The other day I happened to drive by a glossy whiskey billboard, newly decked out for the holidays. "THE LONGER YOU WAIT…THE BETTER IT GETS" the slogan suggested.
A weak-kneed colt contrasted a stallion in full racing regalia, galloping across a finish line. The prerequisite amber bottle glowed prominently between.
Maybe my mind had taken a pessimistic turn that afternoon, but I thought, Why not show a third picture, maybe ten years down the road? You know, the emaciated old horse abandoned in his paddock. Or maybe just a bag of dog food…
To be fair, the billboard wasn’t that awful; it just grated on a perpetual sore spot of mine, an entrenched dislike for cultural assumptions masquerading as a priori truth. When people act as if reality changes, the world magically realigning itself just because they made an assertion, it always gets me.
"The longer you wait, the better it gets?" Will any of us be making that claim in 90 years? Not about alcohol, anyway. I know, I know—that’s not really the point of the ad. But blunt assertions, absorbed gradually over a lifetime, aren’t without effect.
I can think of a few more cultural credos which imply tacit "absolutes." Consider the Budweiser creed: life revolves around beer and flirtatious women (and in that order). And this, it is casually suggested, is the essence of what we consider TRUE.
But truth, to be true, must be supportable at every level. In the case of the Budweiser creed, a host of logical assumptions follow, none of which are really sustainable. Such as, What’s the role of family? (Do kids even exist in the Bud universe?) How about responsible work, the kind you do when you’re not living for the weekend? And where can I find a case for women as multifaceted beings, not objects?
Ultimately, cultural premises with absolutist aspirations are nothing new. The familiar content of our wanna-be truisms should tip us off to the fact that this phenomenon is anything but modern. As the old Greek idiom ran, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Sounds pretty TRUE to me.
"Ah, c’mon!" you might tease me. "Those are just commercials, man, not life! People are smart enough to know the difference."
To which I would agree, "Yeah, people certainly are."
But I’m not convinced they do. So until we’re all fully prescient and entirely aware of life’s subtle nuances, truth needs to be proved before it’s truth.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
The other day I happened to drive by a glossy whiskey billboard, newly decked out for the holidays. "THE LONGER YOU WAIT…THE BETTER IT GETS" the slogan suggested.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
A Christmas Retrospective
I’m finally breaking my blissful Christmas silence. Three days after the fact, I feel adequately rested and coherent enough to attempt a post. True, our apartment is still formless chaos. Gifts are strewn around, chocolate piled ridiculously high. But as Shakespeare’s Henry V says (with questionable veracity), “All things be ready if our minds be so.” My mind is still harbored in Christmas, but the blogger impulse is tugging at the moorings. And actually, the two motives don’t need to disagree.
On Christmas Eve I discovered that—Surprise!—blogs can actually be relevant to “real” life. I had the opportunity to share a devotional “meditation” at our Christmas Eve service, a chance for us to think deeply about Christmas, and a previous post gave me my theme. I guess this blogging thing isn’t totally unrelated to my waking existence after all.
Christmas Eve became even more unique when Lindsay and I arrived home to a pre-Christmas surprise. If I may offer a variation on some oft-parodied lines:
‘Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the house
scarce an outlet was stirring—
just the ones by the couch.
And so it was. Most of our apartment was without power and we didn’t have heat—Santa had played us a dirty trick. This precipitated* a change in our evening’s plans. After Lindsay phoned the electricity people, she moved her base of wrapping operations into the living room, and I holed up in the study, the only two rooms with light. We put on warm clothing (since it was below zero outside) and waited for the power to come back on, which it did, sometime after midnight. A couple hours later, we had both finished wrapping our presents, doubly grateful for the gifts of Warmth and Light.
In the aftermath of this Christmas, I know that an intent focus on Christ “the Light” is the best way, really the only way, to weather this season. We call it a holiday, but Christmas is bittersweet, a time when expectations are trampled and painful absences become glaring. Christmas reveals an emptiness that no thoughtful gift can fill.
Sometimes we come away realizing that, despite our good intentions, “the world is too much with us,” and “peace on earth” is still only a good idea. Christmas, in truth, is an agent of sobriety. Apart from Christ, this season reveals merely holiday clutter, too many calories, and a billion silent people, wearily lengthening their orbits on a darkened planet. Separated from Jesus, Christmas does no one any real favors. Christ-less Christmas is a season of storms—sadness, irritation, ingratitude, stress and hurry. A cold apartment piled with gift bags but no light or heat.
But with Jesus…the storm of Christmas is Sweet. A hurricane may wreck your house, it may even kill you. And the tsunami of Christ, in a sense, is no different. When he arrived, he brought an ocean of spiritual sea-change, brimming to overflow the world, destroying human pretensions to grandeur. The waves from that arrival are still with us; at Christmas they lap most persistently on the beach of our awareness. If the season is void of Jesus, the flood may leave us cold and shivering. But if we know him, we splash in the waves that reduce us to who and what we really are—human and poor—and leave us ready for a glorious sunrise.
* This word appears in association with the Vocabulary Reclamation Project, which has been revitalized thanks to Norma, who knows a good word when she sees one.
Precipitated: Some may think of rain, snow, hail, etc., and this (precipitation) would not be unrelated. But the thought here is swift causation. Synonyms include “caused,” forced,” “provoked,” with an emphasis on the immediacy of the action. As in, “The former author of BitterSweetLife found that his surprise bestseller precipitated (brought on rapidly) a whole new lifestyle—one involving lots of gourmet coffee…and naps.”
After the pre-Christmas surprise, some concerns were more pressing than others.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Eyes see a hole in a stone wall,
Eyes see a babe within.
Eyes see a sinking eastern star,
Eyes see world walled in.
Years ago, I tried to write this tatter of a poem, reaching after an elusive sense of time and place, a hidden part of Christmas I did not really understand. I could only feel it nearby, like a snatch of conversation carried on the wind, revealing only clues to who was speaking, hints of what they said, a mere suggestion of the gist of their matter.
What I pursued, and could not immediately catch in my poem, I can only describe now as a sensation of beautiful alienation. What must astronauts feel when they turn and see earth orbiting, alone and separate from them, for the first time? How does it feel, as a parent, to suddenly see in your own child a startling, enlightening glimpse of yourself? And how would we be changed, if just once, we saw Christmas, not through veils of tinsel and department store receipts, but in some small part, as it really was?
On Christmas Eve, I wish I could sit on a hilltop with wind sighing in my ears. I wish we all could spend Christmas Eve on a hill near Bethlehem, our small camp fires the only barriers between us and the stars. Perhaps then the odds would be evened, and we would have, at least, a fighting chance. A chance to listen with angels’ ears, and tune our hearts to a hidden frequency, deeper than sound, deeper than space, deeper than time itself.
