Tag Archives: joy

And the heart of the Earth a star

Merry Christmas to all my readers who, by virtue of my utter strangeness, are also wonderfully strange (otherwise you’d just shake your head and move on). I love you! ^_^

A Child of the Snows

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

-by G. K. Chesterton

And here is my reading of it.

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Christmas Carols and Mental Illness

How is that for a clickbate title?

No, I am not suggesting a correlation. It’s more like I am combining things.

Today I happened upon this: No, I’m Fine

It won’t take long to read it, so go read it! If it doesn’t ring a bell with you, it may still help you understand what some other people face.

I’ve overloaded before. I can’t say if my overloads are like his because I’m not in Mr. Tayler’s head, but what he says is hauntingly familiar. When the stress ratchets up to a level that flips a particular switch in my brain, a kind of pressure-valve, I change. It’s usually caused either by sensory overload (there is a reason I avoid noisy concerts and large masses of people…) or from having too much to do. Being single means that, apart from the kindness of family and occasionally friends, I have to do All The Things myself. And there are a Lot of Things. I tremble when I try to imagine what it’s like for single parents!

This is different from my depression, but not unrelated. The stress can either tip me into overload (more violent, but shorter lived), or depression. That is, the machine either executes an emergency release of pressure, or it simply shuts down. As a friend and I recently said over e-mail, depression sucks. She, dear heart, is grieving. That is a monster of a trigger.

Side Note: if you’re wondering why I refer to my brain as if it’s made of gears and pipes and switches, it’s because it helps me give context to the things that happen in it over which I have no control. And if you don’t buy the idea that I have no control over some processes in that particular fleshy mass, then you really need to educate yourself on how mental illness works. If you can “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” or “cheer yourself up,” then you are dealing with the more unpleasant aspects of normal human emotion. Real depression, or anxiety, or other mental afflictions are not in that range. They are what happens when something goes wrong with the machinery. If you haven’t experienced what that’s like, then the best thing you can do is listen to those who have and believe them.

For my friend who is grieving, this is a hard time. It’s a hard time for a lot of people. I know of a family who recently and unexpectedly lost a child around the same age as my nephew. My heart broke when I heard about it, and it’s been breaking off and on ever since. I can’t imagine what that must be like. How hollow the season of comfort and joy must feel for them right now. How they might want it to go away, to leave them alone. Please remember them in your prayers.

Cheery stuff for around Christmas, I know. As it turns out, I’m stressed right now, but otherwise pretty even-keeled. I’ve had a few small overloads, but no depression. I am extremely blessed to be able to say that, and I am on-my-knees grateful.

Still, this does not look like it will be a lighthearted season for me this year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (though I do like to have a lighthearted Christmas, when I can). Sure, this is a time for rejoicing that Our Lord came and took human form for our sakes, but isn’t part of that rejoicing a recognition of why He came? Why we needed Him so very badly, and why His coming was not only Good News, but the only possible Good News a world like ours can receive? That the Perfect Creator would take up weakness, vulnerability, grief, pain, and not only death, but seeming-abandonment by God Himself. For if ever we feel so abandoned or forgotten, we can still look to Him and realize that He, too, cried out “why have You forsaken Me?”

And then He overcame. He rose even from that darkness and death. God had not truly abandoned God, as He has not truly abandoned us. And He is still bringing us up along with Him. He came down to our level in order to lift us up from that mire. I think that is very Good News. And seeing the mire around me only highlights just how Good.

Hope is born in human flesh, in a cave filled with animals, and that is our comfort and our joy.

And now, yet again, my Carol Countdown from 2013.

December 1: O Magnum Mysterium – Nothing says Christmas like 16th Century Latin

December 3: Away in a Manger – probably not the version you know…

December 6: Hearth and Fire – more winter than Christmas, but lovely

December 8: Balulalow – A joyful song from Scotland

December 10: Don Oiche ud ImBethil – Softer, more meditative fare. It gives me chills.

