Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

W.H.Auden put it well: "I want to approach the future as a friend, without a wardrobe of excuses."


This year has worn right out and it is time to put it to bed and ring in 2007. I do not want to spend too much time looking back; regrets are a complete waste of time. All possiblities lie in the present moment and beyond. Nothing can bring back the last 365 days. Nor would I want them to be handed back to me. I have wonderful memories to cherish from the year and accomplishments I am happy with, as well as countless things I did not do and wish I had. Both categories in no way have to shape my future. If I do look to the future as a friend, I can also approach the past that way as well.

I found great pleasure in the books I read in 2006, particularly the books written by Mary Doria Russell. I am proud of the efforts I made in learning to play the guitar and the work done in my career this year. I spent more time cultivating my friendships and finally started writing regularly in my blog! I spent a lot of time in nature, walking, relaxing, dreaming, thinking and being. I saw Tom Waits, Indigo Girls and Bob Dylan this year for the first time.

The year can be summarized in such a brief paragraph but there are layers of joys that each day held for me.

In the New Year I am still one of those people that get giddy about the possibilities. I make resolutions and have the childlike innocence to believe that indeed things can change; the world can be a better place. I love the opporunity handed to me to start over, fresh, new, clean. If I look back oftentimes, resolutions do not stick. However, I do see small changes overtime and if the resolutions are not made; perhaps I wouldn't have a clear picture of how I want my life to look. How do I want to be in the world? What do I want to spend my short time on earth doing?

Come on in 2007. I can hardly wait to meet you. You will not be perfect. No year ever is. There will be joy and pain, peace and sorrow, adventure and the mundane. New life will be born; death for some is certain. Nothing will stop this passing of time and yet it is the space in between the living and dying that makes it all worthwhile. Breathe and look around for the New Year too, will pass on by all too quickly.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Today in Literature

One of my favorite stops on the web each day is to a site called Today in Literature. It is there I learn what famous author was born or died on this date, what famous works were first published on this date, or anything of significance to today. It is a little snippet of information each morning that I dearly appreciate reading and over time I pick up amazing amounts of content about authors and the works that have touched both myself and the world in such a profound way.

Here is an example from the site, written by Steve King.

"On this day in 1922 T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land was published -- making something of a benchmark for modern literature, given that Joyce's Ulysses and Woolf's Jacob's Room were also published that year. The Waste Land had in fact appeared in two literary magazines in the previous two months (first Criterion and then The Dial), but this Boni & Liveright publication was the first in book form, and the first with Eliot's famous "Explanatory Notes" included to help out.

Even before book publication Eliot said that he had grown beyond The Waste Land; when everyone began calling it and him the voice of a generation, or of the Age, he began to regard the poem as an albatross. But running from the label and the attention was to no avail, and as the poem and the poet were placed on an ever-higher pedestal, so each became a larger target for gossip and parody.

The consensus among Eliot's contemporaries seems to be that he was an odd case -- certainly Conrad Aiken was referring not to the poetry but the man when he said, "Eliot cries out for analysis." Siegfried Sassoon thought he had "cold-storaged humanity," and Ottoline Morrell called him "the undertaker." Virginia Woolf, one familiar with the type, saw a nervous neurotic; nor was she the only acquaintance to notice Eliot's use of pale green face powder, sometimes with lipstick. But she has also written in her diary of listening rapt to Eliot's after-dinner reading of The Waste Land: "He sang it & chanted it & rhymed it. It has great beauty and force of phrase; symmetry; & tensity. What connects it together, I'm not so sure...." One modern biographer, getting to the bottom of things, finds nascent or latent homosexuality in Eliot; this caused not only his breakdown in 1921, while writing The Waste Land, but a lifelong "aboulie and emotional derangement."

More helpful might be V. S. Pritchett's description of Eliot as "a company of actors inside one suit, each twitting the others." Eliot's manuscript title for the poem was "He Do the Police in Different Voices," taken from Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, where the orphan Sloppy is so praised for his dramatic abilities when reading out the crime news. When the book publication included Eliot's "Explanatory Notes," adding the voice of the pedant-critic to the voices in the poem, it was all too much for Robert Frost: he subtitled his New Hampshire poems, published in 1923, "A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes," and then merely listed as his "notes" for the long title-poem all the titles of the other "explanatory poems" in the colleciton.

James Joyce seems to have had more fun with his shot at The Waste Land. These are the beginning lines of a poem he included in a letter written in 1925, after spending a rainy few days at a Rouen hotel:
Rouen is the rainiest place getting
Inside all impermeables, wetting
Damp marrow in drenched bones.
Midwinter soused us coming over Le Mans
Our inn at Niort was the Grape of Burgundy

But the winepress of the Lord thundered over that
grape of Burgundy
And we left in a hurgundy.
(Hurry up, Joyce, it's time!)...."

(via Today in Literature)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Meekness and Rest

A.W. Tozer wrote a chapter about meekness and rest in his book The Pursuit of God. He discussed how we burden ourselves with interior heartaches such as the burden of pride, pretense and artificiality.

He says, "Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you...the heart's fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort...the rest of meekness is the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend."

I desire to grow in wisdom and as the years go by I am slowly grasping these concepts. The heart and all the emotions it carries inside will often have the first say, but a thinking mind can counteract and allow true rest to enter by being authentic. There is so much upset, emotion, insecurity and desire for acceptance in the world and the only way to get the burden off our backs is to be who we are; we are created to be no other. Fear of rejection is so debilitating that we can lose sight of our dreams, goals and intentions trying to run around impressing people, staying ahead of the pack or pleasing everyone.

Keeping in check with the status quo can be exhausting. Keeping in line with using our talents, spending time in rewarding work, pursuing creative endeavors and finding true love for others borne not out of competition but out of the pure pleasure of another soul to commune with is invigorating, inviting, exciting and something to look forward to each new day.

"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A New Phrase: Dialogic Perspectivism and Walter Bruggeman

I just finished listening to a teaching series by Walter Bruggeman which I enjoyed listening to over a several day period. He focused on the Old Testament. I have always loved these beautiful stories in the Bible and I appreciated how he brought them to life. He touched on the themes from several of the books and has incredible knowledge and insight which he communicates with clarity and depth.

He began the series by starting with the premise that we are a generation that lives in fear. In light of that premise, what does scripture say about that?

His anecdote for fear is to be actively involved in the interpretive process. He states, "Lively faithful people are always in the process of renegotiation that lets us be fully ourselves in the presence of God." He is not advocating relativism (anything goes) or absolutism (saying our conviction loudly)- oh for some reason that makes me giggle because that is such a true definition for that term. Bruggeman is advocating "dialogic perspectivism". It is in our dialogue that the growth process takes place. Wisdom grows out of the critical reflection of our experiences and much of that happens in community.

He says each one of us is interpreting and seeing our faith through different lenses and everyone needs to be part of the discussion. When we ask the question "what does this mean?", we all interpret differently. He believes in using the "zone of imagination" and believes the Bible is much more than just a history lesson.

I believe we all have a story, we all have something to contribute to the discussion. This process all began for me as a child.

One of my first memories of the Bible are with my Grandmother Jilbert. When my parents would have her "babysit" my sister and I, she would read from this large, holy looking Bible that had the most beautiful pictures in it. This is where my first stirrings of love for God, curiosity and yes, lots of imagining began. I would cuddle in close to Grandma as she read in her beautiful voice. We would talk about the stories.

I remember buying my first Bible in Toronto on a vacation. It was a one-year Bible. I was going to read the Bible in a year- I was in eighth grade and pretty excited about it. I did read the Bible that year and I became mesmorized by all the incredible, beautiful stories. I would have wonderful discussions with my parents and grandparents on Sundays during this time as I was experiencing all the excitement of reading so many amazing passages; some for the very first time.

My Dad gave me the Living Bible, a couple years later, which I also read through and enjoyed the simple language. I was understanding in further depth, things I was unable to the first time. Again the conversations continued. My Grandpa loved the King James rendition and you could not tell him otherwise. When we would study the scriptures on Sunday I would love to have two or three versions in front of me and he would laugh and tease me as he had his large black Oral Roberts King James...(I know deep down he was proud of this in me, my love of the text). The freedom to debate, ask questions and discuss was part of the negotiation.

Then there were the Bible challenges he gave me. He being a Sunday School Teacher at First United Methodist for so many years, he nudged that teaching gift out of me by having me "teach" on different passages for him. I would work so hard preparing and then present to him and the family in the cozy living room on Markle Street. I wanted to be accurate and looking back I see his goal was to motivate me and to help guide me along; to help me become part of the conversation. He was teaching me critical reflection. There were so many stories he shared with me about his spiritual life. What awe I would be in when he would discuss his walk with the Lord! I am so grateful that he would talk about his life and love for God so openly.

Each stage of my experience with the Bible has brought new and different insights. I am currently enjoying Eugene Peterson's The Message Bible and I am still renegotiating much of what I read as I grow in wisdom, as my experiences change and as I continue to have discussions in community.

I am looking forward to studying more of Bruggeman and reading his books. The themes he touched on such as God providing in times of scarcity, the contrast between judgement and homecoming, right living and civil justice, and particularly how he compares the differences between the themes of Proverbs and Job sparks me to study the scriptures yet again and look at them in new light, with new insights. One can become too used to the stories and scriputures and forget about the magic and excitement in them, the lessons to be learned, the opportunities for discussion and most of all, reading with joy, awe and childlike wonder.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Ultimate Concern

I just finished a wonderful little book from 1957 called Dynamics of Faith by Paul Tillich. His goal was to write a book that would get rid of some of the misconceptions of what faith is and try to dig deeper to a truer meaning of faith. His definition of faith is "the state of being ultimately concerned."