Perhaps then we would notice when history suddenly stopped. Stopped, and began to reverse itself. As it did.
The shepherds were not the only ones stricken with awe at Christmas. That night, when scrubby hilltop pastures exploded in a divine inferno—part Handel’s Messiah, part July 4th, part pure terror—there were others who knew the heart-stopping significance of this act of God.
The angels, as they spoke the Father’s message, did more than deliver it—they lived it, reveled in it, rejoiced to tell it. The angels were not humdrum; they were amazed themselves. And I wonder, How much did the angels know? They must have known more than the shepherds, more even than the discerning Magi, more than Mary and Joseph.
I wonder, did the angels have insider information? Did they see the gleam in the Father’s eye as He placed his son upon the stage? Did they smile as the Ancient of Days began his end-game? Did they understand, that night, the tactical brilliance and the devastating sacrifice of the Lord of Hosts? Did they understand, suddenly, that a great war was over?
In a pasture, shepherds throw themselves to the ground, struck dumb, as great lights transform the sky.
In a stable—or a lean-to, or a hole in a stone wall—a young couple and several household animals hear the first cries of a voice that will later steal a kingdom from a killing world.
Magi, traveling from sand dunes through stable-yard muck, carry a king’s ransom to a child they have never seen.
And angels, terrible in their joy and knowledge, are the witnesses.
But what of the unseen hand, directing each scene, the Great One speaking into the darkness, commanding each actor, cueing each angel-narrator in this vivid drama, a story overshadowing earth? I wish that we could find him.
On Christmas Eve, if we sat on a hilltop in Bethlehem, burning our campfires in a fitful breeze, and then looked through the stars, and ran our eyes across the Milky Way, and then looked farther—we would still not see the Father. He would remain beyond us, like a voyager looking down on earth. And yet he would be sitting there beside us. If only we could find his eyes, in the starlight, turn to him, and gauge his expression. What would we see in his face? And what would he say, on the last night of advent, the final moment of that era of the earth?
Perhaps he would open our eyes before he spoke to us, so that we could see—or rather, feel—the noisy praises of his world. I hope that he would let us witness the creation’s carrying on, the silent springiness of desert cats, mice running and leaping in the hay, the wild weaving of branches in the wind, V-shaped wings cutting the night sky in airborne celebration. And then perhaps we would awake to the world’s last night—the world’s last night as an empty kingdom.
And then the Father would speak.
“Your eyes can see a hole in a stone wall,” he would say.
“Your eyes can see the baby within.
Your eyes can see that sinking eastern star; but”—and here he would smile, perhaps even laugh! Perhaps joyful tears would run from his eyes as he said:
“Your eyes can see all these things, and still you miss what has happened tonight. Your eyes do not see the true condition of the earth, or what I have just done to it. But my eyes see it. And my eyes see a kingdom with a king! My eyes see an earth that is bought and paid for!
My eyes see world walled in!”
And then, perhaps, we would understand.
It is the Father’s nature to see through things. And if he sat beside us, and spoke to us, perhaps for that instant we would see things as he did.
We would see the gutted kingdom of the world, walls lying in ruins, gates shattered, towers reduced to rubble. And then, from the east, from Bethlehem, as the sun rose we would hear a snatch of song, a distant shout, and the tramp of feet on the road.
Monday, December 20, 2004
A sonnet of the Shakespearean variety; this is a Christmas poem.
Sometimes, late on a winter's day,
I sense a spirit, soaring high,
And my heart stops me and I stay
And look upon the silent sky.
So distant, so removed and pale;
The air is filled with quiet light
As lingering rays begin to fail
And evening fades into the night.
I'm stirred to thought by wisps of mist
Of witnesses who've passed away,
Who also searched a sky like this,
Just as mysterious in their day.
And I stand in the night and hear
Only wind? as stars appear.
© Ariel Vanderhorst
It happened near the kitchen stove.
We were having a quiet evening at home when the thought struck me. Lindsay was at the table—cutting up colored paper and sizing down photos for a scrapbook—and I was in the kitchen—ripping hunks of cold turkey off our Thanksgiving carcass and eating them—when I realized, Men and women are really different.*
It's moments such as these, accumulated over a lifetime, that gradually coalesce into something called gender sensitivi-uh, wisdom.
* And no, for you smart-alecs out there, this wasn’t the first time this realization has struck me. And a word on "smart alec": Was Alec a person, that he was so smart? I mean, why the glowing testimonial? I've known a few Alecs, and none of them seemed to justify this handle. Where did this phrase come from? And since we're on the topic (not really) of gender differences, why not a "smart alexis?" And then, to address another important question, why shouldn't the phrase be adapted for our times? I mean, how about a "smart rushbo?"...really, any brilliant person with a two-syllable name could fill the slot. A "smart stanley"...or "smart lauren"...but two-syllable names beginning with a would be especially suitable. I suppose you may know where I'm going with this...
Friday, December 17, 2004
"You are the God who works wonders…" Psalm 77
Christmas is wonder-filled. There’s the confetti-snow, jingling bells and crooning Hollywood stars, not to mention Tom Hanks and Polar animation. Then there’s the real vintage stuff, Bing Crosby, that chubby Kringle fellow, and the little kid and his b b gun. But this is not wonder.
Crazed by genuine Trivial Pursuit, our society goes berserk this time of year: Here, have a new Care Bear,™ try on this GAP™ sweater with matching scarf and nose ring, look at this Return-a-th’-King-extended-edition-DVD-with-50-minutes-extra-footage-and-limited-edition-bookends!™ Desperate shoppers, linked by a common bond of frustration, tell each other wordlessly, This is madness.
And it is. But so what? Beneath a veneer of Sponge Bob™ and the “serious” Oscar contenders, Christmas is still about wonder.
Imagine yourself alone. You stand on a windswept hilltop, far from city lights, and anchor yourself in the center of a great silence. Only the wind sighs, tugging at your cloak, and then—flick—a solitary star winks on in the night. You watch it hover, draw closer, then bank like a silent ‘copter and float away, westward, like an animal asking you to follow. The star hums a melody that you feel rather than hear. Since when are stars happy?
A recent song runs, “God of wonders, beyond our galaxy…” But what of the wonders within our galaxy? What if we forget, for the moment, the Milky Way and distant nebula, and consider the living Truth that intersected earth? Christ’s proximate, earthbound miracle is enough to stun the senses.
