Coffee Stains on Charming Words

For some fun this month, Travis has chosen five random books from our sweet, wooded companion of a shelf. What their message has meant and what I hope you might gain from reading them will follow. Ruminating possible metaphors I settled on coffee drinks because they’re universal and in many cases, vital.

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“On Beauty” by Zadie Smith: The Cafe Au Lait

Funny and pleasantly tender-hearted that Travis would pick this jewel. It’s an absolute favorite, one that really connected me to contemporary literature in college. Zadie Smith has extremely enjoyable works (this one, White TeethChanging My Mind essays) and weird, non-relatable ones (NW, The Autograph Man). She reminds writers that it shines and also rains in creating art, and makes no apologies for it. The title came from “On Beauty and Being Just,” a small treatise from Elaine Scarry (a Harvard professor) that focuses on the outwardly focused, sacrificial side of beauty. Perhaps superficially, I liked Smith first because of honest portrayal of interracial dynamics. Outside of her own entertaining biography she gives readers a quest to understand numerous cultures at once. The story revolves around an established academic, his wife, their three children, and trouble-making friends and lovers. It’s uncomfortable (extramarital affairs) and her scenes are slightly jumpy, but the final painting they compose is richly satisfying. You are faced with complex men, women, and children; you balk at his nerve and her vulnerability; you feel as if bags are being packed from a month-long stay with the Belsey family. The right mixture of foamy character development and dark, vivid plot: a drink worth taking in on occasion.

Great Passage: “Three Tuesdays after the affair began Howard came into her office to tell her it was over. It was the first time either properly acknowledged it had begun. He explained he’d been caught…That day in her office Howard looked as if a good, comforting piece of verse was just what he needed. Throughout their friendship, Claire had satirized his scrupulous intellectualism, just as he had teased her about her artistic ideals…This was the general feeling in Wellington too: his students found it near impossible to imagine that Howard should have a wife, a family, that he went to the bathroom, that he felt love…They had no idea what the hell they were doing. Howard had no way of dealing with his new reality. He was unequal to the task of squaring his sense of himself with what he had done. It was not rational, and therefore, he could not comprehend it. For Claire, their affair was only confirmation of what she knew of the darkest parts of herself. For Howard, it was clearly revelation.”

“Les Fleurs Du Mal” by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Richard Howard: The Red-Eye

A red-eye, also known as atomic cowboy or shot in the dark, is wild and not for the faint of caffeinated heart. It’s black coffee with a shot of espresso. When I last downed one around eight in the morning, I didn’t fall asleep until five o’clock the next morning. The whole week produced twitches and bodily discomfort. Our red-eye equivalent here is “Les Fleurs du Mal” by French poetic master Charles Baudelaire. He is an impeccably dressed dandy by lyrical usage, but a nasty bottom-dweller by topic. Can anyone use images of lice and prostitutes beautifully? He proves it can be done.

Less frightening poems to embark upon include, “Hymne A La Beaute” (Hymn to Beauty), “L’Invitation Au Voyage” (Invitation to the Voyage) and “Recueillement” (Meditation), stunning verse that delights. More confrontational works begin with “Au Lecteur” (To the Reader), the very first piece and stuffed with ugly, demonic, dirty images. Bear with it, because it’s a fascinating study of human nature. Baudelaire’s arch spans art as a destructive and healing force, obsession, and the elusive creature Boredom. More than mere boredom, he investigates depraved, life-draining, undone boredom. His biographies are incredibly interesting to boot. I read him for a jolt of reality and gratefulness for mercy.

Great Passage:

”        Imagine the magic
of living together
there, with all the time in the world
for loving each other,
for loving and dying
where even the landscape resembles you:
the sun dissolved
in overcast skies
have the same mysterious charm for me
as your wayward eyes
through crystal tears,
my sister, my child!
All is order there, and elegance,
pleasure, peace, and opulence…” (from “Invitation to the Voyage”)

“Generous Justice” by Timothy Keller: The House Blend with Creamer

Mild, cream-laced house blends are what I drink 90% of the time in any cafe. “Generous Justice” by Tim Keller is what I return to over and over, quoting from at every tragedy. Do you like how I call him Tim, because in my head he’s a trusted personal pastor and counselor? This book is extraordinarily simple and perfectly wise. Picture a tapestry woven, connecting threads of people from all walks of life. This fabric is made by God’s own hands, guiding us to sew where we are. Biblical stories and instructions from both the Old and New Testament become newly illuminated, precious and true. If you’re a reset-button kind of person, always craving new beginnings be grounded in this call to serve/pray/give until you must cry out for strength.

Great Passage: “Now we are in a position to see even more clearly what the Bible means when it speaks of justice. In general, to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor. How can we do that? The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it. Human beings are like those threads thrown together onto a table. If we keep our money, time, and power to ourselves, for ourselves, instead of sending them out into our neighbors’ lives, then we may be literally on top of one another, but we are not interwoven socially, relationally, financially, and emotionally. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others.”

