"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

28 July 2009

Seeking Peace . . .

This world is certainly broken. Sometimes this is evidenced in minor irritations and annoyances, or what one reads in the papers that doesn't touch one directly. Those days it's easy to shrug and coast a little, maybe rest a little.

But then the brokenness overwhelms. I know four people who have lost a parent in the last two weeks. Illness -- a student with a spinal tumor; the recurrence of bleeding in my daughter's angioma, causing seizures; my own chronic pain suddenly increasing by a hundred-fold or so . . . People I love losing homes, jobs, families . . .

What is one to do in the face of overwhelming brokenness? Pray, I suppose. But I haven't the least idea how to pray. Who am I to presume to know what to ask God in the midst of all this sorrow and pain? He didn't send His Son to die so we could all be happy and well in the darkness of a broken world. But neither, in the face of His sacrifice, is despair an option.

So I turn to Scott Cairns again:

Stillness occurs with the shedding of thoughts. - St. John Klimakos

Of course the mind is more often a roar,
within whose din one is hard pressed to hear
so much as a single word clearly. Prayer?

Not likely. Unless you concede the blur
of confused, compelled, competing desires
the mind brings forth in the posture of prayer.

So, I found myself typically torn,
if lately delivered, brow to the floor,
pressing as far as I could into prayer,

pressing beneath or beyond the roar
that had so long served only to wear
away all good intentions, baffling prayer.

Polished hardwood proves its own kind of mirror,
revealing little, but bringing one near
the margin where one hopes to find prayer --

though even one's weeping is mostly obscured
by the very fact and effect of one's tears,
which, for the time being, must serve.

*"hesychia" means "peace"
Update: Scott Cairns, in a comment below, graciously tells me that "'hesychia' is more nearly translated as 'stillness,' indicating a deep quiet, of body, mind, and spirit."

10 July 2009

Quotidian Mysteries

(especially for you, Michael R. :) Trying to pull myself out of the grip of depression-driven acedia . . .)

I haven't read Kathleen Norris's book with the title of this post, but it intrigued me yesterday when I was browsing around amazon for a gift. I've been reading and thinking a lot lately about the "quotidian mysteries" -- the tasks of the daily round, the routine of ordinary life -- and their salvific effect in life. (Norris writes a great deal about this in Acedia and Me.) I am not a particularly adventurous type, so the desire for travel, wild events, and so on is not a major temptation for me. Yet with just about everyone, I at times find the daily round "boring" and am tempted to denigrate routine tasks as "menial" -- in the snobbish sense of being beneath my time and energy.

In fact, too often in our Western affluent culture we resent these jobs, doing them under protest and with a sour spirit or hiring them done if we have the resources, and we look down on those who do such work for their living as somehow not as good or as important as those of us who don't work with our hands . . . a horrificly ungodly judgment of God's creation.

Yet the daily routine of life is essential to our well-being. At the merely practical level, daily tasks simply have to be done, by somebody, or we couldn't manage -- most of us want clean clothes and clean dishes, and a reasonably clean and neat environment in both in the home and the community; as well, the daily tasks of any job may not be glamorous but are essential -- teachers have to grade and prep and record, writers have to revise and edit and keep financial records, musicians have to practice scales and chords . . .

But these tasks are essential in an even more important way: they save us from pride, from sloth, from all manner of wrong thinking and being. It is in the daily tasks of life that God meets us most clearly, I believe. I do not deny the loveliness and positive effect of miracles and mountain-top times, but these can only carry us so far; they do not occur every day, and even when we experience them the effects last only so long. I am not changed permanently by one exciting event; I am changed permanently by living for my Lord simply and humbly in the daily round.

Here in the "quotidian mysteries" is where I am tempted by frustrations and irritations of all sorts. Here is where I am tempted to think too highly of myself, that I am above these menial tasks. Here is where I am tempted to desire change and newness for their own sake, glorious deeds for the attention drawn to my wonderfulness.

But here, if I humbly accept the tasks as God's design for my nature, I can find satisfaction and peace and His word working itself out in me. I can hear His voice so much more easily if I listen for it in the daily round instead of solely in the prayer meeting or worship service. He builds patience, contentment, and perseverance, essential qualities in a fallen world, in this daily round.

I quoted a few days ago from Norris's book Acedia and Me about the monk who was shown the vision of daily routine as the way to salvation from sloth and self-centeredness. I know it is true; it has been my salvation from the deadly depths of depression again and again. If I could only hold onto this truth . . .

04 July 2009

God Bless America

Thanks to all from the beginning to now who have worked and fought to make our freedom a reality. May we not allow their sacrifices to be in vain.


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton