Turn, turn, turn!

Oh God, my God, how long is it since I have written so to you?

When the ebbs and flows of life leave me churning and restless, exhausted and sleepless at night’s middle, why do I not immediately turn to you, One Singer of life’s song, One Water for my thirst, One Friend for my loneliness, One Grace for my sins, One Physician for my ills, One God and Lover who can reach into the tossing, turning depths of my soul, and heal the crying breach.

Man shall not live by bread alone, nor anything this plane may readily offer, nor anything my body and mind might beg for. For is it not so, that even gorged, we are hungry? Even sated, we want? And when we lack and desire with depths of passion but loss of direction, why do we wander this plane—even we who have known better—in hopes that something upon it will fill our soul’s gape in the dullness and the dark.

Oh God, my God, I entreat you to be once more my first answer, my first thought, for you are the first responder to my needs, if I would but look to you, see the hand in which you offer more than e’er I sought.

When I know not what I seek, let me remember that it is you. When I know not why I thirst, let me remember that it is for you. When I know not what is missing, let me remember that it is the fullness of your presence—only to be missed so long as it is turned from, for even misery is rich when you will grace it with your touch.

Pain becomes a portal to bliss; loneliness turns up the corners of my mouth when I remember my Beloved. Longing is our lot in this world, but not without comfort. And then, our souls’ very scream for you becomes a prayer of thanks for your presence. Even when I cannot sense you compassing me about, nor hear you in the silence and all creation’s groaning, I know your Love, and I know you’re Love, and I know it enough for me.

Oh God, my God, how long has it been since the fullness of my spirit bowed down before you, laid down before you all its pent-up miseries, put aside the world’s insistent distractions and the flesh’s insatiable desires, and simply begged for you?

It grows and grows, the pain and pressure, ‘stress’, it’s called, or weariness, or lack, or fun; frustration; satiation; habits; needs; amusements; callings; obligations; all of it dust worrying dust. All of it is vain distraction, idolatry and idolatry’s consequence, when it keeps my mind from you.

I’ve turned to you as a touchstone, brushing my fingers over the thought of you, knowing you deserved more, hearing my soul’s growing scream, but caught in the whirlabout land called “life” which is Death if you are not in it, my Lord, my Love, and my Salvation.

I knew I needed you, but my fingers were busied and my mind a-rush, whisking from one thing to the next, even if that thing was rest, calling it a necessity of so-called life, but when I do not take the time to deeply drink of your presence, my soul becomes ever more agitated, and nothing will settle it, not all the joviality and satisfaction and accomplishment in the world, for are you not greater than all these things? How, then, do I forget you? Forgive me, Greatest Calling and Highest Joy.

And Highest Joy you are, and Deepest Love, and Sweetest Peace, but I must tread the path of delayed pleasure to find it, and to my twisted human psyche, this often seems too great a sacrifice to make. Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of sin?

And when I so long forget to turn from these, so long forget to turn to you, I must also tread the path of the torn heart and the beaten breast, the path of tears and repentance as all the pettiness of my soul breaks against your Beauty and sees itself for the straying, pitiful wretch that it is. God! GOD! How do I do this time and again? Bless this restlessness that drives me from my bed like an iron against my soul, for without it, it seems that I would rest at an ever-emptier discontented status quo.

Drive me! Drive me quicker, drive me harder, in the future, to return to you! Let my mind, heart, and body burn as one with the horror of looking away from your Face! Let me know my want for what it is; a Want for what the seed of sin first tore from me long before my conception, a Want for the fellowship of the Cross, in its magnificence and mystery, restored.

All else I find upon this earth is a piece of your Story, all that you have created to sate the surface of my body, mind, and soul—that is the satisfaction you offer, seen through a glass darkly. And so long as I see you through it, so long as my daily bread is to me an echo of the Bread of Salvation, so long I know pleasure as an echo of Joy, art as an echo of Truth, and friendship as an echo of Communion, then these things will sate, for I will be asking no more of them than you set them here to give me.

Oh, let me cling first and ever to you! Let me set aside all to pursue you! Let me sacrifice all to seek your face! Let me remember the joy of your Kingdom before all! Let me turn from shadows and mirrors unto the Real, and by so doing, see Reality winking from the shadows and the mirrors.

