Category Archives: Thoughts Thunk Much Too Late At Night

Thin Places

People, I’m sorry. I’m pretty much writing a book via post these days. This is so long, and so involved, and I hope very much you don’t find me to be a hopeless navel-gazer. Just know, I’m figuring out my whole life. (Yes, you can smile.)
First, I must, must say thank you for the deep and heartfelt comments last post. What stories you have lived, and what deep beauty you’ve found in the midst of it all. Thank you for what you shared and how you sent courage pulsing into your posts so it could pulse back into my heart. You were bountifully honest in what you wrote about; struggles, hopes, and uphill run toward redemption. I love how there was (for me at least) a sudden flash of friendship across the internet wires. I owe several of you emails, and they are coming… very slowly, but surely. For the moment though, I have to let all of you know that you are making me think. Hard.

Odd, isn’t it, how talking about what is broken in our lives brings us closer? Makes friends of strangers. Maybe our pain makes us more honest, more “real,” like the Velveteen Rabbit who had all his fluff worn off by the love and loss of his boy, but went from a cloth bunny to a flesh and blood rabbit, with eyes that could see and a heart that beat. Could it be the same for us? Is struggle (and the admission of it) the thing that makes me real? The pain I so despise, is it the force that turns me from a mist of illusions into a real, living soul? Real to you all, real to everyone else as a person. But also, real to God?

I was reading about Iona the other day (the famous, Celtic abbey in Scotland) and saw it described as a “thin place.” Madeleine L’Engle said that there is something about that jutting, wind-bitten little rock of land that allows a few more drops of God’s presence to slip through than usual.When I read that phrase, it got right into me with pincers of desire. A thin place. A place so lovely, God is touchable. I could have taken off for Scotland that instant because Iona, in all its myth and beauty, seemed to promise that it could make God and me both feel real. That lonely, aching want for a true knowledge of God’s presence is a hurt I carry just beyond the busyness of my mind. It’s the want I’ve cried over the hardest in my knee-popped moments of utter truth. And I cried all the harder in those times, because I assumed that beauty and perfection, a lack of pain, were the way to God’s presence. The more I struggled, the more defeated I felt. If I could only be truer to my ideals (healthy food, sleep, hours of contemplation, extra reading, less modernity), escape from the noisy people, the constant needs of ministry, the bee swarm of modern culture that crowds my life, I could create thin places for myself. If I were only at peace, God would come.

Then came my knee, and the post, and your comments. To my shock, all of it has been a thin place. In your letters, I’ve felt the love and care of God. In my own, more honest quiet times this week, I’ve been sustained through crazy conference days by a love that comes under and beside me when I least deserve it. But it upends all my expectations. I am more honest and in more struggle than ever, yet God is here.

What I begin to see is that there are thin places already in my life, but I have been slow to see them. They are a far cry from Iona’s ethereal beauty or any ideal of a quiet life that I have held. I have rarely welcomed them. But I see now that my thin places are the hours in which I have questioned, struggled, and grieved. Times like this week, but if I am honest and look back, almost without exception, every dark time in my life has been a space of God’s sudden presence. In pain, the usual murk of living grows a little thinner, my distraction eases, and I come face to face with God. Whether in my knee-popping epiphany, or seasons of intense loneliness, or even in watching the grief in Haiti (something very much on my mind), these moments demand truth. Circumstances like those scatter all illusions and take me right down to the wire of what is true. Thin places. In an earthquake where children die, either God loves us and is good, or he’s not. When I am at my end, either God truly is with me, or he’s not. The places of pain demand an answer from my soul. In that minute I face, abruptly, the true landscape of myself, and in it, the presence of my God.

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Filed under Contemplations, Thoughts Thunk Much Too Late At Night

In which I rant about travel and technology

Three grey day hours of delay in the Nashville airport, two caffeine-grabbing stops at Starbucks, and one restive ramble through terminals C and B had me in a serious state of mental exasperation last week. Three glorious hours of quiet, albeit unexpected, had been dropped in my introverted lap and I couldn’t do a thing with them. My brain was jammed with mental white noise, every channel of thought scrambled by the dash through early morning traffic, the monkey dance required to make it through airport security, and then, this sudden space of free time. I had tried my old steady; reading. Too fidgety. Same with writing. I tried to be quiet, to draw inward to those silent spaces at my core. No luck. I tried to pray. Even worse. Time sat in front of me with a grey, blank face.

