and gracefully bends irregularity;
birthing the transformation of
the ugliest of character.
I see the usual grumbling oak across the way
and the arthritic brown walnut tree,
their arms are now fallen at their sides,
heavy heads bowed low in somber
white reverence to the sky.
without any reason
my heart lifts to light
in this bleak season.
Believer and wanderer
caught by salvation
stumbler and blunderer
In this cold blight
where marrow is frozen
it is God's time
my heart has chosen
In paradox and story
parable and laughter
find I the glory
here in hereafter.
"I mean, what is an un-birthday present?"
"A present given when it isn't your birthday, of course."
Alice considered a little.
"I like birthday presents best," she said at last.
"You don't know what you're talking about!" cried Humpty Dumpty.
"How many days are there in a year?"
"Three hundred and sixty-five," said Alice.
"And how many birthdays have you?"
[Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland]
The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians- when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them. Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity- and possibly nowhere else.
-Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? And what multitudes there might be of them, they knew not. (Bradford)
And so the winter winds blew harshly through the plank doors, snuffing out life after life. Ten were gone. Then twenty. The frozen ground was interrupted from its winter sleep again and again, and still more bodies were laid beneath the innocent snow. When the sun finally stretched out its warming hand, it wept at the sight that uneducated life in the new world had wrought; over half of the small settlement was obliterated, only three families remained intact. And then he came- very much as a surprise, nearly naked, yet speaking their tongue and eager to aid; surely an angel sent by God? He divulged the secrets of the trees and leaves, unlocking the mysteries of the seas and rivers; he performed magic with the ground yielding large harvests. Overcome with gratefulness for the stranger, one spoke of him as "a special instrument sent of God for our good, beyond our expectation." And thus, they learned the ways of the land, planting and reaping, hunting and fishing. They learned to survive the woods and the winds. Summer days came... and went. And by God's grace, they prospered.
Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie. (Edward Winslow)
Chalk board-ish signs were decorated, marking the beginning of our holiday season with their advertisements of gingery and eggnogy lattes. It smelled like cinnamon and coffee in the little shop and it was warm and cozy. I sipped my americano. You drink way too much coffee, I told myself, way too much. I opened my book and read.... two words.
I was interrupted by the intelligent looking man next to me who proceeded to start a discussion about the book I held in my hands. I was reading Orthodoxy (again), by Chesterton. He wanted to know my views on Protestantism and Greek and Roman orthodoxy and Christianity: all so similar, yet possessing some tenants so widely different. What a topic. Then he went on to tell me, in his French accent, that he has (supposedly) been a professor at three different acclaimed universities and how he is writing a book on the subject of-- orthodoxy, of all things. After that long interesting conversation, I was able to pick up my book again. These are my favorite, favorite passages taken from chapter five from my reading:
On life and this world:
I felt economical about the stars as if they were sapphires (they are called so in Milton's Eden): I hoarded the hills. For the universe is a single jewel, and while it is a natural cant to talk of a jewel as peerless and priceless, of this jewel it is literally true. This cosmos is indeed without peer and without price: for there cannot be another one.
No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a Christian to die to it?
The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.
On death by suicide:
Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.
...[He] insults everything on earth. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury: for each has received a personal affront.
Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end... In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe.
But... who can escape one's thoughts?
If, indeed, we all have a kind of appetite for eternity, we have allowed ourselves to be caught up in a society that frustrates our longing at every turn. Half our inventions are advertised to save time-- the washing machine, the fast car, the jet flight-- but for what? Never were people more harried by time: by watches, by time clocks, by precise schedules... There is, in fact, some truth in 'the good old days': no other civilization of the past was ever so harried by time.
And yet, why not? Time is our natural environment. We live in time as we live in the air we breathe. And we love the air-- who has not taken deep breathes of pure, fresh country air, just for the pleasure of it? How strange that we cannot love time. It spoils our loveliest moments. Nothing quite comes up to expectations because of it. We alone: animals, so far as we can see, are unaware of time, untroubled. Time is their natural environment. Why do we sense that it is not ours?
...It suggests that we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed at it-- how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry has time gone? We aren't adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home."
[Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy]
among the ruins of time
cannot escape them:
towering like giants
six and seven, ten
Glass could live
if not shattered.
But, I am a shroud
of sand's seashells.
I will not last long.
And one day,
like a castle of sand
away I will be washed,
into the spectral sea.
Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity... it is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid... The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility.
A gentle boy, with soft and silken locks,
A dreamy boy, with brown and tender eyes,
A castle-builder, with his wooden blocks,
And towers that touch imaginary skies.
A fearless rider on his father's knee,
An eager listener unto stories told
At the Round Table of the nursery,
Of heroes and adventures manifold.