December 13: Cantique de Noel – You may know this as “O Holy Night” but I dare say that it is far more beautiful in French, especially with Joan Baez’s voice

December 15: Beautiful Star of Bethlehem – Twangy country Christmas music, and a fine example

December 17: Brugundian Carol – a softer, more mellow folk carol

December 20: Third Carol for Christmas Day – hauntingly beautiful song from the 1700’s

December 22: Veni, Veni Emmanuel – I love “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in any language, but there is something of crystal-beauty to the words in Latin.

December 24: Go, Tell it on the Mountain – The incomparable Odetta, what more can I say?

December 25: Christmas in the Trenches – And finally, the Christmas offering. It’s pretty self-explanatory

Love and blessings to you all! And Peace, and Joy, and every good thing.


Hymn for the Season

Life is hard. Beautiful, agonizing, wonderful, terrifying, joyous, grief-woven, sublime and small. All at once.

Times of transition, whether external or internal, are tough. Yet without them, we don’t grow. Like Bilbo with the ring, we go on living without gaining more life, and if that goes on too long, we may look in the mirror and find Gollum staring back.*

We’re (skip down if you want to avoid foul language) fuckups.

Even the best of us, even at our best moments. We try to do things, and we fail, we’re self-deluded and we think ourselves wise, we look through a distorted lens and believe what we see to be truth. To use modern parlance, we are Epic Fail.

We are. If you think I am wrong, that’s ok. Maybe you’re right. But if what I’m saying makes you angry, may I make a suggestion? Sit quietly for a while and ask yourself why my words anger you. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you. Be glad of that. I’m a bad enough boss over me.

This probably sounds like I’m down on myself, and on humanity as a whole. That’s the funny thing about life, though. It’s full of seeming-contradictions that somehow aren’t contradictory. They just seem like they should be.

I’m more free when I admit this kind of crap than when I try to deny it. I’m free to love myself and humanity when I admit that all is not well. When I try to pretend that I am fine, that I’m not a rampaging mess, I find myself imprisoned, and I find myself doing more damage to myself and to others. The more control I take, the less I have.

Admission is not the same as acceptance. I admit that I struggle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, a predilection for addiction, depression, and worse than all of those together, I struggle with selfishness, anger and pride. I do not, however, accept these things. I call them out by name and then I turn and fight. I do all I can to overcome them.

I often fail. If I had only myself to rely on, I probably would have given up long ago. Why fight my nature? Against it, I am outmatched. I can only overcome one part of it by indulging another. To quote C. S. Lewis:

“Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices… The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilbains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” -Mere Christianity, Chapter 8: The Great Sin

It’s the admission of failure, coupled with the desire to continue to fight, that makes me deeply grateful for the action of my Savior in my life. I’m dead tired, both from internal and external battles. And here He comes, to pick me up, to hold me while I sleep. In Him I find freedom even in the midst of the raging war. He frees me from my self-inflicted slavery, and from the slavery of the world around me.

I am a mess. But He isn’t asking me to get myself together, first, then come to Him when I am ready. He wants me now, mess and all, and if I will come, then bit by bit, painful though it may be, He will make me into my true, free self.

There are some words that, if spoken to another person, spoken as a “you” instead of an “I” or a “we,” become horrible. The following hymn is an example. If anyone can read it, or sing it and not feel that s/he is one of the “sinners,” then it loses all of its power for good. To me, though, in this place, it is a song of life. Because I am a sinner, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. And if I tarry till I’m better, I will never go to Him at all.

A hymn for the day:

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy – words by Joseph Hart

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Source: Cyberhymnal

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*In case anyone doesn’t know, this refers to characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien


Unlikely Treasure

As a child, I had little stashes of treasure. Translucent plastic beads, water-snail and mussel shells found in the Harpeth River, glass marbles, a ring with a little blue-glass jewel my brother gave me, a goat skull found on my godmother’s farm, a teardrop-shaped prism that filled rooms with tiny shards of rainbow, dried reindeer lichen, cheap pot-metal ornaments painted gold and set with faceted rainbow-glass, a lop-eared rabbit-puppet named Hazel (cookie points to anyone who gets the reference), an army (I’m not kidding, if they were alive and feeling militant, they could overwhelm you) of plastic horses.