Imagine the journey’s end. The star had its way with you; really, who could have denied that invitation? And now…How can you explain the illogical warmth of this night, like invisible fire flaring from icy cobblestones? A golden light illuminates each face in the drafty shack. You feel forced to silence by the awful air of mystery; are there ghosts here?—or rather, those hidden old-world beings, angels—are they nearby? And yet, you must speak! Breathing in is like sipping wine, a heady, bubbling, joy. You look down at the child and irrepressible buoyancy collides with epic significance, melding like a bittersweet fragrance. So you open your mouth, and wonder what will come out. Laughter? A sob? Whatever you said then, it was somehow fitting, and, like the air, golden…
“Such knowledge is too high, I cannot grasp it”(Psalm 139:6), admitted the psalmist of God’s omniprescience. What would he have said of the God who entered our world? And not merely to ghost through it, taking a look around—but a God who submitted to our corrupt social systems, breathed air sweeping off a mountain lake, shouted down those who wanted him dead…? A God whose mere birth was a threat to the establishment—his nativity as good as his own death warrant?
You step outside, returning to courtyard air. Somewhere, a dog barks. Overhead hangs a satisfied star, eloquent in its silence. Inside, a hungry child sparks worship with his cries. Inside, where just moments ago laughter had welled up and tears had fallen into freezing air—there had been an unanswerable question: Why? And now the question remains. It always will, you think, all the more beautiful for its irrationality. Why is he here? What reason can there be?—and still, He Was.
“I wonder as I wander,” penned songwriter John Niles, and his words are fitting.
Christmas, for me, bears kinship with one of Frost’s “winter” poems, and the forest that seems to call him with a mysterious voice, deeper-than-sound…
In a similar way, Christmas calls to me—silently, ceaselessly. The mystery of Christmas can swallow a person whole. How can one confront this true story? I may as well ask the unfathomable question, Why did Christ come down? "Well, because He loves us." Yes, but why? An unbearably sweet secret. And so there is enough wonder in Christmas to satisfy our senses, more than enough. In fact, there is too much wonder, like brushing at a grey-blue sky with my fingertips. How can we reply, then, to a gift greater than earth and sky?
Two millennia ago, foreign nobles replied as best they could, following an unseasonable star hundreds of miles. Leaving sweeping dunes behind, they sloshed at last through barnyard muck, carrying a king’s ransom. And then what did they do? The only thing they could—they and a few more, Joseph and Mary, shepherds, other nearby lives; they did what they could.
Worshipped. Worshipped and wondered.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Despite an appearance of cheerful calm, the student was conflicted. A whole semester of labor, thousands of typed words, hours of reading and rereading—would it be enough? Everything, it seemed, hung in the balance.
On the eve of the crucial exam, a whirling cloud of emotions enveloped him. His normally relaxed forehead was creased. And despite his best efforts at mind control, a tranquil demeanor did little to dispel the demons that raged within.
Had he scanned the textbook thoroughly enough? Nearly every page bore the harsh marks of highlighter and pencil—but was this adequate? Perhaps each paragraph, no, each sentence, contained pearls of essential wisdom. Come morning, would his crown be a few gems short?
And what about the “source” material? Forced to prioritize, he’d focused on the original works, trusting that his instincts would guide him into brilliant elucidation later, in the heat of battle. But your academic combat skills are rusty, suggested a dubious voice.
And then there were the notes, copiously penned in black and blue (suggestive of mental bruises?). In past hours, their color spectrum had been expanded more widely, now featuring orange and a jaunty pink—not his preferred highlighter colors, but all he’d had to work with. Could this be considered ominous?
Flipping through his notes for the umpteenth time, he felt small details slipping from his brain like little kids running through screen doors. He couldn’t catch them all. They tickled a little as they ran, snickering, out his ears. Come back!
No doubt there were still a hundred small details to memorize—not counting the ones who had just escaped. But responsible study skills can only take you so far.
He got up and walked to the computer. Forget it. Not literally, but you know…
From here on out, the morning would just have to care for itself.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
In the book of Isaiah (chapter 35), one of God’s “prophets” describes a picture unlike anything known to modern science. Isaiah writes about a series of events that will shake the second law of thermodynamics to its core.
His prophecy depicts rampant creative energy, vitality careening out of control, God’s irresistible power transforming everything it touches. We witness an inexplicable “re-creation.”
A wild spring blasts free from sand, geyser-ing up from an underground cavern to flood a wasteland. Green plants crack the joints of a blazing desert. A killing wilderness explodes into lush farmland. Death valley becomes an oasis. Life breaks loose.
But these (un)natural phenomena are only a frame for the truly shocking regenerative power at work. Because in the picture, Christ, an invincible catalyst, forces bodies and minds back into perfect wholeness as well:
Blind eyes revert to 20/20 vision, forget the contacts. The deaf regain a full spectrum of sound, not just improved hearing aids. Lame people are jumping, flexing their muscles, not gingerly hobbling around. Mute tongues start shouting in celebration—not tentatively testing their vocal range, but belting out gratitude. “Sorrow and sighing,” wrote Isaiah, “will flee away”—not temporarily forgotten, like the cubicle over a long weekend, but permanently gone.
All because Someone has arrived. These are the type of things that happen when Christ enters this world. It's the same transformative picture Jesus described when he said, “I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). A shocking departure from death and pain. A massive reversal of disintegration in both cells and souls.
Joseph and Mary were the first to embrace the divinity rising in their home, but in the end, Peter, James, John, all Christ’s friends, Israel, the Roman Empire, the entire eastern world, the earth…all felt the repercussions of a rampaging, indomitable life. And Jesus will return.
In the meantime, the same life-force is loose in his kingdom today. The spirit of Jesus lives in the hearts of his people, supplying a transformative power to be relied upon. “Counter-intuitive,” we might call it, because this vitality doesn’t fade with age, doesn’t die when it brushes death. Instead, spiritual deadness is obliterated by all-consuming life, like water erupting up from sand, swallowing the arid heat. Isaiah’s desert-garden images describe our souls.
The results in lives may be quiet and hidden or they may be spectacular. But the advancing power is relentless.
Christ looms near. Rioting life bears down hard.
In the sky, the sun burns less efficiently, its energy fading by miniscule degrees—inexorably colder. “Time,” as we call it, is winding down. But somewhere nearby, a foot is at the door. Christ’s spirit, living in hearts, tenses himself to rejoin his author. Someone is coming. The spirit moves expectantly, preparing us for that moment…the moment when the coming one will arrive. And as the spirit works life in us, he warns us,
The regenerative power of Christ,
Like ocean waves,
Like inevitable spring green,
May be described metaphorically
But is not symbolic.
So beware. Life is on the loose.
* Inspired by a sermon with the same title, 12.12.2004 - John Vanderhorst.
Monday, December 13, 2004
This morning, as Lindsay and I walked up to our car, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Wow, I can see the interior of our car so clearly, it looks like there’s no driver’s side window. Weird.
But as is often the case, there was a logical explanation for the apparent incongruity. It turned out that the driver’s side window was still there, it had just changed locations. Most of it was piled in the front seat. Token pieces of shattered glass covered the floor and stuck from the empty frame like stubby icicles. Someone had smashed the window in.
