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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A Second Childhood

March 13, 2013

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Chelsea at the arboretum.

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Rainbows at the Natural History Museum.

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Leslie on our roof.

 

The last couple of days have been almost completely empty, which, seeing as I’m not watching TV, has meant sitting in my back yard reading for hours and hours. My housemates wander in and out of the house, cooking and chatting and doing homework, and these are my favorite types of days.

Christian is playing at South by Southwest (a music festival in Texas) this week, and I love getting his behind-the-scenes texts about how these things work. I’ve told him more than once that I cannot imagine how someone could possibly like “playing a show”—that is, deciding what to do with your arms and legs for an hour on stage in front of a bunch of strangers—but I’m so glad that he does, and that he is getting to do it so much more than he imagined. And even though I sometimes wish I could go with him (like in May, when he tours in Europe, for example), I am also extremely happy to sit here in the sun with my books.

I spent Monday with G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and yesterday with Christina Rosetti’s poetry. Monday was a much more enjoyable day, partly because I do not read poetry well, and partly because Ms. Rosetti loves to write about death. (A topic which, if I may digress for a little bit, I decided to embrace yesterday [much easier to do outside in the sun]…I was thinking about what it means to view life well [in light of death, that is], and I realized Lent can speak to this question. Lent is about loving good things [even big good things, like life] in a good way…holding things tightly without breaking or smothering them. I’m almost positive I’ve read and heard this idea before—that Lent is able learning how to live well and die well—but coming to it organically was nice.) (Also, I really am sorry for all the parenthesis and dashes and ellipses… I just don’t know how else to say things.)

ANYWAY, I loved Orthodoxy. I tried to read it a few years ago but got caught up on all the modern philosophy stuff, so this time around—after just having read a lot of the guys Chesterton is directly addressing—was much better. There were so many parts to love, and I will maybe write about it for my next hundred blog posts, but for now, I want to share just one idea.

At the end of his book, Chesterton takes a few pages to talk about the grounds on which he submits to Christianity as a faith: “that is, that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one.”

In light of this, he says,

Since I have accepted Christendom as a mother and not merely as a chance example, I         have found Europe and the world once more like the little garden where I stared at the    symbolic shapes of cat and rake; I look at everything with the old elvish ignorance and expectancy. This or that rite or doctrine may look as ugly and extraordinary as a rake; but I have found by experience that such things end somehow in grass and flowers.

And later, “I have come into my second childhood.”

And whereas a few years ago none of this would have made sense to me, now it is just so beautiful. I don’t know from where or when this wonder he is talking about came to me, but I know I have some of it—I recognize his words.

Sometimes I am afraid I will wake up and not know it anymore, but I think I will be okay even then. It’s enough to have it, even for a little while. And even if it could be stored up and saved for later, that not only seems irreverent…it also ruins all the fun.

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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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December 1, 2012

Magic

 

Lately I have been suffering from RookieBrain, which is what happens when I spend too many hours at a time on the Rookie Magazine website (for “research” purposes of course…I’m still working on my Creative Nonfiction piece) and then end up feeling panicked and lonely and weird. There are so many references I don’t recognize and too too too many links (to be fair, Rookie doesn’t actually have a lot of links…I just feel an over-dramatic sense of darkness after clicking on too many [i.e. 1-2] links. I call this more general condition InternetBrain… or “I JUST WANT TO STAY HERE IN THIS ONE PLACE OKAY?”). Also, I constantly wonder how these girls possibly have the energy to do everything they are doing, and why I, made of similar human stuff as them, can’t be more productive. This is a normal frustration, I think, and writing my Creative Nonfiction piece has really helped me feel like I’m not just drowning in my own passivity.

