Tuesday, July 26, 2005
I've blogged for five months now and have had a few good discussions with my readers. The best thing about it, I think, has been the openness it forced me into. My moods cycle like the seasons (although there are more of them and they are less predictable). I've always, since I can remember, withheld myself from other people, which often leads to severe loneliness and personal myopia and the natural consequence of not seeing past one's own nose (even if it's a long one, like mine) - depression. On several occasions some of you have helped steer me away from that jagged shore on my tempest-tossed sea. Thank you.
My original purpose for this blog hasn't up and flown away, but the first stated purpose has changed some. I no longer want to keep a personal journal. It's hard to explain, really.
What it comes down to is that I am sick of myself. And I'm sad. And I'm afraid. I'm afraid that I'm going to live another 40 years and still be sitting in front of my computer bitching about the world and philosophizing about life and theologizing about God. But none of it matters. I don't live.
When I was 10 years old I decided I wanted to become a writer when I grew up. The funny thing is that I stopped writing when I actually became an adult. I spent many years reading, filling in my missing education, and many more years (with some overlap) fighting the paralysis of grief. These past few months have brought me joy, as I returned semi-regularly, to my first great passion. I love writing. Nothing else so faithfully delivers an adrenalin rush (except maybe having babies, which perhaps explains why I keep doing that).
The first time I stopped writing it was to read and learn. This time it's to find my soul. I know it's somewhere buried inside me - you'll even catch glimpses of it in my writing. But at the end of the day, my words are just another shovelful of dirt I throw on the grave.
I don't think I'll stop posting altogether, but I'll be using it more for the second stated purpose: to keep my friends abreast of life happenings, etc.
Well, I guess that's about it.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Sitting here with eleven years gone and only seven to go (with this one, anyway)I'm feeling a bit battered, much less confident, and in many ways regretful.
Somehow in spite of me, Marshall is actually a wonderful eleven-year-old. He's kind, intelligent, creative, polite. Nothing shakes him. Sometimes I think he's altogether oblivious to darkness and pain. It's too much to hope they'll all be this way.
Loss of time is one of the saddest things I can think of. Life will never be again what it is right now. Time moves forward, limiting the future, even as the past is forged in stone. In the ten minutes I've been sitting at my computer I've just determined a little portion of my past and eliminated all other possible activities for these ten minutes. In doing so, I've also eliminated possibilities for the rest of my day. Which means that every day, month or year that passes, unnoticed, spent living in the same disinterested way, I'm designating a past to this one life I have to live and severely limiting what I can do in the future.
For example, I *could* (in theory anyway) be patient with my children from now on and never raise my voice or speak hastily or out of anger. But even if I managed to do that, I still don't have the possibility of never having done that. I've already determined, to a large degree, what kind of mother my children have and will have.
I'm sure this thought is supposed to motivate me to "make every moment count" but somehow it just depresses me.
Anyway, you're welcome for the cheery post. I've got to get over to my sister's house to cook Marshall's birthday dinner (Chicago style pizza) since my oven still doesn't work right.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite (and well-known) Robert Frost poems, which the current topic put me in mind of. I hear people snobbishly complain that rhyming poetry or poetry following form is outdated and trite. I disagree. I think poetry yields a certain unique beauty by confining itself to rules and regulations, yet still saying exactly what it wants to say. (Now I'll step down off my own high-horse.)
The Road Not Taken
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;
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.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
So my final opinion of the book is much better than my initial expectations. As always, J.K. Rowling packs a punch of a story. I even fell into a few minor personal epiphanies along the way.
I won't say much else, so as not to spoil it for everybody else. But it's good and I don't know if I can wait two more years to find out what happens next.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
My two eldest sons stood in line at Schulers Bookstore on Friday night from nine o'clock until twelve, at which time the sixth Harry Potter book went up for sale. They procured a copy of the book sometime after midnight on Saturday, and even though they spent the next two days camping with Grandma and Grandpa, Marshall finished the 652 page book on Monday morning. I think he reads faster than I do. If we both had the same amount of distraction-free time, it would be interesting to see who'd finish first. Well, anyway, I can still out arm-wrestle him.
I'm about half-way through the book and it's pretty good so far, in spite of the rather tedious explanatory digressions, placed to catch up a reader who may have missed the five previous books. I'm not sure it's as well-written as the others, but the plot is beginning to thicken (although, as I stated, I'm almost half-way through). I'll reserve my judgement until I finish.