There will be other towers for thee to build;
There will be other steeds for thee to ride;
There will be other legends, and all filled
With greater marvels and more glorified.
Build on, and make thy castles high and fair,
Rising and reaching upward to the skies;
Listening to voices in the upper air,
Nor lose thy simple faith in mysteries.
hits his heads
against the wall
his sister chords spiral
from the strings
in echoes and chants
to the windows
last i saw the
e minor die
his mouths were
reciting rhythms to
I find that in the summer's end, while many things change,
as I run down the sloping grass, wondering why --
why the days blink so fast? The season is changing and so is my
mood. My thoughts are flying a million directions; and to my
indignation, some are wanting to lie dormant, wrapped cozily
in a tartan plaid! My summer impulsive wildness is getting sleepy
and swirling smoke and fires and flickering shadows on the
walls sound nice. The warm breeze reminds me of coldness and
scarves. My ideas are starting to turn... turn colors like the
leaves soon will. And my thoughts... oh my thoughts... some are
flying south, but some... some are dreaming of cinnamon and
wool, hungrily dreaming of past summer days as if they were a
custard of pleasant fairy tales. Oh. And taxi! Could you please
stop at the next coffee shop?
I need some warmth from this sudden chilliness.
Existence and it's meaning, and life and love-- and trying in vain to discern God's reasoning behind bubbles and bell peppers, have been intensely lurking in my thoughts and under my bed for weeks. This short poem of Chesterton's marched through my mind all day like a somber hymn, strumming the strings of my mind like an ungraceful harpist. It's nothing new. I've read it before.
Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
Meaning. I'm struggling with meaning. Can a Christian be lost? Not lost in the truest sense, because my darkness is illuminated by the light. But lost as in, what is this light? "I felt in my bones, first that this world does not explain itself... Second, I came to feel as if magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have some one to mean it." One of my favorite passages so far is when he describes this world as a sort of cosmic shipwreck:
"A person's search for meaning resembles a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure strewn about, relics from a civilization he can barely remember. One by one he picks up the relics- gold coins, a compass, fine clothing- and tries to discern their meaning. Fallen humanity is in such a state. Good things on earth- the natural world, beauty, love, joy- still bear traces of their original purpose, but amnesia mars the image of God in us."
I was so excited upon reading this that during my break at work, I called an employee over and read it to her. I was so excited. To me-- what a genius way to describe it-- this world, truth and life! Sometimes little things have a way of exploding my overly eager mind to produce dramatic thoughts, and well, this quote did it. It brought me abruptly out of my body and jolted me into the space of time- in my mind I surveyed the world and humanity- and I was overwhelmed with the feeling of God, and of the beauty of this place, of its desecration, of its mystery, and of its mystic magic and pure and holy beginning and hope of redemption. We live in a Narnian world.
My spine just tingled.
I am life. I breathe. I live. I move. I hear. And speak. I love. I weep. I sense. I fear. I believe. I feel. I hope. I...live. This reality- this concept of life, of my life and your life- should never cease to amaze us. Never. The profound mystery of this breathing and pulsing world should grab our hearts and dwell within our souls. It should race within our minds every day and excite us with an amazing love and gratitude for our Creator. It should knock us off our feet! It should blow our minds. It should send shivers down our spines. It should overwhelm us. Convict us. Inspire us.
It should intoxicate us. It should intoxicate us with love for life-- for our beautiful, beautiful lives.
She had just heard that her friend of 50 years had died. "I didn't even know she had cancer," she told me. She stared through the open door absently and said, "I didn't even know." I put the card back I was looking at and picked up a different one. The birthday greeting inside was exceptionally lame. I put it back. I turned to look at her. I watched her, curiously. Her light, white hair framed her pixie face. Her eyes were vibrant and sparkling. She was very lovely. I felt so young looking at her. Childish. Inexperienced. What wise condolences could I offer her? I prayed for her, silently. "It's very sad when your friends start dying," She said, looking at me. I couldn't say, "I know." Because... I didn't. "When you know someone for so long, it kills you when they leave you. It does, " she said, looking at me thoughtfully. I twirled the card stand, and watched the colorful cards spin. I tried to share in some of her pain by telling her of my friend who had just left that day for Marine boot camp. I think that made it worse and I berated myself for telling her. So, I decided to just listen, silently. Attentively. My heart going out to her, quietly. "I really hate goodbyes, you know." She said. "And... I've learned that, this is what life is; a series of goodbyes." Her soft, wistful voice smote my heart. "I really, really hate goodbyes." I ended up buying a card. I didn't want to leave so quickly, but I was late for an appointment. I tried to say everything encouraging and loving that I could think of. I walked to the door. She smiled, "Thank you for coming, dear," she said. I smiled too, wanting to run back over to her and give her a hug."Goodb--" I started to say. "I hope you have a lovely evening," I quietly said instead. I walked down the cracked sidewalk, clutching my card.
