Tag Archives: quotes

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.


Double Mind

Sometimes I wonder if the only difference between an author’s mind and someone with multiple personalities is awareness.

Of course, this won’t apply to all authors. There seem to be as many ways of writing as there are people who write, but I know at least a few others who have the same sort of relationship to characters as I do.

Yeah, I said “relationship,” and that really is the best description I can find, for my characters seem to occupy a niche in my mind, something that separates them from me and allows me to mentally engage with them.

For instance, I can enjoy a piece of music, and I am the one who is enjoying it. But sometimes I will sense a reaction to the music that I associate, not with myself, but with one of my characters. They stir, sometimes they even “claim” something, and forever after I will associate that thing with that character.

One example is that I cannot read or watch any form of vampire-related story without the running commentary of one of my particularly reactive characters. He finds Anne Rice humorous, he snarkily calls the Twilight brood “My-Little-Vampires” …which is, I think, rather unfair to the My-Little-Ponies of this world, he says True Blood makes him want to beat his head against a wall for the next fifty years, and he’s rather intrigued by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though he rolls his eyes at certain excessively Victorian passages. On the whole, he insists that vampires are monsters and is not a fan of humanizing them. Considering what vampires are like in his universe, and the fact that he, himself, is one, I can definitely see his point of view.

And yet, it isn’t really my point of view. I agree with him about some things, and disagree about others. That wouldn’t be so disconcerting if it were objective. If I were able to step back and think “this character would react to this thing in this way.” That would be character-building in the way most non-writers I know think it works (and that may be how it works for some lucky people).  But no. It’s a feeling, a sense that comes unbidden. I don’t think about it, I feel it, and the only thing that separates it from my own feeling is a conviction that it belongs to one of my characters.

No, please! Don’t call the men in white coats. I only do what the voices tell me to do on paper. Er, you know what I mean. I hope.

I think this process makes me a better writer. It certainly makes my life interesting.

Today, one of my character’s “discovered” a poem I’ve known since childhood. I like the poem. It means things to me, has a certain texture and light. But now I see it also through another set of eyes, and evermore I will associate it with her, and her feelings, as well.

She has a different relationship to roads than I do. She is always looking for the road home, a road into the past. Sadly, for her, all roads only lead into the future, and she knows it. But knowing something is impossible does not take the longing for it away.

In other words, to her, this poem carries with it a deeper poignancy, a kind of sadness I, as myself, would never quite find in it. Isn’t that one reason people read? To share experiences that they, as themselves, will never have? Perhaps, too, some of us write in order to walk, for a little while, in another’s boots and see the world through other eyes.

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The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
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Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 .
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 .
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
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I’m always interested to hear how other writers relate (or don’t relate) to this kind of interaction. So, please! Comment! And if anyone has questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.
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Apart from being generally talkative, sometimes my characters seem a bit authorcidal. More thoughts on influence and inspiration can be found here.
If you’re interested in fiction tidbits, or more thoughts on writing theory, prod the tabs up top. “Fiction” under “Words and Faces” is my stuff. “Writing” and “Writing Theory” have my musings about the craft itself.
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I know I’ve said, before, that I plan on adding new mask-pics to this blog. I promise that I still plan on doing so soon!
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God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
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And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
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-Gerard Manley Hopkins

Songs that Come to Us out of Strange Places

There is a lot contained in this post, I will only touch on one small aspect, so you should go read it for yourself. Thank you, stephencwinter, for letting me re-blog it!

Reading people have relationships with books over the course of their lives. All people have relationships with stories.

Sometimes, when a child, you like books that, as you grow, you will outgrow (though they may still carry a lovely sheen of nostalgia). Then there are the books, those wonderful books, that grow with you. There are books one has to grow into, and sometimes books that are written “for children” find you later in life and have great impact.

That is, if you let them. Some folks feel, or believe, that “childish” books are unfit for adults, and some dismiss entire genres of story-telling and art because they consider them “juvenile.” They are welcome to their opinions, of course, but I cannot agree.

There is something to be said for growing into books you would not have been able to appreciate as a child, but one shouldn’t, I think, have to grow out of any good book, no matter the genre or the “age bracket” for which it was written. By all means, read and love Tolstoy, but there is no reason to turn your back on A. A. Milne.

Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings

It is through the intervention of the Ents of Fangorn that victory is won at Helm’s Deep but this frightens the Riders of Rohan more perhaps than did the enemies they faced in the battle. For a kind of disenchantment has been at work among them for a very long time. You may remember that when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli first encountered Eomer and his war band upon the plains of Rohan they met with mistrust and some fear. When Eomer heard that the friends had met Galadriel in Lothlorien he reacted with both wonder but also fearful hostility.

“Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!” he said. “Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days! But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe.”

Théoden’s reaction to his first encounter with Ents is less hostile, perhaps…

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I Have a Great Teacher

Who also happens to be my mother. This is what she had to say, today, about the issue of Racism in the U.S.A.

I am delusional if I think I am in possession of all of the facts about what happened in Ferguson. I am delusional if I think I have a complete understanding of what happened and who was at fault. I am delusional if I think either Michael Brown or Darren Wilson was in complete control of the situation that engulfed them. I am delusional if I deny that both men responded to what they feared the other man might do. I am delusional if I think that fear was not based on racial stereotypes each held of the other. I am delusional if I think that only facts were presented to the grand jury and we have an accurate picture of what actually occurred. I am delusional if I think those who presented evidence to the grand jury did not color their testimony to present themselves in the best light possible. I am delusional if I think eyewitness testimony is the same thing as physical evidence. I am delusional if I think the district attorney acted totally without bias and without regard to his ambitions. I am delusional if I think that there is not a real issue that undergirds this specific event that has everything to do with race and politics and justice in this country.
If you are 100% certain you have an accurate perception on any of these statements, you are truly delusional.
I will add one more statement to the list. I am delusional if I think I am completely rid of personal racism. God knows I have worked to free myself from bias, but latent forms of old habits and thought patterns still ambush me when I least expect it. But I will not excuse it when I see it in myself or in others. We have to do better.
Let no one rest in arrogant complacency that they have clear vision about our national racial divide, as it is reflected in Ferguson or any other flashpoint. Race relations in this country are what they are not just because of what happens or does not happen inside black homes and black communities and black churches. White people contribute daily to the racial divide by ignoring the ways they contribute to racial estrangement and by pretending racism does not touch their lives in any real way. If you deny that “white privilege” and “victim mentality” are not both barriers to racial progress, you are active in your contribution to the problem. We develop two different languages with totally different sets of catch phrases and sound bites when we discuss our views about racial tension. It is almost as if we cannot speak or comprehend a common language. We judge people we do not know and often choose the most negative stereotypes to characterize “them.”
If you really want to feel the pulse of race relations in America, read the trolls’ comments that accompany the major editorial posts from either side of the political divide. FaceBook makes that really easy. You will see the vitriol that poisons both sides of the discussion. People write what they really think/feel in the anonymous rivers of sewage that spew out after a polarizing event like what happened in Ferguson.
Admit the problem is real. Do some soul searching. Then see if you can’t find a way to help us become “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

 


Friends who answered the call

A while back, I tossed out a list of questions, or more accurately, writing-prompts, and asked for input. I find that my writing benefits from fresh ideas and perspectives (as I suspect everyone’s does) and I was in great need of inspiration.

The responses I got were exactly what I needed, and I have permission to gather them together into one post (some via links) so that I can better share them. I offer my sincere thanks to all my friends who responded. Thank you!

If you enjoyed this, or if you think you want to give it a try, please toss out your own set of prompts. Perhaps we can make a thing of it, a periodic shot of inspiration. Until then, enjoy the following:


 

Bill:

In response to (6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)

Our local ghost is named Sukey (rhymes with rookie) Short. She’s the only ghost I believe in.

According to the story Sukey was an old black lady who lived alone. All of her neighbors were afraid of her, believing her to be a witch.

One cold winter evening she must have discovered that the coals in her fire had gone out, so she set out to get some from the people who lived around here, to use to restart her fire. But no one would open the door or give her any. They were afraid she would use them to cast a spell on them. She went from house to house, being turned away at each place. Finally she started walking back home. The road here was being built at the time and she stopped to rest, sitting on the stump of a tree that had just been cut down. Someone found her there the next morning, frozen to death.

