Friday, December 31, 2010
I think what I enjoyed most from this particular vacation is the time we had to talk to each other, and I mean really talk about deep and important stuff. Like ogres, and onions--and cake, and parfait--each of my parents is a layered and multifaceted personage. These last two weeks gave me time to get to know them and appreciate them in a way that few of my contemporaries, I suspect, get to know their own parents. How many times does a girl get her parents all to herself when she is old enough to talk to them as a grown-up and an equal?
Also, I have a new tv and all of the laundry has been washed. La dolce vida.
Friday, November 26, 2010
“You have a twinkle in your eye!” says my friend, Teresa, as we meet on the sidewalk in front of my house, “Is there anything you should be telling me?” she asks with a grin. I know what she’s talking about. She and I share a common malady: singleness. She’s wondering if I’ve met someone, or been called out of the blue by a long-lost sweetheart, or if Prince Charming has stepped out of man-land and into my living room. “No,” I say, with a grin of my own, “I’ve just been writing.” And it’s true. I’ve been working on this very paper. But the funny thing is, I didn’t even realize I was so happy. The more I think about this, the more I see that C.S. Lewis got it right in his great sermon “the Weight of Glory.” Although Lewis’ words are more eloquent and incisive, the over-riding message is that all of the happiness implied by our most lavish ‘happily ever after’ stories is but a hint of the Real Joy that Christ offers us. This is a Joy so expansive that we literally cannot imagine it as we are in this present world, except as the stuff of which our seemingly bottomless need is but an inside-out reflection. It is a Joy so beyond our understanding that we must be taught to let go of the paper doll replicas we have fashioned for ourselves so that we can reach out and touch the living hands of Love Himself.
Lewis begins his sermon by arguing against the “negative” virtue of unselfishness (negative because it is defined by abstinence rather than substance, not necessarily bad) in favor of the positive virtue of “Love” (again, positive as in substantive rather than vaguely good) in order to bring to light the subtle but powerful difference between a devotional life characterized by rejected desires and one that abandons lesser goods in pursuit of greater ones. After all, what makes Christianity different from eastern religions and altruistic humanism, if not its explicit, almost ludicrous, appeals to our deepest desires—heaven, an intimate and personal relationship with God, miracles, forgiveness, etc? Our insatiable desire, then, is not a blight of the human condition, but its most precious asset. It is the first hint that our tawdry souls are meant for more than the richest pleasures our collective imaginations can make of this world, meant for divine communion with the One who literally sustains the universe with His very breath, the Mind who invented minds. “[I]f we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels,” Lewis writes, “it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak…We are far too easily pleased.”
But if the promises are true, then why do we insist on “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us”? In my heart, I long for adventure. I don’t want merely to shine; I want to blaze across the sky like an exploding star, to overwhelm this dark world with a searing and breath-taking brilliance! So why don’t I? Why don’t I live like my deepest dreams have come true? Well…I just don’t know how. I don’t yet know how to desire the greatest good because I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what goodness means. I suspect that this is why we populate our fictions with so many fascinating scoundrels and boring heroes. As long as we conceive of Good as simply the absence of Bad, we are bound to find the Phantom of the Opera far more interesting than that soppy Raoul fellow (am I right, ladies?). In our worldly culture, the human animal, with all its frailties and destructive tendencies, is the noblest creature imaginable, and a fictional character without these limitations, who does not deal with them, is not noble, he is strangely deficient. We do not yet have the imagination to become experts on the positively Good. Nevertheless, even in our limited and dingy materialism, the stories that mean the most to us are those that tap into our “inconsolable secret,” the yawning ache in our hearts for Goodness that is real, and true, and solid—the desire, in fact, to be more than we know, to be more than human.