"Well," I said, "I remember I turned on the light and stood in front of the mirror, looking at myself, frightened because people thought when they were getting ready for bed, and didn't think about me because I wasn't the most important thing in their lives at all. Mother and Father'd always made me feel that I was important, and now all of a sudden I realized I wasn't. How can you be important when nobody knows about you? It's very frightening to realize you aren't important after all."
"Wait, wait, don't go yet!" I say,
to the melting sun as it waves goodbye,
sliding down through space.
The day cannot be spent yet-
it was too lovely.
I dig my heels in the ground
and push the sun back up an inch.
It slides right back down again.
I sigh. And sink into the soft grass,
in sad reluctance.
But tomorrow dawns another day,
and with it, a new sun.
It was torrid and windy. Which, was bearable as long as the breeze blew, but the moment it stopped, the heat would encircle me- and then just as it had captured me- it would thrust me aside as the winds blew again. I felt like a ship being buffeted at sea. I sat there in the dirt, barefoot, watching the crowds of people picnicking or dunking each other in the lake. The trees near me swayed, their branches swirling in the wind; their shadows making random shapes on my arms. Because of the hot temperature, the park was flooded with people. The picnic tables were littered with plastic Winco bags and chips and Sprite. Paper cups or a napkin or two occasionally flew by in the wind. Families of every descent seemed present, each with their 23 children and 65 lawn chairs. The beach was overgrown with towels and sunscreen bottles, soaked diapers and stray flip flops. A child ran past me with a precarious looking sucker jutting from his mouth. I watched a boy and girl toss a pink ball back and forth; the girl never seemed to be able to catch it. The wind grabbed my hair and plastered it on my face, making it ridiculous to see anything. I held my hair away from my eyes as a young boy on the swings caught my attention. He was no older than 12. He sat on the swing with a cigarette in his mouth; pumping up and down, up and down, a puff of smoke trailing behind him. A wailing sound broke into my reverie. A mob of little children were making a mad dash to the sound, towards... towards what? "Ice cream!" I heard someone shout. And there it was, the ice cream...van. Playing very, very loud Christmas music. "Go tell him it's July," I said to the little brown-eyed toddler, staring at me from the baby swing. Something that resembled fried food wafted indelicately through the air. I heard someone laugh. I heard a scream. Someone swore, loudly. A woman with bright green Crocs walked past me. A small boy with a plastic bucket marched past my feet. To the right of me a girl was bothering two little children on the tire swing. They wanted off-- they screamed, cried. She twisted it up and let it go...twisted and let it go. Each time she stepped back, laughing. They fell off, finally, at the end of their third ride; dizzy and sick. They collapsed in two little heaps, sobbing on the bark chips. She pointed, laughing. I turned my head to watch the nearly naked swimmers. Their white pasty legs and sunburned faces clambered in and out of the off-brown water.
There are times in life, when one feels a part of humanity, when you feel one with your fellow bank teller, or the man who waved to you at the intersection. But, then there are times, like these, when one feels completely alienated. As I surveyed everyone, this small part of humanity, I drew conclusions about them all-- the picnickers, swingers and swimmers-- I felt as if I knew who most of them were and how they were pursuing their lives. Sometimes, you can tell things like that from just simply watching people. I felt as if all the evidence I needed was being presented right in front of me. And it made me sad.
I stood up and grabbed my water bottle and keys. I waved to the little dark-eyed toddler still stuck swinging in the baby swing.
My eyes began swimming in a sea of salt water.
Must have been all the wind and dust.
Old Age-- Mr. Professor, I hope to see you well. I have known you for some time, though I think you did not know me. Shall we walk down the street together?
Professor (drawing back a little)-- We can talk more quietly, perhaps, in my study. Will you tell me how it is you seem to be acquainted with everybody you are introduced to, though he evidently considers you an entire stranger?
Old Age--I make it a rule never to force myself upon a person's recognition until I have known him at least five years.
Professor-- Do you mean to say that you have known me so long as that?
Old Age-- I do. I left my card on you longer ago than that, but I am afraid you never read it; yet I see you have it with you.
Old Age-- There, between your eyebrows,--three straight lines running up and down; all the probate courts know that token,--"Old Age, his mark." Put your forefinger on the inner end of one eyebrow, and your middle finger on the inner end of the other eyebrow; now separate the fingers, and you will smooth out my sign- manual; that's the way you used to look before I left my card on you.