When something like this happens, I guess the first reaction is usually shock. Lindsay and I have occasionally seen other cars with broken out windows, but I’d always assumed the owners were the victims of someone’s personal vendetta. Or at least the vehicles seemed expensive enough to maybe yield something valuable. At any rate, it’s the kind of thing that you notice and subconsciously think, “That will never happen to me”…until it does.
At 7:15 I should have been dropping Lindsay off at work and driving off to take a final exam. Instead I was sweeping broken glass out of our car and looking in nearby dumpsters for my wallet. The shock had faded to a sick resignation, accompanied, after a few minutes, by a growing desire to find the perpetrator and bash his face in.
There was the fact that someone had violated our property—probably to buy booze. Then there was the specter of an exam I should be prepping for right now. Then there was the lost wallet—fortunately containing only about $10—but with all the accompanying hassle of canceling credit/debit cards, replacing assorted other cards and my driver’s license… Then we would need to call the insurance people and probably spend even more money on our car. Then there was the experience of driving around in winter with no window. Then there was the question of why this even had to happen…?
At some point I realized that all of these factors combined to make an excellent case for smouldering rage—which I indulged in for awhile and which wouldn’t make for very good reading.
The upshot of all this is, however, that I am really unacquainted with real suffering. In recent memory, this violation of property is the worst “violation” I’ve experienced; I’ve never been discriminated against, beat up, or anything worse. And despite the extreme inconvenience of this episode, I have to appreciate the fact that Lindsay and I have a serviceable car and that we do have money in the bank (at the moment) to pay insurance deductibles.
Sometimes it takes “shocking” accidents to reveal how good I have it. As the age-old query runs, “Should I accept good from the Lord and not evil?” (Job 2:10)
This question was made all the more compelling when I pulled my jacket out of the closet and discovered my wallet in a pocket, forgotten there yesterday. I never do that.
God wasn’t taken off guard by a vandal in the night. And I really have no right to be angry.
Friday, December 10, 2004
My friend and I sat at the bar,
eating sushi there for lunch,
talking about historic trends
and epic lies and truth and such
when he gave me an ironic glance and said,
“You’re still a Christian—how’s the crutch?
How’s it aging, that childish, feel-good first-century stuff?”
Mirroring his approach, I said,
“I see that you’ve been losing touch,
breathing is great and you should try it,
I never liked asphyxiation all that much.”
Blue in the face—“That’s how you see it?”
“That’s how I see it. Trust my hunch.”
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Last night Lindsay's parents invited us to join them for dinner at Jalapeno’s, a local Mexican place, and we eagerly complied. Jalapeno’s is arguably one of the better Mexican restaurants in town, which accounts for us going there fairly often, especially when someone else is buying.
To say we've been there "a few times" would be a gross understatement. So, as we pored over our menus, an array of familiar choices greeted us. Actually, there were only a couple of dinner options with whom I had yet to make an acquaintance. In a cursory way, I looked over the choices and old # 5, the infamous "Hombre" seemed to be calling my name. But then, "Why not branch out?" I thought.
It seemed like it would be somewhat ridiculous to go to the same restaurant dozens of times without trying every item on the dinner menu at least once. And so I made my decision. "I'll take the 'Old el Paso.'"
My father-in-law looked at me, esteem in his eyes. "It's good to try new things," he said. "I really respect that."
And that's when it struck me. I need to get out more.
Maybe next time we'll go to a different restaurant.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
A couple weeks ago Lindsay and I had just begun driving to our latest substitute teaching assignments when the unthinkable happened. I started speeding.
In and of itself, this might fail to make the “unthinkable” category. However, there were aggravating circumstances. Such as, I wasn’t pushing the accelerator.
Or it would have been, if we weren’t rocketing down a side street, velocity steadily increasing. As I fought the raging vehicle for control, my efficient mental processes were instantly kicked to another level—a James Bond-Jason Bourne Level. (Ever noticed the not-so-subtle parallelism there?) What to do?
First, and most obvious, I slammed on the brake. But braking when the accelerator seems to be floored has little effect. The brake pads huffed in protest. What next? I took the car out of gear. Caution: taking a manual transmission car out of gear while the accelerator is (apparently) floored creates a noise something like a sonic boom. (Or, to be more specific, like the roaring hum of a cloud of giant wasps.)
Synapses firing rapidly, I realized this solution was temporary. My eyes came to rest on the emergency brake. That might have been a mistake of epic proportions, but fortunately, another solution suggested itself.
I turned the car off. We coasted to the side of the street. I took a deep breath.
All of this, of course, had taken place in about 3.7 seconds. Well ok, maybe 5.9. Lindsay had handled the emergency fairly well, which is to say that her screams had not been piercing enough to shatter any of our windows, which would have really compounded the problem.
As it was, we emerged unscathed. Of course you’re wondering what the moral of the story is. I saved it for last because, frankly, it’s not very impressive. But here goes: When driving, always keep an eye on those little square floor carpets. They can slide up silently, secretly, and then—WHAP—take over your accelerator without warning. Don’t ask me how, just understand that these things happen. They could happen to you. And if they do, you too may be required to exercise Bond-Bourne-like reflexes without a moment’s notice.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Monday, December 06, 2004
A Post of Substance
“…The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9
The days of the angels are behind us and the long afternoons when Christ’s sandals kicked up dust in Galilee have passed. But greater days lie ahead. A new kind of knowing will engulf earth. Glory no longer veiled, Christ will reappear.
How do waters “cover” the sea? Simply, they don’t. They make up the sea. They “cover” the sea like air and sunlight “cover” the sky. Likewise the coming revelation of God’s character will fill the earth, saturate it like ozone. But this will be no propaganda campaign; no blimps, no pamphlets no shiny mailers. God will no longer advertise.
This time it will be Christ himself, tangible and true, all-knowing still, invincible as always, invisible no longer. Never again will we listen for the quiet word, search for a glimmer or trace of his spirit. The days of crying after Christ in wilderness, searching him out in solitude, stumbling across him in an ancient book…those days will be gone. In their place comes a cataclysmic inundation, a cloud of knowing, a flood of God. These will be different days.
I snatch at the picture like we catch at fading dreams. There was that moment, I think…
Like that glimpse of coming dawn, when the sky is still dark, but the dark moves, shudders, then shifts aside, unraveling in moments before an inexorable displacer…
Or that summer day when joy was immanent, divinity breezing on the wind, a Christ I could almost touch, near-tangible like a spun-gold sunbeam, elusive blessing caressing my skin—only a glimpse:
Cottonwoods wave, wind streams,
world turns with no lever,
clouds slide on sunbeams,
today I could live forever.
Or so it seems. It seems that way for an instant, an hour, even a day…because there was a glimpse…a glimpse of something impending, a presence nearby but unrevealed.
