"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

26 October 2006

Thought for the Day

"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." (Plato)

25 October 2006

Wrestling with God, Again

I have been thinking a great deal about the nature of suffering the past couple of years. Lately, a number of young women have come through my door to ask me about depression, many of them having been told that they must "snap out of it," or "get right with the Lord," so that they can be happy.

Depression is my own most intimate knowledge of suffering. I am not a counselor, only a listening empathetic ear, but I do know this: the suffering of depression is not sin. One may, of course, choose to sin in response to that suffering (as I have so terribly, far too many times), but the suffering is not sin.

We tend, I think, to see it as such because, as Christians, we are told that we must rejoice. But joy and happiness are not the same thing. One can be most unhappy and still have joy. The key for the one who suffers from depression is learning where that joy lies and how to cling to it in the midst of depression's sadness and even despair, knowing the difference between the suffering of depression and the truth of God's love for us.

I love the scene in Lord of the Rings when Pippin and Gandalf are standing together on the walls of Minas Tirith looking out over the rising darkness from Mordor that threatens to engulf all of Middle Earth; they do not yet know whether Frodo is still alive or Sauron has recovered the Ring. Pippin looks at Gandalf: "In the wizard's face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that underneath there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to burst forth."

And Hopkins, of course, in even the most terrible of the Terrible Sonnets, always seeing the spark of hope that is his salvation, knowing that the One who seems to be his enemy is in truth his Friend, and crying out to Him, even his cries of anguish a form of worship, however deep his despair.

And the star in the darkness above Mordor that gives Sam the hope that carries him through the last terrible days of their ordeal, reminding him that above the darkness is something greater and eternal, that the darkness, however long it may last and whatever evil it may accomplish, is still only for a moment in comparison to beauty.

Depression may come once, twice, or last a lifetime. But all of us suffer in this world, one way or another. What will we do with it, and will we let it overwhelm the beauty that objectively still surrounds us? In "When Roses Speak, I Pay Attention," Mary Oliver writes that the roses tell us, "Listen, / the heart-shackles are not, as you think, / death, illness, pain, / unrequited hope, not loneliness, but / lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety, / selfishness."

The first things she names come to all of us, whether we will or no. We can choose -- though the choice can be extremely difficult at times -- not to wallow in the latter ones. May the Lord bring to us the friends and counselors we need to help us learn how to make that choice, not be too hard on ourselves when we inevitably fail (repent and go on living without wallowing in guilt, either; He knows our frame and has already forgiven), and daily draw closer to Him in whatever suffering He allows for our refinement.

"Why?" Hopkins asks in "Carrion Comfort" of the suffering given him. "That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear."

I pray, with fear and trembling, for clear grain, Lord, to serve You with.

24 October 2006

"The Uses of Sorrow"

from Mary Oliver's new collection of poetry, Thirst.

The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

I feel so close to understanding and so far at the same time. The Heavenly Hound, thank Him, is relentless. I want to stop and rest in His wild faithfulness, but I am so often afraid. Yet every taste has always been sweeter than honey.

Oliver writes in the title poem, the book's epilogue: "I was never a quick scholar but sulked / and hunched over my books past the / hour and the bell; grant me, in your / mercy, a little more time."

Oh, for a little more time, to learn Him in humility and love . . .

23 October 2006


(I wanted to post this last Friday, but computer glitches did not allow.)

From Mark Jarman's Unholy Sonnets, #34

Although I know God's immanence can speak
In sunlight's parallels and intersections;
Although I know the spiritual techniques
For finding God in all things, when I pray

It is to nothing manifest at all.
And though I know it's only technical,
I do not pray to nothing. Yesterday,
One of those off-hand, razor-edged rejections
The world flips like a Frisbee grazed my cheek.
It drew blood. No consoling recollections
Of having shaken off that sort of play
Helped me to forget it. I could not recall
My strength, and brooded, lost and tragical,
Till, marking this blank page, I found a way.

Failure seems to be the predominant mode of my life lately. I love this poem because it reminds me, first, that I'm not the only one who can't seem to live by spiritual cliches, and second, that I need to write. So it's off to finish the grading and give myself time to write, seriously, for at least a few hours this so-called break.

Needing to stop brooding, lost and tragical. What a pathetic way to live this "one wild and precious life" (Mary Oliver).

13 October 2006

Fall Break

Dragged home scads of paper today -- homework I'm behind on grading, exams and essays that need to be taken care of before classes begin again a week from Monday. Discouraging to look at, but I'm trying to keep remembering that what is done this week doesn't have to be done after classes are back in swing and more of it coming in.

I'm utterly exhausted. But so many good meetings with students this week that make it worthwhile.

A tiny taste during the week of letting go and not trying to keep control of my time, my work. Getting things done that had to be but without worry and frustration at interruptions and needed conversations. I hope to hold on to that and practice it again this week at home, with much to do here as well as for the job and the constant temptations there will be to laziness rather than good rest.

Oh, to learn to live in Him, to let Him live in me.

06 October 2006

Dillard Thoughts

Glancing through the last chapter of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek this morning, I was struck with the following passage:

I think that the dying pray at the last not "please," but "thank you," as a guest thanks his host at the door. Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank you, all down the air; and the cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks. Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And then you walk fearlessly, eating what you must, growing wherever you can, like the monk on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries his vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms him, but with which he will not part.

I long to be fearless, seeing. I long to be, instead of always striving. I will not part with the live coal I carry, and I will not take comfort where no comfort may be truly found. Be Thou my vision . . . nought be all else to me save that Thou art . . .

02 October 2006

On Theory

All I have to say today is this: Never agree to write on a topic which you mostly know through theory.

God will not let you write from theory.