Monday, February 27, 2012

The Marrow of the Matter

I can read a passage a thousand times, and never capture its heart.

"From the same source I have not taken/ my sorrow; I could not awaken/ my heart to joy at the same tone;/ and all I lov'd, I lov'd alone." - Edgar Allan Poe

"I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

I am alone in my flesh. Surrounded by warmth; layers of skin and life construct me. I have soft parts and hard bones, and senses... But even these fail me.

We need communion with God because we are never truly united. We were made for a greater union than any we may experience in this docile life. We swim and crawl through our experiences, screaming just to shred our throats and know our voices still function even though no one seems to truly hear them. We screw up to make sure we still have guilt, because if we did not, we would have lost a piece of our humanity in this world that means nothing. We must fail to test our own existence, to make sure we still have a piece of this evasive eternity we both loathe and desire. We cry out for answers and anger ourselves demanding comprehension, but we will not find it here. We demand meaning with entitlement that was never ours to possess.

Everything is meaningless. Yet, we are given so much to busy our hands while we pull ourselves through the grime that wets the wings of our spirits and keeps us from ascending to transcendence. This is our lot; we should grasp it with iron grip and work exhaustively with it until we have no more breath with which to perform. We ought to enjoy what we are given - yet this statement is so loosely tossed. "Enjoy" seems to imply some kind of happiness, but I do not think that is always so. To enjoy, to me, is to feel in every shard of your being; to appreciate existence by allowing it to saturate the very essence of your being. Not every emotion will be uplifting or laughable, but that does not mean they are not satisfying. Rejoice, and know that you are alive. Because you feel, you are in existence. You have been given a great gift that may lead you to the one great King who brought your humanity to life. If you are angry, sad, hurt, ecstatic, feel it to the very marrow of your bones, and know that you have been blessed with a true soul with which you are able to bring praise to your Creator, here and, someday, in eternity.

"It is better to go to a house of mourning that to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart." Ecclesiastes 7:2-3

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fortune's Fools and Faith

"Self love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting." - William Shakespeare

"I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?" Jeremiah 15:17-18

I begin with a quote from one of my personal journals:

Me, I think I bring most miseries upon myself. I am afflicted with a sore sort of accidental deliberateness, a recklessly intentional chaos that I inflict on those I most dearly wish to preserve in my life. My desperate fear of missed opportunity propels me head-first into shallow water; as I prepare myself with each leap for a fathomless dive, each impactful collision with the bottom of the well hurts with more profundity. Yet, I still seem insatiable - stubbornly brutal, training myself to believe the tender bruising of my spirit is simply the way life feels on a writer's soul. Is it so? Am I inclined to greater sensitivity - or perhaps feebler defense against the vastness of reality - because of my poetic heart? I long to be included among the great wounded souls forever commemorated on the pages yellowing in libraries forgotten, but how much in life must I yield to achieve this?

I wrote this entry about two months ago. I have often been consumed by similar thoughts; the myth of the writer's passion intrigues me. Many times I have responded to an occurrence with radical emotion, much to the confusion of those close to me. As I become more invested in writing, I realize how much more some things matter to me than to everyone else. Obviously, the notion is not completely exclusive, but those I've found to empathize are also writers. I still fall victim to these thoughts sometimes, confounded by the lack of response in others: How can it be that they do not feel these things like sand in their veins? How can they not scratch at the surface of their skin, attempting to dig the dirt out of their souls and thus refresh their hearts' peace? Sometimes, I am so bothered by an instance (and the lack of reaction from others) that I am inclined to feel guilty for my emotions - guilty for feeling something.

With God, I have been exponentially better at handling these emotions, and the pendulum rarely swings as dramatically. Some days, however, such radical emotions creep upon me like the ant I don't notice on my leg until it gets to the sensitive skin under my knee. I haven't a clue where they come from or what ignites them, but once lit, they burn in my core until I spew them to an unfortunate confidante (I take this moment to thank God for my wonderfully patient friends!) in a torrent. Most of the people around me, however, seem to be very much in control of their emotions; therefore I feel near barbaric for desiring to let my moodiness saturate through my soul for even a moment. I often attempt to conceal these moods - I most often am a joyful person, and thus feel, in some social circles, I am only allowed or expected to feel joy. Alas, I am human, and do have fallible moments in which my own shortcomings and those of others bother me explicitly. Why do I feel as if I am one of few who possess these moods?