We disputed the meaning of a sculpture in the plaza at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, and it's Stephanie who turned out to be right, with her optimistic perception that the car and trailer are emerging from the earth. The piece, called "short cut", is evocative of family vacations and wrong turns, and also is a statement about man's ability to traverse new frontiers, in this case, the center of the earth. I, of course (before reading the title placard) had a much darker interpretation. At fist glance I was sure the earth had opened it's mouth to suck the car and camper in (after all, how is a Fiat going to pull a trailer out of the earth at that angle?). I waxed eloquent about Mother Earth swallowing up Suburbia. Next we postulated the earth was reclaiming it's own (given that Man has taken the materials of the earth and produced cars and trailers). I think it was Alan who suggested, furthering this idea, that the earth sucked the traveling duo in and then spewed it out. I have to admit my surprise that a group of Artists thought more optimistically than I. Stephanie's interpretation bodes well for her, but what does mine say about me?
We found a great little cafe serving locally grown, organic produce. I relished a baby beet and greens salad, doused with a light vinegrette dressing, and sporting freshly shredded ginger and a slice of brie cheese on the side. MMM.... then for a main course I enjoyed a chickpea and sweet potato stew with freshly ground cinnamon on top - also excellent. Now to re-create these at home with my own locally grown, organic produce (I think I got some baby beets this week, too!).
All in all we spent way too much money and walked a marathon or two, saw some interesting things and enjoyed time spent with far-away friends.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
During our time in St. Louis, we were privileged to benefit from (and sometimes help with) the offerings of the Institute, including: lecture/discussion nights at the corner Borders bookstore, several lecture series held at Covenant and various local churches, art exhibits hosted at the Institute, and a Life and Writings of Francis Schaeffer class taught by Professor Jerram Barrs, who knew Francis and Edith Schaeffer and worked for many years in L'Abri, the unique Christian work the Schaeffers pioneered in Switzerland in 1955.
What perhaps influenced us most profoundly, though, was our brush with the L'Abri workers and former students who inhabited or passed through Saint Louis' Presbyterian community (the seminary and its supporting churches are members of the PCA denomination). In these people there was, among other things, a willingness to face non-Christian culture instead of running from or merely condemning it. This was something I thought should be true of Christians, but had never seen in the environment of my Christian upbringing.
Five years ago, at one of life's low points, our family experienced L'Abri for ourselves, when we traveled to England and stayed at the Manor, where some friends from St. Louis had moved to work.
I returned to L'Abri, alone, several months later to study and recover from a serious crisis of faith and life. While there I made friendships with lots of other "L'Abri People" and since then Scott and I have attended several L'Abri conferences and visited L'Abri friends.
It may surprise most of you, then, that I have never actually read one of Francis Schaeffer's books. I've read several of Edith's and two of Susan's (the Schaeffer's daughter) and quite a few others by authors in the wider L'Abri community. But every time I have tried to read Schaeffer himself, I've been bogged down by his writing style. Even when I took the life and Writings class at Covenant, I only dabbled in the books instead of reading them through (I could do this because I was auditing the class).
The truth is I'm a C.S. Lewis kind of gal. I like everything about Lewis: his knowledge of literature, his love of mythology, his command of and playful fiddling with the English language, his clear-headed understanding (and exposition) of many great truths, and - perhaps most of all- his ability to create music with his words while employing metaphor as if he'd invented it.
Francis Schaeffer is a very different kind of writer. His choice of words is almost incidental; a lackluster vehicle for transporting his ideas. He doesn't draw word-pictures; he draws diagrams. He rarely illustrates his point with story; his works read like a history textbook or a philosophical treatise. And I suppose they should, since they are, in large part, histories and treatises.
Maybe my preference for Lewis is as simple as my preference for fiction or other creative literature, over academic works. But I don't think academic work is the only thing Schaeffer was shooting for, any more than I deem Lewis an irresponsible scholar. So I guess it just comes down to style. Someone who likes to get right to the meat will no doubt love Schaeffer's carnivorous style, whose language excuses its self politely while Content takes the stage, alone. Me, I like my meat with hearty potatoes, the poetry of wine and the verve of bright, tender greens.
However, being that I've heard so much talk over the years about Schaeffer's ideas- and especially his incisive look at contemporary culture- I started to feel a little bit guilty for throwing around his terms and analyses, without going to the source; water downstream from the fountainhead is always muddier. So about a week ago I pulled out an old copy of "How Should We Then Live" and began to read.
I'm about 4/5 of the way through it now. Yesterday afternoon as I read, I had that sneaking suspicion I always get, when I read something life-changing, that this book was going to be, well, life-changing. I picked it up again last night in bed, and read straight into the wee hours of the morning.
