No High and Fluting Sentiment

I’d do it o’er, I’d do it o’er,
If only time could be undone
My now dragged back into the past
My words unraveled, fights unwon.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

I’d say it better, put it right,
Not put you down like seed in ground,
Not hold my peace when called to speak
Nor speak when peace would not be found.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

With wisdom earned of time now lived,
Another chance, a blotted page–
Turn back the cost, but leave the wage;
I’d walk to circumstance a sage,

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

What little insight I have gained
Cannot be spent on past poor takes,
Nor can the scene be shot again
Nor what’s spoke now be what I spake.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

These bits and mites of priceless coin
So pinched from moments lived a-wrong
Can but be spent on moments met
Once one has walked from thence along.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

And then—and then!—I cry my woe,
So small indeed is knowledge known,
When held to wisdom yet unwon
To thoughts unthought, unreaped, unsown.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes perfect now and morrow.

So day by day, I earn my way
The stumbler seeking feet like hind’s,
The fool by wise-ish foolishness
Seeks understanding, nearly blind.

No high and fluting sentiment,
Can halt past rents from tearing
No deep and luted sorrow now
Buys morrow’s faultless bearing.

And much is hurt and healed and made,
Is broken, beaten, lost, and found,
But though the road dips humbly low,
I move through time to higher ground.

Though thought and heart and wish and word
Cannot make perfect now or then,
I’ll think, and feel, and speak, and hope,
And hold my peace, and step again.

The Empty Brainchild

There are stories wandering purposeless circles in the wilderness of my mind. There are emotions devoid of meaning playing like a handful of broken records in my heart and belly. There are neural pathways of entertainment worn so deeply in my mind that they have become muddy ruts in which my imagination can only spin its wheels.

Let me explain. I want a constant stream of entertainment in my head. I want never to be bored. I want a ceaseless stream of emotional stimulation. I want to feel something, and then another thing, and then another.

In order to accomplish this, I tell myself stories. Now, plenty of good has come out of self-story-telling. I’m a writer; I would not have become such a one without a love of stories. But there is love, and there is… dependence. There is enjoyment, and there is… addiction.

These little machinations of my imagination have become to the emotional what masturbation is to the sexual. I’m in it for a hit of feeling, a high of intensity. I’m in it for the sadness longing love loss joy amusement confusion fascination awe hope despair anger fury forgiveness bitterness happiness connection friendship pain hunger intimacy sensuality fear shock wonder glee gloom ANYTHING, anything, so long as it comes to a climax of intensity.

It’s fan fiction, usually, cross-fic, often but not always with self-inserts. I play with my favorite characters from all fandoms, and put them in situations that make them feel things, and ride those surrogate waves of emotion. I shoot up with little stories I tell, and retell myself, in my head.

I wouldn’t describe it in such harsh terms, would not even think that any kind of a problem (just such mucking about has in the past turned into the stuff of novels and blog posts) except that–

–I have come to see that it’s a button I hit in favor of participating in God’s greater reality. All the time. Dozens of times through the day, even more lying abed at night or in the morning.

And then one night, I thought, “Nay, I’ll set aside my bedtime stories this once, in favor of praying for those I love.” And like a toddler denied the same, my inner self started pitching a royal, screeching, panicking fit.

BUT I NEED MY STORIES. I WANT MY STORIES. I’M BORED WITHOUT MY STORIES. I WON’T SLEEP UNLESS YOU GIVE ME STORIES. I CAN’T SLEEP WITHOUT STORIES!

The irony of that being, it’s these very scenes that I play out, searching for the next emotional climax (it’s never really enough) that keep me awake for one hour after another.

That scared me. That internal insistence that I was dependent on these fictions. That it was no longer an activity that I chose to participate in, but a habit that had dug its roots so deeply into the matrix of my mind, my brain went into full-scale, physically-wracking withdrawals when I chose to do something else.

And I believe I was frightened rightly.

