"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

30 March 2007

Aeolian Carpings

Some quotes from an underground newsletter of the English graduate students at a university which will remain nameless in order to protect the guilty:

Random Aphorism: You can lead a horse to water, give him lots of handouts on thirst and dehydration, present examples of quaffing in class, e-mail him reminders to imbibe, post notes and drinking assignments on Blackboard, call him in for one-on-one conferences on the shoreline, and send him to the Drinking Center for every assignment, but you can't make him drink.

Found: one medium-sized brain, gray, filled with facts about Victorian literature. Please claim in the faculty lounge refrigerator.

TA an Expert in Margin Manipulation Detection: "It's a gift,"he says.

Frustrated Instructor Resorts to Using Taser in Class: Says "Students are responding well to technology."

Emergency "Staple Requisition Route" Maps to be Posted in Every Classroom: TA says, "It's about time!"

Title of the annual interdisciplinary conference: "([Dis]Mi/ys)teyr (Post [Dis]Course(s) (?): (Un[Dis{P(Re)}])Establishing (!) ([Anti[De])flection(s) on [sic] His/Her(story/i)cal (Post[colon{:}]ial) (Hyper)Text(ual) Margin([al]s) :-)"

The long articles are even better, but I'd best be careful not to tempt the copyright fates, as someone I know is responsible for the publication . . . :) I just wish I could write this kind of thing myself; it makes me so jealous when I read it!

27 March 2007

Bursting into Bloom

Another lovely spring surrounds us here. Last year the forsythia blinded us with its sun-like brilliance. This year it seems subdued beside the richness of the redbuds.

Saturday when I went to check the mail, the gentle white of the thickly flowered dogwood overwhelmed our front yard with beauty. A little later, my husband came into the study and wandered over to the window.

"When did that happen?" he asked in surprise.

"When did what happen?" I replied with my usual astuteness, swimming up to consciousness from Arthur C. Clarke's Songs of Distant Earth.

"When did the dogwood bloom? I've never seen it that full. It wasn't like that when I went out this morning."

A few moments later he remembered that he had watered it while caring for the lawn in the unusual dry spell we've been enduring. "It must have needed just that little bit of moisture for the buds to burst open."

Amazing things happen when one simply goes about doing one's job.

23 March 2007

On Being Somewhere

Thoughts after a conversation, but preaching to myself . . .

One has to be somewhere. And that somewhere, as a general rule, has to include other people. People are, of course, imperfect by definition, so this means our "somewhere" will often be uncomfortable and unsatisfactory.

This is called "life."

God calls us to live this life as well as we can, in His strength and by His grace, extending forgiveness and love and compassion and acceptance to others, as we desire these for ourselves -- and, not incidentally, as we have received them from Him. This is how we learn to be like Him.

May we learn to make our "somewheres" better places for our having been there.

19 March 2007

Neuhaus on Suffering

Some quotes from Chapter 5 of Death on a Friday Afternoon (on "I thirst"):

"The way of the Christian life is cruciform. Jesus did not suffer and die in order that we need not suffer and die, but in order that our suffering and death might be joined to His in redemptive victory."

"The Christian way is not one of avoidance but of participation in the suffering of Christ, which encompasses not only our own suffering, but the suffering of the whole world."

He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "When Jesus calls a man, He calls him to come and die."

And Neuhaus again: "Avoiding the cross makes very good sense, if we do not know the One whom we join, the One who joins us, on the cross that is the world's redemption. The victory of Christ is not a way of avoidance but the way of solidarity in suffering. [. . .] We will die anyway. The question is whether we will die senselessly or as companions and coworkers of the crucified and risen Lord."

13 March 2007

Quiet Companion

I regularly read a number of posts at a Christian college blogring. A few are genuinely, deeply thoughtful and I appreciate and learn from them. They mostly depress me, however, just because so many tend to be completely superficial -- "so I got up and had breakfast and skipped class and went to lunch . . ." -- you know the type. But of course others are more serious, young people writing about what they hope and dream and seek for. Some of these disturb me because they reveal the completely worldly values of folk who should be moving out of these into Christ's values. Others disturb me because the writers simply seem so lost and confused.

This morning I finally realized the main feature that bothers me about so many of these -- the absolute focus on self. Even when writing about a desire for the spiritual, it is a desire for spiritual emotion: I want to feel this, feel that, feel the other; I want God to show me this, give me that. It's all about me.