I've heard Francis Schaeffer criticized for his (mis) understanding of individual philosophers, but praised for his steady finger on the pulse of society, including his distillation of particular philosophies to their logical conclusions. I admit my relative ignorance of philosophy and philosopher, alike. But what I'm finding in this book is an uncluttered summary of the major movements of human thought (and its trickle down into art and popular culture), beginning with the Roman Empire right through to the 20th century.
This is proving unbelievably helpful for me, because I often have a vague sense of something looming beneath the surface of my discontents and disabilities, but I am never sure what it is. I point to personal habits or social tendencies or the changing nature of the world- but most of my accusations are hurled at a giant, shapeless monster, for which I have no name.
In reading How Should We then Live, I am finding, at every turn, another key to the room of myself. I laughed out loud yesterday, and said to my self, "the entire history of Western thought can be demonstrated on the microcosmic level of my own thought!" This, of course, isn't to say that I somehow intuited, by sheer genius, the thought processes of the most influential minds of the past 2,000 years. Rather, I inherited, by some strange anthropology, all the inconsistencies and dead-ends that their philosophies carried internally. (And, since I was born into a Christian sect that ruled with an iron hand and claimed absolute, divinely appointed authority, I started in a place not altogether dissimilar to Rome.)
So, my personal journey echoes the journey of the Western World, following the fall of Rome (and my personal Rome did fall in a devastating manner, like it's prototype). I'm not certain where I stand at present or how much weeding out of error I still need to do. A lot, for sure. None of us is born into a vacuum. We've got to look at our presuppositions up close and personal, to determine which are true and should be kept, and which should be thrown to the swine.
This process is harrowing, and an uncertain science. But I'm starting to see that, alongside the rope which ties together the history of human thought, is a smaller but much stronger thread of Christian truth, which stands out more clearly to me now, against the backdrop of human mistake.
Friday, July 08, 2005
My husband laughs (kindly) at me because there are two or three themes that run through my thinking at any given time and I have a knack for always bringing everything back to one of these things. Right now the two most prevalent of these are habit (proper forming of them and the way our lives run in them and how the mere practice of habit can turn, into reality, that which was only pretending before), and something I like to call the "sacramental nature of the physical world".
Anytime I hear the word "habit" a little buzzer goes off in my head. So I throw the word, encased in its context, up onto my mental turntable and sit back, examining it in 3-D, to see if I can match it to an existing nuance of the word, already in my brain. Then I tuck it away for later use. I am constantly collecting scrap fragments pertaining to these two ideas, and fitting them into proper files, as if I am writing a book on the subject. (And actually, the more I do this the more these two particular strands of thought seem to converge. So perhaps some day- a long, long time from now- I will dust off the files and drop them into a book.)
I devoted two of my previous posts to habit and talked about the origins of the idea in me, personally. I don’t honestly know when this second idea, “the sacramental nature of the physical world’ began evolving in my thought, but I know I only started using it as a phrase a few months ago.
I think it came to me in an epiphany moment, but one with a small group of precursors, unrelated to one another, which somehow coalesced.
The idea stems from my belief that God created human beings as both physical and spiritual entities and that one is not more, in quality or quantity, than the other. In fact, I think that one is incomplete without the other, which is why death is such a terrifying and unnatural thing: it disembodies the soul.
As my friend, Stephanie mentioned recently, on this blog, the way we care for or neglect our bodies has profound effects on our emotions and mental well-being. We have more proof for this now than we ever have, because of our ability to study the components and functions of body and mind and environment in detail and with great accuracy.
This is why it strikes me as odd that the world is changing into the largely intangible one created by internet technology. There is talk of the next great evolution of humankind into disembodied mind (which sounds to me like the same thing as death), and this is heralded as freedom from our current restrictions of time and space and mass. (Didn’t we already reject this idea when it presented in Gnosticism?)
Many “communities” aren’t localized, anymore. I (to my shame) have not said more than two words to my neighbor in two years, but I exchange ideas and struggles with my friend, Andrew, in
A very large majority of us, in the
I saw a movie once (can’t remember what it was) in which a Native American shot and killed a deer for food. He followed the blood-trail to where the animal, lean and beautiful, lay dying. He held its head in his hands; I imagined he could feel its warm breath, coming out in shallow snorts. As the doe’s bright, innocent eyes turned glassy and opaque, the man, still kneeling in the dirt beside it, said a ritualistic prayer for the animal’s soul, bidding it to go in peace. I was so struck by this portrayal, because I had never seen the killing of an animal presented beautifully and with respect for its life. The man needed food and the deer’s life had to be sacrificed; but blood was not shed lightly. The pangs of death were felt by hunter and hunted, alike.