BUT IF YOU STOP TELLING YOURSELF STORIES WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR CREATIVITY? IF YOU STOP TELLING YOURSELF STORIES YOU’LL STOP BEING A STORYTELLER. WHAT KIND OF WRITER BRIDLES THEIR IMAGINATION? 

The irony of that being, so much of what I do is repetition of the same old idea. I’m not in it for the creativity; I’m milking what little creativity I began with for every last drop of emotion I can get out of it. I only look for a new idea when the last one cracks like parched earth. I don’t want to have to work too much for it. I want it cheap and easy.

If my mind didn’t run to this pattern almost without fail, I would have more time to dedicate to creativity in my actual works, actually. I’ve found myself having to work to drag my mind away from “What would happen if Sherlock Holmes encountered the Doctor, take 227–this time with John wearing a green sweater?” to figure out what happens in the stories I’m actually writing, in the work I have actually been given to do!

But more disturbing than even that is what set me upon this recognition: that when I try to turn my mind to loving the Lord my God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength, and loving others as myself, this gets in the way.

It has become an impediment to not only my sleep, but worse, my work, and worse yet, my relationships with others, and worst of all, my relationship with God himself.

I have fallen into dependence upon the shadow of the great Reality. It is time to turn towards that I truly desire, the natural longing that beget this unnatural degradation of desire.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
-II Corinthians 10:5
(Contextual? No. Meaningful? Heck to the yes.)

And so, this coming Lent, I am denying myself all of what I’m calling “extracurricular” storytelling. If it’s part of my work, I can mull it over. A lot of being a writer is staring blankly out the window as gears spin this way and that in your mind. But 95% of what I’m doing is the other thing.

This Lent, the wind-up-toy-stories stop. And I can only beg God to fill the daily-dozens of cracks in my being that those hollow-eyed creations were failing to fill. Minutely grace for minutely need.

Pray for me.

Let Temptation Roll Like Thunder

With Lent quick approaching, I thought I’d recycle some of my thoughts on last year’s Lent–the first time I participated. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this is what I got.

*****

…During Lent, I may have mentioned, I was fasting from sugar. Sugar has been a subtle and insidious drug for me, an addiction that always seemed so innocuous, so unimportant, I didn’t really need to do anything about it… about the fact that, (unless I had an all-consuming writing project at the time, in which case I would severely under-eat,) I could and would binge unhealthily on the stuff whenever it was available, and I would find ways to sneak it if it was unavailable. A whole package of cookies I would down alone, in one sitting, even after I tired of the taste. Even if I didn’t like whatever was available–sub-par “chocolate flavored” bars, for instance–I couldn’t stop myself from eating it.

I knew I had a problem, but it was a problem that no one took seriously when I told them (except my mom, but she’s a health nut; give her an inch of admission of unhealthy eating and she’ll take a mile), because I possess a resilient body that showed none of this abuse. I’m sure it would take years for a form as strong as mine to start breaking down under the sugar intake, for sugar is a slow-working poison, but no less a poison. I had (and have) a muscular, slender figure, so if I started saying that I was worried about sugar, people would be all “Psssh, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” And I’d be like, People, it’s not about my body (just yet), it’s about the fact that I have an addiction and this is bad.

So I fasted from sugar for 40 days. It was interesting. I didn’t go into heavy physical withdrawls, to my surprise and interest, but I was often psychologically pained by the refusal of freely offered sugar. No more sweet coffee drinks at Starbucks. No more doughnuts at church in the mornings. No more cakes or cookies at parties. No more desserts. No more stopping to get ice cream with Dad. It was painful in a small, constant way. Rather painful.

The most striking moment of all of Lent, for me, was when I made brownies. It was Father Carlos’ birthday, and I decided to make brownies for him. A batch of mint chip, and a batch of mocha. It was a strange experience, standing there with my mouth watering, my brain reeling, just rinsing thick chocolate batter off of spatulas and spoons, never once licking a thing. Smelling the warm chocolaty scent filling the kitchen and house, with overtones of coffee and mint. Pulling it out and letting it cool, cutting it into squares and brushing away all the crumbs, not tasting a one. Minutely grace for minutely need. Man shall not live by bread alone. I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ. I can do all things. I can. Christ. I can. Christ!

