April 26, 2013

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Christian and I drove to the Flower Fields, about an hour away, a few weekends ago.

“Reality, be it of this world or another, is not something one finds and then retains for good. It must be newly discovered daily, and newly lost.” – Christian Wiman, “Gazing Into The Abyss”

Going into this semester, I was half-expecting to have some sort of crisis of faith. For the past few months in Torrey, we have read some of the toughest critics of Christianity, and they were much smarter than I am or will be. They gave logical, scientific explanations for everything from guilt to selflessness to pride. But for some reason, their explanations were not nearly as threatening as I expected.

There are a lot of reasons why this may be, one of the biggest being that I have read enough Christian authors by now to know that there are major-smarties on both sides, so I better think of a new criteria for judging who is right. But even that phrase “judging who is right” implies a sort of cold, reasonable approach that not only seems impossible (because the assumption that I have to brains to “judge” which of these geniuses is the most genius is pretty ridiculous), but also untrue to how I (and, I’m guessing, most people) make decisions.

I can’t really say why I have faith, because I’m not sure myself. I don’t know how much is a choice, and how much is a gift. Lately (that is, for the past year or so), it’s felt a lot more like the latter.

I hope each morning it is there, and it has been. Not in the same degree every day, but unmistakably there. I want it to be like this forever (it wasn’t always), but I suspect it’s just a season.

My prayer is that my faith grows truer, which doesn’t feel the same to me as stronger. Usually, it feels fragile. Maybe strength comes slowly over time, or maybe I will always be praying for whole-hearted belief.

The good news is, even small faith yields fruit.

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February 26, 2013

RADS

This past Friday, I had my final simulation for a Rape & Aggression Defense Systems class I’ve been taking at Biola… easily the most anxiety-inducing thing I’ve ever had to do for a class. Each of us girls in the class was led into a room alone with our eyes closed while 7 men (RADS experts that come in for the day) jeered at cackled at us. We were allowed to open our eyes and start fighting when we felt the first person attack us… and let me tell you, waiting for that first move was AWFUL. When I went, my first guy bear-hugged me from behind and pulled me to the floor with him, which happens to be the only move we didn’t practice in class. But I head-butted him a few times (we were both wearing padding) and it was all a blur from there. I think I only had to face two more men after that, and I mostly knee-ed them in the groin. My teacher (also the Campus Safety chief at Biola) was waiting at the door to give me a high-5, and I vaguely remember barreling into him a little too enthusiastically.

Even though it was terrifying and I’d been having stress-dreams about it for days beforehand, it was very, as they say, “empowering.” None of us girls wanted to go into that room, but we were all so glad that we did. The whole experience fits weirdly into my Rookie project (I am continuing my piece into this semester as my Torrey Senior Thesis), because it was one of those rare moments where I was extremely aware of, and proud of, my female-ness.

Also, all the days I spent watching Alias over interterm finally paid off…I just pretended I was Sidnay Bristow, and that made screaming “No!” over and over at the top of my lungs seem way cooler. Plus, for real, some of the moves we did I definitely recognize from the show.

Which brings me to the other topic of this post…I gave up TV for Lent. And life is worse without TV. TV is my primary de-stresser, one of the only times where I feel like I can actually STOP THINKING (which also means I watch it to fall asleep each night), and I MISS TV. I especially missed it the night before my RADS simulation.

But missing is okay—actually, it’s good, I think, for the purposes of Lent. I feel far from understanding Lent, but one helpful thing my priest said about giving up good things for a season is this: “We are only free to enjoy things from which we are also free to abstain; fasting develops the ability to say no and, thus, the ability to say yes in the right way.”

And here is one thing I am learning: saying no is empowering! Kind of like learning how to best defend yourself is empowering! I promise I am not making that connection just to make this blog post coherent…Maybe I just have too much time to think these days…

To be knit up finally

December 16, 2012

Here are some of Marilynne Robinson’s words, from her book Housekeeping, that seem especially good and especially hard this week.

Also, some secret pictures of my roommate doing her morning stretches (I think she is beautiful), and puddles.

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“For why do our thoughts turn to some gesture of a hand, the fall of a sleeve, some corner of a room on a particular anonymous afternoon, even when we are asleep, and even when we are so old that our thoughts have abandoned other business? What are all these fragments for, if not to be knit up finally?”

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“To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow…when do our senses know anything so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing—the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again.

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“The force behind the movement of time is a mourning that will not be comforted. That is why the first event is known to have been an expulsion, and the last is hoped to be a reconciliation and return.”