Very few of us grow any of our own food and none of us is going to starve if the rain gods refuse to smile on us. We don’t know what kinds of wood or stone are best for particular forms of craftsmanship. I don’t spin thread from wool and knit a sweater to last my son for the winter; instead he has so many clothes of every sort that I have to navigate around giant, never receding mounds of clothing in my laundry room.
Again, I am not suggesting that life in some falsely conjured “good old days” was easy or even ideal. I am only pointing out that the further we remove ourselves from the things which sustain our lives, the further we remove ourselves from purpose. And this is because the earth was given to us to cultivate and care for, and to give us a glimpse of something beyond ourselves; something holy and beautiful and meaningful. The way that my work becomes an extension of myself and I become the work that I am doing – the way soil feels loose and rocky or the way it smells when I pull out weeds: mineral-y, ancient and fresh all at once; the pungent taste of wine; the melodious laughter of a friend; the alien and yet familiar look in an animal’s eye- the inexplicable way in which all of these things inform and shape and administer grace to our souls: This is the sacramental nature of the physical world.
Like most things I think about and form opinions about, I am sadly inconsistent in my application of these things to my life. And, in great part, that is why I live in a state which continually pushes me to the point of despair. To restate a comment from a reader: Life is full of meaning and I am not living in that meaning.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Oh dear. My last post and the comments it drew have prodded my mind in so many directions that I don’t know which to choose. So I’ll ramble my way about over the course of a few separate posts. I can't presume to speak with authority or from a very informed position. Take these as observations which may (or may not) have pertinence to the current discussion.
In modern (meaning contemporary), affluent (American?) culture, we seem to have cut ourselves off from the past. Science and technology give us false confidence, so we ignore the lessons of history and act rashly, like a teen-aged boy who thinks his parents know jack-shit and then wraps his car around a tree.
Since the very beginning of mankind, we have told stories. We told them to our children and to each other and to our children’s children. We told histories and mythologies and poems and songs- and these instructed the youth in virtue and comforted the aged with hope, while inspiring those in between to a life worthy of such a heritage.
The stories that we tell today are stories of the present moment. We tell our own stories (which often amount to "poor me, my life sucks" - yes, I am guilty) instead of those of our ancestors. We discard ethnic customs or practices because they are out-dated (which somehow makes them irrelevant). Mythology is “archaic” (and that somehow means, “useless”).
Our arrogance is so profound that we even assert the right to extrapolate moral values from our own narrow experience of the world. We don’t encourage our children to love justice, we teach them to love comfort. We tell them not to play-fight. We censor violence in legends and fairy tales, creating versions mysteriously lacking courage and valor, as well.
We fear death inordinately, perhaps because of our inability to see time as circular, like the seasons. Again from Ecclesiastes:
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Also, we are afraid of getting old.
Also, we are afraid of getting old.
In the past, as a general rule, old men and women were honored and considered wise. Today, we glorify youth and beauty and productivity and most other fleeting things. Our aged population becomes an inconvenience, a problem to be dealt with and tucked away so we who have our youth can get on with "going somewhere", though none of us knows where exactly that is.
And as we, who were once young, begin to age, we panic. We are without wisdom to still our frenetic minds and have no stories to tell ourselves for comfort and inspiration, so we grasp in vain at our elusive youth. Nip and tuck, here; a little filler there; a bigger boat, house, car; a younger lover. Lie about your age; color your hair; go on a shopping spree: anything to stay young as long as you can- because when you get old, the world doesn't have room for you. And why should it? We spent our lives making ourselves into a sad and shallow mass of decaying flesh; irrelevant, taking up space, using up resources.
Maybe these things contribute to my sense of disconnectedness or lack of purpose. The values upheld and forced down our throats are so empty. There is nothing beneath them. We've severed the iceberg at water-level and we, who are only the tip of a monstrous glacial mass, are floating away in indifferent waters.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
[Disclaimer: This post contains information which may be negative or de-moralizing in nature and may not be suitable for sensitive souls. The author cannot be held responsible for any resulting depression or despair.] I haven’t posted recently. There are reasons – and I wish it was as simple as my kids being home for the summer.
Sometimes I have too many thoughts to get any of them down in any coherent form. Sometimes everything I'm thinking is bound and gagged in a tiny room of deep emotion and I'm not ready to let anybody in. Sometimes everything I think degenerates into pessimism and I don't want to spread the disease. Right now all of this is true.
Being very careful not to bitch and moan and to be as objective as possible, here's my problem:
I haven’t posted recently. There are reasons – and I wish it was as simple as my kids being home for the summer.
Everyone who accomplishes anything, whether menial, daily tasks or great, world-changing things does so because of an inner motivation; a passion; an inspiration. I am categorically unable to produce such a thing.