After expressing my anger to a friend (thank you Cougar Tulip!), I promptly felt uncertain of it. Am I allowed to feel this way? Is my frustration sinful? I, thankfully, felt compelled to ask God what He thought of it - I asked Him to be my fingers and walk through the Bible to what He wanted me to see. He led me to Jeremiah 15:15-20, partially quoted above. I immediately related to the above quote about sitting alone because of convictions and feeling incurably wounded. The passage goes on, however, to describe submitting to God and being revitalized to become a faithful servant; it encourages me to spend my energy on worthy pursuits, not futile rage. It reminds me that my strength is in my King and no one else, and that I will be able to withstand all that angers me if I trust and serve the Lord. So, while I am able to say, "Lord, you understand" (verse 15), I am simultaneously cautioned not to heed my anger as a motivating force and to return my heart to God. In trusting the Lord, I am relieved of my constricted emotion and free to let my convalescing soul revel in my Savior's glory. Praise be to Him who understands our humanity and liberates us from the confines of devastation! This, my friend, is true joy.

"Therefore this is what the Lord says: 'If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,' declares the Lord." Jeremiah 15:19-20

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stairway to Heaven

"For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting." - T.S. Elliot

"Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway." Proverbs 8:34

Writers are always encouraged to write in the present tense whenever possible. Current things - immediate things - are always more easily received, imagined and accepted. Perhaps this is because we live in a stoplight society: green means go, yellow means hurry and red means try to screech through at the last possible second. Have we yet a moment to ponder, though, exactly what is so worth the haste?

As for myself, I most often rush to accomplish those things with importance lasting only a moment. A chapter must be read for homework, a sentence perfected, a limb severed and offered to the academic lords we call professors for a decent grade - yet these things are, in the words of Solomon, meaningless, "a chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes) I hurry to fill slots of time like bricks with mortar, imagining each task as the adhesive that will secure each piece of my life to the next. I often fail to realize, however, that the only object to be built with this mortar is a wall. If I build the wall faster than anyone else, I may reach its heights first. If I am constantly building, though, to what end will my efforts climb?

As Ash Wednesday comes to a close, I ponder the necessity of haste in my life today. Yes, certain tasks have deadlines, and the authorities that are should be respected. That does not mean, however, that I must shove all else in my life aside so these tasks can take precedence - often, those joys I shelve are the ones never finding an allocated time slot in the future. Even practices I consider extremely beneficial are displaced by mundane chores: sleep, healthy or even regular eating, time for family and distant friends, and, most importantly, time with God. In the constant speed of daily life, I forget how joyful it is simply to wait.

What do we wait for? How can waiting possibly be joyful? Most of us imagine a dark, dusty waiting room where one can practically see germs left from children past resting on the arms of chairs as the light dimly sifts through yellowing blinds. This waiting room generally leads to a reluctant end - perhaps a dentist, cleaning, assignments from school or work, or an unwelcome meeting or appointment. Imagine instead an entire world filled with miraculous beauty and companions to share in its joy. It is both constant and ever-changing; it comes with seasons and environments and flavors and scents and sensations and emotions and endless experiences you may participate in at will. Here, you wait - completely occupied - for the greatest life you can never imagine. That majestic world is what we call Earth, and it serves as the waiting room for the impossible to perceive glory of the world beyond. Not only do we have the privilege of waiting here, we have the absolute honor of waiting bathed in the love of Christ. Though we wait for Jesus' arrival in our long begotten world, we are still given His love to aid the seething burns on our souls, from sin stinging like the sun on our bare arms. We run free among the world, blessed with holy affection, still sinning and yet still desired individually as irreplaceable treasures. Which dentist is it who will lavish you with the whole of his heart while you wait in his dingy reception area?