What is my ultimate concern?

My ultimate concern is learning about my Creator. I am searching for truth in the world. My main desire for most of my life has been to learn how to love as perfectly as possible. As a child learning about God and Jesus I developed an inner desire to love God and neighbor. While others I knew in Christian circles were praying for the gift of tongues, I was praying for the gift of love. I have always felt like this was a difficult thing- to love. It has always been something I wanted to do and do well.

Tillich talks about faith being a centered act of the whole personality and states that this is where freedom takes place. I believe this to be true. It seems like there is a "sweet spot", when I know I am doing the "ultimate" thing in my life. I feel at peace; I feel energy; I feel truly alive in these moments. When I would visit my Grandpa Slade during his last years of life I would feel that I was exactly where I was born to be at that moment. I was as blessed or more blessed than he by my visits with him.

He says, "Man is driven toward faith by his awareness of the infinite to which he belongs, but which he does not own like a possession...the infinite passion, as faith has been described, is the passion for the infinite."

We long to be more than finite creatures. This is the "restlessness of the heart" that points to there being more beyond this space and time. Some of this reminds me of how Henri Nouwen describes that inner longing. I recall song lyrics by Stephen Curtis Chapman that say something similiar "More to this life, than living and dying and trying to make it through the day..."
I feel love is one thing we do on this Earth that is kind deed can go on and on.

Perhaps that is why It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite movie. George Bailey doesn't think his life is worth all that much and at one point feels it would have been better if he had never been born. The scene when the angel shows George what life on Earth would have been like without him in it gives me the chills everytime. He shows George all the soldiers that would have died, because his brother would have died, because George wouldn't have been there to save his brother when he fell in the ice as a child. Our lives matter when we love; when we care.

I liked his definition of holy being what concerns one ultimately. "What concerns one ultimately becomes holy. The awareness of the holy is awareness of the presence of the divine...the feeling of being consumed in the presence of the divine is a profound expression of man's relation to the holy. It is implied in every genuine act of faith, in every state of ultimate concern." Tillich is trying to jusitfy this meaning of holy vs. the meaning of holy that has often gone around in Protestent groups of holy being identified with moral perfection.

What is holy to me?

Holy is taking time to listen to a child that wants to share something with me. Holy is going out of my way to make a stranger feel welcomed when I would rather talk to a more familiar friend. Holy is visiting the sick and elderly or feeding the hungry. It is holy to look someone in the eyes when they are speaking and focusing on what they are saying. Henri Nouwen was known for looking at the person in front of him as being the most important person in the world to him at that moment. That to me is holy.

Prayer time, worship, reading and music. These things are holy to me as well. They help point the way to the ultimate concerns in my life.

Another section of this book regarding faith and doubt reminds be of Buechner. Tillich writes, "This element of uncertainty in faith cannot be removed, it must be accepted. And the element in faith which accepts this is courage. Courage as an element of faith is the daring self-affirmation of one's own being in spite of the powers of "nonbeing" which are the heritage of everything finite. Where there is daring and courage there is the possibility of failure. And in every act of faith this possibility is present. The risk must be taken...the risk to faith in one's ultimate concern is indeed the greatest risk man can run. For if it proves to be a failure, the meaning of one's life breaks down; one surrenders oneself, including truth and justice, to something which is not worth it."

I have often felt my striving to love has come up short. I have felt failure in this area countless times. It seems that there is always someone else to call, someone else that desires a visit or someone that needs an evening of fellowship. I do not always stop to listen to the child or visit someone in the hospital. Taking the extra time seems so difficult. There is a pull to do my own selfish thing. There is the exhaustion of life that sets in. However, I know that I am doing the best I can and I pray that God can make up the difference.

There is a long way to go. I have huge dreams to feed the hungry and help the needy. I desire to go on mission trips and continue to reach my love out farther and farther, even to the ends of the earth! However, I know as well that the real needs are in my own community. In my family, my school, my work environment, in front of me. The needs present themselves daily.

Tillich says, "The despair about truth by the skeptic shows that truth is his ultimate passion...serious doubt is confirmation of faith. It indicates the seriousness of the concern, its unconditional character."

Loving God and others is my ultimate concern and I despair over the motives behind my loving, my inability to be consistant at it and my constant failings. The older I get the less able I seem to be able to do it. Yet, I keep it as the focus of my life. I start each day anew and try again to by day to love thee more dearly...

Meditation helps. Prayer, silence, solitude, balance, worship, nature, music, exercise...these activities help as well to clear the muck out of my head and heart to make way for peace and love to somehow shine through...

I have faith that this is the ultimate path where I am meant to walk, however imperfectly, during my time here on Earth.