Professor-- What message do people generally send back when you first call on them?
Old Age-- Not at home. Then I leave a card and go. Next year I call; get the same answer; leave another card. So for five or six,--sometimes ten years or more. At last, if they don't let me in, I break in through the front door or the windows.
We talked together in this way some time. Then Old Age said again,--Come, let us walk down the street together,--and offered me a cane, an eyeglass, a tippet, and a pair of over-shoes.--No, much obliged to you, said I. I don't want those things, and I had a little rather talk with you here, privately, in my study. So I dressed myself up in a jaunty way and walked out alone;--got a fall, caught a cold, was laid up with a lumbago, and had time to think over this whole matter.[Oliver W. Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, 1858]
I stood still; silently and tired in the heat- watching the tall shadows from the buildings create a tunnel around the driving cars. I wished I had my sunglasses. But they had recently met their sad demise near the blueberry muffins in my local Trader Joe's I remembered, when I had stooped to read the ingredient label and they fell from my head; and I hadn't bought new ones yet. So, I squinted in the sun. A man ambling down the street caught my demented vision and my eyes followed him as he walked my direction. He had an interesting walk; a waltz-like shuffle and hobble at the same time. I heard something. Was he singing? He crossed the street, his glazed, delirious eyes barely noticing the cars randomly passing. He was dirty and hot and looked tired. He resembled most of the other homeless men in downtown Portland. His shoes were mainly flaps held together perhaps by a miracle and his clothing was torn and filthy. I was right, he was singing. His voice was loud and clear, and people looked up from their books and paused their conversations to glance at him. In an off-key solo of haunting proportions he sang: "I'm singing the same old song, I'm singing the same old song, I'm singing the same old song..." Over and over and over and over and he sang those words. I watched his bent shoulders disappear amidst the people on the street- as his empty phrase echoed through the air, ricocheting through the shadowy tunnel of the city buildings.
Oh God, give him a new song to sing.
The heavens weep for me. Their tears trudge this muddied earth.
The forests mourn for me, sighing; their subtle groans send fractures
through the air, gathering in hollow caves, crying.
My young heart is like acidic ink, it drips and spreads within me,
it stains my fingers and my feet, it disgraces my face; it has polluted my name.
I am drowned in my sorrow. And this sorrow- it haunts the corners of the
earth. It drags itself to the side of the seas, throwing itself in, searching for
peace, for concord- but, the oceans spit it out. And so it crawls to the mountains
and hides itself in the crevices of the cliffs, crying.
It lives. It cannot be redeemed by any hand of man or smote by the breath
of any creature. It lives within me, this guilt, this daily bread of blinking death.
I wash it from my hands, but the inky blackness swims through my veins.
I throw it from my body, but it clings to me; it cannot be pried, it cannot be bribed.
I am the typography of self satisfaction and self ruination. I am a painted portrait
of destruction. I wish I could obliterate that portrait, but it hangs for public display
and all eyes see it. Some who stare at it with glazed eyes, smile- yet tears fall down
their faces. They don't understand- yet they mourn. Those eyes should mourn
for themselves and not for me. For my nameless grief has overflown from my body
and seeps into this mortal sand, pervading the pores of the air. My pain is a havoc
to the world. All who breathe this air and walk this sand become like me.
And so the heavens weep for you also. Their tears trudge this muddied earth.
The valleys utter groans and the trees whisper their great sadness. The birds
of the air sing their songs, crying.
pour the rain into a jar
use a blanket of brightly orange
to wrap it up and toss it far.
the pointing one
the little one
While fresh upon my legs, so long I naught require,
Except this knotty staff. Beside,
What boots it to abridge a pleasant way?
Along the labyrinth of these vales to creep,
Then scale these rocks, whence, in eternal spray,
Adown the cliffs the silvery fountains leap:
Such is the joy that seasons paths like these!
Spring weaves already in the birchen trees;
E’en the late pine-grove feels her quickening powers;
Should she not work within these limbs of ours?
Through the stones and heather springing,
Brook and brooklet haste below;
Hark the rustling! Hark the singing!
Hearken to love’s plaintive lays;
Voices of those heavenly days—
What we hope, and what we love!
Like a tale of olden time,
Echo’s voice prolongs the chime.
So, I toted home a new book from the library. It actually isn’t very new and happens to smell a little, the pages are muted yellow and are rather stiff to the touch- stiff from a galaxy of germs, most likely. Although, I doubt many people have stormed their local library in search of this book, aching to read it. It was originally published in 1895, but this paper backed copy, the one I hold in my hands- wondering why on earth I ever wanted to read it- is obviously a little newer than that. The only reason I can remember for wanting to read it in the first place is because it is dramatically titled. It's known as, The Altar of the Dead, written by James Henry. It is one of his most famous works, labeled by critics as a “gloriously written” short story. I wonder if those critics ever read the whole thing, because if they did, I know they would have agreed with me that it is a long story, and it’s dull, and boring and confusing and rather, for lack of a more glamorous adjective- weird.