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

We much and poorly love you, Lord.

Some time ago, I stood with a congregation of Christians not of my denomination. To name it would distract from the point. I stood and noticed their differences, and how their differences could lead either closer to God, or if handled poorly by the human heart, could lead into distraction.

But, I  thought, is not every denomination full of such perils? Where one breaks away to avoid a pitfall, it only runs until it stumbles into another. Everywhere, there are those who seek and find God through the particulars of their tradition, and there are those who do not, though they have the same tradition. In every life, there are times we seek and find God through one thing or another, and then there are times we get distracted by the things we find him in–prayers once alive becoming dry words, motions and images and music that once drove our minds and hearts to humility and glory now only playing on our emotions, or not even that.

And I thought, how? How is it that we can love the Lord our God so much, and yet do such a poor job of it? As a Church, as fractured denominations, each seeking to be more deeply and truly Christ’s, as struggling local congregations, as stumbling families, as broken individuals… how is it that we who love God so much should love him so, well, badly?

And as I wondered, I watched a child, perhaps two years of age, running around on lovely marble floors, past holy symbols, babbling to himself about whatever he found. And then as prayers and incense rose before us, as we stood hushed with heads all bowed, this child turned and saw his mother, doing the same.

The toddler’s face lit with a happy light, and with a scream of gladness that pierced through the worship, he ran to her and flung himself against her legs, wrapping his arms around her and looking up with adoration.

And I thought, ahhh. That’s how. How sweetly, how truly and strongly, and yet how full of tantrums and forgetting and impropriety and lack of understanding, do we love the Lord our God. How at the wrong moments do we scream it, and cause others to cringe. How at the wrong moments do we clumsily toddle into the wrong places and do what he might not have us to do. How at his correction do we fuss and misunderstand.

How poorly do we love the Lord, and yet how much and truly.

And God, like the ever-patient parent, however poorly we show our love, (and even at those moments we forget him, or are upset and decide for a time that we hate him), so much and perfectly loves us, loves we who have not learned to love so well.

As my priest preached this morning, reminding me of these old musings: If we try to listen to God and follow him, we’re going to fail and get some things wrong. But as the good father whose small child has industriously taken part off of the car, and given it to his father as a Christmas gift, he does not rail and spurn our attempts, but is delighted at the dearness of our attempt, however poor, to show our love.

The good father says, “Thank you so much! That’s so sweet of you, and you must have worked so hard… But sweetie, even when we want to give Daddy a gift, we don’t take the steering wheel off of Daddy’s car.” And then he fixes up the mess, or helps the child to do so, and explains how better to give, next time.

We much and poorly love you, Lord,
We much and poorly love;
We scant and poorly give to you
That giv’n us from above.

We much and poorly love your face,
We much and poorly seek;
Your Kingdom come, your will be done,
Through hands so poor and weak.

We much and poorly love your sheep,
We much and poorly try
To call them to your feeding grounds,
As yet we’re drawing nigh.

We much and poorly love your will,
We much and poorly strive
To see your blessed building built,
Let your Life in us thrive.

You much and richly pour your Self,
Your Spirit and your Son,
Upon and through our weakling loves,
Until your Kingdom come.

(For more such poetry, here’s my website.)

Participating in your own Perfection

I should like to preface my words today with a quote from CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and  joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so  God let us off.  Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.

He goes on to say that if you do not find his personal theory or illustration helpful, to feel free to drop it. I found it quite helpful, wonderful actually, and would suggest your read the whole of his chapter, “The Perfect Penitent.” But my point with that is, I have just this night past stumbled upon a (slightly) new (to me) perception of the Atonement and the Christian walk, and I would like to say the same thing of my own illustration of that eternal matter. If it works for you, lovely; if it doesn’t–ah well, it was only words and pictures.

All that being said:

Think of Christ taking on all our sin-guilt. Think of Christ imputing his righteousness to us. Imagine him effacing Adam’s likeness and stamping his image in its place on our very spiritual genome.