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Asking

November 9, 2012

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about asking and hoping, and how sometimes it seems like an impossibly hard thing to do. (Maybe this has come from a few conversations in Mysterious Fiction class…thinking about mysteries like missing children, or cancer that may or may not come back…things that I have never had to work out in my own life.)

The other day one of the readings for morning prayer was the story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman, in 2 Kings. Elisha tells the woman that in a year, she will hold a son in her arms. She, who has wanted a son for so long, responds, “Please, don’t mislead me.” Of course, Elisha hasn’t misled her, and the baby comes. But then, a few years later, he dies.  The woman, in “bitter distress,” says to Elisa, “Did I ask you for a son? … Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”

It is scary to accept good things, because they could be taken from me, and it is scary to ask for good things, because I may not receive them. It seems much easier to accept things as they are, and much less foolish. Praying for change is so often labeled naïve, or idealistic, or lazy, or entitled. And I understand that view of prayer, because I have often felt the same.

So it has been good for me, on the first Sunday of every month, to see the same people approach the altar for healing prayer, over and over again. The same people go and kneel and wait to be anointed with oil, and we all pray the same prayer for each of them, for their bodies to be well. Many of them have been kneeling and waiting for years before I came to the church. There has been healing, but mostly lots of waiting. And always asking, over and over again. It’s a form of humility, I think.

(fitting only because this post has the word rock in the title.)

This week for Creative Non-fiction we read a piece by John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Upon This Rock,” about an (agnostic) reporter’s experience attending the Christian rock festival Creation. I actually read it when it was published in GQ last year (how sophisticated and male of me, I know), but this time I read the version that came out in his 2012 book, Pulphead.

The piece is hilarious and frustrating and heart wrenching and humbling and so honest. As someone whose prayer is always “I believe, help my unbelief,” I felt tied to both John Jeremiah Sullivan (with a name like that, what God-fearing Christian wouldn’t?) and his Jesus-freak buddies.

I don’t usually like to use this space to just regurgitate things, but rules are made to be broken, right? (Really, I have always hated that phrase. Rules are rules, people.) So here is one beautiful section of the essay, a few too many paragraphs to be called a “quote,” because I couldn’t bear to cut any more out.

“At least once a year since college, I’ll be getting to know someone, and it comes out that we have in common a high school “Jesus phase.” That’s always an excellent laugh. Except a phase is supposed to end–or at least give way to other phases–not simply expand into a long preoccupation.

My problem is not that I dream I’m in hell. It isn’t that I feel psychologically harmed. It isn’t that I feel like a sucker for having bought it all.  It’s that I love Jesus Christ.

Not in what conquers, not in glory, but in what’s fragile and what suffers–there lies sanity. And salvation. “Let anyone who has power renounce it,” he said. “Your father is compassionate to all, as you should be.” That’s how He talked, to those who know Him.

Why should He vex a person? Why is His ghost not friendlier? Why can’t I just be a good child of the Enlightenment and see in His life a sustaining example of what we can be, as a species?

Once you’ve known Him as a god, it’s hard to find comfort in the man. The sheer sensation of life that comes with a total, all-pervading notion of being–the pulse of consequence one projects onto even the humblest things–the pull that won’t slacken.

And one has doubts about one’s doubts.”

Too good to be told

September 27, 2012

I recently discovered the wonders of scanning! So I have been scanning collages lately, some old some new. I made this one a couple summers ago, I think. My love for tacky rainbow color schemes still runs strong.

 “Syme remembered those wild woes of yesterday as one remembers being afraid of a Bogy in childhood.” The Man Who Was Thursday

Last week for my Mysterious Fiction class, I re-read G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. And this time, I was even more struck by the “things are not what they seem”-ness of the story, and, more precisely, the “things are not nearly as terrifying as they seem”-ness.

Over and over, Gabriel Syme’s worst enemies take off their masks and become friends, and over and over, he reflects on how silly he was to ever have been afraid.

In a lot of ways I am still in the “yesterday” portion of the above quote, and still afraid of a few Bogies (bogy plural?) myself. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see beyond disguises, but every now and then I get a glimpse.

This Tuesday my priest drove to La Mirada to meet me for coffee, and I asked his advice about all this. I told him that I am afraid of a lot of things that I don’t need to be afraid of (and some things I’m just not sure if I need to be afraid of), but I don’t know how to stop. I went into our meet-up thinking that maybe if he just told me the right thing, or reminded me of a truth that I had forgotten, then I could stop being afraid.

