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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the symphony

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for weeks.  I jotted down all of my thoughts the night of the event and proceeded to lose and find that sheet of paper at least five times.  It’s currently lost.

One weekend in April this year, I went to the symphony for the very first time.  My friend and I gawked at the Rococo gold-and-white beauty that is Powell Hall, settled down in our fancy dresses, and waited for it to begin.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I can safely say that it was life-changing.

Although I expected to like it, I didn’t expect the explosion of thought that would accompany enjoyment of the music.  I was completely fixed in my seat, but it was as if that tethering of intense focus only gave my thoughts more room to come alive above the wordless music.  Each different twist and turn of the music pushed my mind in another direction, prodding it, summoning up ideas and realizations.

The symphony itself was incredible.  I sometimes listen to classical music as I study, but this was arresting, much more so than mere background music.  There’s that lovely moment of prescience on the note right before where you wait on that cusp, feeling a contented jolt at a correct prediction and an electric pleasure at being proved surprisingly wrong.

Berlioz was terrifyingly brilliant.  Paganini was a madman. Aren’t all artists mad, though, I thought?  If madness is seeing something that isn’t there, then poets and artists – seeing the past, the future, and people that don’t even exist – are raving.  If madness is seeing what isn’t, then I was hallucinating right there, living in between two realities, planted in one and peering into the other.  These are some of my visions.

Watching so many people move together as a unit evoked an imperfect metaphor of the body of Christ and how beautiful true community can be.  In true community both people’s individual selves are kept intact as well as the group as a whole (Romans 12).  Diversity in the midst of community is one of the most beautiful things the body of Christ exhibits, people from every tongue and tribe and nation coming together for the singular purpose of living life together to praise God.

I thought about the misjudgement people make in comparing writing to music, and the beauty in telling a story without any words at all.  I tried to feel the plot from the notes and the instruments, and I didn’t completely get it.  But I remember feeling uneasy as my hairs rose, prickling, on my arms, or feeling relief at the tolling of bells.

I was also utterly captived by Augustin Hadelich, the violinist.  I saw how beautiful passion makes a person, and how much more there is to beauty than just physical appearance.  As he played, I thought about the intimacy of relationship between a musician and his or her instrument.  He knew every inch of the violin, exactly what to do with it, how to explore and find new wholes and play old melodies in an entirely new way.  He played, and I found myself in a space outside of time, and the rest of the world could keep on moving while I stayed and listened to him.

I imagined him as a boy, learning to clumsily pluck the strings of his new instrument, or maybe a borrowed violin, lightyears different from the borrowed violin that he currently played.  I imagined his first recital, his frustration that, even though his ability was growing, he still couldn’t play the hard pieces.  I imagined the horror that he felt after being trapped in that fire, his flesh rearranged and reconstructed, the terror that must have gripped him at the idea he might never play again.  And I imagined him with white hair, his mended skin wrinkling, playing with as much feeling and skill as he did here.

I saw the dome of the symphony hall tremble, speed up, begin to decay.  I imagined the cushions falling from their seats and the lights blowing out and leaving tiny shards of glass on the dirty carpet, the roof sagging and the paint peeling and the wind blowing leaves across the empty stage.  I imagined the hall in a hundred years, desolate, nature performing for herself and no one else, and I wondered if, even then, it would remember the sound of that symphony, if it would somehow ingrain itself into the structure.  If it would hold it close and bring it back up on lonely days, when the storm outside didn’t quite reach the inside, when the plinked dripping of the rain through the floorboards of the stage renewed itself in Paganini or Berlioz and the ghostly tune swelled within the shell of the hall.

And then a gasp of air, and the hall is glowing golden again, complete and full of life and music and the hushed rustle of hundreds of bodies shifting in their seats, fabric against velvet.

I’m sure there was more than this, and I’m disappointed that I don’t remember the flood of ideas.  I wished that symphonies could be like museums, letting everyone experience what I had; I wondered if everyone would want to.  I thought much of writing, much of inventiveness, much of God, some of others, and little of love.  But the symphony was nearly two months ago, now, and my memory has left me with this and with a feeling of fulfillment, peace, and reaching beyond my own shell.

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Listen to this: Augustin Hadelich playing Paganini: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsJyuJppA7s

Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DWjI1uLSzw

a few caught thoughts

When a thought is in your mind it is not to be taken lightly, for it has a weight when you consider it.  But when spoken aloud, it becomes insubstantial even as it gains its reality in the world.  It becomes lighter and now seems ridiculous.

