaps an acquired taste).  Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey are my favorites.  Ask me about it!
John Donne.  Is Austen too chaste for you? Donne (the cad!) strikes a glorious balance between body and soul with his witty, sacred, and profound poetry.  http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/donnebib.htm (Take a special look at “The Extasie”, “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, and “Holy Sonnet XIV”.

*I was 19 when I originally wrote this! I’ve just turned 20 a few weeks ago.

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.

><>

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

les misérables and the force of grace

I’ve seen the Les Misérables movie twice three times now.  I know all the words to the musical (I was a stellar chorus member in high school) and I was not disappointed with the movie.  This story is so powerful.  I’ll probably have something to say about revolutionaries quite soon (ugh!), but what most impressed me was the way that the movie didn’t shy away from the central message.  In Les Mis, I’ve hardly seen a more beautiful depiction of the gospel, especially in its most baffling component – grace.

The entire story tracks the lives of its central characters, weaving in and out of different people’s stories, and it can get confusing.  But grace and mercy are the threads that tie them all together as the story continues, and Hugo shows that even though we may want to ignore it sometimes, grace refuses to stay passive.  Each time, it becomes a crossroad of the most dramatic and life-changing proportions.

The bishop is the first man who has shown Valjean any grace in a long time.  When the bishop welcomes Valjean into his home, the man is taken aback, stunned, and shouts out that he’s a dangerous convict – an outcast.  Instead of treating him as such, the bishop looks at Valjean as a friend, calling him brother.  This simple kindness causes an uproar in Valjean’s soul as he struggles with whether or not he should steal the bishop’s silver.  There is an entire chapter in the novel that compares the torment of the convict’s soul with a drowning man, saying that “the soul, going down stream in this gulf, may become a corpse.  Who shall resuscitate it?”  Reminiscent of Romans 7:24, Valjean’s hardened heart can only be softened by God’s power.  Valjean is a dangerous man because he has allowed hate to rule him, and when he is presented with love, he cannot accept it.  He steals the silver, effectively choosing imprisonment forever.

But.

The bishop pardons him, claiming that the stolen goods were a gift.  If the welcome into the bishop’s home was inconceivable, Valjean is now presented with the most life changing paradigm shift of his entire existence.  It is grace unbound.  He deserved imprisonment and death, and the bishop handed him love and life.  He was emancipated by this mercy.  He did not get what he deserved.  Grace forces a decision on Valjean, a stark contrast between life and death.  And he chooses life.

After being shown grace, Valjean effectively becomes a carrier, pouring the same love out into the town of which he becomes the mayor.  And then he meets Fantine, who has fallen so far from the beautiful, innocent girl that she was into a dying, miserable woman who has turned to prostitution in order to support her daughter.  She, too, has let hatred worm its way into her heart, and she despises Valjean for letting her be driven away from his factory.

Inspector Javert, the man ruled entirely by Law and not at all by gospel, is about to imprison Fantine when Valjean comes in to pardon her and take her to the hospital.  He becomes the agent of grace to the dying woman, offering her a choice.  And this action astonishes both Fantine and Javert:

“Javert felt that he was on the verge of going mad.  He experienced at that moment, blow upon blow and almost simultaneously, the most violent emotions which he had ever undergone in all his life… When he beheld that mayor, that magistrate, calmly wipe his face and say, “Set this woman at liberty,” he underwent a sort of intoxication of amazement”

Javert is shaken; however, he does not waver.  He resolidifies into the man of law that he was before, putting his shock aside.  Fantine, however, lets herself be repossessed by grace.

“Had she, then, been mistaken? Must she change her whole soul? She did not know; she trembled.  She listened in bewilderment, she looked on in affright, and at every word uttered by M. Madeleine (Valjean) she felt the frightful shades of hatred crumble and melt within her, and something warm and ineffable, indescribable, which was both joy, confidence, and love, dawn in her heart.”

Although Fantine dies, she has chosen life as well.  She had pleaded to die instead of her daughter, and this exchange of grace and life carries through.  Valjean shows grace to her daughter, Cosette, literally buying her out of bondage to the Thenardiers and raising her into newness of life.  Cosette innocently accepts the gift.