The story is a fable. It explores the protagonist’s treatment of morality and transcendence and love, by examining his unusual remembrance of “his dead,” as his deceased young fiancée and friends are called. And so he lives and breathes their deaths, memorializing their lives, eventually making the pursuit of their memory his sacred purpose and religion. The protagonist dies at the end, prostrate before the altar of his dead, and the story closes with his face showing “the whiteness of death.” He had, in the end, become one of his own dead. It is an empty story. If the secular Mr. Henry had hoped in illustrating deep spirituality and unselfish love, he wrote the wrong words. For in the end, what he successfully and even beautifully illustrated was humanity's degeneration and essential need for life- life that surpasses this tilting world.
shrouding the diseased arches above the cathedral trees.
he slips his arms into his tellurian vest,
as, one by one, each button is seduced by his hand.
until at last all blinking eyes have stopped,
all sun-yellow faces have sunk into the rapture of stillness,
as they slowly swallow their short eternity of rest.
And still the mad magnificent herald Spring
assembles beauty from forgetfulness
with the wild trump of April: witchery
of sound and odour drives the wingless
man forth in the bright air, for now the red
leaps in the maple's cheek, and suddenly
by shining hordes in sweet unserious dress
ascends the golden crocus from the dead.
with hooded day preening upon his hand
followed by gay untimid final flowers
(which dressed in various tremulous armor stun
the eyes of ragged earth who sees them pass)
while hunted from his kingdom winter cowers,
seeing green armies steadily expand
hearing the spear-song of the marching grass.>>>
A silver sudden parody of snow
tickles the air to golden tears, and hark!
the flicker's laughing yet, while on the hills
the pines deepen to whispers primeval and throw
backward their foreheads to the barbarous bright
sky, and suddenly from the valley thrills
the unimaginable upward lark
and drowns the earth and passes into light.
O still miraculous May! O shining girl
of time untarnished! O small intimate
gently primeval hands, frivolous feet
divine! O singular and breathless pearl!
O indefinable frail ultimate pose!
O visible beatitude sweet sweet
intolerable! silence immaculate
of God's evasive audible great rose!
e. e. cummings
A couple of months ago I thought I would search the library for an old book that I remember loving when I was younger called, The Dark Frigate, by Charles Boardman Hawes, a 1924 Newberry Award winner. However, I think I must have been at least thirteen when I read it, but forgetting that dusty fact, I found the book and that evening began to read it aloud to the kids, repeatedly telling them how much I loved it and how they were going to too, "It's about pirates!" I kept saying, my eyes exaggeratively wide. So, I opened it. The book began with a rambling and complex narrative as to the location of the story: the why, when and how and why, and where and why, and what next of why and how and who and because of whom, of such a topic and story plot that the book hadn't even been gracious enough to enlighten us about yet, but seemed fit to describe all the details of. When this happens, generally, we skim to get the meaning, we get the gist of the story and then resume a page or two later; so this I did as well. I skimmed, tried to explain what was happening in the story and then began to read at the top of the next page, "He that will a guid edge win, maun forge thick an' grind thin..."I glanced up over the edge of the book. There were five little children sprawled out on the beds and floor. One was biting his nails absentmindedly, and another one was laying on his stomach, flipping through a Lego catalog, while the littlest was wrapped up in blankets and rolling off his bed, landing with a thump on the floor. My siblings are pretty smart kids, but I had to concede that the book was still a little too much for a handful of six year olds. Maybe we'll try reading it again in a few months.
So far we've read Redwall by Brian Jacques, Stuart Little by E.B. White, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, Roverandom by J.R.R Tolkien and we are nearly finished with, The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, which is also a Newberry Honor award winner. Having rather a wide range of ages to cope with and the different preferences of the boys and girls has been somewhat challenging in trying to find a book that interests all of them. I would have read The Chronicles of Narnia first, but the 4 year old insists that its a little too mature for his standards. I thought of Little Women, but the boys outnumber the girls and have seen the movie and said they couldn't possibly sit through hours of reading about making dresses and of eating limes and of conversations of Professor Bhaer. I think next we will read The Secret Garden, or perhaps go through the Little House series, or maybe we'll try a different pirate story and read another old favorite of mine, Treasure Island.