Even with this amazing love at hand, God still gives us innumerable tasks and hobbies to distract us from this "permanent" wait. Though (most likely) we will not see God until our souls meet Him in the world beyond, He still ensures we have an entire planet to occupy our hearts, minds and bodies through the duration - all He asks is for our spirits. Will we not give them? Let us remember this Lent that, despite all we have to fill our time, this life is ultimately an active waiting for our Savior to return; it is a preparation of our spirits for the holiest King. Why, then, are we not most eager to wait? Why are we not bouncing upon our toes as we wait for His key to turn in the lock? Our sin is so great, yet His love transcends all, and He loves us greater so. Waiting for our Father to return should be the greatest, silent joy of our lives. Thus, here we are at the beginning of Lent, a designated opportunity to reflect on this spiritual ecstasy as we wait for the celebration of the life that redeemed our own.

"I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning." Psalm 130:5-6

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Of Lord and Literature

A reflection of a mere piece of the great spiritual journey of faith.

"Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt thou the sun doth move; doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love." - William Shakespeare

"... for love is as strong as death, its jealousy as unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one's house for love, it would be utterly scorned." Song of Songs 8:6-7

My first love was literature. I fell in love with the nuances, sighs and sinews of language, the delicate curvature of poetry that resembles the soft skin of an angel's shoulder. I devoured novels, poems and short stories alike - Shakespeare, Poe, and Dante mentored my inexperienced pen. I grew up in the land of John Steinbeck (which, by the way, is not much like it is in his books). Authorship has always been present in my life; thus, it became the most powerful desire of my heart.

I had never considered the possibility that my love for written words would ever overshadow something greater, something far more monumental. I went through years writing poems, short stories, song lyrics, and pieces of novels that would sit unfinished on my desktop. Eventually, my attention was momentarily diverted to a newer discovery of love - I was brought to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I was overwhelmed by His love and mercy, and the magnanimous forgiveness He bestowed upon my sin. After almost two decades of believing in God, I finally came to understand Him, to know who He really is and how real his love truly is. I often found myself at a loss for words; God's glory would strike me silent in wonder, as it still often does today.

My transition from literature to God was not necessarily fluid, however. As recent as last year, I was still watching movies and plays about literature (Dead Poets Society, Shakespeare in Love) and diving into my list of classic novels and poems without even drawing breath. I attempted to fashion myself after the great masters of language, molding my writing style and the eloquence of my thoughts and speech to resemble the likes of Shakespeare and Poe. I slipped into the "authentically" brooding mindset that accompanies linguistic genius, as if I possessed enough talent to warrant such a diva style. I focused more on my writing than I did on prayer or pursuing a relationship with Jesus. Eventually, it dawned on me: Literature had become my idol.

Once I realized this, I grudgingly admitted the shortcoming to a friend. I did not want to abandon my literary pursuits for anything, for I so loved literature that my heart beat with the taps of pen on paper. I slowly persuaded myself to spend more time in God's word, however, than my own - a decision that steadily brought me to recognize some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.

Shakespeare's iambic pentameter and manipulation of language redressed multitudes of ancient legends in eloquent finery; Poe's tragic elegance threaded innumerable tell-tale hearts together with empathetic human pains, but neither of these masters I so desperately admired could compare to the positively divine majesty of the words I found in the Bible (awful pun intended). Not only are the words themselves beautifully strung, but the powerful truth behind them consumed my heart with a fire never touched by literature. I was not merely swept away by the possibility of the words, as I was with plays and poems, but thoroughly enraptured by the devastating truth and confounding love of the Gospel. These were not just words - these were declarations of holy reality, of true love and sacrifice already given in the world, witnessed by thousands, recorded and proven and known. Shakespeare could never imagine so great a love as that which was given by Jesus in His bodily sacrifice for our spiritual survival. God granted us wretched, spiritually impoverished fools the gift of his holy Son so that we might choose to wander back to Him from the frivolities of our daily lives. God yearns for us to return - us! That so great and good a God would actually desire our love left me incredulous; I still am sometimes confused as to why He would call for my heart. My faith, however, has grown so strong and so deep, that despite my daily mistakes and permanent flaws, I not only love the Lord, I want to love him more than anything else I could ever want. As darling Mr. Darcy says, "I love, I love, I love you" - but this I now breathlessly say to my God. Literature, although I still adore it far above most other temporary joys of this world, has been displaced by the greatest poetry any words could possibly contain: truth.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16