I found another partial remedy to RookieBrain: I’ve been submitting things to them! I have never ever been the type to “stick my neck out” (frankly that just seems like a stupid thing to do physically speaking), but something about sending an informal e-mail to a bunch of nice girls just seems easy. And the best part of submitting isn’t waiting to see if I accepted (I’ve already gotten one rejection from them and it wasn’t that bad!); it’s more the feeling like I am playing a teeny tiny role in this thing I have been immersing myself in for the past few months–this thing that feels so intimidating, and so “other.” It’s kind of like voting…you know your vote doesn’t technically make a difference, but it’s still empowering to participate in what’s going on. Bad analogy? Okay. Anyway, clearly I have lots of THOUGHTS and FEELINGS about this whole Rookie thing, so I am actually thinking about turning it into my Senior Thesis project for next semester.

Unrelatedly (actually, totally related but in ways not worth explaining), I am reading Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping for class right now and it is becoming one of my favorite books of all time. I don’t want to write about it yet because it’s too beautiful and sad (read: heart-cracking) and I am still in the middle of it. But today I got together with two of my friends from class who happen to be art majors (my favorite type of people), and we walked around in the rain talking about things that go with the book in our minds–photographs and songs and poems and letters. It was the best kind of afternoon, because people are infinitely better than the Internet.

 

P.S. The other night/early morning I woke up to the creature below–fully wrapped in the blanket–whispering my name from the doorway…the first of what now has become a series of  bizarre attempts by my roommate to “scare” me. She has enlisted everyone from her boyfriend to our other housemates as accomplices, but has yet to succeed. Pretty pathetic, seeing as I am a wimp.

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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.

October 13, 2012

Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but we notice each other’s beautiful faces and complex natures so that Creation need not play to an empty house.” – Annie Dillard

This week has been long and good.

On Tuesday, Christian found out he got the job as the Biola English Department Assistant Secretary (!!) so we had Thai food to celebrate. Also, we came up with the perfect Halloween costume, which I cannot share yet.

On Wednesday, I went to see two bands play at a bar in Santa Monica (one band happened to be made up of some of my good friends and the other one was a band Christian plays guitar for). There is something very special about seeing friends play great music that they wrote themselves. Also, a few of us listened to this week’s horrifying episode of This American Life on the car ride there (hint=shark attack) and had some time to walk along the pier and think about sharks and mortality before the show started. (Unfortunately, I had the song “Santa Monica” by Savage Garden stuck in my head during this time…).

On Thursday, I went to women’s group at my church for the first time, and it was overwhelming and great. Overwhelming because the book we are working through is Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich…believed to be the first book written in English by a woman, ever. Great because we ate and laughed and also talked about things like silence and art (two of the women are professional artists, and they talk about art so beautifully) and Annie Dillard (specifically, the quote above), which made Julian of Norwich’s words easier for me to grasp.

And today, Friday, I bought tickets to see Sufjan Stevens!! December 4th, and I will be wearing a reindeer antler headband (it is a Christmas singalong, and I figure dressing festively will make up for my lack of singing alonging).

Also, the weather is starting to match the month.

(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.”

A troubled joy

October 1, 2012

This weekend, I spent some time with friends staring at the big bright moon we have had for the past few nights, and reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories. He is so eerie and beautiful and disturbing…very much like fall, I think. (As far as Torrey texts go this semester, I think Emerson is spring, Hawthorne is fall, Henry James is summer, and maybe Melville is winter?)

I think I’ll write my big paper on Hawthorne this semester, mostly because I want to spend more than a week with his stories. This morning I read “The Maypole of Merry Mount” (one of his less-read ones I think), and loved it. Here’s my favorite part, after a young couple have just said their wedding vows:

“No sooner had their hearts glowed with real passion, than they were sensible of something vague and unsubstantial in their former pleasures, and felt a dreary presentment of inevitable change. From the moment that they truly loved, they had subjected themselves to earth’s doom of care and sorrow, and troubled joy, and had no more a home at Merry Mount.”

Maybe it’s my favorite because I love paradoxes so much, and I think this one is probably true.

my favorite purchase of the weekend: a pumpkin tree. I read up on it a little when I got home and it turns out the little “pumpkins” are actually a type of eggplant! I think they are darling, and I can’t stop staring at them.

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.