Now, further imagine that, in that timeless moment on the cross, Jesus of Nazareth visited every single instance of sin in the whole of time; every rotted flower on the twisted tree he was uprooting.

Now bring it home a bit, and imagine him visiting every single instance of sin, of imperfection before God and the law, that you have ever committed and will ever commit. Diving into your timestream like a bodyguard taking a bullet, slamming you out of the way and stepping into your place at every single point at which you acted out of the twistedness of your spirit.

Imagine him pushing you out of the way, facing your moment of temptation, weakness, and brokenness, facing your nature and nurture and personal demons, and acting in absolute perfection. Replacing that moment of sin with an act of absolute righteousness.

And then imputing to you the righteousness inherent in his act, while taking upon himself the guilt inherent in yours.

Now your life appears before God to be a string of perfect acts and perfect thoughts and perfect decisions; Christ’s perfect thoughts and acts and decisions. (Oh, he also sees the material reality, of course, but such seeming paradoxes don’t seem to bother a mind so much bigger and smarter than ours that stands outside his created space-time continuum as well as throughout it.)

But here we find something interesting, because Christ gives us a further opportunity. That righteousness is on our account, so to speak, but we have been given a marvelous gift: the opportunity to participate in our undeserved righteousness.

Look back on a specific sin you have committed, perhaps one that nags at you particularly. Then think of Christ crucified bursting into that moment, pushing you aside, and acting in your place, doing the perfect thing you were incapable of doing, and remember that that deed, Christ’s deed, is the one that will be counted to your spiritual account.

But now look ahead. Watch for when next you face a moment of temptation, of weakness, of brokenness. The next time you come smack up against your worst nature and nurture and personal demons.

Remember that Christ has come here already. He got there ahead of you, in one sense. He dove into your life, pushed you out of the path of oncoming death, and acted perfectly. Already.

There was a sinful action, maybe an unavoidable sin, sitting right there in your path, but Jesus already dove into your place, right there, right then, in your future and present as well as your past, and did the right thing.

Now here is the wonder, if all that wasn’t wonder enough! Here is our glorious chance: we are permitted to work out our own salvation, with fear and trembling.

He has pushed you out of your own way in some grander Reality than ours, in his very Kingdom. Now let his Kingdom come! Let him dive into your moment of weakness, let him sweep aside your fractures and your fallings-down, and let the reality that God the Father sees in your life become the reality of the material world.

Allow the Kingdom to enter more fully into the space-time continuum through you; allow Christ’s perfect actions not only to cover you in the Eternal Reality beyond time, but to animate your spirit and mind and body within time itself!

Not only will he write over our life in crimson, so to speak, but he will press that pen into our little hand and, holding it, move it so we can form the letters ourselves, our hand growing stronger and more precise under his direction until the letters and words that come so naturally to him might also come naturally to us. That his Nature might become ours.

When you fail, when you fall, remember that your imputed righteousness is complete.

But when next you face temptation, when you would naturally act our of your brokenness, would act outside of the Father’s perfect will, would quite naturally nurse your wrath until morning light, would quite naturally speak when your ought to keep silent, or keep silent when you know you should speak… when you would do the cowardly thing, or the prideful thing, or the impatient thing, or the unloving thing, remember:

Christ has been there. Right there, in that moment, he’s been there. And hasn’t done that.

He’s gone ahead of you, taken your exact temptations and exasperations and pains and torments and tiredness and headaches and habits and histories and peeves and breaking points, all those things that it would be entirely impossible for you to handle with grace and perfection, and he’s already handled them for you. He has already acted with grace and perfection in those myriad shattered moments, and now you can too. He  has made them whole.

Let him push you out of the broad way. Let him push you out of the path of your own destruction. Get out of his way, and let him let you take a part in the very perfection he’s attributed to you.

The Wisdom of Loki

KNEEL!

Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state?

It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation.

The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity.

You were made to be ruled.

In the end, you will always kneel.”

So much truth, Loki. One might almost think you wise. But like all Tricksters, you twist the truth. And for your purposes, you twist it foolishly.

Something is missing. Something you seem ignorant of. One vital element of our makeup.

Yes, we were made to be ruled. But we were made to choose whom we will serve.