I’ve heard such moments grow rarer as we grow older and I hope to prove this false. Hopkins penned,
Ah! as the heart grows older, it will come to such sights colder
and no doubt he is often right.
Sometimes spiritual impulses are like physical reflexes, losing strength and resiliency with age, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Cynicism does not have to set in. Spiritual blindness is not a necessary phase. Heart weariness is not par for the course. When we’re talking about Christward impulses, why couldn’t the opposite be true?
Why not go on seeing the invisible, touching the intangible, knowing the unknowable—as much as I can here—until the day when the present limitations on Jesus’ nearness are shattered? This is, shall I say, the plan. I’ve seen enough glory to keep on waiting, to gradually apprehend more and more until the final illumination. Most of us have.
We’ve all caught glimpses of glory; if only we’ll trace them to their source. Beauty wracking an ugly word, Glory asserts itself. And glory will take root, if permitted. When the day of "filling" comes...
Such glory seeds, so long concealed, so long stunted by dull eyesight, burned by dry winds of cynicism, washed in saline waters, will no longer be under stricture. Conditions will be altered. As it did once, two millennia ago, the equation of life will undergo a sudden, irrevocable change.
Syllogisms change when truth is revealed, and the old formula of life will be obliterated. The axis of life will be recharted. Suddenly, no more factoring in of pain. No more allowing for failure. No longer will life be a mixed bag, thorns and fragrance, some happiness, some heartache. At last, [_____]Sweet. Sweeping all before it will come the wave of God, “filling the earth.” Pure, unadulterated Christ.
Freed souls, like swallows at dawn, will flock to him. It will be the first day of liberation—like the first day of a new year, an auspicious hour of promises, made now with the will and power to keep them, a soul-resolve that may not be trifled with any longer—the first day of eternal springtime.
My pictures fail, matches compared to stars. Really, no one can imagine this filling. Instead, I simply ask…
Are we ready for the glory days; am I ready? Only seeds of glory will endure, towering at last to full height in the final, shocking God-light. What's built with glory will last. All else will be washed away.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Thursday, December 02, 2004
I've been sizing this enigma up for days now but I still can't explain it, and that's saying a lot.
I mean, have pi down cold. I know what a "participle" is. I understand the "id" and the "ego." I can mostly understand the radical-left-wing-liberal mindset. For a while I could even break down the law of relativity.
But this mystery is truly baffling.
Each evening, as I carefully pore over my site stats (dividing them into neat columns - based on a highly complicated mathematical formula which determines, among other things, "visitor IQ," "visitor desirability" and "visitor coolness" - which will later be fed into my supercomputer to aid in generating higher-quality BitterSweetLife traffic*) a disturbing trend emerges.
My visitors are returning, but they are silent. Not to be alarmist. Actually a number of return visitors comment with semi-regularity, and they deserve props. (Way to go. May the other spheres of your life display equal good taste and mental stability!)
It’s the rest of you I’m worried about.
I mean, the casual browser I can understand. The one-click-and-done crowd is to be expected. But if you have the good fortune to actually stumble across BitterSweetLife and the rare blend of class and perception that draws people back…and then you voluntarily absent yourself from the discussion? C’mon!
I hesitate to even speculate about the psychological turmoil such a person would undoubtedly experience.
To comment…or not to comment? I can do this. Just a quick remark.
But what if I say something stupid? Better to remain unknown.
Then again, who cares. It’s better to just speak up, to be part of the exchange, to join the community. I shouldn’t be such a loner.
But I might embarrass myself!
Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, would it? Huh?
No, but I…I…well, it’s getting late. And the silence is warm. I feel drowsy.
No, I need the sleep!
I can’t stand you.
I could name names, of course. My supercomputer has the ability to unerringly track down each visitor, complete with first, middle and last names as well as favorite colors, favorite sports teams, etc.*
But that would be counterproductive, wouldn’t it? Kind of like pulling the cocoon open for a fledgling butterfly. Best to hope that each of you silent readers comes to terms with your own…repressed commentivity…and conquers it, alone.
* Not really.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
ID badge in hand, bag slung casually over my shoulder, I move efficiently through crowds of raucous high school students. Flirtation and chit chat fills the hallway, but a magical hush falls over the students as I pass. "I know that sub," someone whispers. "He's cool," another student says with conviction. I smile in quiet acknowledgement and move on. This high school has recently been named "Mr. V. High" by the student body. A fitting tribute. The murmured accolades follow me as I--
beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! bee- smack!
Slowly, I wake up. 6:00 a.m. and time to get moving...
An hour later Lindsay and I are tentatively walking over icy pavement and into North Kansas City High School. We sign in, wish each other well, and part ways. "Hey, that's your wife!" says the secretary in a moment of epiphany. "You know, couples who sub together stay together," She beams at me. "That's right!" I smile back in hearty affirmation of the conjugal bond. Subbing has been great for us...
Or it could be, once Lindsay forgives me for forcing her to deal with aspiring thugs and rappers-in-d-makin' on a weekly basis. Then again, her basketball vocabulary seems to be gradually improving...mere coincidence? And certainly, this job has its perks. Like...like-
The thought is jarred loose as I reenter the frozen wastes outside, heading across the parking lot to the Business Tech building. I'll be teaching Computer Programming today, one of my favorites. I always seem to get a lot of reading done in that class. But the door is locked.
As I study the numerical keypad guarding the entry, another teacher approaches. Phew! He says: "Today is late start day, that's why you can't get in yet." I, of course, know this, but give a fairly good impression of feigned ignorance. "Oh, that makes sense." Why doesn't the office ever give me keys to these stupid doors?! He opens the door. I follow him in. Or try to, anyway. He bars the door, a questioning expression on his face. Quickly I discern the problem. "Oh. Well, actually, I'm a sub." Gotta keep the ID badge more visible.
"Ah." He hurriedly gives way and silence reigns for an awkward moment. Then, "I, uh, thought you looked kind of old," he amends unconvincingly.
"That's all right." Mercifully, I change the subject. "Is there anyone upstairs?" I have a feeling my classroom will be locked. It is.
Later, having persuaded the teacher next door to open my room for me, I settle down at the desk. It's warm in here. The students won't arrive for another 40 minutes. Silent computers line the room, begging for life, pleading to be used in creative bloggish expression. I turn mine on.
Monday, November 29, 2004
A path over a hillside,
a bridge over a stream,
I’m dreaming of freedom,
is it only a dream?
The world collects in puddles after rain;
maybe if I kneel and drink
nothing will remain the same.
I’ve heard you send us living water
and I’m thirsty for a change.
An upper window,
a hidden rhyme,
I’m searching for mystery,
is it all in my mind?
When a light came on
in my empty room
there was never much to see.
