I went reluctantly for a walk this evening. The chill was pervasive and I dreaded the keening of the mountain wind. The snow has crept back to our dusky hills and I shrink from the cold that holds the greening spring days captive. But I went for the evening stroll because something in me hungered for the wind; felt that it was necessary to foray back out into the freshness of the air, however chill. And it was true.
We walked hard, breathless at the cold and the exertion of up and downhill. But it set the blood to stirring so that my mind was fresh, elated, clear. And in its clarity, I saw how deeply I need the sting of wind and whish of winter leaves, my spirit longs to touch the reality of my Creator through the tang of fog that makes these dusky mountains blue. I stood out after we had gotten home, perched on the edge of the deck and loved the goodness that still pervades God’s creation. Loved his presence, potent in every vein of this broken, yet relentlessly beautiful earth.
Monthly Archives: March 2007
Glory be to God for dappled things-
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced-fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckle (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Well, reading is essential. And this is essential reading on the subject of reading. Got it?
It’s highly enlightening (and convicting and frightening) to read the current research on the declining literacy of our culture. It’s probably good for me, added impetus for the writing of my book. However, it seems a pity not to be able to use the full articles I am finding, so I’ll at least post them here. Perhaps you’ll find them as fascinating as I.
Reading at Risk. This was one of the largest studies every conducted into literacy in America. It was headed by Dana Gioia, the director of the National Endowment of the Arts and a man I truly respect for the work he is doing to revive a value for literature and beauty in America.
Endangered Minds. As I searched the web, a name that came up over and over again was that of Jane Healey, a professor and writer who has done extensive research into the impact of reading on the mind and life of a child. This is a sample chapter from her book.
The Dramatic Effect of Shakespeare on the Brain. Last, but not least, a slightly more enjoyable piece on the dramatic effect that the reading of Shakespeare has on the brain. I knew there must be a reason I feel smarter when reading Hamlet!
I’ve been dreaming today, and it has been bad for my productivity. But good for my heart. An old dream, coddled since girlhood keeps knocking at the door of my thought and I can’t seem to turn it away. Maybe its insistence has something to do with the research I am doing for my current book. I have been up to my elbows in reports on the effects of technological media on a child’s brain and imagination. The findings are stunning. And heartbreaking. Seems we’re going to have a generation entirely void of meaningful thought if something doesn’t change. But as I read, I am accosted by a desire to somehow create a holding place for all the beauty being so quickly tossed out the door. I can’t change an entire culture, but I wish that somehow I could be a keeper of the old ways, the old grace, so that those who still desire it could find it. And that desire dovetails with my insistent dream: I want a home. A small kingdom of my own. I want it to be a keeping place for all the art, literature, morality, grace, being so heedlessly abandoned in our time.
When I look at culture, look even, at me, and my peers and friends, I have an almost immobilizing sense at times of how unspeakably wrong we are in the way we live. Without thought we are selling our souls because we are spending them heedlessly on media and technology, on lives spent in cars on freeways and in houses entirely insulated from the living earth. We work, we are entertained, but we no longer taste or see the goodness of God in his creation. We struggle after meaningful relationships but are constantly lonely because we have forgotten how to be deep and how to share not just chit-chat, but souls. We can’t read because we are too distracted. We can’t be quiet because there is no escape from the clamor of modernity. I have been guilty of it too. I have been guilty of an exhausted immersion in TV, in wasted hours on the internet, on a mindless pursuit of pop culture and acceptance. But that’s what makes me rear so violently away from it. If I, the romantic idealist of idealists can so easily compromise, who will hold up the old ways and point the way back to life; real, free, and abundant?
And so this dream for a home, is really a dream to craft an alter reality. Not a hermit’s escape, or a fearful retreat, but a purposeful building of a small, tangible world where the old ways still exist, where what is precious and what is ancient isn’t forgotten. It must have art, books, music, and God’s green earth free around it. And it must be available to those who hunger for the beauty and meaning so increasingly absent in our culture. In its essence, it is a shelter, a fortress, a keep, for the goodness of God made touchably present to people hungry to know him. Who knows when I’ll manage to find my little kingdom. Who knows where it will be.
No matter. It is a strong dream. A living dream. And I am determined to hold it close because somehow, I know it is wondrously right.
It is a singular pleasure to read really old books; they seem to have a special quality of endurance to have survived the fitful seasons of changing taste and opinion. There is an indefinable comfort in encountering the thoughts of people who loved God nearly half a century before me. After all, to have survived so long their thoughts must contain some pretty hearty truth about walking with God through his good earth. That is how it is with St. Teresa.