Green Glass Marbles by George Hodan http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=25338&picture=green-glass-marbles

Green Glass Marbles by George Hodan
www.publicdomainpictures.net

All things that are nearly, or completely, worthless in a monetary sense. But I think most people will easily understand that they are anything but worthless to me, even today.

Along with these objects, I kept, and still keep, deeper and even more precious hoards. Memories, words, emotions, pictures of places, sounds, smells, anything and everything that has struck a certain note in me. It is a very specific note. I can feel it vibrate, and it is always the same, though the things that cause it are so utterly disparate that even I cannot see the connection. I only feel that there is a connection.

I hunt for something, constantly. The very fact that, having these treasure-troves already, I am still hunting, tells me that these things, while they touch what I am looking for, are not the thing itself. Smoke on the wind, pine sap, limestone boulders… almost, almost! But the moment passes as soon as I know it has come. I’ve tracked my quarry and won a glimpse, but it has disappeared, again, amidst the trees and all I have left are tracks.

I worry, sometimes, that these hoards are of the world, and perhaps, in a sense, they are. They, themselves, that is. But the chord they strike, that is of such power and purity that I cannot imagine it having its source anywhere but in God. Perhaps I, and all my fellow creatures, are in danger of mistaking the source of the want, for misunderstanding what we are hunting. I could spend my whole life believing that I am seeking the things that reflect the light, and find once I have them, the light is gone. But at the same time, if it were not for the reflections these things give me, what would I know of the light?

Maybe I am wrong. But it seems that if so, at least I am not alone in my error.

I’ve been listening to an audiobook copy of The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis. Something he says near the end, in Chapter 10, made me think of my strange dragon-hoard.

I’m not sure, yet, how this is going to work, but I feel the need to explore the passage and my reaction to it. I think it will take at least one more post. It may take several. We shall see.  In the mean time, here is the passage itself. I’ve whittled it down a little for brevity’s sake, but I recommend picking up a copy of the book and reading the whole chapter (or, for that matter, the whole book, it is very interesting).

Warning, Lewis speaks about Pantheism, below. From what I know of him from his writing, I think his words are not intended to insult, but simply reflect his view. After all, he introduces this chapter as nothing more than his personal speculation. Still, it is possible to take it as an attack on pantheistic religions. I am not a pantheist, I believe that Lewis’s words are probably correct, but I mean no insult to anyone in posting this. If your beliefs differ from mine, feel free to express them (politely, please) in the comments below.

You may think that there is another reason for our silence about heaven, namely that we do not, really, desire it. But that may be an illusion. What I am now going to say is an opinion of my own…

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.

You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words. But most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you’ve stood before some landscape which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life, and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw, but at the first words a gulf yawns between you and you realize that this landscape means something totally different to him…

Are not all life-long friendships born at the moment when, at last, you meet another human being who has some inkling, but faint and uncertain even in the best, of that something which you were born desiring and which… year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for…?

You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it… echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest, if there ever came an echo that did not die away, but swelled into the sound itself, you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt, you would say “here, at last, is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want… While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him, and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you.

The mold in which a key is made would be a strange thing if you had never seen a key, and the key, itself, a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is… a key to unlock one of the doors in the House with many mansions. For it is not “Humanity” in the abstract that is to be saved, but you… God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you, and you alone, because you were made for it…

It is from this point of view that we can understand Hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else that it was within your reach, and you have lost it forever. This may seem a perilously private and subjective notion of the “Pearl of Great Price,” but it is not. The thing I am speaking of is not an experience. You have experienced only the want of it. The thing, itself, has never actually been embodied in any thought, or image, or emotion. Always it has summoned you out of yourself, and if you will not go out of yourself to follow it, if you sit down to brood on the desire and attempt to cherish it, the desire itself will evade you.