It was ethereal. I felt waves of need wracking my body–a lick, a bite, a little bit–and I let them roll through me like earthquakes. I felt so calm; even as my body was screaming, I was surfing my own desire like a 30-foot wave, saying, I see you. I hear you. I feel you. You’re not getting your way. And that’s okay. Because I have what my spirit needs. I have what my spirit wants. I have more in this painful moment than sugar could ever give me, than surrender could ever gain me. Contrary to what you feel, my flesh, contrary even to what you may think, my mind, I have everything. I have everything. 

The moment was laborious, painful, and even mundane, yet somehow also thick with glory. It was, I might say, divine.

*****

I’m planning on staying my hand from sugar once again, this year. The addiction has been reasserting itself of late–and I want to die to it. And besides that, I have have a minutely need, but I have been failing to minutely remember it; I long for the constantly pressing consciousness of my dependence on my Lord. It’s not easy, but it’s good.

But that’s not all. Stay tuned for part II of my Lenten Resolutions: The Empty Brainchild

Son of God – the movie

Oh. Wow, actually.

I began watching this trailer with cynicism, (these attempts so often pale and fail in so cringe-worthy a fashion, you know,) but that quickly crumbled into some hope that a movie can begin to do the life of Christ some small degree of cinematic justice.
At least from the trailer, this one looks like… well, an actual gospel account, believe it or not! And an actually awesome gospel account at that.

(Though I would like to see a lead who was less whitewashed. But, eh, at least he’s not unbelievably so.  )

A breakdown…

The miracle shown in the first thirty seconds–not one hundred percent according to the gospel account, but the spirit of the event was captured. Including (and I like this) the fact that it wasn’t really about the fish at all.

The next miracle. Spot on–and well acted. I like the way they’re shaping up this character–a man of shocking words and shocking deeds.

I like the frequent cutting to the pharisee’s worried discussion of this young prophet from Nazareth. He was a man to worry about. And again, we get an audacious statement: “Your hunger for righteousness will be fulfilled through me.”

But then, to the political side of things, and one of my favorite bits of all… the triumphal entry, ending at the temple, and the subtle but potent reaction to the man’s cry of “Save us from the Romans, lord!” Boom. That stark rejecting hand, knocking back the very idea. That’s not why I’m here.

“There’s something unusual about him.”
Yeah. There kind of is.

The music comes in with the waves, followed by the statement of betrayal. And then, at 1:43, we get the traitorous kiss. Another subtle but potent reaction: the heartbroken look on his face, and the way his hand rises to Judas’s head.

The cuts back to the turning over of the tables and the working of miracles as the Sanhedrin charges him… artful.

“Tell us… are you the Son of God?”

“I am.”

Son of God, Son of Man, Lamb that was slain… I have hope that this movie intends to declare as much, and declare it well.

Will you see it? What are your hopes for its impact?

Happiness is “In.”

I just came across this quote in my facebook feed.

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I started really meditating on it. And I thought, there’s some truth to that, there really is. 

There are those who will take the strands of their observable reality and sit in their heads, laboring to weave a miserable moment, day, or entire existence out of it, however lucky or unlucky the base substance. And that… well, you really want to steer clear of that. You want to try and spot it if you’re doing that, and if you are, striving for some form of psychological overhaul would probably be wise.

But then, it got me thinking about the way so much pop philosophy is leaning today. In a lot of circles, suffering is getting a bad rap, like, really bad. It’s not popular to suffer.

^ This is not okay.

That’s not actually a ridiculous observation; there are ages and places and subcultures in which suffering is or has been cool, commonly among artists of eras past, actually. Being an artist who is commonly happy to the point of obnoxious perkiness, the history books would suggest I could hardly be great as well.