I was sitting in Border’s one day, and reached up to glance at the cover of a brightly colored book titled The Interior Castle. Next instant my hand faltered, my coffee jostled, and there were two dark stains on the crisp whiteness of the twenty dollar book. What was there to do but buy it?
Turns out God knew how dear a friend good St. Teresa would be to my soul as I journeyed along a path of prayer. The Interior Castle is St. Teresa’s vision of the mysterious castle of the soul and the journey of prayer we each make into it’s deepest rooms where the Beloved of our souls is waiting.
St. Teresa was a delightfully fiery bit of a woman who, upon having her supplies for a long journey lost in a swollen river, sat down on the bank, cocked her head to heaven and said, “if this is how God treats his friends, it’s no wonder he has so few”. And yet, it was she who spoke of God as the beloved of her soul, “His Majesty”, the great king, urging those around her to humility and gentleness as they sought him. Her humble, personal voice as she speaks of the mystical reality of prayer has been a close companion to me as I have sought God. Simply written, calling all Christians to journey deeper into the interior castle, this book has challenged me to examine my heart, and to seek God more purely. But it has also comforted me; for St. Teresa is quite convinced of the general frailty of humans in general and even more confident in the mercy of the Beloved who seeks to be known by them.
The Interior Castle is a classic that deserves the enduring respect it has retained through the years, and St. Teresa is a friend worth keeping. If you are looking for a quiet voice to companion you in prayer, St. Teresa will share your journey toward the Beloved. She has certainly shared mine. Turns out those stray drops of coffee were the beginning of a precious friendship, the first steps of a journey with a companion who has led me deep into the castle of my own soul.
because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars; to be satisfied with your posessions; to despise nothing in the world except falsehood and meanness, and to fear nothing except cowardice; to be governed by your admirations rather than by your disgusts; to covet nothing that is your neighbor’s except his kindness of heart and gentleness of manners; to think seldom of your enemies, often of your friends…and to spend as much time as you can, with body and with spirit. These are the little guideposts on the footpath to peace.
-Henry Van Dyke
The sky is blue. It is warm enough for a long walk. And I can actually hear birds singing. I think I may have to run outside rejoicing. After the incessant storms of this Colorado winter and the endless march of bone-chilling days, we have had a string of sun dappled days as precious to me as a string of pearls. My window is open as I type, the fresh air seeping into every corner of my room. Lord be praised! Winter is over and gone, at least for the moment.
Just in case you’re interested on this lovely day:
I’m guest posting a Lenten reflection over at Alastair.Adversaria; a blog I have enjoyed lurking about lately.
The C.S. Lewis Foundation has just announced their newest conferences. I’m determined to make at least one.
And finally, in case you are looking for some good springtime reading, I am greatly enjoying a book of nature drawings and reflections that I got for Christmas and am just now getting around to reading: Letters From Eden. I’ll probably write about it at some point because it has that quality of thought about simplicity and nature that I so long to pursue in my own life.
There’s joy in the mountains;
There’s life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!
I should probably explain that I have found myself contemplating that old story quite often of late. I have been studying the life of David in my devotions to begin with, and then happened to chance in as my sister was finishing up, of all things, a cartoon retelling of the story. I stood for a moment to watch and found myself held until the end because of something that caught my eyes in the movie’s portrayal of Goliath.
I realized that I was used to thinking of Goliath as a sort of stupid giant, a brawny puppet of the Philistines used to threaten the Israelites. But as I watched, I saw him in an entirely different light and gained a keen sense of how formidable an enemy he was, spiritually as well as physically. He was unassailable in every aspect. Handsome, with a tanned and tawny strength, he had a hard energy clothed in the best armor, armed with carefully crafted weapons. He was intelligent and articulate, mocking the Israelites with eloquence, using his words as well as his strength to cow them and convince them of their frailty. Steeled by his own strength, keenly aware of the superiority of his country, his armor and his own self, he strode out onto the battlefield and dared God’s people to challenge him.
Into that reality strode David, the plucky shepherd boy, too young to feel the weight of the impossible, too full of the goodness he had seen in the wilderness with God to waste time on fear. He was absurdly unprepared, with his single strap of a leather sling and a few river smoothed stones. Not a scrap of armor or glint of weapon. He too was handsome, but it was a “ruddy” charm accompanied by “beautiful eyes”. In David, there was no steeliness of countenance, no mask of strength to conceal his heart and soul. He was not even disciplined enough to mask his excitement. All he had was the spirit of the living God, coursing in blood, brain and heart, not to be hidden, but simply to be declared with bright eyes and flushed face and an outrageous courage.