I have an [extraordinary] habit. I dictate my life in my head, very, very often, using that generic movie-voice. It's not that I'm so marvelous and interesting and I have to keep things straight and talk to myself. No, I've found that it must be because I am trying to hype up my everyday simple, common, nondescript experiences. That day Holly woke up, looked at her cell phone to discern the time, then fell out of bed and made a face at her mirror on her way out the door.
The other day I was getting some shopping done, winding my way through the store and trying to remember everything I had to buy. I was having a lovely time in the produce section, chatting with the cucumbers and swapping jokes with the cabbages. I remembered we needed oranges, so I grabbed a bag and began to fill it. I had just picked up the third orange when suddenly the whole entire enormous pyramid began to slide off, like a giant flow of orange lava, plummeting to the floor below. I watched, in slow motion, as orange after orange fell and rolled across the floor-- past the lettuce, past the tomatoes, and past the Odwalla refrigerator. If someone had been filming, I'm sure it would have made a great addition to some music video. The entire mound was depleted in seconds, as dozens and dozens of oranges shot every which way, like crazy bullets; and there I stood in the midst of it all, oranges rolling everywhere, floundering around my feet. People smiled and laughed humorously, and stared politely, and to me [extraordinarily] rudely. I just smiled back, as if, I meant to do that. And I heard the narrator's voice droll through my head, And this is the last day Holly shopped at that store. Perhaps an orange had rolled all the way to the front and sneezed or something, for a split-second later I heard someone announce loudly, "Extra help needed in produce. In the produce section, extra clean up help, please."
I try to just shrug my shoulders when things like that happen. Maybe God has a surprise and maybe its tomorrow that's going to be great. Or maybe... I'm missing the whole big picture. Maybe I wasn't made for tomorrow. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps I was made just for today. I was made for this very minute, typing this out while eating my fruit salad. I was created for every little detail that has burst into my life, whether the detail is nearly perfect and tipsy with munificence or soaked in a mud puddle and run over with the lawn mower. I was made for such a time as this. For every moment. Every heartache I dealt with last week. Every laugh I laughed today. You too. You were made for the very thing you wish you could be avoiding today. And the very thing you loved yesterday. I don't know about tomorrow, or the next week or the next week after that, but I know that everything has it's place and meaning in our lives. Every orange too. For I doubt if I hadn't re-arranged the produce section, I would be writing this at all.
on your way through the tall city
watch it brightly melt,
like dew, on the thirsty asphalt.
attach a thought
to that green door
or stick a thought on
the complaining sound
of its hinges.
paste a thought
on the billboard
over there to your left
or on that illegible
sitting in that window.
see that man
striding down the sidewalk?
tie two thoughts on
his apple red shoes.
watch them as they wave goodbye.
voices in praise; men in disputation: they conceal their faces
with their wings; but man with a presumptuous gaze
would look into Thine unspeakable Glory."
and hangs the earth on nothing.
He binds up the waters in his thick clouds,
and the cloud is not split open under them.
He covers the face of the full moon
and spreads over it his cloud.
He has inscribed a circle on the face of
the waters, at the boundary
between light and darkness.
The pillars of heaven tremble
and are astounded at his rebuke.
By his power he stilled the sea.
By his wind the heavens were made fair;
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways,
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power,
who can understand?
Job 26. 7-14
I have one little window in my room. It’s rather small. I mean, it’s big enough for me to fit through if I stood on my bed and lunged myself through it, so I guess that’s a good thing. In case there was ever a fire, or some sort of invasion or something, I could scrape through and plummet gently two stories to the garden below. I’m supposedly getting a larger one installed sometime… but with a whole house renovation and remodel, my ridiculous little window is the very last of everyone’s worries and agenda. So, why am I describing my window woes? Give me a second and I’ll remember…
Oh. Yes, because it reminded me of my wall; which, reminded me of my bed, which reminded me of coffee which reminded me of my devotions. My bed reminds me of coffee mostly because every morning after I wake up, my addiction leads me stumbling into the kitchen, groping for the coffee grinder and espresso machine. And, after stumbling for my coffee, I stumble right back to my room, where I proceed to get my heart ready for the day.
Sometimes I get distracted. Like yesterday, there was this beetle bug (you know, those annoying “box elderbug” beetle things) and he seemed absolutely convicted within his little being that if he flew fast enough and slammed his body hard enough against the glass of my window, that he would magically get through. It made me wonder if God ever watches us, as we try to work through something that does not seem to work, or when we are trying desperately to make something happen. I can see his quizzical brow and amused smile as He mutters, “Um, it’s not going to work.” As we stupidly try yet again. “Nope. But, go on, slam your head against the glass. But, you’re not going to get through it that way. Believe me. But, hey, if you just wait and trust me for one minute, I’ll open the window and it would save you a ton of headaches.” I know He must be at His wit’s end with us sometimes. I know He’s sovereign and holy, but still. I know He must be with me. I can almost hear his exasperation, “Why did she do that again? Didn’t she learn anything from the 256 times before? Or “What is she doing now?” So, that’s why I desperately need my morning coffee and my “heart bender” time. It gets me on track. It keeps me focused.
