Thursday, December 29, 2011

What shall be done?

What shall be done for a soul
with face turned away
from superlative Good--
perverse as vegetation grown
towards an incandescent bulb--
drawn by artificial light,
though planted in view of the sun?

What shall be done for a soul
left still for too long--
grown stale and dusty
like a glass of water placed
on some forgotten surface,
its contents fit only to be thrown out--
its surfaces in need of cleaning?

Redirect the twisted gaze;
pour pure water in the vase.
Draw the plant to sun's nourishing;
drown the stale drops with fresh, living stream.
Redeem the corrupted image divine;
oust apathy with new covenant wine.
Work in us Lord with irresistible might,
that we may will to and work for that in which you delight.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Words that buzz in my mind like so many persistent flies.

To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment

We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious,
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection,

(W.H. Auden)

This is an excerpt from "For the Time Being." The portion of the poem from whence it comes has been frequently on my mind of late. I think it is, to me, a hauntingly true reflection of my own spiritual state. I'm not even entirely sure in what sense (yet), but it resonates too deeply to be of no consequence. 

Related or not, a phrase from John's first epistle have recently, doggedly come to mind:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What my eye doth so pleasantly(?) peruse

School holidays are a wonderful time for bumming around the house in pajamas, drinking mug-after-mug of fragrant tea, and reading multitudinous books at one time. Stacked in a not-so-neat-or-little pile next to an armchair in the den are the following:

A Bible (I'm reading Job.)
(drawing courtesy of William Blake)

A dash of Vanauken

A pinch of Austen (my "light reading," shall we say.)
(no, I'm not listening to it on LibriVox. I just liked this cover art.)

Auden, to whom I was introduced at a lecture on Advent poetry.
(He and I have since become friends. I'm ruminating on For the Time Being.)

An attempt to get ahead for the Spring semester.

The only thing lacking? S P A C E in which to cogitate. 
Space is hard to find right now. The upstairs of our house is being remodeled, and thus, for the time being (no pun on Auden's work intended), I'm confined to an area of the house in which almost all of the rooms open and connected: a high-traffic area where reflection will be oft disrupted. 
But this difficulty is surmountable. 
Perhaps instead, space is hard to make right now, because I don't quite want to make it. I have been ingesting idea-after-idea, picking up a different book when the first starts to become tedious. When not reading, I "shut off," so to speak, watch a movie with my sister, or mindlessly glance at miscellanea on my computer (or do both simultaneously). I suppose, in part, this is the natural consequence of the amount of cognitive effort exerted while at school, but that seems insufficient to explain the whole.  On the contrary, a holiday would  seem to provide a better opportunity for contemplation, since it removes concerns about other-tasks-that-need-accomplishing.
Chewing the cud of ideas is a source of immense joy for me--the joy of illumination-leading-to-change--and I fear reading more passively will lead to living more stagnantly while I am home. 

{I want even my rest to be sanctified.}

Friday, December 16, 2011

{A Pilgrimage}

It is a brisk Saturday morning as I walk to the bike rack, a thermos of warm coffee protecting hands from biting wind. Unlocking the yellow-bike-with-wire-basket and straddling the seat, I begin the short ride to a local church. I tentatively pedal to the back, feeling more than a little like an intruder and wondering if perhaps I have come to the wrong place. But a few pedals more prove my doubts wrong, as circling white lines painted upon a large concrete square meet my eyes. Just beyond the labyrinth, and directly in line with its center, stands a large tree with the glowing light of morning creeping around its trunk and through branches and leaves. A wooden bench lies at each corner of the labyrinth’s concrete base, and using the panels of the back-right the sun casts a giant shadow. 

I lean the bike against the front-right seat and enter the labyrinth’s path. 

At first I walk too fast, perhaps just eager for the journey, or perhaps not wanting too long to be faced with my own thoughts. Whatever the reason, I slow my steps, putting one foot directly in front of another like a tight-rope walker. My mind quickens as my feet slow, and I start to wonder upon what I should be meditating. As I attempt to ponder the rusty verses, I am discouraged my failures in the discipline of Scripture memorization. The words, once readily recited, fumble and stumble off my lips—the dust of neglect practically spilling from my mouth. At last I come to a passage I can remember--
the result of many-a-half-hearted endeavor to revive my previous intentionality--Romans 8:31-39. I take hope when I recall first verse of Romans 8: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." As I walk to the center, I consider the words in my mind--those famous words that assure “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Suddenly the words of Psalm 46:10 interrupt my previous contemplation: "Be still and know that I am God.” It is as if God is telling me, “You have plenty of time on the return. For now, let this truth be enough.” 

As I continue to perambulate, following the simple in-out trail, I repeat the words of the psalm out loud. I speak slowly, annunciating each word precisely, emphasizing a different word each time. In tandem, my mind asks questions and wonders, and my heart gradually becomes quiet. In this time I begin to notice the beauty of the space in which I walk. The tree and benches mentioned earlier, and the leaves imprinted on the labyrinth’s concrete base. 

When at last I reach the middle, I am unsure of what to do. I sit down cross-legged for a time, then kneel, knees against cold concrete. I pray. It is a prayer of overflowing joy at the beauty of the earth, and earnest longing to know the Creator of that beauty more fully. Even though my voice is croaky with the earliness of the day and sickness, I sing--fragments of favorite hymns passing over smiling lips. Eventually, I become both silent and still, until I feel peace at the idea of leaving. On my returning stroll, I repeat the passage in Romans out loud again and again. I desire to recite it with confidence, remembering also the confidence of Paul’s words—“For I am sure.” 

As I get back on the yellow bike, I cannot but help desire to return. The labyrinth strikes a chord within my soul; I appreciate the necessity it places me under: the necessity of completing the journey. I later ponder that the labyrinth is also a perfect picture of my semester: I have never felt more uncertain about the direction in which my education, relationships, and life are headed. The numerous turns and twists dizzy, yet in the very middle of these, like in the middle of the labyrinth, there is a center of rest and shalom. I have never felt more uncertain, but I have never been more convinced that the world is a beautiful place, given by a beautiful God.