But to my surprise, he told me that he wasn’t going to try to convince me that my Bogies weren’t real monsters. Instead, he told me to ask God for the gift of faith. He said it is very important for me to know that this is a gift–this faith, this ability to believe that things are not as they seem, even when we can’t see behind the disguises–and that asking God for it everyday is not the same as trying to muster it up everyday. My only task is to ask and wait.

Maybe the answers I want will come, and maybe something else will instead.

At the end of The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton leaves his readers with more questions than answers. Unlike the Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories we read earlier in the semester, the mystery in this book isn’t really ever solved. There are intricate hints, but I think one reason I love the book so much is that I am left with a sense that the mystery is too big for my small head.

A few weeks ago, my teacher read us an excerpt of an essay Chesterton wrote about the ending of the book of Job (where, instead of answering all of Job’s questions, God asks Job His own questions). Chesterton writes:

“Job has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design.”

I think this is why Chesterton’s idea of a good mystery is so different from our classical idea of mystery. For Sherlock Holmes, reason correctly applied solves everything. For Chesterton, reason can only go so far before things start getting strange. But a good sort of strange, because the One behind the strange is good. As Chesterton says later in his essay,

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.



:), :( & :/

September 15, 2012

“We see the world of mankind to be exceedingly busy and active; and the affections of men are the springs of the motion: take away all love and hatred, all hope and fear, all anger, zeal and affectionate desire, and the world would be, in a great measure, motionless and dead.”  – Jonathan Edwards, ATCRA

Our theme this semester in Torrey is America, and our first text was a selection of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons and letters.

When he wrote A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Edwards was writing to a post-Awakening crowd… people who had seen their neighbors wailing before God one month, and maybe drunkenly screaming at their wives the next (his letters make it clear that the backlash of the Awakening hit his hometown especially hard.) He was talking to people who probably felt manipulated, and many that wanted nothing more to do with emotion.

I think there was a point in my life where I thought that mustering up lots of emotion about God and the Bible meant I was making things more true. And when I came to realize the flaws in that theory, I started rolling my eyes at most emotion-based sermons or prayers or worship and labeling them as “sensationalist.”

Partly for good reason (some of them are sensationalist), but I think I mostly do this because I am so mad/embarrassed/annoyed with my former self for misunderstanding so much. It’s easier to be condescending towards my past self’s “phases” than to do the work of figuring out what was good about how I thought back then and what was not.*

Even though Jonathan Edwards saw everything his audience saw–he rejoiced as people converted in droves, and then watched too many spiral into depression or mania later–somehow he had the clear-headedness to see that throwing out the baby with the bath water wasn’t going to solve anything. He says, very simply (in fact, maybe the simplest sentence of the whole piece…):

“If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart.”

Of course this is true. To think otherwise seems to neglect who we as humans are, and what we are made for.

So this week, Jonathan Edwards reminded me that even though emotions are not everything, they are not nothing either.

Not the most precise conclusion ever, but hey, a lot more than I could say after reading Sinners At The Hands of An Angry God my freshman year of high school…

* But who are we kidding…I still cry at the drop of a hat. In fact, this week my Senior Thesis class I cried. Not because I was sad, or happy, or anything really. My teacher just asked us to share our thoughts on some Bible meditation we had done over the weekend, and I started blubbering before I even spoke! Luckily, there are only five people in the class and they are all sweet/laughed with me.

Gilead & Lake Geneva

August 29, 2012

“In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.” – Gilead

I read Marilynne Robinson’s Home a couple of years ago and loved it…I don’t know why it took me so long to read its prequel, Gilead, but part of me is glad I saved it for now. I was reminded again what writing about God and eternity can be… unapologetic but not defensive, humble but not timid.

Her characters are deeply flawed, but hopeful. Their lives are messy and their faith wavering, but instead of trying to teach us some lesson through their mistakes or doubts, she just lets us watch them, and listen to them, and feel with them. And since to talk about Gilead too much might be to ruin its subtlety, I will just share some of my favorite quotes 🙂

“‘For preservation is a creation, and more, it is a continued creation, and a creation every moment.’ [George Herbert]…Again, all any heart has ever said, and just as the word is said the moment is gone, so there is not even any sort of promise in it.

“‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’ It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that it is exactly what will be required.”

“This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more. But hope deferred is still hope. I love this town. I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of love–I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence.”

P.S. I guess these pictures are the last of my summer… I moved into my new house in LA on Monday, and tennis class starts in 50 minutes 🙂

The Unfamiliar

July 3, 2012

“We find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before our eyes.”

