A True Valentine

Will you be my Valentine?

Head on the block,

Life on the line.

Will you be

A saint for me

The heart of a dove

With a lion-heart’s blood.

Serpent-wise words when it matters the most

In the face of those ready to parry, riposte,

And meet passionate speech with a sword.

Will you be my Valentine?

Valiant heart

Beating so true

Red as a rose

And black and blue

Soul rising sweet as fair crushed bloom

True to the truth to the last.

Seriously Engaged

I became affianced last week. There are many fantastic things about this, oh yes, precious. People know that, and they keep saying things like this:

“Congratulations!”

“Oh, you must be walking on air!”

“Oh, you must be over the moon!”

“Oh, you must be just ecstatic!”

Well, to the first, thank you, thank you very much; I am rather to be congratulated, as it happens. The others, though, do cause me to feel somewhat awkward. I usually respond with a nod and a giddy giggle or grin, looking down at my truly lovely ring.

But while I am very pleased, I am not, by my own standards, “walking on air,” “over the moon,” “ecstatic,” or even as giddy as the giggle I give people because they’re expecting it. The reason I’m uncomfortable with this is… well, it really feels like I ought to be. Right? I thought, shouldn’t I be all of those things? I know I’m capable of it. But excepting the day on which the question was popped, I really haven’t been.

“Walking on air” is every time I remember The Day of the Doctor. “Over the Moon” is when I think of what an awesome and hysterical pair BBC’s John and Sherlock make. “Ecstatic” is when the phone rings and it sounds like the TARDIS engine whooshing.

Those–those feelings are for my obsessions. I’m not planning on marrying my obsessions. If David Tennant… no, let’s make it even crazier. If the Tenth Doctor had showed up out of the blue last Friday, cut in line, and for whatever reason, dropped to a knee and asked me to marry him, my mind would have been blown and I would have felt shockingly honored and I would have given him an enormous hug and said no! No! Of course not!
(But can my lad and I be your companions even so? You take affianced couples sometimes, right?)

To be perfectly honest, I might secretly spend some time kicking myself for making the wise choice, but in the end, it would be just that: the only wise choice. Because the thing about obsessions is, they fade. They morph. They’re replaced, in time, by something seemingly bigger and brighter that eclipses them–even if you can’t imagine it before the fact. Holmes and Watson are already beginning to edge in on my adoration for the Doctor, and I would have sworn that would be impossible. In five years, I wince to admit, Doctor Who and Sherlock will be things I still geek out about every now and again, sure, but they probably won’t occupy the same space in my mind, heart, and life.

I would never believe it, except that I’ve seen it happen. Because it was Redwall, then it was Artemis Fowl and especially Butler, then it was A Series of Unfortunate Events, then it was everything by Tamora Pierce, then it was Harry Potter and especially Snape, then it was fencing, then it was Sword of Truth, then it was the works and characters of Danielle E. Shipley, and then, and then, and so on. Now when I think of these things, they still bring a smile to my face, and I’m still happy to talk about them, even maybe wear their paraphernalia sometimes. But they are not what they were to me, once. As Pippin says at the end of his heart wrenching song, “All shall fade… all shall… fade…”

But there’s a ring on my finger that calls for a faith to be kept, a faith not fading. It doesn’t call for me to be walking on air over the moon in a cloud of ecstasy–though it would be fine if I were, it is also, I think, well that I am not. The ring means many things; Bambi-like twitterpatedness is not one of the things that it means.

It’s a brilliantly lovely claddagh ring, very traditional and very Irish. A crown for loyalty, a heart for love, and hands for friendship. That’s what my lad meant he was giving me, when he slid it on my finger, and that’s what I mean to give back.

Loyalty, love, and friendship. Am I wrong to be less than over-the-moon over this? Should I feel guilty that my man is not my obsession? No. Because I am stepping out onto a greater thing than a cloud of happiness. I am making a commitment to a far truer connection than obsession.

This ring is a vow to avow–is, to my mind, the backwards echo in time of an oath to be taken in future. To me, the very weight of such intent tinges the very idea with a sort of sacred solemnity. And I have no quarrel with solemnity! It is certainly no lesser of a sense than is giddiness, and can even be greater. And if it’s an echo of a sacrament; well! So much more to the good. Seriousness and solemnity does not preclude joy; rather it enriches it. But it does lend a certain quietude to the matter.

But people do not want to hear, “Oh, I am so solemnly pleased,” so I play up the “pleased” lest they think something wrong, and simply grin and laugh. And thinking on that, it does not seem to me to be right. So henceforth, I will be honest with people: I am not giddy. I am deeply, truly glad. But I’m not going to react as I react to my every passing obsession, for this is not a passing obsession.

My emotions, probably to the disappointment of some, will not shine as sparkly and bright as the gold and emerald on my hand. But as it is written in the great tomes of Lord of the Rings, all that is gold does not glitter. And with that sudden inspiration, I conclude:

All that is glad does not giggle.
True love doesn’t always wear gloss.
A heart seeming of stone stands a riddle;
Plainly graven but sloughing all moss.

‘Tis an alter where fire may be woken;
A cistern God’s touch turns to spring;
With a love so much more than emotion,
It is crowned and held fast by the King.

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.

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.)

Why not be utterly changed into fire?

 

Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: “Father, to the limit of my ability, I keep my little rule, my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and to the limit of my ability, I work to cleanse my heart of thoughts; what more should I do?” The elder rose up in reply, and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: “Why not be utterly changed into fire?”

—Saying of the Desert Fathers