The door into life generally opens behind us, and the only wisdom for one haunted with the scent of unseen roses, is work. The Secret Fire goes out when you use the bellows. Bank it down with what seems unlikely fuel of dogma and ethics, turn your back on it and attend to your duties, and then it will blaze…

Such is my opinion, and it may be erroneous. Perhaps this secret desire, also, is part of the old man, and must be crucified before the end, but this opinion has a curious trick of evading denial. The desire, much more the satisfaction, has always refused to be fully present in any experience. Whatever you try to identify with it turns out to be, not it, but something else, so that hardly any degree of crucifixion or transformation could go beyond what the desire, itself, leads us to anticipate. Again, if this opinion is not true, something better is. But “something better,” not “this” or “that” experience, but something beyond it, is almost the definition of the thing I am trying to describe.

The thing you long for summons you away from the self. Even the desire for the thing lives only if you abandon it. This is the ultimate law. The seed dies to live, the bread must be cast upon the waters, he that loses his soul will save it. But the life of the seed, the finding of the bread, the recovery of the soul are as real as the preliminary sacrifice. Hence it is truly said of heaven: “in heaven there is no ownership.” If any, there, took it upon him to call anything his own, he would, straight-way, be thrust out into Hell and become an evil spirit. But it is also said: “to him that overcometh, I will give a white stone, and in the stone, a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that recieveth it.”

What can be more a man’s own than this new name which, even in eternity, remains a secret between God and him? And what shall we take this secrecy to mean? Surely that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the Divine beauty better than any other creature can.

Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another: the communion of the saints.

If all experienced God in the same way, and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church Triumphant would have no symphony. It would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note… Heaven is a “city” and a “body” because the blessed remain eternally different, a “society” because each has something to tell all the others: fresh and ever-fresh news of the “My God” whom each finds in Him whom all praise as “Our God.” For, doubtless, the continually successful, yet never complete, attempt by each soul to communicate its unique vision to all others, and that by means whereof earthly art and philosophy are but clumsy imitations, is also among the ends for which the individual was created.

For union exists only between distincts, and perhaps from this point of view, we catch a momentary glimpse of the meaning of all things. Pantheism is is a creed not so so much false, as hopelessly behind the times. Once, before creation, it would have been true to say that everything was God. But God created, He caused things to be other than Himself that, being distinct, they might learn to love Him and achieve union instead of sameness. Thus He, also, cast his bread upon the waters. Even within the creation, we might say that inanimate matter, which has no will, is one with God in a sense in which men are not. But it is not God’s purpose that we should go back into that old identity… but that we should go on to the maximum distinctness, there to be reunited with Him in a higher fashion.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Note: this is a transcription from audio. I cannot vouch for the punctuation, spelling, or even the exact wording, but I have done the best I can under the circumstances.


New years, nightsticks, and tropes

New years have never been a big thing for me. Time rolls on, and January 1st isn’t much different from December 31st. There was a funny moment where my housemate, having made other plans, discovered that, instead of spending New Year’s Eve with my family, I would be staying home, as I was sick. She felt bad, at first, saddened by the thought of me ringing in the New Year all alone.

I nearly laughed. Then I proceeded to explain that it was not nearly as sad as she feared. In fact, being sick, I had spent about a week not sleeping well, and I was hopeful that I would be able to get a decent night’s worth. I had a supper of wonderful Korean dumpling soup (forget chicken noodle) and went to bed at 8PM. I slept like a ten-ton boulder. It was wonderful!

I don’t know what it is about New Years Eve that fails to thrill me. I guess I get my fireworks fix on the 4th of July, I’m not much of a drinker, I don’t like champagne… maybe it is because my family never made much of it?

Or maybe it is that I am a cynic when it comes to “fresh starts.” I shouldn’t be, I know that landmarks help some people. But I can make a landmark any time I please. I can say “enough, I am changing this part of my life right now,” and the start of a new year, or the end of an old one, doesn’t seem to make a difference for me.