But You took my arm
in the growing gloom
and walked away with me.
Now I’m walking
through eternity, a world of light—
Enough to see.
Enough to fight.
Ultimate Reality Asserts Itself
Lately I've been struck by the persistent interest people have in the secret, the mysterious, even the "magical." There's no denying that for many, knowledge need only be labeled "secret" or "arcane" for it to become really fascinating.
If this preoccupation is merely a diversion - say, reading a horoscope now and then - we smile and call it a hobby. But when it approaches the level of compulsion, or begins to actually influence a person's life...the smiles fade.
After all, there's no place for superstition in the modern world. Such blind, compulsive behavior - "faith," we call it - is obviously a vestigial weakness, a form of dependence, and therefore pathetic. Right? Doesn't science rule out this sort of thing? True "stark realists" have no place for reality that isn't, well, visibly stark... Right?
But the hunger remains. And science, despite its pretensions to omniscience, cannot explain the origins of this tendency. Science has "declassified" the soul, debunked the spiritual world, or so we're told. Why then, does the unseen still tug at us? Inexplicably, our souls are unabashed.
We are haunted by dreams of non-empirical reality.
Friday, November 26, 2004
Will eternity be lacking?
Recent days were the context for yet another blissful realization about heaven. Often “projected” images of the next place are a cause for concern, even if the angst is buried or subconscious. We anticipate a final, glorious freedom—fully actuated personhood, positive purity, with no downward bent—but we can’t help but fret a little. Some of earth’s good things seem just too good to do without. (Books? Marriage? Basketball?)
Don’t think for a moment that I think I’m raising anything approaching consequential questions. I fully concur with C.S. Lewis here. (I’m sure that comes as a surprise.)
There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying that they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. - Mere Christianity
What I realized though, in regard to these concerns (which rise somewhat naturally), is simply this: Heaven will be a place worthy for the Maker. Fitted for the Creator. Heaven is a home where Christ will feel “comfortable.”
Suddenly, the conception that there could be missing pieces in such a place is laughable. Akin to me wondering if my skills would regress at MJ’s basketball camp. Or whether there would be much food for thought at a meeting of The Inklings. And such pictures are, of course, utterly inadequate, because Christ created not one or two, but every joy and pastime that I’ve come to love down here. Just look at earth; God’s attention span is infinite and he loves to multi-task.
Earth’s bittersweet excellence, incomplete as it is, is proof—a guarantee or pledge—of heaven’s brilliance. In other words, God’s character and craftsmanship, which we’ve already seen, imply the quality of heaven. A perfected earth?
At any rate, no worries.
You all will be relieved to hear that I successfully completed my essay assignment over J. Gresham Machen's provocative treatise, "Christianity & Culture." I ended up enjoying myself, discovering one of my favorite themes, "mental fight" (William Blake), entrenched squarely in the whole argument. Here's an excerpt (from my paper):
Earth is a war zone. As Dostoevsky wrote, “God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”...Pastors must be men of courage, like Luther at Worms, advancing with gospel weapons in their hands. The truth must saturate their minds and fortify their spines. The need is for humble defiance, a nonconformist’s audacity— “I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is strongest”—but in Christ’s strength. Christianity, as characterized by C.S. Lewis, is “a fighting religion.”
Thrilling stuff, eh.
All that goes to say that now I'm back to my usual pastime, writing bittersweet stuff that makes people say, "Huh."
 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (New York: Random House, 1990), 108.
 Available only in the full-text version. :) If you just have to read it, send me a note.
 Worms was the context for Luther’s famous statement: “My mind is held captive by the Word of God… Here I stand. God help me. I cannot do otherwise.”
 Henry D. Thoreau: Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience (Thoreau Reader, 2004). 23 November 2004, available from http://eserver.org/thoreau/civil.html
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1980), 37.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
No, I’m not feeling the pangs of existential desolation. I have been reading about Nietzsche this morning, in The Real Face of Atheism—highly recommended—but I was thinking about this topic before I encountered poor mad, brilliant Frederick.
Loneliness seems to be a hallmark of our culture. Our insulating technology (“instant messages” are not conversations!) makes seclusion gravitational, and earnest, face-to-face friendships rarer that ever. Even if we didn’t live in a fiercely individualistic society, it would be hard to defy the electronic siren call of “effortless” relationship (condolences sent via email, celeb “friends” in our living rooms, talk show hosts masquerading as our pals…). It’s never been easy, but today, really knowing someone is a harder task than ever. And so, as often as not, we go it alone. America is a lonely nation.
Just the same, I can’t help wondering if isolation is a hallmark of all cultures, even a fundamental fact of existence. Thomas Wolfe seemed to think so. As he wrote in “God’s Lonely Man” (titled appropriately enough):
The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that the sense of loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon peculiar to myself and a few other solitary people, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. All this hideous doubt, despair, and dark confusion of the soul a lonely person must know, for he is united to no image save that which he creates himself.
This loneliness, which Wolfe describes so devastatingly, is a mindset, a frame of heart, which transcends physicality and conditions. Who hasn’t sometimes felt the pangs of isolation strongly (even strongest) in a crowded room? There’s a closet in the human soul that defies the most well-intentioned sharing.
It’s like trying to describe a rare moment—say a windswept April sunset, wreathed in scents of forsythia—to someone who wasn’t there. A moment we cannot fully share, like a room we can only enter alone, leaves us unavoidable lonesome. We crouch singly in our souls. Others may peer in the windows, we may send out mail, but who else can cross the threshold? In a sense we cannot help but be lonely.
In that sense, we may be surrounded by ever so many friends, even good friends, and married, happily married, and still feel, at times, abandoned. The question seems to be not so much, “Is it possible, in our crowded, rushing society, for someone to be really alone?” as “Is it possible for someone not to be?”
Small echoes of resonant “proof” fortify my suspicions.
As a kid I watched a movie, now obsolete, entitled The Young Sherlock Holmes, an attempted prequel to Doyle’s stories. The film tried to imaginatively foreshadow the trajectory of Holmes' adult life; throughout the script, his byword is, “I never want to be alone.” In the end though, of course, he is—left inconsolable alone, his love interest dead, with only his work to divert his grief. And, remarkably enough, he is alone throughout the movie as well, even while his love still lives. So young Holmes emerges as a tragic hero. No one can never be alone. A semi-profound premise for a children’s movie.
I remember, wistfully, the telling line in Tolkien’s story: “To bear a ring of power is to be alone.” Poor Frodo. Until he sails West, he is fated for soul-isolation. Even the devoted Sam can only infer his misery. As usual, Tolkien simply tells the truth, cloaked in mythic hyperbole.
Former Waterdeep frontman Don Chaffer sings:
Most folks smile away the blues
I mean I…I guess they do
You never really know for sure
But I’m surviving on this hunch
That everybody else is hurtin’ too.