This is why thoughts are so often kept inside, for the joy of feeling their weight and comforting pressure and for the fear of becoming ridiculous.  But there is often beauty in the odd-shaped pearl, and sometimes the ridiculous should be taken more seriously than anything.

 

I’ll try to post something more substantial soon, but in the meantime, hello! I hope you’re all doing well, staying warm, thinking deeply, and seeking God.  Happy New Year.

neolithic monuments, the avengers, and God

On our very first day in Ireland, when our nascent jet lag was quickly worsening, we visited Knowth, a section of Neolithic monuments found in Brú na Bóinne.  They’re some of the oldest structures in Europe.  Neat, right?  And internally, the structure of the tombs looks just like this:

Knowth – symbol at center

There’s a cross in the very center of the tomb, which was very possibly a religious meeting place for the ancient Celts.  Accident?

I think it’s like those proteins in your body, Laminin, that hold you together on a molecular level – they’re cross-shaped, too.  The very structures that keep your body connected and functional reflect the very thing that keeps us connected and functional.

And I don’t think that these burial grounds are a coincidence either, because I don’t believe in coincidences.

There are repetitions in life, things that cycle over, and why should we pay attention to them if they aren’t meaningful?  This symbol might have been just another way that God prepared the hearts of the Celts to receive Him, like in the case of St. Brigid. (Brigid is one of Ireland’s three patron saints and also the name of a triune Celtic goddess.  The saint used this connection to help explain God to the people of Ireland.)

He’s left his marks all over this world, and he’s actively moving within it.  And I forget! How could I?  But the last time I prayed was last night, asking God to help me get some sleep.  Like there’s nothing more important to talk to God about.  He, and all of Christianity… It’s so important, so powerful, and so deep, like ancient magic, as Aslan would say.  And we undermine it.  Thinking of the violence in Ireland between Protestants and Catholics is heartbreaking, because both claim to be Christians, but they’re killing each other over religion!  Of course it mostly has to do with the English/ Irish hostility, but it’s always summed up as Protestants vs. Catholics.  And God is bigger than that.  He’s bigger than squabbles, rituals, cathedrals, and we humans who try to get to heaven on our own.  And thank goodness, because who would be willing to serve a small god?

I’ve seen the Avengers twice now, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Yes, they were awesome, and it was fun to see the dynamics of the new team, but they also brought up a lot of interesting questions about power, kingship, and who is fit to rule – especially with Thor and Loki.  I was acutely reminded of the brothers, Edmund and Edgar, in Shakespeare’s Lear.  One of the very first things Loki says (after killing a few people) is that he’s come with glorious tidings, to free the people from freedom.  And that sounds awful.

Later on, in Germany, he proclaims that “it’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation”. And although this is coming from the mouth of a crazy, villainous, mass-murdering Norse god, he’s absolutely right.  It’s true.  We will always serve something, no matter what – ourselves, our jobs, other people, our obsessions.  We are never free.  That’s terrifying.  But here’s where Loki twists it.  He wants to be the one to rule, and that isn’t right either.  That is what serving a small god looks like.

In response to Loki’s adamant declaration of power, an old German man refuses to kneel, saying that we weren’t meant to be ruled by men like Loki.  And that’s precisely right.  Yes, we were made to serve, but not just anyone.  We were made to serve a perfect, living God who loves us more than we can imagine or reciprocate.  God doesn’t look like Loki, or even Thor, even though the “god of thunder” points out that a good leader understands he is not above his people.  Thor was right about ruling, in this case: a ruler can’t think himself better than his subjects, because people should be treated equally, and power in man’s hands quickly becomes corrupt if not wielded with humility.

But God is no tyrant, and He is better.  He is what’s best for us.  It’s not prideful, because it’s true.  It’s beautiful, how he rules.  And it makes sense why we can’t be Him, and why we are hard wired in our very cores to serve.  We yearn for God, and not just to serve as a slave, but to love and be loved as a child.

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Read this: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

King Lear, or any of the history plays… or tragedies, for that matter…

See this:  Avengers!

thoughts on travel

Hello, my dears! Or rather, Guten tag… 🙂 right now, I’m on an Austrian train from Salzburg to Vienna, have finished with my school trip to Ireland (which was amazing) and am about a week into my family trip.  I’ll try to post as often as I can, because I have a lot to say, but we shall see.