“The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer: The Decaf Vanilla-Almond Soy Latte

Tackling the Prologue of this classic in Tenth Grade is both challenging and invigorating: experiencing one of the pinnacles of characterization in English. Even hip-hop savvy, restless, dreaming teenagers can appreciate the Knight’s sparkling honor or the Summoner’s gaudy liveliness. Though the tales in this collection bring wise loveliness, it’s a rare day that I’ll pick it up and read. When it happens, I’m glad for the decadent, deftly milked moral punch and combination of personality flavors. It’s powerfully fun to see the Host gather everyone for a pre-pilgrimmage meal and request thrilling, entertaining story– a microcosm of what Chaucer does. Favorite tales include The Knight’s, The Nun Priest’s, The Wife of Bath’s, and The Pardoner’s, shimmering in the author’s well-developed narration and dimension. I’m always happy thinking millions of writers across time and space look to this work for artistic inspiration. Sit back calmly, and sip leisurely.

Great Passage:

”  One thing I should have mentioned in my tale,
Dear people, I’ve some relics in my bale
And pardons too, as full and fine, I hope,
As any in England, given me by the Pope.
If there be one among you that is willing
To have any absolution for a shilling
Devoutly given, come! and do not harden
Your hearts but kneel in humbleness for pardon;
Or else, receive my pardon as we go.
You can renew it every town or so
Always provided that you still renew
Each time, and in good money, what is due.
It is an honour to you to have found
A pardoner with his credentials sound
Who can absolve you as you ply the spur
In any accident that may occur.”

Posted in Responses To Their Words | Leave a comment

Between Privileges

To expound on the honesty cleanse I’m on lately, let’s discuss race. Publishers tend to like to get through this as smoothly as possible (and if it’s good for them…), so here: I’m black. Our family is tinged with Caucasian, Native American, and possibly Portuguese, but the box I’ll check if I’m not being cagey is Black/Non-Hispanic…although I’ve always wanted to be Hispanic…rabbit trail, sorry. This identification means trillions of smiles, memories, defenses, annoyances, shocks, metaphors, loves and losses. It means confusion for others when they hear my phone voice, see my very light-hued son, find out I watch and enjoy the movie This Is Spinal Tap or navigate my list of facebook friends and preferences. It highlights joy when I listen to an MLK, Jr. speech, teach our son about half of his family, proudly salute my grandfather and other Tuskegee airmen, and cry out at the situation in Baltimore. My primary identification is as a Christian, a daughter of the true God, a disciple made to worship Jesus Christ in spirit and truth. Knowing that heaven will accomodate all races in glorious harmony, my eternal aim is to co-mix and assist in healing racial brokenness. To do this, I must acknowledge my own quirks.

Mom and Dad raised my older sister and I in the fairly well-to-do, politically-charged, mostly-black neighborhood of Marlboro Meadows in Upper Marlboro, MD. I had some of the funniest, kindest bus-stop and biking friends in the city and would have a poorer outlook on life without their love. Until eighth grade I listened exclusively to R & B, hip-hop and secretly thought all white people were scary, undercover racists. My parents always taught us to love everyone well, but I was the most comfortable with brown people. Well, except for Matthew in kindergarten. Blue eyes, blond hair, the handsome little pale guy that all girls wanted to kiss behind the coat closet. Except for him, I focused on my similar skin shades.

Dad decided after some unfortunate problems at our church to look for a new church, and he landed on a Southern Baptist one. Dad. Seriously. I don’t remember if my face was as shocked to the congregation as it was in my mind when we stood and became members. This was middle school. Cue the song, Crossroads, from Bone Thugs N Harmony. (I’m being middle school dramatic, I know what that song was really about.) I thought my social life was over, unless Matthew happened to attend the same youth group.

The beauty in this experience is that God brought me a hoard of hilarious, compassionate, peace-loving friends despite my nervousness and walls and fear. Many of them had white skin. This trend continued into our move to Tennessee, as well as my move to Greensboro.

I married a man outside of my race, but our main bond is faith. Understandably, I was nervous that his family originated in Taylorsville, NC. His parents and their extended family have been wonderful and accepting, and with the exception of a few distant relatives and peering citizens, our visits have been open and cheerful. The various prisms that pour into Ian fulfill one of my wildest dreams: to have a family that is different and loving in spite of that.

In light of recent events and when one of those friend’s sister posted a moving article on white privilege, I have revisited my adventure in color. From feeling disrespected and not valued by both races (hello, human nature), I’ve also been reawakened to the fact that my struggle has not been the struggle of kids abused or too poor to afford lunch or any of those things. Baring the soul, I’m at times more comfortable now with white people or other “white-black” people who share all of these newfound interests. I don’t seek out folks of all kind, I stick with what’s safe.

While it’s not safe to loot or destroy property, it’s not safe to blindly accept that everyone should have access to the same thoughts about the situation. It’s not safe to bypass a magazine because you’re so busy trying not to seem overly committed to one culture, that you ignore what is going on in that culture. It’s not safe to ignore well-meaning, potential friendships because you feel they’re “trying to pass.” It’s never been safe to follow Christ into attempting to bridge these gaps. That’s why the media continues to exploit the black-white rivalry and not reveal more loving stories. It’s why it can be really awkward to be the only “white-black” girl at your family’s function and attempt to change your language tone to fit in better. It’s why explaining to friends why you need an extra four hours to wash and blow dry your hair at the beach can get exhausting.