That, of course, is human nature in a nutshell, exacerbated by the self-absorbed culture that surrounds us. I've been there, still go there far too often. But if we want to know Him, then we need to seek Him -- Him, not some experience we want Him to give us. We need to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength -- and I no longer believe that has anything to do with how we feel at any given moment. Rather, it is a decision to walk in the Truth of His nature, of His salvation, of His Lordship, whether we feel anything in particular or not. (Of course, it is best to do this cheerfully and willingly, not begrudgingly. But, despite the many people I admire who say the opposite, I think it better to do the right thing out of obligation rather than excuse sin because I don't feel like being righteous. At the least, it builds good habits.)

Oh, I long to feel good, too! I can't say how many times I've begged for just a taste of that abundant life He promises. But I think I am beginning to understand that, as C. S. Lewis demonstrates in Surprised by Joy, we can't find some kind of emotional experience by seeking it out and focusing on it. Rather, the knowledge of joy comes as a complete and marvelous surprise when we are absorbed in simply living our lives in His Truth -- absorbed not in ourselves but in Him, the world He created, the others He places in our path.

I used to beg, to plead, for a taste of joy. I am now often startled to find joy a quiet companion along the way, most noticeable when I seek it the least.

12 March 2007

In Christ

In Chapter 4 of Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus explores the Lord’s words “Why hast thou forsaken me?” There’s much here; I keep re-reading it. One of the truths he emphasizes is our identity, who we are. I am not a person in my own right; I have been bought with a price. And that doesn’t mean that I am merely under obligation to the One who bought me; it means that I am in Him, that my life is not mine, but His in me.

Neuhaus explains that the essence – he calls it telos, and I think it is what Hopkins calls inscape – of our being is not something that we choose for ourselves, but something already existent that we discover. In Christ, we already are what we are meant, created, to be. This essence is not “determined by what [we] want to do” but given to us by our identity in Christ. Of course, because we have not yet been perfected, because we live still in a fallen world and in fleshly bodies, “[w]hat [we] want and what [we] choose,” he says, “may be in conflict with who [we are], who [we] really [are].” But if we have been baptized with Christ into His death, then the objective self to be discovered is the self who is in Christ, who is Christ: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” Paul reminds us.

This is the one truth I would pray to remember at all times. My life is not mine to choose; I was bought with a price and I am in Him; He is my identity. This doesn’t mean I am not a unique individual; He has created only unique individuals. But it is only when I discover my identity in His that He can give me the unique self He intended me to be. All the rest is a striving for the spurious right to name, to create, my self – and thus fall farther and farther away from His glorious desire for me.

Polycarp, in his extreme old age, was told to deny Christ or die. He said that it was not possible to deny the One whom he had served for 80-some years. He would no longer be Polycarp if he were to deny Christ: because he is in Christ, because his identity is Christ’s identity, for Polycarp to deny Christ would be for Christ to deny Christ, an impossibility. “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

I will not likely be asked to deny Christ or die anytime soon. But there are so many little opportunities every day to deny Him: to be irritable or angry; to snip at (or about) people who annoy me; to watch a show or a movie I know is not healthy for me; to put off work I’ve promised to do . . . . Who will I be each day? The woman God created me to be, that woman who is in Christ, or a false woman I name and create for myself in opposition to Him?

I pray that I might learn to make every choice freely bathed in humility and gratefulness before the One who bought me with a price and placed me in Himself, to be the woman He created me to be.

01 March 2007

"He Has Befriended Us"

Neuhaus writes about our restlessness and dissatisfaction with life:

"Now we need faith, for the truth is not transparent; now we need hope, for we know we are not what we were meant to be."

Then he writes, continuing with the theme I wrote about yesterday:

We are His friends, not because we have befriended Him, but because He has befriended us. [. . .] Look at Him who is ever looking at you. With whatever faith you have, however feeble and flickering and mixed with doubt, look at Him. Look at Him with whatever faith you have and know that your worry about your lack of faith is itself a sign of faith. Do not look at your faith. Look at Him. Keep looking, and faith will take care of itself.

When I look at Him, I have no time left to look at myself and my pathetic worries and failures. When I look at Him, He can make me what He created me to be. Lord, help me look at You and leave off the maunderings of my foolish self-centeredness.