You see this throughout history. Yes, many followed Robert the Bruce that they might be free of England’s rule. But in that very act, they submitted themselves, they subjugated themselves, to Robert the Bruce. And they did so gladly! It was almost as if… as if it was their natural state.

FREEDOM is the constantly recurring cry. Yes, but freedom to do what? Freedom to choose our masters. We don’t always choose wisely, but we’ll be damned if you don’t let us choose! (Heck, we even get to choose if we’ll be damned.) Few and far between are the true anarchists–and even if all governments broke down, people would naturally find and huddle together under masters of one sort or another.

But a master whose subjects hate him is a master whose power is in grave jeopardy. A master whose subjects choose and love him is a greater master.

Because it is given to us to think and feel, and to will, and to choose according to our will.

We want who we want. We want someone who listens to us. Someone who understands us. Someone who knows the difficulties of our life and will be fair with us–or perhaps less fair and more merciful. We’d like Someone to defend us against our enemies. It would also be nice if this Someone gave us things. We’d like to be able to look up to this Someone, to call them a Hero, to hail their flag proudly, and proudly name ourselves their subject.

(Not that I’m talking about Anyone in particular, of course not, whyever would you think such a thing.)

The Marvel universe has a god who kills a man in front of a crowd, rounds them up like frightened cattle, like frightened chattel, then shouts them into submission. Of course a man stands against him, and of course this man is a hero. As it should be! Loki would have stomped upon and stripped away their God-given wills.

We have a God who allows himself to be killed in front of crowds of men, just to save a bunch of frightened sheep, just to be a good shepherd, then asks for their submission–because they’re going to run headlong off a cliff if they don’t turn around.

“Kneel.

Is not this sweeter? Is this not your natural state?

It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave to pour yourselves out to someone, even as I pour Myself out to you.

You think you see the bright lure of freedom in all the darkest corners, and you diminish your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity.

I am the only One with freedom and power and identity, and I give it freely to all to look to Me .

You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel:

To your empty selves, to your empty sins, to your empty oppressors, or to Me.

Choose you this day whom you will serve.”

And those men who stand, those who defy him, he allows to walk away. To walk away into Hell. To walk away into nothing. To run  away from God into everything that is the opposite of God. To break his heart. To hurt themselves.

But our God did not make us automatons, he made us beings with free wills to choose our rulers, and that means allowing us to choose rulers to our detriment.

Just think of it; what if Loki had known even a little piece of that wisdom?

What if Loki had come to earth and said, “Hey babes, Loki from Asgard here, just a lonely little trickster god looking to rock–and rule–your world. Who’s with me?”

I’d bet that much of the world’s female population, at least, would have waved signs and guns on his behalf from the outset.

…Did I mention we don’t always choose wisely?

Unfair Rendezvous

So I was thinking one evening near a year ago, I was considering how best to go about asking God out. (I’ve got a hero-crush on him, see.) So I grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled, “Hey God. You bring the moon and the rain in the air. I’ll bring everything that’s wrong with me. Meet at Starbucks in ten. Call it a date.”

Being a writer of things, I could not leave it at that, and so when I was seated in that coffee shop as suggested, I drew out my laptop and went on fleshing out the very unfair picture of a rendezvous with the possessor of all power and glory in existence. Like so:

I’ll stand at the corner, dressed all in my best;
The rags of a leper and bruises of life.
Come wearing righteousness, come bearing rest,
And switch with the sinner You’re taking to wife.

You bring an ocean of infinite love,
I’ll bring the wounds for which You are the salve,
I’ll bring the hunger if You’ll bring the feast,
I’ll bring the sins if you’ll sweep them West-East.

Don’t forget power o’er nature and time,
Remember the worlds that rest in Your hands,
I’ll probably forget you, my Lover sublime,
I may not remember the gulf Your life spans.

You bring the moon and the rain in the air,
I’ll bring humanity, pain and despair.
I’ll bring my finitude, I’ll bring my shame,
You bring eternity, take all the blame.

You’ll be the Master and I’ll be the slave,
Dressed all in purple and wearing Your crown.
You be the sacrificed, I’ll be the saved,
Wearing your light as you lay your life down.