Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Poetry on Hope and Faith in Unlikely Places

Sometimes you can find poetic expression in the most unlikely places. Just as it's possible to find steamy marital references in Puritan town-hall records, it's possible to find poetry in John Calvin's commentaries:

[Re: Romans 4:18- 'Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations'] "And, doubtless, there is nothing more injurious to faith than to fasten our minds to tour eyes, that we may from what we see, seek a reason for our hope...for except faith flies upward on celestial wings, so as to look down on all the perceptions of the flesh as on things far below, it will stick fast in the mud of the world...for when he had no ground for hoping he yet in hope relied on the promise of God; and he thought it a sufficient reason for hoping, that the Lord had promised, however incredible the thing was in itself."

After a great explanation of how Abraham shuts his mind to the clamoring of the flesh (I can't possibly have a child at this age, with Sarah!), Calvin has this to say about Abraham 'being not weak in faith':
"..he vacillated not, nor fluctuated, as we usually do under difficult circumstances. There is indeed a twofold weakness of faith - one is that which, by succumbing to trying adversities, occasions a falling away from the supporting power of God - the other arises from imperfection, but does not extinguish faith itself: for the mind is never so illuminated, but that many relics of ignorance remain; the heart is never so strengthened, but that much doubting cleaves to it. Hence with these vices of the flesh, ignorance and doubt, the faithful have a continual conflict, and in this conflict their faith is often dreadfully shaken and distressed, but at length it comes forth victorious; so that they may be said to be strong even in weakness."

The Lord seems to love these paradoxes of comparison and contrast. Even in re-reading the account of Abraham and Sarah being given the most wonderful news of their life, it struck me that God was multitasking. He came down to encourage his child Abraham with a great word of promise about the coming Seed who was to crush the serpent, and also to crush some of the serpent's children in Sodom and Gomorrah. First to bless, then to curse - not only for an object lesson to Abraham regarding what would happen to rebellious covenant children who forgot their teaching "to do righteousness and justice", but also to rescue a covenant child (Lot) who had forgotten how to be salt and light. His wife became salt, and Sodom's darkness exploded from the power of the Light that visited it from on high. Little did Lot know that his prayers to God would be answered so drastically. (In God's kingdom, until we reach heaven, there is never blessing unalloyed.)

The fight of faith is always obscured by what we see:

"All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins; He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true."

Amen to that, John! ....and now, wisdom from Icanhascheezburger:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Loving "The Silver Chair" All Over Again

Don't know about anyone else, but for some reason, parts of C.S. Lewis' "The Silver Chair" just didn't hit as hard as other books. In a fit of wakefulness on Sunday, after eight cups of coffee (they can really add up when you have them everywhere you go!), I re-read it. And found some gems.

Have always loved Puddleglum, but the appreciation is deeper now. My parents can sometimes seem to look on The Dark Side of Life in complete contrariness to the immortal Monty Python boys' advice ("always look on the bright side of life!"). And life is such, on this sin-saturated world of ours, that they're quite often right. However, they are the people that you lean on in times of real trouble, just like Jill and Eustace.

"Many have taken ship at the pale beaches," replied the Warden, "and -"
"Yes, I know," interrupted Puddleglum. "And few return to the sunlit lands. You needn't say it again. You are a chap of one idea, aren't you?"
The children huddled close together on either side of Puddleglum. They had thought him a wet blanket while they were still above ground, but down here he seemed the only comforting thing they had.

Puddleglum is one of those characters that you grow to love. First he's irritating with his constant string of 'what-ifs' that always tend to disaster. Then he's a solid rock on which to lean, though he tends to rub a bit raw. Then he's a rock in a tossing sea, and you can depend on him to do the hard things like put his foot in a magical fire in order to save his unappreciative friends from enchanted doom. He is loyal, he is steady, and the only time he really gets excited is when there's a test of his serious view of life.

The Prince has been harder to appreciate. Although I've read this book more than ten times, and have some passages memorized, he seems one of those characters that I ought to love and appreciate, and it just didn't quite hit the heart strings yet. He did strike me as more like Hamlet in character than appearance - overfond of soliloquy and his own voice, knowingly egotistical, and foolhardy in his acceptance of adventure. Some of that could be put down to enchantment of the green serpent, but he was foolhardy in his independence before he became enchanted. Altogether, he didn't seem like a proper replacement for his father, Prince Caspian the Seafarer.
Until today.