As a Christian, I ought to rejoice in the promise of Christ’s redemption, and be content that although I am not whole today, I will be in eternity. But it’s hard not to wonder why the transformation from miserable sinner to glorified saint does not happen instantaneously. After all, is anything too hard for God? I think Lewis would say that on one level, and as far as eternity is concerned, the transformation is instantaneous. Certain parts of the Great Divorce seem to argue that redemption, once accepted, runs both forward and backward through time, so that the ugliness of the past is made beautiful in light of the eternal. Is it possible that our future glory might also reach back through time to transform us now? It might, and indeed does transform us now, or it begins to, for nothing is too hard for God. A great many things are too hard for us, however, and enduring in our present frailty the full power of our future glory is one of them. It seems to be God’s pleasure that we grow into our promised glory as we learn to desire Love for Love’s sake and see ourselves as He sees us. Perhaps He wants our love to grow naturally, like a seed grows into a tree. Perhaps, in this way, the willfulness and frailty that characterizes our humanity can be transformed into something incorruptibly beautiful, instead of being blown apart like shrapnel, in the face of instantaneous holiness. Is it possible that God refuses to force His will upon us, but instead waits, with a lover’s patience, for the gradual unfolding of His beloved’s heart? There can be no doubt that His patience is costly, both to Him and to all of us who must live with each other’s incompleteness, but the survival of the human race up to this point seems to argue that God believes that the glory of our ultimate completion is worth the struggle and the wait.
This is why, even though I am no closer to my childhood dream of playing first mate to the captain of my heart (jam jar opening, oil changing, philosophizing renaissance man that he is), I can still be seen grinning like a fool, humming to myself, and waving to strangers like the soprano lead in a broadway musical. I am convinced today that, regardless of my circumstances, I have something better than my dreams, certainly something more real. And then, as if it were not enough for Lewis to whisper in our ears: Courage, friends; someday, you will be more magnificent than you could possibly imagine, he has to go and give us something to turn our present dreariness into gold. I will not ruin the effect by paraphrasing. Just let me point out that the extent to which we understand and apply the following words to the people around us is the extent to which we actually live in the weight of glory which is to come, the glory we truly long for.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
Monday, September 13, 2010
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
So mom and I have been waking up at 5am most mornings to go jogging in the desert. A crazy way to vacation, I know, but it makes sense if you think about it. If we're going to feel good about eating out as often as we have been, we have to exercize somehow, but it's too hot to be outside for any extended amount of time during the middle of the day. Since we are on vacation, there's nothing to keep us from indulging in long and luxurious naps during the heat of the day* to make up for lost sleep. Plus, a desert sunrise is a visual delicacy not to be missed. Mom is a relatively new edition to the strange and wonderful world of the jogger, and so she was running a few paces behind me along the right side of the slender dirt road that constituted our chosen route.** This turned out to be a Good Thing because, as I ran ahead, I happened to spy a snake, not four feet ahead of me, on her side of the path. It was light brown, the color of the sand in which it sat, curved like a reptilian 'S', in a frozen--yet menacing--position. Recalling some zoological training I received in elementary school, I noted that the creature's head was not round (like the friendly and harmless gopher snake), but angular (which means 'poison'). It was about a foot and a half long, roughly as thick as a beerbrat, and there were some dark diamond-shaped blotches running down its back.*** I don't remember the exact warning I shouted to my mother, but I do recall backing away slowly and sticking my arm out, fingers spread, like you do when you're trying to protect someone in the passenger's seat of your car, so as to stop her from running past me and getting bitten. The very end of the snake's tail looked red and raw, as if part of it--the rattle(!)--had been ripped off. Standing at a cautious distance, I took a picture of the dreaded serpent with Mom's phone, but I suspect the quality of the image will require me to point the snake out, like a UFO enthusiast distinguishing the unexplainable blurry lights from the explainable ones . We decided to turn around and leave the rest of the trail to the snake. It looked like a Sidewinder, and Sidewinders are notoriously fast.
The rest of our run was free of incident. However, I could not shake the unpleasantness of having come so very close to death (or severe discomfort). How easy would it have been for me to glance up at the glorious desert mountains, bathed in early sunlight, instead of spotting the snake in front of me? What if I had missed it altogether and thus allowed my mother to step on it and get bitten? I am very grateful that God protected us, and all we got was a cool story to share. But anyone who has lived at all knows that protection from physical harm and even death is not a guarantee. Mom, always the pragmatist, points out to me that we are always surrounded by danger. We could get run-over crossing the street, suddenly discover a deadly allergy, develop a terminal illness, get mistaken for CIA operatives and be assassinated by enemy spies. I guess it's just too easy to forget that our lives on Earth are fragile, and will eventually end.