So I draped myself in a sharp-boned chair under one of those wall size airport windows and watched the planes glide in and out like silent white giants. My eyes were red with lack of sleep, my brain was buzzing with it.  I was too exhaustedly restless to think up anything to do but watch the TV blaring another cycle of “breaking” news over my head. I looked around; everyone near me had a cell phone or iPod in their ears. They stared ahead, unseeing. I glanced down. There sat my plucky black Macbook. I stuck my book and journal back in my bag, pulled out my headphones. The impulse to flip my Mac open, find an online show or lose myself in cyberspace, was an itch in my fingers. I reached for it. Anything to distract me from feeling distracted.

Yikes. My idealistic self came spluttering to life. What was so wrong with me that suddenly, I couldn’t think of a thing to do but watch TV? Of all things in the world, mindless submersion in electronic entertainment is my pet peeve.  I have spent endless hours and a ridiculous number of journal pages in outrage at the amount of time my culture, and sometimes me, wastes on TV. We could be thinking, writing, cooking, carving, weaving, planting, loving, dancing… and here I was about to succumb to the temptation of the screen. What had brought me to such a state?

At that moment, I remembered Neil Postman’s arresting book, Technopoly. Bear with me. When I read it a few years back, the first thing that struck me was his explanation of the way that every new technology changes the shapes, needs, and spaces of our lives. Inevitably, an old way of existing is displaced by a new one. Fine and good, yes? Maybe not. The example that startled me into a keener understanding was his account of the written word as a new technology. As a lover of books who considers all things bookish to be old-fashioned and good, I was startled to read of how writing displaced the grand, oral tradition; the bardic art of poetic memory, of epics sung round firesides. To write something down is a wonderment, but it did replace an ancient way of remembering that was immediate, poetic, and highly communal.

The reason I remembered this in my airport reverie was that I had the abrupt realization that I was experiencing exactly what he was talking about. I watched, wide-eyed, as another line of toe-tapping travelers ducked into a tunnel to be whisked round the world, and I knew that my restless brain, my impulse to mindless entertainment, was a direct result of the processes of technology that Postman described.

Travel, as we moderns know it, is a technological innovation. What does it enable? Global movement. Business. Adventures. Connection with people halfway round the world. But what does it change? Our use and experience of time. Our connection to home and the rhythm of work, rest, play, and creation that we live within is disrupted and we are faced suddenly with what I’ll call vacant time. Normal life is suddenly suspended by the need to be in transit.  For me, this sort of time is on the rise, not only from airport jaunts, but also from the vast amount of time I find myself spending in the car, a habit shared by most people I know. We as a culture are living more and more in spaces of transition; hours that take us to and from our spaces of living, yet somehow don’t feel like real life themselves. Vacant time.

So what is the natural impulse when confronted with such emptiness? To get through it as quickly, and painlessly as possible. Boredom has never been something the human brain tolerates with equanimity. And if we don’t have recourse to the tools, stability, and quiet needed to accomplish our usual work, relating, or creating, what happens? We need to be entertained. We need some form of transportable distraction that will fill these empty hours, and allow us not to feel lost. Hello virtual reality. Hello TV and iPod, cell phones and endless sessions on the internet. Hello to me, perplexed in my metal airport chair, bewildered and bullied by the forces of technological change.

I know you’re probably wondering why this seems so vastly important to me. It’s just a few airport hours, after all. But hours add up to days, and days to years, and years to lifetimes. Time is God’s gift to me, and the way I use it is my answer back to him. In the airport, I forgot this. I was tired, distracted, and unaware of what had made me so.  Life happened to me that day, instead of me happening to life. That makes me a little afraid, and then, indignant. I don’t want to spend my life, even bits of it, with a soul disconnected from the people around me, the earth under my feet, the moment by moment possibility of doing something creative or good. My ideals mean nothing if I give up the fight to fill my hours with meaning. I don’t want forces outside my self to determine how I use the drip by drop flow of my precious, numbered minutes on this earth.