This is where I went to church this morning:

It was lovely, and the choir may have honestly been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.  It was also entirely in German, but oh well.  Details.

I thought I’d briefly type up some of the things I’ve learned thus far while travelling.  Maybe it won’t be brief.  But here are my reflections:

Pack light.  With all of the stairs, trains, and cobbled streets, the last thing you want is a giant suitcase.  Mine, regrettably, seems to be growing with each stop.  I just keep sitting on it… Also, you don’t really need everything you think you’ll need.  Vacuum bags are a thing of beauty.

Another reason to pack light is that you’ll buy things.  And you should.  Not the stupid knick knacks that they sell at souvenir shops.  But if there’s something thats sort of expensive but that you’ll a) never see again b) use a lot c) cherish for a long time, buy it!  I ended up going into a tiny Parisian shop that sold dresses and coming out wearing one of them.  But it’s designed and made by a local woman, so I’m sort of excited about that.

Accept that you will lose something.  Like maybe a brand new CF card.  Or the food your brother steals from you.  Or all of your socks.

Accept that you will be a tourist.  That always makes me feel awkward, going to a sight and taking lots of pictures and speaking loudly in English, but I just had to say screw it and smile when my mom points the camera our way.

Be a good tourist, and not an ugly American.  That means being quiet (such a struggle for me…) and being aware of cultural differences, like bathroom fees and opening train doors…

Unfortunately, you’re still going to offend someone.  Like the very angry bathroom attendant who yelled at me when I didn’t have money to pay the optional fee.  I didn’t know!  Oops.

Make friends!!!  This one is my favorite.  People have so much to say.  Just start talking to someone.  If they’re unfriendly, then all you’ve lost is their opinion of you – and who cares.  They’re a stranger, let them think you’re weird or awkward.  If they’re friendly, though, you’ve gained a connection, a friend, a way to pass the time, and all of the stories that they tell you.  Be safe, CLEARLY.  But chatting with your cabbie, listening to the stories of two old Irish men revarnishing a Presbyterian church, getting emotional with someone about the Gutenburg Bible at TCD, or talking to a dapper British man reading Roald Dahl at a Parisian laverie? Probably okay.

Try to learn the basics of the language.  I haven’t been very stellar with this one this time around, but I can say “please” and “thank you”, apologize (sort of), say “it’s good”, and greet people.  My accent may be awful and embarrassing, and I’ll probably make some hilariously awful slip ups, but most people appreciate the effort.  Well, some people.  It’ll be a mess when we switch countries.  Oh well…

Be aware of the homeless.  This one doesn’t just apply to traveling.  Okay, if I could, I’d give money to every homeless person or street performer I came across.  Maybe not the rude ones.  But I feel for them, and I really want to help them.  Money doesn’t do much, but it’s one of the only ways I can show them that they are loved.  I’ll never forget.  We were walking into the subway system in one of the cities when this very sweet man asked for money.  We moved on, since I didn’t have any, but I got some and ran back to give it to him.  He kissed my hand and absolutely beamed.  Not because it was a lot of money, but because I went back for him.That said, be careful (girls especially).  Don’t be stupid, and don’t talk to people when you’re alone.  Some homeless people will hassle you, and many are mentally unbalanced, so don’t disregard your own safety in your generosity.

Wander.  Dear heaven, wander.  This is some of my favorite advice, because I’ve found some of my favorite places this way.  Stray a bit from the beaten path of touristy areas and find somewhere cool.  Shakespeare and Co is the most wonderful place in the world, and I LOVED IT, and I wanted to live there… I’ll probably write a whole post on it.  UGH.  And in Salzburg, we walked through an outdoor market and bought food from lots of different stalls, then stood around a table outside to eat. We had fried chicken, pretzels, and raspberries, and it was lovely.

Be patient with your fellow travellers.  This is something that I have not been, and I’m so sorry for that.  When you’re with someone constantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sharing rooms, you might start to wear on each other a little.  And that’s normal.  Be gracious, and forgiving.  Try not to fight (or apologize after you do).  Give each other space and alone time.