Since that time her ghost has haunted this community. These days the story seems in the process of being forgotten but when I was a boy many of the old-timers had stories of having seen her and of the things attributed to her over the years. I saw her once when I was a boy (or saw something that I believed must have been her).


emilykazakh:

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.

2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and  why?

3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story

4. make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does

5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it

6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)



Love The Bad Guy
:

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.
Up there, do you see it? That’s Maedia – The Bride. She was stilted at the altar and feared her beloved had been stolen by Death, so she threw herself to the heavens to be reunited with him. Only there could she see the truth – her betrothed, far below her, in the arms of another. That cluster of stars? That’s her heart, shattered into a thousand pieces.
2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and why?
I’m afraid that Christmas is the only holiday that holds any true value to me. Most of the others that I can think of right now are only good for a day off work…
3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story.
I like anything with mystery to it – an alien artefact; something ordinary that holds unknown meaning to someone; a puzzle that needs to be solved.
4. Make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does.Fuoco intra – a wicked curse that causes the victims’ bones to burn like fire.
5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it.In days of old, people would plant morte duis at the doors of their enemies. The petals, as dark and silky as pooled blood, were said to be a bad omen that would attract Death himself. To have the flowers at your door was to invite ill will into your home.
6. What is your favourite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not).
I’m partial to a good video game, so I’m going to veer slightly off course from a scary story to a horror game – namely, the Outlast game. There are two things that I find brilliant about this game: the atmosphere, and the characters. The former is an intense formation of understated music, limited visibility, and an awareness of pervasive threats. The latter consists of a delightful variety of psychopaths, terrifying both in physical appearance and in actions.
Sorry for gushing about something only slightly related to your question, but Outlast leapt so vividly to mind when I saw the word “scary”; I just couldn’t think of anything else!

palecorbie:

1) The raven, a dark parch on the sky with nothing but the bright point of one corvid eye and a thin shimmer of feathers in the black. Would have been the helper-spirit of the first blacksmith, gifted to the same by the first shaman, but cared more for stealing shinies and prying things apart than helping with the work and eventually fled to the top of the sky-tree to avoid the Smith’s wrath after breaking something important (creating the spray of shiny over the rest of the heavens).

2) American much? Not that we have other officially recognised holidays over here save May Day…

I tell you, your Hallow’s Eve and mine are quite different things, though as for foreign festivals I am charmed by the way Mexicans celebrate All Souls’ (the Day of the Dead). Scandinavian Midsummer festivals are fun, too.

3) [wonders if nonsapient undead – and thus jiang shi and/or vampire watermelons – count as ‘objects’] A genuine trade-grade barbarian tea brick.

An ancient form of quasi-currency traded about by Eurasian nomads back when black tea was super-prestigious (my current obsession is Siberia, thanks partly to Sky Dog). Wikipedia will tell you more.

4) Expellyureathra – causes targets under area of effect to need to pee badly. Can disrupt entire military units, especially if aimed at COs.

Also useful for disrupting powderkeg civil situations, and practical jokes.

5) Gorse – resilience, fighting spirit

Many’s the time I’ve seen the yellow flags of gorse raised over deep snow, spears to the fore…

6) O Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad/The Tale of the Shifty Lad, the Widow’s Son/SKELETON  (Jubilare’s note: The first one is by M.R. James, the second is an old folktale and can be found here, and the third is by Ray Bradbury)


David:

Constellations, spells, symbolic plants and strange objects: Questions from Jubilare


And finally, my own answers:

 

An Exercise in Eccentricity


 

I keep thinking that I have missed someone. If so, I am sorry! It has been a while since I read most of the responses. Please let me know and I will add you to this post, because I want to be able to come back and find the responses, too.Again, thank you all!


A George MacDonald Quote

“Contempt is murder committed by the intellect, as hatred is murder committed by the heart.”

David Elginbrod, by George MacDonald


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.


Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.

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*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


N. T. Wright: “The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them”

This blog is hit or miss for me (though always interesting) but this quote is a definite “hit.”

Dover Beach

N. T. Wright

“The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ between the West and the rest, between Left and Right, between rich and poor. That fateful line runs down the middle of each of us, every human society, every individual. This is not to say that all humans, and all societies, are equally good or bad; far from it. Merely that we are all infected and that all easy attempts to see the problem in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are fatally flawed.”
– N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture

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