The Screwtape Letters

This week my dad and I have been watching segments of the History Channel series The Universe. The narration is pretty awful (I really wish they had modeled it after BBC’s Planet Earth instead of Bill Nye the Science Guy), but the content is just mind-blowing.

A lot of the visuals have reminded me of the film Tree of Life. One of my favorite aspects of that movie is the juxtaposition of the subliminal scenes of nature and the universe with scenes of one family’s grief. In the movie, both are significant realities, but in life, I usually find it really hard to hold the two in tension.

This balance of two seemingly incongruent things–the value of an individual life vs. the physical reality of humanity’s place within the universe–reminds me of one of my very favorite passages about belief, from the epilogue of C.S. Lewis’s book Miracles. Here, rather than the universe, Lewis is talking about the existence of, you guessed it, miracles:

And yet . . . and yet . . . It is that and yet which I fear more than any positive argument against miracles: that soft, tidal return of your habitual outlook as you close the book and the familiar four walls about you and the familiar noises from the street reassert themselves. Perhaps (if I dare suppose so much) you have been led on at times while you were reading, have felt ancient hopes and fears astir in your heart, have perhaps come almost to the threshold of belief—but now? No. It just won’t do. Here is the ordinary, here is the “real” world, round you again. The dream is ending; as all other similar dreams have always ended. For of course this is not the first time such a thing has happened. More than once in your life before this you have heard a strange story, read some odd book, seen something queer or imagined you have seen it, entertained some wild hope or terror: but always it ended in the same way. And always you wondered how you could, even for a moment, have expected it not to.

Sometimes, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection seems too far away from my ordinary, every day life to be true. Lewis argues that this feeling, while perfectly human, has little to do with the validity of that miracle, because (as he goes on to say later in the epilogue), reality is not determined by our ability to grasp or believe in it.

The strange thing is, I feel the exact same way about the universe as I sometimes do about the resurrection. Even while we were watching the DVD segments of real photos and hearing real scientists talk about black holes and quasars, I found it nearly impossible to believe that this place outside of Earth actually exists, that there things–massive, violent, beautiful things–happening billions of light-years away. It is even harder to believe that now, after I have, as Lewis puts it, “closed the book.”

And so I have experienced first hand the lesson I learned from reading Lewis years ago. My gut “it just can’t be true; it’s too weird” feelings aren’t always (or maybe, aren’t usually) right… and I’m thankful they aren’t. If my gut could tell me everything, there would be no wonder or awe, maybe even no growth.

As my dad said the other night, studying the universe is less like science and more like writing poetry. Maybe that’s why it’s so powerful to me…it seems like a place where the facts themselves are beautiful. They don’t need a narrative arch to speak, but they still tell a story–a story that, I am learning, is way too big to try and squeeze inside my small brain.

P.S. I think some people feel this way about math? I’ve lost hope of ever reaching that mysterious number nirvana, but I have no doubt it exists.

P.S.S. Also, as this week’s storms have shown, apparently I don’t have to watch DVDs about the universe to be terrified of/awed by nature! (our electricity is still out, but we just got internet back!)

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying some lazy days until work starts up next week. Writing, reading, crafting, cooking, and lots of putzing around…it’s great to be back in the Midwest.

One of my last days in New York I found Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom for a really good price, and I’ve been slowly making my way through it for the past 2 weeks.

The writing alone is enough to make me keep reading, but I am most interested in the deeper, subtler conflicts within Franzen’s characters. I am having a hard time deciphering a lot of it, but that’s usually how it is with the best kinds of books, I think.

One quote from Freedom I have been thinking a lot about lately:

“The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”

Rage, one New York Times reviewer writers, because “we helplessly collide with others in equal pursuit of their sacred freedoms, which, more often than not, seem to threaten our own.”

And that’s one of the reasons Freedom is such a hard, sad book to read. It is a story of a family in which each member is individually chasing after what he or she wants (or at least what they think they want). Repulsively selfish, and yet so human.

I’m balancing the sometimes-dense prose of Freedom with C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, which, though much lighter on a sentence-by-sentence level, is still taking me awhile to get through because I am dog-earring and marking and copying down half the book! Every time I read it I re-remember things that I never want to forget, but always manage to. Like this, written from the perspective of one demon to another about God and humanity:

“When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means their abandoning the clamor of self-will…He boasts (I am afraid, sincerely,) that when they are wholly His, they are more themselves than ever.”

And what would you know, Freedom and Screwtape Letters, written decades and oceans (okay, an ocean) apart, are beginning to speak to each other. Each is informing my experience of the other…one of my favorite things about reading.