My mother finds it in helping people; my friend finds it in his work; some women find it in mothering; couples can find it in romantic love; someone else will find it in friendship. Some of these things I have and others, I don't. But none of them seems to be enough. I wake up in the morning and ask myself, "why should I get up out of bed?" and I can't find a compelling answer.
I'm stuck in Ecclesiastes mode:
" What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun."
I'm forever trying to get at the thing behind everything we do: I get up in the morning so that I can fix and eat breakfast, so that I have enough energy to clean up after breakfast; and I wash up after breakfast so I have clean dishes for lunch, which I prepare and eat so that I have energy to clean up again. I launder my family's clothes so that we have clean ones to dirty again. I go to sleep so I can get up again.
"The sun rises and the sun sets,I'm spending my life- all of it- raising my children, so that they can grow into adults who spend their lives raising their children, who in turn, will spend their lives raising children of their own.
and hurries back to where it rises"
This cycles back as far as time, at least as concerns my forbears, since they all have had children- which, down the line, led to me.
"Generations come and generations go,I just can't seem to shake the feeling that we are all working to perpetuate life, but life itself consists of nothing but working to perpetuate life! When I think this way I start to get bitter, because life seems like a big, cosmic joke.
but the earth remains forever...
There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow"
"What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
God put eternity in our hearts, with no way to fathom it? In the face of meaninglessness, beauty and our sense of eternity become a burden too heavy to bear. It is too painful. It's mockery.
This underlying "inspiration" that I want - I've found various sops along the way, but they don't hold. I suppose I could say, with U2- "I still haven't found what I'm looking for".
Some people find it in a relationship with God. Augustine wrote: "Our hearts are restless 'til they find their rest in Thee." I think I have experienced this rest two or three times in my life. But I can't seem to stay there. Negativity sneaks up while I am sleeping and throws the blankets over my head; I can't see anything, I can't rest, I can't even breathe.
But I said I was going to try to be objective, didn't I? Okay, two thoughts:
First, there is a very good possibility that I need to be on anti-depressants. When I was taking Lexapro I did laundry just because it had to be done and didn't expect to find some grand meaning at the bottom of the pile. I saw my children as funny and delightful, instead of as part of a purposeless cycle of lives which are forgotten as soon as they end. And I altogether quit introducing myself (hand extended), "Hi, I'm Sisyphus".
(But if I need to chemically alter my brain in order to find purpose in anything, doesn't that just reek of denial? Kierkegaard, in A Sickness Unto Death, says the worst kind of despair is to not know that you are in despair. Do I want blissful ignorance?)
The second (and refreshingly opposite) thought I bring to bear on all of this is that, somewhere inside, I know this isn't the whole story. I know that there is beauty and meaning, because I have seen it before; and even if I can't now remember its shape, I can at least recall that I once saw it.
I’ve always believed the answer lies back with what Augustine said. But to rest in God, you have to know that He loves you. Sometimes I know that.
It's tender and raw and humbling and satisfying; it feels like a slap in the face or unexpectedly stubbing your toe; it feels like repentance, it feels like beauty; like hushed words between lovers; like a newborn baby; it feels like all the reason I ever need for anything.
In that place, my little life is swallowed up in a sea of purpose ("What God has done from beginning to end") rather than one of meaninglessness. The nastiest human being becomes someone worth my sacrifice; the most thankless work can be done with joy; sunlight turns dappled and golden instead of scorching; raindrops roll heavily from the tips of leaves, infusing them- and the earth- with meaning.
But I can't hold this always before me in any significant way.
A chief fault of mine is that I don't allow people to love me. When I was about eleven, my best friend and I took a "how-well-do-you-know-your-best-friend" test in a teen magazine (because she was into those sorts of things). When the test revealed that I knew everything about her and she knew only the very superficial things about me, she was so mad at me she wouldn't speak to me for a week. And I guess it was my fault. I don't generally offer information that isn't asked for. I think most people do.
Blogging is strange for me because I am constantly offering unsolicited information about myself. I don't like it. But it's a casualty of writing that I'm willing to face, because I love writing. And I suppose it's somewhat safe, because all of you out there in the completely intangible cyber-space can read it if you want to-or not, if you don't- and if it gets too uncomfortable you can always read it and pretend you didn't.
All of this rambling is to a point: I don't know how to be loved. I've spent my life blaming it on my parents or on God or on other people (for not noticing) but what it all comes down to is that I have isolated myself. I hacked a lonely road out of the thicket and set out traveling alone. I don't know how to repair this and I'm not even going to attempt an answer right now.