Centuries ago, a scholar captured it in his book: “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10).
And further instances, of course, literally pervade our culture. If I stopped here, I’d seem to be making a case for prolonged depression. Actually, that’s not my intent. Eyeing our natural predicament makes the solution all the more lucid and bright.
Simple logic suggests a human soul may only be known completely by the one who indwells it. And so far this seems to suggest that only I, Ariel, will ever know the full inner life of aforesaid young man (writer, thinker, basketball player extraordinaire…). This would be a cause for forlorn musings. And for many it is.
But, as W.H. Auden would assure us,
Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.
Question: If my soul, simply by virtue of being mine, defies attempts at full comprehension, what hope is there for intimacy? In a world of endless searching, what hope is there of being found?
Answer, framed strikingly by David, the warrior-poet-king:
You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day…Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed underground, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. (Psalm 139)
Thomas Wolfe was wrong, in thinking loneliness has no recourse. So was Nietzsche. There is an antidote for earth-bound "isolation." The God who made a soul can also enter it, speak to it, know it…inside and out.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
You think it’s so absurdly funny
But I found a way to end this earthly strife;
The way lost friends smell the scent of money
I smelled the scent of life.
We’ve both known the search for meaning;
Both known love’s labors lost.
But I saw a treasure in the gutter gleaming,
And I ran to live at the dead man’s cross.
There was something to venture, all to gain;
Like the call of a living sea.
And nothing draws the sick and lame
Like a drink promised absolutely free.
Having won acclaim as a corporate cog,
Making good was your only goal.
But my choice was wild praise to God
Over a silent, bearish soul.
© 2004 Ariel Vanderhorst
Monday, November 22, 2004
I just completed an enjoyably flippant post about my somewhat conflicted life, and now real exertion stares me in the face. We have a working relationship, but I still don't like the looks of him.
One of my professors assigned this incomprehensible paper. You know the story: "Masters students don't need breaks, writing causes serious reflection, forces articulation, these are weighty issues, etc., etc."
So off I go to write a treatise on Christianity & Culture, by the learned Gresham Machen.*
This post is a delaying tactic.
So let me tell you a little about Mr. Machen. His premise is that over the centuries, "one of the greatest problems that have agitated the Church is the problem of the relation between knowledge and piety, between culture and Christianity." In other words, doing and knowing seem to be at odds.
Anything more than a cursory look at the problem reveals there's really no conflict at all, unless one flies to an extreme of studious introspection or ignorant spontaneity. As everyone knows, you can't pull out the quick crossover-dribble/fade-away-jumper combination if you don't practice it first. But many people, I think, are naive about the relationship between learning and application. The bridge between truth and causality needs to be reemphasized, affirmed, restored. I guess that will be the point of my paper.
This is also precisely the point that Machen makes.
Why can't I just say that we agree and leave it at that?
*If you read it, let me know what you think. Better yet, blog about it, and I'll cite you in my paper. ;) It's an excellent piece, all the more impressive since it was originally presented live.
Yesterday became the stage for a revealing chain of events. At church, having just wrapped up a dynamic series on Revelation, we had a "response Sunday." People (the brave ones, anyway) seized the opportunity to communicate something they had learned during the previous weeks of teaching. As usual, the comments were heartening, suggesting, more than anything else, that God is in a constant mode of speaking to his people.
I felt compelled to say something about the revelatory nature of creation - immediately glorious, yet a mere shadow of the divine character. Interestingly, I'd blogged about this very topic in recent days. Who says blogging isn't good for the soul?
After the service, I learned belatedly that the "Second Annual Harvest Bowl" was taking place in a field across the street, and saw that opportunity was knocking: a chance to scrabble around in the dirt with a bunch of guys in freezing weather. Normally I'm a hoops player, but the right thing to do was obvious. I dug through our car trunk and suited up in my dingy "paint clothes" from last summer. It was time to become a multiple-sport athlete.
As I was succumbing to the gravitational pull of the football game, my wife informed me that we'd just been given tickets to a classical music concert - Beethoven's Spring Sonata, with Rob Kapilow. Obviously, this opportunity was equally compelling. Beethoven or the Harvest Bowl? Sports or Arts? Which would it be? The choice was clear.
And so it was, a touchdown catch and a dramatic victory* later, I found myself in the men's room, ditching my sweatshirt, pulling my slacks and corduroy shirt back on. Ugh. The Harvest Bowl participants were dispersing as I raced to the waiting car and Lindsay peeled out of the church parking lot, hunched over the wheel. We were late.
Fortunately, there are ways to make up drive-time. Fifteen minutes later, I marched into the downtown Folly Theatre, a picture of cultured machismo. My valet-wife followed momentarily, having completed her car-parking duties several blocks away.** As we slipped into the concert hall, the refined murmurings of the sophisticate masked our entrance. Their ranks had been infiltrated, and they were unsuspecting. We sat down, exchanged a few meaningful glances, and the music began. Ah.
Later, in a surreal moment, I realized that the day's events in some ways epitomized my life. Tossed on adversarial waves of arts (academics) and athletics, thrown here and there by unplanned opportunities, anchored, fortunately, by the steady revelation of the divine Coordinator.
I'm not sure if pleasantly eclectic is the phrase I'm looking for. But regardless, I'm thankful.
*Well, sort of. We won by two touchdowns. But very act of winning an outdoor football game with no pads in freezing, drizzly weather is inherently dramatic...right?
**Heh he...ahem. I know it sounds awful. But as a three-year veteran of marriage, I've discovered there are a limited number of sure-fire ways of ways to get a rise out of my wife. This paragraph is one of them. ;)
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Two national preseason #1 rankings, three powerhouse seniors, a loaded bench, and the enthusiasm of the KU faithful knows no bounds. What I’m wondering is…how did I miss the auction?*
*Perhaps the better question is, Why am I posting this? That's a good one.
I recently received an email from Eunseong Kim, a Ph.D student at the School of Journalism at Indiana University. Mr. Kim politely requested my participation in an online blogging survey for purposes related to his Ph.D dissertation, stating enticingly, “Empirical examination of blogging and its impact on people have been rare…Your participation in this survey is crucial…to understanding the effects of this new communication phenomenon.”
I could have easily enlightened Mr. Kim as to why people blog, having recently conducted my own survey on the subject (13 participants at last count!), but I decided he ought to do his own research. And fascinating as the premise was, there were no promises of gratuitous reward for participation, so I was about to hit delete. Then I remembered the potential for fun with unsolicited blogger email.
It would only take twenty minutes. And it’s not as if I have nagging papers to generate, sagging bookshelves to navigate, a clanging hoops game to renovate.* So why not? Besides, as potential blog fodder, the opportunity was not to be overlooked. On behalf of my readers, I took the plunge.