Epiphanies happen in strange places. I decided that day that I want to become accountable for the empty spaces of time which modernity hands me. My travel schedule won’t change, in fact I love it. Good grief, I’m the girl who named her car Gypsy because that’s what I wanted to be. But none of us gets any practice hours here on earth. To let time come to us, and then depart in vacancy is a waste, a sort of death. I want to require the same level of creativity, love, and wonder of myself in travel that I do when I am at home. I’m just beginning to figure out how. All I know is that nothing, not even airports and freeways and hectic hours should be able to shove goodness out of any given minute in my life.

What do you think?

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Filed under Irrational Irritations, Thoughts Thunk Much Too Late At Night, Travel

If I ever get the notion to drive across the CA desert again…

Please take me gently by the hand and lead me quickly to an insane asylum. Because if you don’t, I’ll be in one anyway by the time I finish another twenty hours of desert sand and sun driving. It’s ten fifteen, I’ve driven for fifteen straight hours (up at five) and yes, I am being an utter wimp. I think I’ve earned it.

Four days of desert driving for four days of beach… hmmm. Worth it? Emphatically yes. If only for the girl’s club atmosphere and the late night movies and the swimming in the ocean. Even the camaraderie of desert driving. I am graced and blessed by the gift of even a few hours to soak in God’s ocean.

I did try, you really must believe me, to post every day. I’m sorry I missed my two days! It was a conspiracy between an internet connection that didn’t work at all for two days, late nights and dawn bright driving hours, and a generally harried mind. I did read some wonderful things, and listen to what has abruptly become one of my favorite books on tape ever, and thought some sudden, flashing, soul-elucidating thoughts which I’ll pound out here soon. So, I’ve been storing up for you.

Okay. The English muffin and glass of milk with which I was welcomed home are making me sleepy. My own bed is waiting. Even Kelsey, our pet-me-every-minute-or-I’ll-die-of-abandonment golden retriever has ceased begging and headed to her corner of couch. I bid you goodnight.

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Touring

It’s 10:12. I’m rather beat. I promised I’d post something every day. I shall prevail! But only with the help of brilliant friends. Tonight, a tour of the other, obviously energized minds peopling my favorite blogs of late:

For creative motivation: Working Toward Ten Thousand Hours

For artistic philosophy: What Creative People Never Tell You About Creativity

For love of friends: Stalking Wonder: The Picnic

For pure deliciousness: Molten Chocolate Lava Cake

In praise of refreshment and to spark wanderlust: Sigh

For wisdom from a modern day and very gentlemanly prophet: Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky

For beauty. Pure beauty: Table-turning

That was fun. I could make a habit of this.

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Filed under Random (and I do mean random) Thoughts, Thoughts Thunk Much Too Late At Night

Ideals

The splish of a dainty waterfall is echoing off the marble floors as I write here in the old-world luxury of the Broadmoor. It is outrageously fun to act like I own this five-star hotel. I simply come for a day, buy coffee and chocolate, and wander the plush floors and art-bedecked walls. I’m on my third lobby; this one has just the spark of a fire, a gigantic bowl of tulips, and the hush of mid-afternoon. I ought to be writing my speech for the conference (I’ll be on a platform giving it one week from today) but I have squeezed the poor sponge of my brain dry of every drop of intellect. There’s just none left. So here I am. Not that I don’t try to bring intellect to my blog, but, oh well.

However, I do have something to say at the end of this brain-straining day. It’s pretty much a copy and paste from my speech, but it’s what I’ve wanted to post for awhile anyway. I noticed just the other day that someone left a comment on my “about” page challenging me in defining myself as an idealist. As it happens, my talk this year is all about beauty, ideals really, and how living them out pictures God’s reality in the midst of a fallen world. Thus, the whole issue of ideals and beauty have been on my mind and I want to answer the challenge that was made with a portion of what I wrote today.

To the person who left the post, I can only say I guess I failed to adequately communicate what I mean by ideals. But let that be remedied with this post for all time. To begin with, I wouldn’t want anyone to think, as the commenter said, that I believe ideals to be just about smelling roses. Roses are gorgeous creations, but a careless amusement with pretty things isn’t what I mean by being an idealist. In fact, I mean the opposite. I mean that most of life consists of dusty, normal days often punctuated by sickness (that no doctor can diagnose), thorny relationships (especially those involving family), general struggle (flat tires, money, irritation) and loneliness. I am keenly aware that my love of beauty is equaled by my total inability to force my life to be beautiful. The world and myself are profoundly broken. My natural impulse in the midst of this is to a quick discouragement that seeps into every vein of my being. It ends in a dark numbness of heart that leaves me incapable of either seeing beauty or allowing it to teach me to hope.