This new year one of the books I am going through was given to me by a friend. It’s the Christian History, One Year book and I have really enjoyed it so far. I’ve read numerous stories of martyrs and heroes of the faith before when I was little, but now I have been reading of new people I honestly never knew existed in our Christian history! Today I read about Vibia Perpetua, a twenty-two year old mother of an infant son, who lived during the third century. She was mauled by a heifer in the amphitheater and then finally killed by the sword of the gladiators because she was a Christian. And yesterday I complained because I couldn't find my favorite pair of socks and because the day was overcast.
Oh God-- put my life in perspective!
“For He remembers our frame, he remembers that we are dust. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him." Psalm 103: 14, 17
The most beautiful skyscrapers are those without extras stuck on after the real structure is finished. Why should a good, honest skyscraper have a dome or a mosque or a cement wedding cake plastered on top of it? Nearly always, what serves, what is appropriate to human use, is beautiful enough- without extras. A farm silo, a concrete grain elevator, a steel barge hauling iron ore on the Great Lakes, or a series of tall coal chutes rising as silhouettes on a moonlight night, may any one of them have as complete a beauty as the Greek Parthenon or a Gothic cathedral. Steichen, the photographer, declares he occasionally meets newspaper photographs which in design and as works of art are superior to many of the proclaimed masterpieces of painting and etching."
Each of us can sit alone with our conscience for a
while on the proposition of Robert Louis Stevenson,
that the intelligent man can find an Iliad of the
human race in a newspaper.
an excerpt from Carly Moon,
by Carl Sandburg
He opened the doors to his face.
The hinges creaked.
He peered out.
The greens of things was bright.
Oranges and blues tangled the sky.
Crafty sighs stole across the surface,
Stealing scents and twisting them
Into a daring and reckless collage.
He thought it would be nice
To hang smells on his walls.
He wouldn't mind a bit of the ocean
Or a few avocados mounted above his bed.
He dully watched as a group of triangles
And giggling squares philandered down the street.
Circles lit across the ground and
Weird shapes hiccuped in the air.
An obtuse blade of grass bent in the wind.
He turned around.
His eyes caught his attention.
He curiously peered into them.
They were circles, too.
He wished his eyes were stars.
He wished his breath was an
Elysian comet, leaving in
His wake a trail of glittering dust.
He shivered and scowled.
His brain cringed at the sudden coldness.
He saw that the sun was blocked by a house.
Squares always seemed to ruin things.
His feet were tired from keeping his
Body from toppling over.
All of him seemed bored and tired.
So, he turned around.
He closed the doors to his face,
And went back inside.
a thousand and one paintings
into oceans and dips and hills
my eyes have never before witnessed.
the gates of the land
proudly lifted their heads
and the voices of the wind and rain
took my breath and sang with it
my heart has never before heard.
She was there.
No matter how slowly her feet had taken her at the end, they had taken her there.
Directly ahead of her was the circular building, its walls glowing with violet flame, its silvery roof pulsing with a light that seemed to Meg to be insane. Again she could feel the light, neither warm nor cold, but reaching out to touch her, pulling her toward IT.
There was a sudden sucking, and she was within.
It was as though the breath had been knocked out of her. She gasped for breath, for breath in her own rhythm, not the permeating pulsing of IT. She could feel the inexorable beat within her body, controlling her heart, her lungs.
But not herself. Not Meg. It did not quite have her.
She blinked her eyes rapidly and against the rhythm until the redness before them cleared and she could see. There was the brain, there was IT, lying pulsing and quivering on the dais, soft and exposed and nauseating. Charles Wallace was crouching beside IT, his eyes still slowly twirling, his jaw still slack, as she had seen him before, with a tic in his forehead reiterating the revolting rhythm of IT.
As she saw him it was again as though she had been punched in the stomach, for she had to realize afresh that she was seeing Charles, and yet it was not Charles at all. Where was Charles Wallace, her own beloved Charles Wallace?
What is it I have that IT hasn't got?
"You have nothing that IT hasn't got," Charles Wallace said coldly. "How nice to have you back, dear sister. We have been waiting for you. We knew that Mrs. Whatsit would send you. She is our friend, you know."