I guess Mr. Kim failed to scout his participants adequately. Either that or I was the victim of a suave Asian jokester, adept at bait and switch. And so, after all my deliberation, the whole premise had failed to justify itself.
So has this post. But that’s life, isn’t it?
*This was sarcasm.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
waiting at stoplights,
assess the location
of undefined brightness,
and I don’t know you
so I do the same,
gauging the level
of your expressions,
high, low or middle,
not knowing their nature,
through pedestrian eyes.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
On Saturday I returned to my favorite hoops locale after three weeks away. I’d definitely missed it—the regulation three-point arc, the hardwood floors, the familiar right-side baseline where I habitually ditched defenders for pull-up jumpers. Ah. I’d been away too long. But, as these things usually are, the vacation turned out to be costly.
The return to my court wasn’t royal. I clanged most of my shots and didn’t have the legs for the customary three hours of full-court action. So much for quick feints and slashing to the basket. Forget about knifing inside to steal rebounds.
Instead I spent my time lurking on the perimeter, steadily sweating out my salt content. After a couple hours I looked like the guy in the commercial who DIDN’T drink Gatorade.™ Maybe the four cups of coffee before the game didn’t help.
It kills me, that academic excellence (or at least the pursuit thereof) seems to require a proportional decline in one’s athletic ability. Aargh.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Seasons: a conduit for "sehnsucht" (inconsolable) longing?
I’ve wanted to write this post for months. What’s kept me from actually writing it, more than anything, is the elusive nature of what I really want to say. We all experience the seasons; we all know they inspire a variety of emotions. But why? It’s the Why that I want to get at, and which seems so difficult to approach.
Every time the seasons change I’m confronted by beauty, but not the type you forget in minutes, like a crisp snapshot, not the kind that entrances you for days, like a haunting melody, and then wears off. The beauty of the seasons seem, like the rarest writing, to “pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.” *
The seasons evoke feelings with no proximate cause. They pluck chords I never composed. Silvery hidden threads begin to vibrate, like strands of an ethereal web, and at their distal ends, something is shaken, something that is rarely touched…
Spring, dissolving ice, brings fragile hope; summer blazes, and for moments one feels that he could live forever; Fall distils the heat, and wistfulness comes on the wind; the final, icy expanse of winter crystallizes in a sense of searching, and yet, loss.
To state it differently:
As the world turns, varying distances from the sun create meteorological variety. Climates in each of the hemispheres react accordingly, resulting in yearly weather patterns. As we experience these changes, our personal “weather” changes as well.
And still, there’s the Why. How to explain the alignment of air and soul? How do climate and spirit coincide?
There’s a truth that hovers at the fringes of imagination, solid and inscrutable. I can’t see it in the dark, but that doesn’t keep me from stumbling over it every year, spring and summer, fall and winter, scuffing my contentment, knocking my settledness. Something whispers, Listen closely, before you get too old, and I sense that a colossal weight - of joy or sorrow - hangs in the balance.
The seasons probe a devastating secret, in C.S. Lewis' words, “the secret we cannot hide and tell, though we desire to do both...Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter…” (The Weight of Glory)
But “beauty” won’t suffice. Like many beautiful things, the seasons are merely a conduit, a hazy mirror. Stare at them too long, and the sweetness shrivels. One looks, at best, through them, to what lies behind. In the end, the seasons are guideposts for a journey.
For now, I'll leave it at that.
“…they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” (Lewis)
* This from C.S. Lewis, commenting on J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy. Lewis is in all ways an authority on the mysterious longing for something higher, deeper, as yet unattainable -sehnsucht he calls it - an experience common to all.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
So much for profound posts. Exams and papers have been cracking the whip lately. In a couple classes, I'm clinging by my fingertips to the crumbling cliff marked "A." I'm struggling for my very academic existence.
Even so, I have to spare an over-the-shoulder glance for BitterSweetLife. Much-neglected, this blog has treated me well. And without more ado, here are a few random comments:
In recent weeks, the blog has survived its first real identity crisis. When I started tapping out my very first post, the pseudo-comical, pseudo-philosophical effort now known as Bittersweet What?, the trajectory was set. For better or worse, BitterSweetLife would relegate itself to a class apart from the normal, make-it-up-as-you-go blogosphere, where posting happens like circadian rhythms. The fateful choice was made, and obvious catalysts for posting--coworker idiosyncrasies, internet browser problems, intra-family squabbles--were merely fond memories. Things could have been different. But they weren't. And so I found myself surrounded on all sides, hemmed in by scholastic overdoses that would require rehab, professors that could not be denied, and a small bittersweet blog, eloquently persuasive in its silence.
For a few short days, I thought the answer was to go mainstream, post the "daily stuff." And why not? It works for countless glittery blogs with readerships that dwarf BitterSweetLife's like Limbaugh's brain dwarfs Moore's. But I couldn't do it, finally, because the blog wouldn't let me. BitterSweetLife may as well have gone audio. ("That's not what I'm about," said the blog morosely. His eyes were red and weepy and there were bottles stacked on the desktop by the recycling bin, off to one side.) I still got the message. *Sigh.* Back to bittersweetness. It meant fewer posts and probably a continued "niche" readership, but #$$%^! It's what we're about.
Other than this "to thine own self be true" episode, I've had a few minor revelations. My earlier comments about Blog Explosion seem to have proven accurate. More hits, but few quality hits. Still, I'm not complaining; exposure is good, and will help me on my way to tri-continental domination. (If you want to experience the Explosion, click here.)
I went ahead and installed a "Submit to BitterSweetLife" link in the sidebar, for any of you toying with the idea. There are a few posts waiting in the pipeline, once I get around to it, and more are welcome. Do you have what it takes?
That's all for now. Rounding up these scattered thoughts will help me articulate a truly bittersweet post in the near future. (At least that's what I tell myself.)
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Well, it's the morning after, and the results are in. As the excitement and hoopla dies down, it's time to tally up the results... My birthday usually coincides with election day, which would have been a real thrill this year, but the six-day discrepancy isn't preventing me from taking stock of the changed landscape political/residential landscape simultaneously, as usual. So, illuminated by a post-Birthday glow, here are my new library acquisitions:
Reversed Thunder - Eugene Peterson
The Abolition of Man - C.S. Lewis
The Unnecessary Pastor - Marva Dawn / Eugene Peterson
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard
The Real Face of Atheism - Ravi Zacharias
Heaven - Randy Alcorn
What's So Amazing About Grace - Philip Yancey
The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations - Mark Water, compiler
The Bartender's Bible - Gary Regan
Good books. They're like hair-trigger explosives, ticking away until you flip open the first several pages, then - BOOM! A good explosion. In what ways will these titles nuance my thinking and affect my lifestyle? Man, I can't wait until Christmas break.