To seek beauty then, in the midst of the fallenness, is to have faith in a reality beyond what I can see. Despite the brokenness around me, my heart still percieves glimmers of what was meant to be, echoes from the shattered gladness of new creation. I see the remnants of paradise, slivered shards of ideal beauty glittering in the corners of the earth, gleaming out from art and music and story. I am aware that there is some force of beauty calling me to look beyond the brokenness and hope for redemption. And that’s where idealism comes in. To me, being an idealist means treasuring my deepest desires for love, or beauty, or peace while living in a world that destroys them. It means fighting tooth and nail, day by day, to hold fast to a belief in an ultimate goodness that is coming to redeem everything back to its original goodness. And to live ideals, well, that means living in such a way that hope is visible, faith is enfleshed in color and sound and form. Ideals are the most glorious when they illumine the ordinary, transforming despair into a colorful hope.

An idealistic life, an incarnational way of living is all about crafting a picture of that for which I hope right in the smack middle of messy, ordinary days. It means lighting candles and putting on music when I really just want to despair. It means laughing at housework instead of screaming (which I usually really want to do). It means opening my eyes to God’s creativity and beauty in the earth when busyness could easily distract me and rob me of wonder. It means reaching out to needy people and unresponsive friends again and again. It means taking the musty clay of dusty, messy days, and molding them into hours of laughter, feasts, music-making and memories.

When it comes right down to it, everything I believe in lies just beyond my touch, why shouldn’t my ideals as well? My love of Christ drives me to live in a certain way, compels me to picture my hope in my words, my actions, the set of my face as I encounter the daily world. I may not grasp the kingdom of God on earth, but I picture its reality. So with my ideals of beauty. I know that God created his earth with its startling beauty to reflect the richness of existence he intended for us. Though the world is fallen, the picture of goodness is still there, and the promise of it being restored is the centerpoint of my hope. Being an idealist isn’t about living a perfect life, it’s about hope in a perfect God. Hope is the essence of idealism.

So. That’s about all I can manage for the moment. I think I’ve been philosophizing for way too long today!

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Filed under Musings, Thoughts Thunk Much Too Late At Night, Uncategorized

Exhilaration

The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice. G.K. Chesterton

Well. I’m always up for some exhilaration. Idealists usually are. But what a concept that the defense of an absolute truth should be so exotically rare as to bear the flavor of a forbidden vice. And Chesterton said that quite a few years before the current drought of living ideas that is our postmodern, relativistic culture. Yet perhaps it is a boon to the world of Truth, for the idea of its rarity carries a challenge. It makes the culling of true ideas an adventure, the pursuit of a lost morality not a duty, but a counter-cultural exploit. The sheer scarcity of virtue makes it an attractive oddity.

I think perhaps for those of us who desire to live according to the life-giving vibrancy of God’s ideas, we are in a strange and demanding, yet oddly fortunate time. We can’t be careless about our truth. We can’t relax into the numbing familiarity of a culture that widely embraces Biblical morality. If we are going to be moral in heart and body, wholesome in art and thought; if intend to embrace an absolute truth that dictates worth to human life and meaning to its days, then we must buck the foremost assumptions of popular culture. Especially in the realms of artistic beauty, family and objective morality. To this adventure-starved soul, it sounds pretty exciting.

But isn’t that how it ought to be? If God, the core and center source of every goodness, every beauty, every delight, created a world founded on one true Word of truth, shouldn’t the living of that truth bring a gladness beyond expression? It should be breathtakingly rational. Delightfully practical. The incarnation of God’s ideas into the cadence of our lives and thought ought to result in laughter, in richness, in a life of tasteable goodness. Perhaps people have lost sight of the delight of virtue. But in this world of barren thought, we have the rare chance to foray out into a fresh discovery of truth in all it’s unspeakable beauty. And then to keep it, defend it, and bring its startling goodness crashing into our own generation.

Exhilaration indeed.

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