The moral of my story? Actually, there are several: enjoy every moment you get in this life, tell people you love that you love them--often, don't pass up opportunities for doing Awesome, and finally, when jogging in the desert LOOK WHERE YOU'RE GOING!
P.S. Since I lack the l33t skillz to work even basic internet magic, I can only encourage you to google 'Mojave Sidewinder Snake' for pictures of our early morning menace.
*'heat of the day': 7am to 7pm, give or take.
** Our chosen route was one of those random dirt roads created by local marksmen who drive their trucks out to empty places to shoot junk (i.e. coffee cans with rocks in them, old pumpkins, broken down appliances, etc.). We're not worried about meeting any gun enthusiasts out there because anyone who is dedicated and disciplined enough to be out at 5:30 on a Monday morning undoubtedly drives out to the official shooting range, which is impossible to mistake for empty desert on account of being full of shot-up metal deer and bunnies, and in any case, it's fenced off.
***A quick internet search has confirmed our suspicions that it was a Mojave Sidewinder--"rarely fatal," but your leg might swell up and fall off.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I wrote this in October, 2009.
(Warning: entry contains possibly pretentious verbiage along with quite definite third-person brooding. Proceed at your own risk.)
Once upon a time there was a girl on a crowded ferry sailing into the night. Surrounded by kaleidoscoping muted conversation, she found herself profoundly alone, extravagantly lavishing words like “profoundly” and “kaleidoscoping” on what ought to have been an unremarkable Friday night. Perhaps she knew, deep down, that this was no ordinary Friday night. It was a night of significance, if only because this particular night found her able to write exactly what she felt. She felt detached from the world, like an introverted window reflection, like one of those amazing illustrations that create whole scenes with a few lines and some carefully placed smudges. How strange to be trapped in this bobbing bubble of light with so many amiable strangers. How surreal to relish this nothing-time, this transition. But this is life, isn’t it? It’s so easy to see where you’ve been and plan where you’re going. Infinitesimally small is the point of intersection where you actually are. So delicate and short-lived is the present. Why, oh why does it seem to last forever? Do we move? Or do we, like trees, just sit and grow and mistake the wind that breathes through our branches for our own walking?
---The girl sitting across from me is sketching in a sketchbook. She looks like a regular commuter. But she and I share a secret, a divine inheritance when we create, even if all our scratching ultimately yields handfuls of nothing. I must grasp at this image, scaffold it with my words, and carry it with me: a humble little sketch of a present now passing, like light through a bottle.
(Don't say I didn't warn you. This just goes to show that referring to yourself in the third person almost always elicits weirdness. Amateur writers and professional athletes take note.)
Monday, May 31, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. My very favoritest is Easter. I love the rush of celebrating the resurrection, and all the busy newness of spring. Everything is growing. Everything is so full of potential, like the breathless pause before the symphony begins, or the boundless possibilities of a blank page. I guess you could say that Thanksgiving is the other end of that thought. It’s the time when things come to completion, when crops have been harvested, when nature lays down to rest after all the fun and frenzy of greener days. I like that feeling of exhausted satisfaction, as at the end of a productive day, when you look around and take stock of all that you have. You can’t help feeling grateful. I like gratefulness because it involves seeing the value of what you’ve been given, and because it means that you are not alone. When you appreciate something or someone, you are acknowledging that the object of your appreciation somehow makes your life better, and that means that you are not a complete universe unto yourself, but a small piece of an interconnected world. Now it is possible that only a few of you, dear readers, have ever lost sleep because you were worried that you really were entirely self-sufficient, but those of us who worry about everything are all mighty grateful for our own finiteness. I'm glad for my neediness, for my loneliness, because it means I was meant for relationship, for adventure and completion. And if God means for me to be complete (and I believe He does), then who knows what marvelous things will happen to bring it about?
So thanks, everyone, for being part of the adventure that is my life. I am grateful for you.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Enjoy gorging yourself on Turkey and football.
...and now we return you to your regularly scheduled program.