For an appalling moment Meg believed, and in that moment she felt her brain being gathered up into IT. "No!" She screamed at the top of her lungs. "No! You lie!" For a moment she was free from its clutches again.
As long as I stay angry enough IT can't get me.
Is that what I have that IT doesn't have?
"Nonsense," Charles Wallace said. "You have nothing that IT doesn't have." "You're lying," she replied., and she felt only anger toward this boy who was not Charles Wallace at all. No, it was not anger, it was loathing; it was hatred, sheer and unadulterated, and as she became lost in hatred she also began to be lost in IT. The red miasma swam before her eyes; her stomach churned in ITs rhythm. Her body trembled with the strength of her hatred and the strength of IT.
With the last vestige of consciousness she jerked her mind and body. Hate was nothing that IT didn't have. IT knew all about hate.
"You are lying about that, and you were lying about Mrs. Whatsit!" She screamed.
"Mrs. Whatsit hates you," Charles Wallace said.
And that was where IT made ITs final mistake, for as Meg said, automatically, "Mrs. Whatsit loves me; that's what she told me, that she loves me," suddenly she knew.
That was what she had that IT did not have.
She has Mrs. Whatsit's love and her father's, and her mother's, and the real Charles Wallace's love. And she had love for them. But how could she use it? What was she meant to do? If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it.
But she could love Charles Wallace.
She could stand there and love Charles Wallace.
Her own Charles Wallace, the real Charles Wallace, the child for whom she had come back to Camazotz, to IT, the baby who was so much more than she was, and who was yet so utterly vulnerable.
She could love Charles Wallace.
Charles. Charles, I love you. My baby brother who always takes care of me. Come back to me Charles Wallace, come away from IT, come back, come home. I love you, Charles. Oh, Charles Wallace, I love you.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks, but she was unaware of them.
Now she was able to look at him, at this animated thing that was not her own Charles Wallace at all. She was able to look and love. I love you, you are my darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure of my heart. I love you. I love you.
Slowly his mouth closed. Slowly his eyes stopped their twirling. The tic in his forehead ceased its revolting twitch. Slowly he advanced towards her.
"I love you!" she cried. "I love you, Charles! I love you!"
Then suddenly he was running, pelting, he was in her arms, he was shrieking with sobs. "Meg! Meg! Meg!"
And then she felt the earth beneath her, of something in her arms, and she was rolling over on the sweet smelling autumn earth, and Charles Wallace was crying out, "Meg, you saved me! You saved me!" he said over and over.
-A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L' Engle
little stars. And he will make the face of heaven so fine,
that all the world shall fall in love with night,
and pay no worship to the garish sun."
[Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet]
They watched me
Their eyes tracing the outline
Of my thoughts
Playing dot-to-dot with
They watched me
Their mouths twisted
In a virulent
I know I cannot trust them.
I try to.
When they tirelessly
Parade before me,
I shove my apprehension
And stare into their eyes.
But, I never feel
I feel decayed.
And, then I glance into
On the wall,
And stare at myself
Staring at me.
I watch myself
My eyes trace the outline
Of my thoughts.
My thoughts play dot-to-dot
With my secrets.
I watch myself
My mouth twisted
In a virulent
I know I cannot trust myself.
But, sometimes though,
I try to.
blend into seamless black,
melting reality into
a visionless sleep.
but on certain eves of dawn,
a slight wind ruffles
stirring my sleeping thoughts.
i hear whispers in my ear
footsteps upon my pillow,
my breathing echoes
the rhythmic drums of my pulse.
visions of wild beauty
spin mercilessly into
thousands of paintings, murals
of lacquered hope and terror.
when my nights are such as this,
finally ransoming my mind
when daylight finally breathes--
i wonder if i really slept at all.
"...The author, Christian philosopher and educator Erasmus of Rotterdam, the greatest classical scholar of the northern Humanist Renaissance, had hit on a theme ripe for discussion: the importance of instilling manners at an early age. Titled De civilitate morum puerilium, or On Civility in Children, his continued to be reprinted into the eighteenth century, and spawned a multitude of translations. It became a standard school-book for the education of boys throughout Europe."
Here is a sampling of Erasmus's advice:
-"Turn away when spitting lest your saliva fall on someone."
-"You should not offer your handkerchief to anyone unless it has been freshly washed. Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out your handkerchief and peer into it as if pearls and rubies might have fallen out of your head."
-"Some people put their hands in the dishes the moment they have sat down. Wolves do that."
-"If you cannot swallow a piece of food, turn around discreetly and throw it somewhere."
(taken from the book, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, by Charles Panati)
"Where is it I've read that someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he'd only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it where better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!...How true it is! Good God, how true!"
-Crime and Punishment