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.

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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.