suddenly’s subject

“The whole world becomes miraculous, so the miraculous becomes ordinary without ceasing to be at the same time miraculous . . . the entire world is subject to ‘suddenly'” (Mikhail Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, quoted in Peter J. Leithart, Deep Comedy).

I’ve been thinking about it all day: what it means to be subjected to “suddenly.” Honestly, I think, given the option, I’d be tempted to opt out of this one. I’m the girl who lives safe, finding inaction preferable to the risk of incorrectness. If I’m driving, I like to read and thoroughly understand the directions before departure. Give me an easy thing where I expect something hard, and I may have difficulty accepting it as grace — because it isn’t the thing for which I planned. “Suddenly” sets preparation and plans at naught; “suddenly” frightens me.

Are you laughing at me, the girl who wants to live unsurprised? But “suddenly” doesn’t always come like a surprise birthday party or Lazarus walking out of the tomb. To be subject to suddenly is to realize that my desperate grip on the controls of my life means nothing and controls nothing. “Suddenly” makes me angry.

But then I remember that to abolish “suddenly” would be to do away with days like today, when the sun slicing through smoke-blue clouds surprised me on my way home, when I ran out-of-doors to photograph the wild peach blossoms which I never remember to expect, when the dog lost a month ago and given up for dead appeared in the yard all bones and skin and an immense appetite. Only a fool would opt out of today.

G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown remarks “I never said it was always wrong to enter fairyland. I only said it was always dangerous.” I’ve been thinking about that, too.  How the danger in fairyland lies in its very subjection to “suddenly.” Would anyone want to go to fairyland if it weren’t subject to “suddenly”? Isn’t that where its magic lies? We love the fairy tales because we don’t know what mischief hides in the deep woods of fairyland, and we are excited to meet it, because we know the formula: whatever Cinderella’s woes may be in her heap of ashes, “Happily ever after” comes at the end.

That’s the bit I lose sight of when I rage against the waste of my plans. And that’s the only part I have certain: perhaps the dress I prepared for the ball is in tatters, but that is only, though I can’t see how, to facilitate the arrival of that inevitable end.

Mary Ellen Chase speaks of “what safety there might be in the very throwing away of safety for the sake of pure desire and hope” (The Lovely Ambition). I wonder at it. I’m not a girl who throws away safety.  And yet I’m not the one responsible for my safety. No. How would it be, then, to relax my grip on the controls, to spread my plans on my open palms, to smile at “suddenly”? Hear me whisper it: “I’m learning.”

on changefulness

I am writing other things today, but I’m also reading things.  And in light of my longing for a fixed land, I wanted to share this:

“To the extent that mutability and change are problematic, to that extent Christian conceptions of reality have not been fully accepted or understood. After all, change is the story of creation from the first words of the creation account (darkness is broken by light, and then they alternate). At the end of the changes of each day of creation, Yahweh pronounces everything “good.” Change can be, though it is not necessarily, good. Change per se is not a problem in the least, and for Christianity the ceaseless motion of the world is something to celebrate rather than mourn. Or, we can start at the other end: what we love dies, but for the Christian there is also resurrection, restoration, and complete final joy.”
Peter J. Leithart, Deep Comedy

just today

Sunshine.

A buzzard fighting a gust of wind.

Paraphrasing done corporately on a white board.

Invariantentheorie.

A panting, apologetic five-minute late student.

A calm, silent half-hour late student.

Paper napkins chased across a courtyard.

Ideas chased across an electronic page.

Crayons, in three colors, highlighting pieces of essays.

Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill.”

Raspberry tea.

be mine?

Curlylocks, Curlylocks, wilt thou be mine?
Thou shalt not wash dishes nor yet feed the swine,
But sit on a cushion, and sew a fine seam,
And feed upon strawberries, sugar, and cream.

In Eric Kincaid‘s rendering, Curlylocks has golden hair and something peevish about her mouth. She sits exquisitely on her cushion while swine run amuck around her. I like the idea of sitting on a cushion and sewing fine seams; I love the idea of following Curlylocks’ diet — once when I was young I broke out in hives from consuming too many strawberries — but I hesitate to be that lazy and peevish looking. Work is good; exquisite pouting will not do for a healthy lifestyle. What fun, then, to unpack my lunch at work and find that kind hands have placed, among my more ordinary foods, strawberries and real whipped cream.

Aren’t these, after all, rather wonderful moments, when the fairy tale and real life brush against one another, and the little teaching assistant in sweater and scarf finds herself, for a moment, a pampered princess in a blue silk gown?

The things promised are more wonderful than the sum of all fairy tales.  Go grade your papers, little teacher; you are His.

abide

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.
–John 15:9

Of all callings and commandments, should not this be one we could manage? Yet there I am, forever abiding anywhere but in His love. I turn one hurried ear to His declaration of love, and then I rush away to abide in my lackings, in the loves I don’t have, in my weakness, in the standard impossible for me to reach.

Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings, yet not welcome any pain?
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine, yet grumble in days of rain?
Shall I love You in times of plenty, then leave You in days of drought?
Shall I trust when I reap the harvest, but when winter winds blow then doubt?

When your Beloved declares His love, isn’t it a time to listen with both ears, to look with both eyes, to reserve no place in the back of your sordid soul for counting the things you haven’t got? Because His love withholds nothing that is good.

Are You good only when I prosper, and true only when I’m filled?
Are You king only when I’m carefree, and God only when I’m well?
You are good when I’m poor and needy. You are true when I’m parched and dry.
You still reign in the deepest valley.  You’re still God in the darkest night.

So I buy music that tells me the truth, and I play it, again and again and again, driving to work and driving home.  And I sing with the words, force myself to abide in them rather than other places.

Oh let Your will be done in me, in Your love I will abide.
Oh I long for nothing else as long as You are glorified.*

Along the road to work someone has tied shiny red heart balloons to road signs. I counted eleven of them — markers toward a Valentine’s Day proposal, maybe.  Other days, I might have counted them a bit scornfully: what business have people bedizening the landscape with gaudy happiness? But today they are beautiful; today I abide, beloved. A heron stands in a swollen swamp and a little girl crosses a parking lot in red rain boots.

I abide along a muddied sidewalk and up a vinyl staircase.  I abide in an office with Abraham and Ethelbert, the office plants. I abide with papers that want grading and another paper which wants writing. He loves me; I abide there.

*Mark Altrogge, “As Long as You Are Glorified”

“But I do not find that this position, that of unbroken peacefulness and inward song, is one which we can hope to hold unassailed. It is no soft arrangement of pillows, no easy chair. It is a fort in an enemy’s country, and the foe is wise in assault and especially in surprise. And yet there can be nothing to fear, it is not a place that we must keep, but a stronghold in which we are kept, if only, in the moment we are conscious of attack, we look ‘away unto our faith’s Princely Leader and Perfecter, Jesus, who endured’ (Rotherham’s rendering of Hebrews 12:2). He who endured can protect and maintain that of which He is Author and Finisher: ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.'”
-Amy Carmichael, Rose from Brier

for Dr. K

He insisted that, in order to know anything at all, we had start where little children start: with wonder.  Start with doubt, and you could prove nothing at all, for you would have to doubt your own powers of proving along with everything else.

Is wonder where he’s started in heaven, his laugh ringing out while he begins the race “further up and further in”?

And of all things deserving our wonderment, is not this the most wonderful: perishable putting on the imperishable, mortal putting on immortality, so that victory swallows death?

All his years of teaching truth from the mirror, dimly, in metaphors and crooked diagrams and sentence fragments, swallowed up in touching Truth, face to face.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

©2012 by Stacy Nott