Grace changes the lives of all of these characters in a radical way, but it is a gift that must be received in order to be effective.  It forces a choice between death and life, but not everyone can choose to live in a radically changed world.

Least of all Javert.

I’ve heard people criticize the policeman for being overdramatic, but can you imagine what he goes through when Valjean sets him at liberty?  Javert feels as though he is going mad when he simply witnesses Valjean giving Fantine her freedom – how on earth could he rationally comprehend his state when Valjean, a convict and a sinner, shows grace to Javert himself, giving him back his very life?  The seams of Javert’s world begin to rip apart, and everything that he once knew is turned inside out.  Every paradigm that he had relied on in his life has burst apart, crumbling.  Javert’s world is ordered and clean, black and white, and in it, everyone receives what he deserves.  For him, there are no “minor sins”.  He leaves no room for grace in his adherence to the law, but yet, it finds him.

Javert’s world has been irrevocably destroyed.  Before, he could try to ignore grace, but now that it has been given directly and obviously to him, he cannot pretend that nothing has changed.  He must “stare into the void / Of a world that cannot hold” and choose between the desolation of what he knows and a new, very different, life.  He must choose, more literally than any other character, between life and death.

Because he cannot deal with the world as grace has colored it, he kills himself, choosing to leave it behind forever.

Javert and Valjean are not so different, really.  They both wanted to serve God.  While Valjean was consumed by hatred, Javert let legalism take over his soul.  They both were shown grace in part, and then in its full glory.  But Valjean had the strength to follow God’s path, and Javert, while telling himself that he was following the Lord, followed his own humanity into death.  When Valjean leaps into the river to escape Javert, it is a baptism.  When Javert does the same to escape Valjean, it is death by water.

I think that we forget how powerful a thing grace is.  It’s either life-altering or life-destroying.  It is a force to be reckoned with, and yet, we take it for granted every day.  We deserved to die, and Jesus showed us his pardon, setting us at liberty and raising us from death to life.  “You are free,” He tells us, like Valjean, “and there are no conditions”.  Well, that’s not entirely true – He has traded places with us, giving up His life.

How will we respond? We cannot ignore it.  We must either accept this gift in love and let it transform our lives and our very selves, or we must throw it aside and choose to die instead.  We cannot live as we had before.  We must return the favor by giving Him our lives.

This is the heart of Les Misérables, and I love seeing the ripple effect of grace as it reaches each person.  Valjean is showed grace and then shows it to others.  This is a perfect picture of how Christians should live their lives every day.  We have been shown grace by someone even more wonderful than the bishop of Digne, and we can’t keep it to ourselves.  We continue to pass it on, mimicking God’s grace in the lives of others so that they too can show grace to the people they encounter.  It’s beautiful.  And if we truly understand how powerful a movement grace should be, it cannot be kept a pretty secret.

><>

what God’s been telling me this summer

I’m back at school.  Classes don’t start until tomorrow, though, so I’ve still got a few hours of freedom before I have to start worrying about everything.  I’ve still got a lot to tell you about things learned on vacation and during the summer, but I thought it apt to focus on God’s hand in my life this summer.  It’s been crazy.

Existential crises abounded.  The whole idea of being pre-med loomed, I could see the deadline, and the weight of my choices crippled me.  Granted, I gave them a bit too much weight.  But still.  I struggled over this for a long time.  There was one day of our trip, when we were in Denmark, when I just remember sitting on a windowsill and knowing that I was shaking inside.  The more I thought about it, the bigger my choice seemed.  I was scared of making a wrong decision, being considered stupid, not accomplishing anything.

But God spoke to me in the quiet spaces of hotel rooms and restaurants, and through the kindness of my little brother one night as I blubbered out my confusion, desire for greatness, and desire for God.

I prayed that God would replace my desires with His, give me peace, and help me to rely only on Him and not on the approval of others.  I prayed that He and He alone would become my hallowed thing.

