suddenly’s subject

February 28, 2012

“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

February 24, 2012

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

February 23, 2012

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?

February 20, 2012

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

February 16, 2012

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”

February 14, 2012

“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

February 13, 2012

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.

on fixedness

February 8, 2012

In the second volume of his Space Trilogy, Perelandra, C. S. Lewis imagines another Garden of Eden and another Fall. In this Eden, the thing forbidden is not fruit. The man and his wife are forbidden to sleep on the Fixed Land, but must instead live on floating islands, never knowing in which part of the world they will awaken.

I have to confess that this temptation to fixedness resonates with me more than temptation to eat does.  I want to know where I am and where I will be.  Though I know it is foolish, I establish my own Fixed Lands – things which I deem somehow immutable — and try to shape my life along the contours of those Fixed things.

Though to sleep on a Fixed Land is not to fall from grace in this our world, such attempts usually end for me in the discovery that my Fixed Lands really are not fixed. If my Fixed Lands cannot always ensure that I know where I’ll be, I look to them to be where I expect; they aren’t.

So here I am again, crawling back to the God in whom there is no variation or shadow due to change, the only truly Fixed Land, the One whose contours I irrationally fight. He feeds the hungry ones who stole forbidden food.  He bids the tired one who left Him to find other fixed lands come back, rest on His fixedness.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, here on my Fixed Land, knowing that when I awake, I shall be with Him still.

 

this day

February 7, 2012

Every day ought to sing, but some days wake up singing all on their own, while others have to be persuaded to sing.  Today needs no persuasion for me, but perhaps your today is different.  Here, then, is a song to persuade your day to sing.  The words are attributed to St. Patrick, and the melody, so far as I can find out, is traditional.  If you click here, you may listen to a lovely rendition of it, performed by a lovely set of musicians.* I recommend that you do.

This day God gives me strength of high heaven,
Sun and moon shining, flame in my hearth,
Flashing of lighting, wind in its swiftness,
Deeps of the ocean, firmness of earth.

This day God sends me strength as my guardian,
Might to uphold me, wisdom as guide;
Your eyes are watchful, Your ears are listening,
Your lips are speaking, Friend at my side.

God’s way is my way, God’s shield is round me,
God’s host defends me, saving from ill;
Angels of heaven drive from me always
All that would harm, stand by me still.

Rising I thank you, mighty and strong One,
King of creation, Giver of rest,
Firmly confessing God in three persons,
Oneness of Godhead, Trinity blessed.

*The band L’Angelus

every gift?

February 4, 2012

“I am not interested in gobbledygook. Either let me be a clean Deist and say that God wed us to Himself and then ditched us the parking lot of the church to fend for ourselves; or let me declare that it is really the Lord who sends the cardinals I love when I need cheering up. . . . Is our life full of ongoing encounters with God? Are signs and wonders happening around us a regular part of Christian experience?” Andrée Seu (“The cross in the stone.” World 11 Feb. 2012.)

To call them “encounters with God” makes me nervous.  Yes, we know that every good and perfect gift is from above, and so we offer our thanks for the gifts, and I write them, a numbered list, in my journal sometimes, but does it not seem a monstrous audacity to suppose Him always there, pressing the gifts into our little hands?  Yes, we know that not a sparrow falls apart from the will of our Father in heaven, but do we think too highly of ourselves than we ought if we suppose that He ordains the flying of a sparrow across our path on any ordinary [extraordinary] day?

But if the gifts come from Him, then He must be the One giving them; they must come covered in His fingerprints.  If a sparrow cannot fall outside His will, it must fly within His will. And if He is not the One behind the gifts, then I participate in utter absurdity, thanking Him for all of them: for the people who smile and for the frogs that sing and for the mud that squelches in the yard after long rain.

Maybe, though, this is the absurdity: that I, who have preached the scandal of His particular love expressed in my lash pigmentation, should balk at acknowledging that particularity elsewhere? Is it pride then, wearing a humble mask? Are the scruples there because we’d rather He weren’t touching all the details, handing us all the gifts? Do we run about asking questions, because it prevents our being still and knowing? Because as long as there are reasonable reasons to say that we don’t owe absolutely everything to Him, we may feel that somehow we still own ourselves?

We don’t.  But there are the gifts on all sides, pressed into our little hands, reminding us that, though we are small, we are loved with an immense love. And so I continue to say “Thank You.”

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