His speech to the Witch is a masterpiece of kingly courtesy - politely asking for good treatment at the hand of an oppressor takes a lot of courage. That kind of courage means that you are requiring of yourself the inability to sink to the level of the torturer; they will be given fair words until strong ones are required. They must prove themselves evil in the presence of other witnesses. "Please it you to grant me and my friends safe conduct and a guide through your dark realm." Rilian starts to take leadership naturally, and it is seamless, but these great words have escaped me til now.

[On his formerly enchanted shield, the Lion now figures brightly.] "Doubtless," said the Prince. "This signifies that Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die. And all's one, for that. Now, by my counsel, we shall all kneel and kiss his likeness, and then all shake hands one with another, as true friends that may shortly be parted. And then, let us descend into the city and take the adventure that is set us."

By this cheerful acceptance that his life is in Aslan's hands, the Prince is more than saying that he is just as able to live or die at Aslan's command. What he's really saying is that whether he is buried alive (and no one hears of him ever again), or gets out and rules Narnia, his life is not wasted. It is hard, sometimes, to believe that your continued life will be of any use if no one knows the sacrifices you made, or if your goals were not met - what would be the point of a life that no one sees? Rilian is affirming an ancient Christian principle: whether one dies or lives, in poverty or in great blessing, it is good that the Lord do with you what He wishes. Hamlet struggled long with the idea that a life cut short by his own hand ("to die! To sleep! no more") would be better than living in pain. Rilian accepts that Aslan might have called three noble people out of their own lives to wander about the countryside, beset by cannibalistic giants and serpents disguised as beautiful enchantresses, just for all four of them to perish underground in an attempt at freedom. (Yes, insert Braveheart music here.) And here is an end of the matter:

"Friends," said the Prince, "when once a man is launched on such an adventure as this, he must bid farewell to hopes and fears, otherwise death or deliverance will both come too late to save his honour and his reason."

This post is dedicated to my mum and my sisters, the bravest women I know. :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Aaaaaah, I Can Feel The Burn- In My Fingertips

So I read an article on Helium that made me desire to walk outside in the muggy Arizona weather (anything over 10% humidity is muggy)for an hour, just because I was so pumped. Proper motivation comes by reading, and reading by the preachers of the Internet.

Well, not quite true. I had been wondering why my exercise 'regime' (mostly 20-30 minute walks under duress and in a bad attitude, 2-3 times per week) wasn't working. I'm not gaining, but I'm not losing anything either. Just like the turtle, I plod along, get a bit of satisfaction on crossing something off the list, get a little hungry and whammo - my jeans size hasn't changed. And, there's That Pair Of Jeans that I'm stashing away at the back of one of my drawers, in a deep dark corner. Occasionally, I take it out and look at it longingly, as if to say, "some day darling - some day we shall be together, no matter what the cost". But just like a man and his mistress in all those period films like "Dr. Zhivago" or most recently "Becoming Jane", circumstances and society have cruelly gotten in my way. Specifically, circumstances of ice cream and pizza still being in this world, and the society that I run with still liking them. Therefore, I could not help but be drawn to them like a moth to a flame, and tragically, get burned on the scales every time. And yet - and yet the fascination remains. (Doesn't this just sound like one of those books that attempt to appeal to your worst instincts and then call it a Poignant Exploration of Art? Hogwash.)

So now I've decided to take some Drastic Measures and stride out to the forest and End It All, sacrificing my desires of artichoke dip and cheesecake to the higher call of Health and Wellness, although not in that order, and die of pneumonia in the rain to preserve my honour. (Actually, this is lightly akin to Rufus Sewell's character in the Thomas Hardy adaptation film "The Woodlanders". And just like Sir Ulrich Lichtensteihn in "A Knight's Tale", he spends his ill-starred passion on THE WRONG GIRL. Why on earth these good-looking Tools of Fate don't see that the stunning beauty by their side isn't the one they want to chase, I don't know - I tell them enough when I'm watching that they're being muppets.)

Anyway. So the same rules apply to writing. I may THINK that I have done All There Is To Do, coming up with creative ideas and worrying about grammatical structure and misplaced commas, but the only thing that will bump me up into earning more than $3/article on Helium is writing every morning, scribbling at night, and generally making a nuisance of myself until someone is impressed and notices. Stubbornness - it's got to pay off somehow! So back to the drawing board - or, writing pages - more creative exercises in The Artist's Way.
And someday, when I've added ten pounds to my diaries but not to my frame, I shall count all the calluses on my fingers and be proud. Right now, I need some coffee to get started. :)