And He spoke to me quietly and began to do these things.  I realized this: it doesn’t actually matter what I do, because I can serve God in whatever I do.  This “clarity” that I kept praying for may never come in the way that I wanted, and that was okay.  My focus was skewed.  I had been focusing on what I could do, and these things that I had wanted when I should have been turning my focus to the One who is with me always.  Everything in my life has to flow from that one relationship.

And it was at this point that God began to give me clarity as to what He wanted me to do.  That’s how it seemed at the time, but looking back, I suspect that I only began to listen at this point.

I worked as an intern for a nonprofit, LINC NT, when I got home, and the very first thing that they said they needed was someone to write stories for them.  That may not sound as shocking to you, but I’d been applying for jobs elsewhere and getting nowhere.  It was as if God had said, I want you here, and I want you writing. 

I wish I could remember all of the people, articles, and books that came my way at this point, but they were so numerous that I felt a little bit inundated.  I’d click on an article in a magazine, and it’d be about this very issue.  People came up to me independent of each other and mentioned my writing.  And then, a few weeks ago, I met with my pastor to talk.

We talked for almost two hours that morning, about art, literature, England, and my future.  And after our conversation, I stopped for tea and wrote, because I needed to process.  I trembled.  And here it is.

I knew I had to drop Chemistry.  I don’t really want to be a doctor.  Not really.  Because although I love the idea of it, I don’t think I’d be as happy in the day-to-day aspect.  It’d be stressful, and I’d have to separate myself from feelings about patients,people would die, and I wouldn’t be able to write.  I wouldn’t have the time.  But you make time for what you love!  I wouldn’t though.

And the most terrifying decision and admission came out then.  Everyone else has witnessed my passion for quite some time, and I think I just had to admit it to myself.  I love stories, and I am a creature driven more by story than anything else.  I want to be surrounded by them, inspired by them, and create them.

I want to write.

Why not do the thing I love most?  I have been blessed with a Great Love, and I know that not everyone has one.  And I want to be a writer, however impractical that may be.

I don’t know exactly how, and I don’t know at all how my life will pan out.  But who really does?  And this is a crazy thing.  As I told a dear, encouraging friend that night, I never thought I’d be that person who doesn’t have a distinct plan, who just goes where she thinks God is leading her.  Who just trusts that God will lead her and jumps.

And I’m scared.  I’m terrified – I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared of anything in my life.  This is a big step for me, and writing doesn’t exactly ensure a stable profession.  But I think it’s a step I have to take.  And I know that whatever I do, God’s going to provide me with what I need.  I don’t know that He’ll give me what I want.  And that’s a very good thing, because He knows so much better than I do.

I dropped Chemistry.  Looking back, I couldn’t even remember what had possessed me to sign up for it in the first place.  This summer, something just shifted.  And ever since that decision, God’s been giving me confirmation, guidance, and unbelievable peace.  I’ve read some really fantastic books – I just finished Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, and Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle.  The latter was intensely appropriate, recommended to me by another dear friend.  It’s all about being a Christian and a writer, and every page held something that I’d been thinking about or needed to consider.

Exactly two weeks after that decision, I got those articles published, which was lovely and confirming.

But even if I hadn’t… I’ve felt more peace since accepting this.  And since I’ve decided, I’ve been writing more every day.  And the more I write, the more I realize just how much I love it.  I love making sentences, the way a pen feels between my fingers, the way my handwriting spindles out, big words, analyzing and digging, creating characters, when people like my work, speaking True things.  I love writing. And the more I realize that, and the more I focus on God, the more that desire for greatness begins to fade.  I might never make it.  But I’m starting to care less, because I’m happy writing.

So, I don’t know where exactly I’m going from here.  It won’t be easy, and it won’t always make sense.  But I will continue to look to the Immutable and trust that He knows where I’m going.