There they stood, giant and boy, and I felt as if I were seeing the story for the first time. I am so used to it that I think it had become trivialized in my mind, for quite suddenly, far beyond being the comfortable old favorite I considered it, I knew it to be a living picture of the power of man vs. the spirit of God. It wasn’t a matter of an clever shepherd boy outwitting a clumsy, fumbling bully. It was the strongest man alive armed with the best the world could offer in weapons, armor, training and strength, pitted against the foolhardy faith of a young boy.
And it was that picture that came to my mind last night as I watched Chariots of Fire. Once again, it was the story of an unlikely man with a crazy love for God, set up against the best training, provision and strength the world could offer. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that there is a double story line, one following the life Eric Liddell in his two passions; service of God and running, the other following that of Harry Abrahams, another runner in the olympics at which Eric competed. Harry, who, while certainly no Goliath, was yet the epitome of all that the world could offer. Driven, rich, disciplined, trained by a professional, perfect in technique and equipment, educated at Cambridge, aided by everything that money and discipline could buy him, he was the best to be found in his field. Opposite him stood Eric; humble son of missionary parents. Simple, committed to preaching the gospel, quite decidedly not rich, his training accomplished in large part by running through God’s green hills, his running technique rather flawed because of its passion. He was a man who loved God first and rather stumbled into competition, ultimately running not to gain honor for himself, but to feel the “pleasure” of his God and to prove His glory.
Eric Liddell and the shepherd boy David were both humble, both unarmed and unprepared according the the standards of the world. And yet, full of a vim and love that could not be concealed, bursting with a faith that was ridiculed by country and friends, they challenged the most powerful, the most prepared, the best that the world had to offer. And they won.
For it was the brave boy with the joy flushing his face and the faith brightening his eyes who brought down the fearsome giant. It was Eric, a man of integrity who refused to run on the Sabbath, who ultimately triumphed both in conviction and competition, running with head thrown back for the sheer gladness of running for his Creator. There was no reason, according to rational understanding, why either of those men should have won against the incredible odds they faced. No reason except for the spirit of God. The strongest forces on earth could not prevail over the bright-eyed, pulse-pounding glory of God’s spirit beating in the heart of his child.
And so it seems that God is never bound by the things we humans think he ought to be. Physical strength and worldly prowess, prestigious credentials and the best in material goods; he pays them little heed, choosing instead to use the most unlikely people simply because they love him. It is his spirit, whirling through our human hearts and earth-formed bodies that accomplishes the miracles, the victories, the feats of thought, will and emotion. From shepherd boy to runner to me sitting here at my computer in the twilight; it is his glory to fill our weakness and our frailty with the rushing strength of his spirit. And it is a glad spirit, an exuberant life that fills in the corners of our frailty and breaks out into our words and even onto our faces, proving to the world how beautiful a thing it is to love, and be loved by God.
It did my heart good last night, to see that story, to remember how it was that David and Eric triumphed. Because so often I feel frail compared to the strength of the world. I am not the strongest, or the brightest, I don’t come from a rich family (in money anyway) and I tend to walk a bit counter to popular culture and its measure of success. But one thing I do have; like David, like Eric, I have the pulsing spirit of God present in me.
And those stories teach me that it is enough.
You have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
(Book of Common Prayer)
At heart, I believe I’m a gypsy.
There is so very much adventure and such an abundance of beauty just waiting to be found in the wondrous world and I am always wanting to foray out to discover it. However, it seems that it’s necessary to live a somewhat normal life at least part of the time. I have gladly resigned myself to this, but I have my ways of keeping a bit of gypsy spice even in the midst of every day life. And one of them, funny though it be, is to be constantly searching for new pictures to grace my computer desktop.
I find it endlessly entertaining to open my lovely little apple laptop every day and find a glimpse into some other enchanting world staring up at me, challenging me to someday find it. (And I fully intend to!) So, in my endless search for new windows into the wide and windy world, I have recently found an endless supply of fascinating photos over at National Geographic. You can go here to see their picture of the day and all their downloadable wallpapers. The archives are a treasure trove of glimpsed adventures and so far I have found such pearls as a cathedral in the morning mist, a wild Irish coast, a Slovakian country landscape (for all you Prices) and my current beauty, an imp of a little girl in the rosy ocean of a flower market.
This is just too much fun for this travel hungry girl!