Don’t sleep in.  Also ridiculously difficult for me.  But when you roll over in bed, and it’s deliciously comfortable, and you’re warm and sleepy and never want to move, try to remember that you’re in a new place that begs to be explored.  (this is a bit of a confession/ self-reminder since it took me 30 minutes and my entire family yelling at me and pulling off the covers for me to get out of bed…)

Do your research.  It will help you be a savvy traveller, and you’ll feel super cool when you know your way around and have tickets and things planned out.  It also makes things less stressful.

But embrace when things don’t go according to plan.  I say when, because they won’t.  Make the most of it, though, and see where the changes take you, because it might be better than what you originally planned.  One day, our episode of Awkward Adventures in Germany was entitled “We don’t get off of trains when we’re supposed to”.  So it turns out that doors don’t actually open automatically… Another American was very upset about it.  And we were too, to a degree.  But we were sitting (serendipitously) next to a wonderfully sweet stranger from the Railway Advisory, and he helped us.  That day was also one of the most fun I’ve had with the jokes that happened and the people we met (Too late…….).

Record your adventures.  Take pictures (but don’t spend so much time behind the lens that you miss out!).  Keep a travel journal.  Don’t say, “I’ll remember”.  You won’t (I’ve forgotten many things this way).  Write it down.

Finally, consider it a beautiful, glorious thing that God is the same in any language.  Christianity allows people to keep their culture and individuality while still being a part of the same family, and it’s amazing to meet and see others who worship the same God all over the world.

That’s all for now!  And I realize that wasn’t brief at all.  OH WELL!  I’ll write more soon with excerpts from my Ireland travel journal and places I’ve been (SHAKESPEARE AND CO).  Until then!
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coincidence?

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything about what God’s been doing in the past few weeks, because it’s been amazing and a hundred percent Him.  This month, He’s really shown me a lot and put me in different people’s paths.  In the past few weeks, I’ve had so many long conversations with people about God, what they believe, why they struggle with the ideas of Christianity, and what’s been going on in their lives.

During one of these conversations, my friend looked at me very seriously and intently and asked me if I believed in coincidences.

No.  I don’t.

The more I begin to see these connections, and the more I “coincidentally” run into people, the more I realize that everything fits together in a way that I can’t possibly imagine, orchestrated perfectly in an intricate, weaving dance by a Creator who knows what He’s doing more than I do.  Sometimes I imagine what it would look like to map out, lining out each person’s interaction with others as these lines converge and diverge, but that’s too overwhelming of a thought.

A few weeks ago, I felt that I should text this friend to tell her that she was loved, and so I did.  The day after that, I went to her dorm room and we talked for an hour and a half about God, Jesus, grace, and forgiveness.  And, coincidence.

I asked her why she wanted to know my views on coincidence, and her answer absolutely amazed me.  She said that she almost started crying when she got that text from me, because she had been going through so many horrible things at that very time, and it was exactly what she needed to hear.  She looked at me hesistantly and asked me if I’d known.  I chuckled and told her that I honestly had no idea.

I don’t believe in coincidence (at least on the important things.  You and your friend both wearing the same shirt is probably not that meaningful).  I think that God moves people and uses us, in all of our fallability, to do His work.  And what He did with that text message made Him more tangible to my friend, who had doubted if God even existed.

Since then, I’ve “run into” so many different people.  I happened to sit by a girl who goes to my church last weekend on a five hour bus ride, and we talked the entire ride.  She was also on the bus back, and took me back to campus when I didn’t have enough cash for a cab.

While visiting my friend, who also speaks Spanish, we met a homeless woman from Madrid and talked to her for a long time.

All these high school seniors are visiting my school right now, too, and some of them are staying with students.  I walked into my suitemate‘s room to find a kid that I went to pre-first with and figured out that all this time, we’d been living in the same neighborhood back home.

God does these sorts of things all the time, and there is no way that all of these coincidences could be coincidences.  It’s honestly impossible.

It’s like hearing a song and then realizing that it’s playing on the radio all the time, or meeting a person and then seeing them all over campus, or your neighborhood, or wherever you frequent the most.  Once you see God, and once you realize that He’s working, these random happenings grow extinct as you begin to see Him all the time.  He’s always been there.  You’d just never noticed it before.

A coincidence is nothing more than our inability to see.  A coincidence is when we don’t notice God moving in a powerful way and decide to attribute his magnificent power to mere chance.

So no, I don’t believe in coincidence.  I believe in God.

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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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