><>

Read this: “Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about “man’s search for God.” To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat…. whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, [was] the steady, unrelenting approach of Him  whom I so earnestly desired not to meet… I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed… The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy.  The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”  C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

“Plato spoke of the necessity for divine madness in the poet. It is a frightening thing to open oneself to this strange and dark side of the divine; it means letting go our sane self control, that control which gives us the illusion of safety. But safety is only an illusion, and letting it go is part of listening to the silence, and to the spirit.” Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

…seriously, these books are gold.

mumford and sons and knowing something well

I was listening to Mumford and Sons for the billionth time in the car, and as the first plucked notes of Sigh No More came through the speakers, I was struck with this feeling.  It’s hard to put into words, but I’m going to try.

It was a feeling of comfort, like something you know so well that it never fails to wrap its arms around you, hold you tight and close to its heart, and soothe you, whispering.  Folds of melodies and harmonies slowly pull me in, wind their way around me, and settle me down in their familiar fabric.

Sigh No More is a favorite shirt that you got years ago and can’t stop wearing, no matter how faded the dyes on the T-shirt become and how thin the fabric wears between your fingers.  You rub the corner of it, and it’s so comfortable and familiar that it makes you smile.  You’ve worn it so long that it has more than become your shirt.  Friends know it well and it reminds them of you easily.

Or it’s a figurine that someone carved for you out of wood.  You know it so well now that you’ve almost forgotten the story behind it, but not quite.  You trace its figure between your fingers and you know that every inch of it is wired into your tactile memory.

Or, most accurately, your favorite book that you’ve read so many times that the binding is starting to break, the pages are turning yellow, the ribbon bookmark has frayed at its edges, and the corners of the cover have bent and rounded.  You know every word, trace them with your finger, find the places where you’ve annotated with pencil, the eraser marks.

I remember the joy of first hearing the CD, and the countless loops I subjected my family to.  I remember first reveling in the voice and the passion behind it, listening to the CD again and again until I learned each line and strum.  Catching the references to literature and history, grinning at the lines from Shakespeare, trying to unravel Mumford’s spiritual state and battles through the lyrics, frowning at times and being moved by his own struggle.  Thinking it over and turning it around in my mind, deciding what I agreed with and what I definitely didn’t.  Learning to love certain songs, like Dust Bowl Dance, that I’d hated upon first hearing them.

And still the songs never grow old.  I never tire of hearing them.  Your shirt will fade and thin, and the figurine will wear away under the pressure of your fingers, like the stone stairs of a well-trodden castle staircase or the constant beating of waves against a cliff.  The songs do not physically change.  They’re recorded forever in the same state, the same notes, the same lyrics, the same breaths.

But my perceptions change.  As I grow, the songs change and touch my heart in different ways.

And today, as I was sitting at work with my headphones in, I finally recognized the few words that had been previously ambiguous in one of the songs, I Gave You All – “brass wires”.  I didn’t know that I hadn’t known them.  I found something new in the middle of something I knew so well – another whittled facet to the figurine, a tiny tag on the inside of the shirt that you hadn’t noticed before.  And that’s the fun of getting to know something complex.  It will always surprise you.  Caravaggio’s masterpiece reveals something new even after years of drinking it in with your eyes.  Your best friend of fifteen years pulls out a talent you never knew they had.  A single Bible verse shows you something different when you need it the most.  Even though you know every single line of your favorite movie, you finally see something in the background that foreshadows the end from the very beginning.  Every time you read that novel, something new jumps out at you, arrests you, and draws your attention.  A harmony finally clicks for you, you hear an instrument that had hidden from you in the depths of the song, and you find a reference that you didn’t understand before.

It changes as you do.  That’s why it’s worthwhile to do things again, to re-read, re-view, re-listen, re-touch.  That’s why the most beautiful and complex things can never be fully understood or known – while we’re stilll earth-bound, anyway.  That’s why it pays to pay attention, and that’s what’s so lovely about loving something.  So I’m going to get back into my car, turn up the volume, and sink down into the undulating waves of sound and word.

><>

Re-read this: something you haven’t read in years that impressed upon you.

Hear this: Sigh No More ;

I Will Wait, the new single:

Hoo.  I’m already moved to near-tears by the lyrics. Okay.