Now, though, it’s rather “in” to be a happy person. It’s “in” to find your inner peace, work through your childhood issues, find mental and emotional stability, employ mind-over-matter, come to peace with relational turmoil, embrace your journey, and for heaven’s sake, if you’ve managed none of that, to seem as though you have!

And I thought, again, there’s a lot in all that, a lot that’s good and valuable and true or touching on the truth. But it also sets up a distraction.

Because it makes idols out of peace and joy.

This is very easy to do, because peace and joy are good things, aspects of God himself, gifts he would love to give us. But as C.S. Lewis points out so adeptly, the brighter and more beautiful a thing naturally is, the more likely we are to set it up in place of God.

“But you and I must be clear. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion.”
-The Great Divorce, Chapter Eleven

Peace and joy are not all. They are not even ends. They are results, side-effects; they are, in fact, fruit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
-Galatians 5:22-23a

All of these are things we should want to find in ourselves. But none are to be idols. They are the fruit of the Spirit of God, and if our lives show that they are lacking in us, there is only one way to turn–to God. 

Which brings me back to the idolatry of happiness and the eschewing of suffering.

I see upon the cross a man who perfectly manifested the perfect fruit of the Spirit. I see upon the cross a God who suffered, and suffered perfectly. That was not just physical pain. It was certainly not physical pain that had him suffering in Gethsemane at the very thought of impending Calvary. So, what, was Christ failing to be the psychological ideal? I daresay not! He would not have been a man if he had not been subject to suffering.

So it would seem that the highest ideal is not happiness. It would seem that the fruit of the Spirit is not the psychological capacity to eschew all suffering.

But if Christ, our only perfect example of absolute Spirit-filling, was subject to suffering, then it implies that suffering can coexist with love, joy, and peace, and in fact with that whole list up there. In fact, in other translations, “forbearance” reads as “longsuffering,” the very word implying that suffering will occur. And that is the least of the New Testament references that would suggest suffering as an expected part of a godly life!

So we don’t want to idolize peace and joy. And we are to accept suffering as a part of life. But we’re to be peaceful and joyful, as well. We’re to suffer, yes, but to learn how do it without throwing pity-parties and melodramatic fits (within or without!); those things run in the face of what the Holy Spirit is trying to produce.

This is all ridiculously difficult to manage, an impossible balance to strike. Fortunately, managing and balancing it is not the task set before us. Pressing closer to Christ is the task set before us.

Seek first God. To be near him, to be with him, to let him course through you.

And then, he will suffer with you, and you with him. And in the midst of your mutual suffering–what? Joy! And what’s this? Peace!

And of course. Because the nearer you draw to God, in suffering or pleasure, the nearer you come to suffering and pleasuring perfectly.

Bound to Stand

There is a hopelessness
like mirk’s morass,
that sweeps the hearts of men
in darkness vast,

It wonders if we’re
doomed to fail,
to ever stray from
narrow trail
and fall into the void.

And we are
Doomed to fail
Doomed to die
Bound to stand again and try.

The chasm is as deep,
as black as space,
and through it tumbles
Adam’s roiling race,

Searching hard
or running far,
how we wonder
what we are
within that fearful void.

And we are
Doomed to fail
Doomed to die
Bound to stand again and try.

But men still stand like suns
in stretching dark,
a pricking pin of light,
a hilltop spark.

Deeds of greatness
burning brightly,
tiny candle
re-lit nightly
to stand against the void.

And we are
Doomed to fail
Doomed to die
Bound to stand again and try.

There is a hope within
like burning sphere,
outnumbered by the
cold and dark and fear,

And yet when men
stare up at sky,
what do they look at,
count, and scry,
But diamonds in the void?

And we are
Doomed to fail
Doomed to die
Bound to stand again and try.

A latticework is laid,
the Milky Way.
Small flames can turn
the deepest dark to day.

The darkest hour
is but a cloud,
all open eyes
see past the shroud;
that starlight fills the void.

And dark is
Doomed to fail
Doomed to die
Bound to vanish, bound to fly,
For light is greater far than greatest void.

~

A poem I wrote some while back, pulled from my archives.