Tag Archives: hope

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.


Crossroads

Parallel lyrics from Les Misérables, the Musical.
Valjean’s “What Have I Done” and Javert’s “Soliloquy”
by Herbert Kretzmer.

Yes, there are spoilers here if you don’t know the basic plot.

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Valjean/Javert
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What have I done?/Who is this man?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?/What sort of devil is he?
Become a thief in the night,/To have me caught in a trap
Become a dog on the run/And choose to let me go free?
And have I fallen so far,/It was his hour at last
And is the hour so late/To put a seal on my fate,
That nothing remains,/Wipe out the past,
But the cry of my hate,/And wash me clean off the slate.
The cries in the dark that nobody hears,/
All it would take was a flick of his knife.
Here where I stand at the turning of the years?/
Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life!
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If there’s another way to go/
Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief.
I missed it twenty long years ago./
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
My life was a war that could never be won./
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked.
They gave me a number and murdered Valjean/
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face.
When they chained me and left me for dead,/
There is nothing on earth that we share.
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread./
It is either Valjean or Javert!
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Yet why did I allow that man/How can I now allow this man
To touch my soul and teach me love?/To hold dominion over me?
He treated me like any other./This desperate man that I have hunted,
He gave me his trust./He gave me my life.
He called me brother./He gave me freedom.
My life he claims for God above!/I should have perished by his hand.
Can such things be?/It was his right.
For I had come to hate the world,/I was my right to die as well.
This world that always hated me/Instead I live – but live in hell.
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Take an eye for an eye!/And my thoughts fly apart.
Turn your heart into stone!/Can this man be believed?
This is all I have lived for!/Shall his sins be forgiven?
This is all I have known!/Shall his crimes be reprieved?

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One word from him and I’d be back/
And must I now begin to doubt,
Beneath the lash, upon the rack./
Who never doubted all these years?
Instead he offers me my freedom./
My heart is stone and still it trembles.
I feel my shame inside me like a knife./
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
He told me that I have a soul,/
Is he from heaven or from hell?
How does he know?/And does he know
What spirit comes to move my life?/
That, granting me my life today,
Is there another way to go?/
This man has killed me even so?
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I am reaching, but I fall,/I am reaching, but I fall,
And the night is closing in/And the stars are black and cold,
And I stare into the void,/As I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin./Of a world that cannot hold.
I’ll escape now from that world,/I’ll escape now from that world,
From the world of Jean Valjean./From the world of Jean Valjean!
Jean Valjean is nothing now./There is nowhere I can turn.
Another story must begin!/There is no way to go on.


Time is Scarce

But I will offer a quote which I have been mulling over from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy as well as some of my mullings.

“No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world and enough of a Christian to die to it?”

Simultaneous fanatical pessimism and fanatical optimism… the words do not, in themselves, communicate what is intended, but Chesterton manages to redefine them enough for me, I think, to understand what he means. I’ve spent a lot of my life darting around people I know like a crazed sheepdog, nipping their heels when they move too far towards extremes of optimism and pessimism. I’ve done this partly because I am an insufferable “fixer” who has a hard time staying out of other people’s business (I am working on this), but I have also done it because I have experienced one side of that dangerous equation and witnessed the results of the other.

But for all this, I have long been aware that there is a good kind of balance and a bad kind. Before I read this passage of Chesteron’s, I did not have a good way to express what I mean.  He opened a new avenue of thought to me.

A bland medium breeds complacency,  resignation, and inaction. I do not want that kind of balance for myself or for others. I do not want to race around myself, or around my friends and family, nipping heels until the person is afraid to move. I want the balance that is stability, but that also propels us forward into action. I want the balance that burns, changes and grows.