But something has been building over the Christmas season, for me, and it spilled out on the first day of 2015. It’s still going. That thing is inspiration. My muse has sunken it’s wicked, pointy teeth deep into my arm and shows no sign, at present, of letting go.

Ah, the double-edged sword of inspiration. It is a great feeling, it gets my sluggish work moving. But it also leaves me raw and open to those voices that plague most writers, the whispers of “your work is crap.”

So far, they are just whispers. I shut them out. Eventually, they will be shouts, and I will have to struggle through this, again. But until that time, manuscript-ho!

As sometimes happens, regardless of the state of my muse, I’ve been digging into TVtropes.org in search of answers to questions about the tropes contained within my own work. I like to be aware of such things, and to keep them in mind as I write. In digging, I have discovered something… interesting.

Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate.

If you have spent any time on TVtropes, you know that tropes are ubiquitous. They are all around you, all the time, and not just in fiction. Chances are, you, yourself, embody some tropes, or are at least touched by them. In a round about way, this is why tropes exist in the first place.

I keep searching for the “main” tropes for my main characters. You know, their main defining characteristic? Their archetype? I find, instead, tropes that touch them, but constantly miss the mark. Either this means that I have done a good job in creating well-rounded characters, or that I have, instead, created characters that are so off the beaten path that, for most people, they aren’t relateable. …yes, for any non-writers reading, this is the sort of idiocy that keeps writers up at night.

I know there are a lot of characters out there who defy/subvert/invert/play with tropes. I’m not suggesting that I am creating anything ground-breaking, here. I am more interested in figuring out why, even before I had a good understanding of tropes, I created a cast of characters who largely defy them. Does it have to do with my hatred of firm categories? Or my need to defy expectations? Quite probably… but often, those things create tropes of their own. I will continue to ponder.

Also, on a sort of side-note, I recently found an answer to a question that came up two years ago in my writing. One of my characters picked up a nightstick as a favored weapon. He still hasn’t put it down, but I now know where, in the tortuous caverns of my subconscious, he found the thing. I recently re-watched Terminator I and II with my brother. It turns out that in the latter, one Sarah Connor, picks up a nightstick and runs with it. The image of her gripping the side-handle, the weapon tucked, at the ready, against her arm, was like a light-bulb going off in my brain. I don’t know about you other writers out there, but I absolutely love it when I discover these connections.

Enough pointless rambling and crazy linkage. I would love to hear what any of you think about your own writing processes and how you analyze (or if you even analyze) your characters and plot.

May 2015 be a good year, for all of us.


Out of the Silence Comes Pumpkin Pie

Sorry for being so quiet, of late. Things have been things, and I haven’t had much inspiration.

 

However, given the nearness of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share a recipe.

Phila Rawling Hach is a living friend of my late Grandfather, and a friend of my parents (I like her, too, but I’ve only met her twice). Her zest for life is greater than pretty much anyone else I have met. Phila loves to cook.

A few years back, the Nashville Retrospect, which is, by the way, a fascinating slice of Nashville history, dug up her pumpkin pie recipe from her cook book Kitchen Kollege.

I thought it looked tasty, and decided to try it. I will never make another kind of pumpkin pie again, if I can help it. The freshness of the flavor, the texture, everything about this pie is fantastic, so here we go:

 

Unbaked pie shell

1 cup raw, grated pumpkin

2 cups top milk (or half-and-half, if you must)

1 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp mace

3 well-beaten eggs

Beat together eggs, sugar, and spices until smooth. Add milk and pumpkin. Arrange unbaked pie crust in a pie plate, and fill with mixture.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then turn the oven down to 325 and bake until firm. It will look lighter than most pumpkin pies, so test it with a toothpick.

 

Grating raw pumpkin by hand is a chore, so if you have a food-processor, you can do that, too. The important thing is to have a good pie-pumpkin, and to have the pumpkin raw when it goes into the pie. That way, all it’s lovely juices stay in the pie.

 


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.


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