Category Archives: faith

Note to Self

Because, today, I am in desperate need of a reminder. A reminder of where my priorities lie. Where my faith is fixed. Where I hide my heart. God help me stem the tide of bitterness in my soul.

From the pen of C. S. Lewis, in what may be his most breathtaking piece of nonfiction: The Weight of Glory.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.

And my other source of sanity. I point you to Stephen Colbert. Love and peace to y’all.


A dollop of reality in my cup of fiction

It’s funny. I have never been good at keeping a journal, and so this blog has been something of a stand-in for me. Now I can look back and be reminded of where I have been, and how little I have learned. I still need reminding of these things.

“Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him. When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible …

Source: A dollop of reality in my cup of fiction


Vanitas

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

Vanitas/Still Life with a Skull, one of several by Franciscus Gysbrechts, mid-to-late 1600’s.
Image from Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

I haven’t many of my own words, right now, which is why I haven’t been posting. What few words I do have are being channeled into fiction and a few friends and loved ones who are facing trouble and pain.

Three friends of a close friend of mine, all from the same family, were killed in a wreck. Serious illness and death have touched several people I love. There is death, illness, strain, pain, separation, abuse, stress, and frustration close at hand, and horrible violence, famine, illness, war and death not far distant.

In other words, everything is normal for the world.


It is easy to think, in relatively peaceful and prosperous countries, that we are safe, and in many ways, we are. It’s also easy to feel ashamed of that peace and safety, knowing so many do not have it. I keep asking myself what that shame means. Is it helpful or harmful, a tool or an attack? It shouldn’t mean that I want what little peace and prosperity there is, in the world, to vanish (or should it?) but that I do not want such things to be so isolated, so rare. Perhaps, so long as it makes me want to use what I have to help, then it is good, but if it paralyzes me with shame, it is evil.

But there is something to be learned about both peace and prosperity, for those who are in it: It is, in the end, no real protection. Pain and death will find us. If we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, or in distracting ourselves until we forget, then we are in for a shock.

Different faiths have different perspectives on how this reality should be faced. In my own, Christianity, there are many different angles from which it is approached. There is no single answer, though some folks pretend that there is. There are no pat sayings that cover all angles, though some people like to pretend there are. There is, instead, a mosaic, with space between the tesserae.


Be careful what you say to pain. I have to remind myself of this. It’s too easy to forget, we are so desperate to say something, to help somehow, that we do damage. Better to be silent. After all, in silence the Spirit may have a chance to speak without all of our clutter. My mind is very cluttered… and I am certainly not silent, here. But then, what is this blog if not a place for me to vent? Maybe venting, here, will keep me from saying stupid things to someone anon.


The painting, above, is a vanitas, a reminder of mortality and of the ephemeral nature of earthly wealth, power, pleasure and wisdom. In this particular painting, the skull is wreathed in dried grass, a symbol of the brevity of life, and the hope of resurrection, as the grass dies every year, but returns every Spring. It is the only thing in the painting that is treated so. I think C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory points out one reason why.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

Growing up, especially while studying history and biology, I got a very different impression of the world. What is the life of a human, so brief and fragile, to the life of a nation, or the world, or the universe?

This is no answer to the question of pain and death, or at least, it is not a complete answer. But it does shift the perspective. If I believe that human’s are, in essence, immortal, then how I treat them becomes much more serious. The responsibility is immense. When we turn our backs on human suffering, we are turning our backs on the suffering of an eternal someone. In Weight of Glory, Lewis catches at a possible risk. A turnabout.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

How this post rambles! I’m not sure there is a point, or at least not a clear or singular one. I keep coming back to the vanitas. Almost all is vanity, born from dust and to dust returning, but if there is something eternal in that dust, which I believe, then the one thing that is not vanity is the immortal. The pain in my fellows, the suffering, may be finite, but I do not think it is trivial.


A dollop of reality in my cup of fiction

“Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him. When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else’s Bible? A printer reads a Bible for misprints. A Mormon reads his Bible and finds polygamy; a Christian Scientist reads his and finds we have no arms or legs. St. Clare […] found in the Old Testament anything he wanted – lust, tyranny, treason. Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?

“In each of the hot and secret countries to which that man went he kept a harem, he tortured witnesses, he amassed shameful gold; but certainly he would have said with steady eyes that he did it to the glory of the Lord. My own theology is sufficiently expressed by asking which Lord? Anyhow, there is this about such evil, that it opens door after door in hell, and always into smaller and smaller chambers. This is the real case against crime, that a man does not become wilder and wilder, but only meaner and meaner.”

-From G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown story, “The Sign of the Broken Sword”

I am new to the Father Brown stories and relatively new to Chesterton. The author’s nonfiction style appeals to me, and so when I found a small collection of his stories, I decided to give them a try. So far, I do not like them much, but “The Sign of the Broken Sword” struck me enough to want to post on it. It alone, among the stories I have read so far, has earned its place on my shelf. As the characters walked into the tunnels of nighttime wood, the story burrowed into the dark of  my soul and lit a lamp.

To a non-Christian, the above quotation might be “obvious,” as the faults of Christians are sometimes more obvious to the world than they are to ourselves. In fact, that is the primary reason for this post, and the primary reason this story struck me.

When I see the world unfairly criticizing my Christian brothers and sisters I bristle and my impulse is to defend. Sometimes that is the right response. The danger lies in becoming so eager to champion true Christianity that I fight for anything given that name, even if it is wrong. This defense of the indefensible has occurred throughout our history, and it is no good denying it. Many an evil idea or action has taken refuge in the protection of the Church*.

I believe that reading the Bible is Good. I believe that it is more than a book, and that it speaks to us. I believe too much control over interpretation can stifle readers to the point where they no longer hear the book speak in their hearts. Corrupted meanings can become mainstream and individual thought is needed to challenge them. However, when I read the above quotation I feel that Father Brown (the speaker) hits upon something desperately important:

The Bible is not meant to be explored in isolation.

Solitary Bible study can be, and often is, beneficial, but to be isolated in the study of the Word is something entirely different. Sometimes people form twisted ideas in isolation and they need interaction from others to either confirm or challenge their conclusions.  Our personal slants or prejudices take hold and may blind us unless checked by our fellows. I need such input from others as I have always been more solitary than social in my study and my thoughts. Also, time and again, we run across people who look to the Bible, not to learn, but to justify. We are too fallible and corrupt in our natures to be trusted alone with something so powerful.

We have overwhelming evidence of the Bible’s power to change lives for the better, but we also have overwhelming evidence of the destructiveness of its misuse.

Instead of allowing this vivisection of my Holy Book to undermine or polarize me, I think I will take a good long look at the story I have just read. Father Brown does not mince his words to make them easier to swallow. He does not try to defend his faith, God or the Bible to his companion or to the world. Only the truth about St. Clare shows that he was not of the faith he professed. Honesty alone shows the stark contrast between true Christianity and a man’s corruption of the faith.

I have several conclusions from all of this rambling.

First, if the Church hides her illness, she will only grow worse until she dies. She must allow her sickness to be seen and treated if she is to be strong and hale.

Second, that the Bible is intended to be both personal and communal. It is too potent a thing to be trusted either to the solitary individual or the mob, but between the two it may reveal to us its Truth.

Third,  that God and Christianity do not need me to defend them. I draw a line between explaining and defending. The former is often good, but the latter… if I am a soldier, I should not stand in front of my strong fortress and try to keep the enemy from touching its walls. I cannot defend God. God defends me.

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* I use the term “Church” to refer to all Christians, not a specific organization or hierarchy.


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