When I was in Canada recently, a man walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He had one of those long poles used for balance. This strikes me as an apt metaphor in some ways. When I need to balance, I have two options. Either I can stand still or crawl. When I spread my arms out to their full length and try to walk I am not very stable and I am apt to fall.  A puff of wind or a slight miscalculation can send me reeling because I am trying to balance within reasonable limits. The long pole, projecting far beyond normal human reach, gives a person the ability to balance while walking forward. The pole is a balance between extremes. True balance, in this sense, is not an absence of extremes but a coexistence. This means that my entire life must be an epic balancing act which propels me forward, not static inaction in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.

Maintaining opposing extremes within myself is akin to playing with fire (I love fire).  Extremes are dangerous, but then a lack of extremes is equally dangerous.  If I shift my grip too far towards one end of the pole, I will topple, just as I would lose my balance without the aid of the pole. Constant vigilance is needed. I pray to God to help me not slip to one extreme while leaving the other behind. That sort of thing happens all the time, and the results make my hair stand up. I know myself too well to doubt that I can easily slip, with disastrous consequences, and yet I feel that this seeming-paradox is the safest, most healthy course. Irony is ever with me and I am not blind to the irony of my belief that the safest place to be looks, from the outside, so dangerous.

Like all metaphors, this one only goes so far. As usual, I am left wondering how much questions like this can be communicated through words. The above makes sense to me in the same way balancing makes sense to me. At first it was instinctual, and only now am I coming to understand the forces at work. I know enough to say that I know very little. I hope, in time, to know more.


Shout Out

Reader’s warning: angst follows, but at least it is neither purposeless nor self-focused angst.

As the title would suggest, this is a shout-out to my fellow Book-Meme contributors, David and the Multifaceted Muses.

There has been some discussion among us, lately, on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, surrounding the role sorrow, grief and tragedy play in the book and its various related stories. Tolkien, we know, was no stranger to grief, pain or even the horrors of World War I. As a writer, he does not shy from tragedy, and yet there is a powerful, indestructible hope that runs through his work, as it seems to have run through his life. He understood a truth that someone like me, who has suffered very little in comparison, has no right to speak of: that from sorrow, strife and pain can come a rich harvest. As Gandalf observes, “not all tears are evil.”

On a seemingly unrelated note, the muses of the Egotist’s Club have produced some very intriguing answers two the second 2012 Book Meme question. Perhaps reading their posts opened a previously unexplored avenue of thought in me, because I usually do not match music with books.

This morning a song came up on my mp3 player and, as I listened, its relation to the Silmarillion hit me. I have never thought, nor am likely to think again, of Tolkien and Emmylou Harris at the same time. However, here are the lyrics for Harris’s song, The Pearl, for Urania, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Calliope and David.

The Pearl, by Emmylou Harris

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Oh the Dragons are gonna to fly tonight.

They’re circling low and in sight tonight.

It’s another round in the losing fight

Out along the great divide tonight.

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We are aging soldiers in an ancient war

Seeking out some half-remembered shore.

We drink our fill and still we thirst for more,

Asking “if there’s no heaven what is this hunger for?”

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Our path is worn our feet are poorly shod.

We lift up our prayer against the odds,

And fear the silence is the voice of God.

Of God, of God.

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And we cry allelujah, allelujah,

We cry allelujah.

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Sorrow is constant and the joys are brief.

The seasons come and bring no sweet relief.

Time is a brutal but a careless thief:

It takes our lot but leaves behind the grief.

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It is the heart that kills us in the end,

Just one more old broken bone that cannot mend.

As it was, now, and ever shall be, amen.

Amen, amen.

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And we cry allelujah, allelujah,

We cry allelujah.

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So there’ll be no guiding light for you and me

We are not sailors lost out on the sea

We were always headed toward eternity

Hoping for a glimpse of Galilee.

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Like falling stars from the universe we are hurled

Down through the long loneliness of the world

Until we, behold the pain, become the Pearl.

The Pearl. The Pearl.

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Cryin´ allelujah allelujah
We cry allelujah!

And we cry allelujah allelujah
We cry allelujah!

We cry allelujah allelujah
We cry allelujah!


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