Christ walked into many awkward situations, and His will was done because of that. I believe His will is for Christians to find common ground within all races, to appreciate and enjoy one another, and to let His loving sacrifice flood the hardship with blood and grace.

Posted in Childhood Remnants | Leave a comment

Try Again, Try Again, Leave Begin For Finish

Excitement happens whenever I grab materials for a new writing project. Luminous neurons fire and the dropped flutter in my stomach means it’s time to begin! Pens, copy paper, some internet access, and a nice warm beverage accommodate the process. In months of baking Ian and before, there were glorious linear hours. Now, glorious scattered minutes  form an hour whenever it comes. Inspired blog posts, poems, and short stories furiously land on my hard drive. In about two weeks, writer’s block and then writer’s leave of absence will take place. It’s a sad cycle that needs termination. But virtual assistance, being intentional with my time, and loyalty have all contributed help.

Accountability is a vital piece of the puzzle even if it’s to a computer system. In 2013, once again motivated by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way I started a group of Google Docs. “Writing Plans 2013-14” was just a basic bullet point list of overarching goals for the year. This is where I described things like “have some poetry published” and “complete a story collection,” those adorable and general creatures that need their own help being fleshed out daily. From there “Writing By Month 2013-14” allowed tangible, shaved objectives for each four weeks. I would plan to finish several poems or research timeless short stories in April 2013. Further pared down was “Saturday Solace Planners.” The name arose from a lack of creatively fulfilling nine-to-five work, leaving time only on the weekend to compose. With cleaning and socializing, three or four hours were grafted. This document was the winner in terms of guiding the daily grind. I would record the times of each writing session, the tasks, and any books completed that week. As a spreadsheet, it not only kept me on track but held motivation to keep going. Such useful tools have been a spark in artistic fire.

Being let go from my previous job and not returning to an office has released new passion. One of the best conversations I’ve had regarding At-Home Mommy vs. Working Mommy was at Babies-R’-Us and lasted three minutes. This fabulous lady basically said, “All of us work: hard!” To believe I lounge in pajamas cuddling Ian and doing whatever my heart desires all day or that I’m afraid of or unfit for “real work” is utterly ridiculous. I’ve been given cloth diapers and numerous cleaning projects over LMS management and editing company letters. It’s my path, not the wrong one. I enjoy and need the rich creative time that’s now possible. It’s still a struggle around the confines of a cherished infant, but I realized there’s nothing to steal chunks of writing time anymore. I have to attempt this and silence the Inner Critic.

The uber-commitment of writing is not unlike that of marriage or church attendance. Marriage requires a constant agreement to place the lover ahead of self-interest and uphold the foundation. Church attendance means ignoring blankets and CBS Sunday Morning for thirst-quenching corporate worship and friendly faces. Failing at both reminds me to keep up pursuit, despite setbacks. The reward tips the scale.

The only thing that trumps loss of productivity is vision at work.

Thoughts? Please feel free to comment.

Posted in Everybody's Working For The Weekend | Leave a comment

Play It Forward

When a lesson is learned, collectively across members of several generations at the same moment, something like a metaphysical earthquake ruptures. Unity abounds. Love punctures hate. Time, both kairos and chronos (memory-making and allotted hours in the day) freezes quietly. Art is a catalyst of these actions. Three works of art in poetry, television, and music have caused me to stumble again on the wealthy attention of a perfect and holy God. Psalm 33 is a hymn dedicated to purpose and hope, the series finale of Parenthood paints family with bravura, and the “Forever Young” cover by Rhiannon Giddens and Sam Beam closes out this set in peaceful harmony.

Whatever is thought of Christianity, the contents of Psalm 33 are cheerfully grateful, descriptively gorgeous, and steeped in the tradition of communal sharing and singing and reciting. Visions of worshippers gifting their voice and instrument, love in terms of endurance (“steadfast”), and nature’s Benefactor observing and tending his creations spin around the narrative like woven gold. Here stands the Lord Almighty who commands awe and explosive response to the goodness. The poem works from an opening line that requires God’s praise into particular reasons for that praise (“…the word of the Lord is upright…faithfulness…righteousness…justice…”), then elevating pictures of God’s power just below hope in His future. David may or may not have written this particular Psalm, but the theme needs no certain author: confident anticipation of the Lord’s character. While the words speak for themselves, several ways to read or sing this poem exist. To remain consistent with the theory of unity, a choral reading offers beautiful reference to the generations gathered for the lesson. As John Witvliet says, in The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship, “…the interplay among readers is useful for capturing the dialogic nature of many Psalm texts.” The lesson uncovered by such lyric, dialogue, and community is that “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” Hearing this in a room filled with others delights and probes. We praise our Benefactor and march on to the tune of happy grace.

The Benefactor in Parenthood is family. To provide specifics, the children and children’s children of a man named Zeek Braverman nest here. The very name Braverman helps compile a mix of relatable, honest, broken characters filling the space of a California-based clan. You have rebels, overachievers, snobs, and drama queens. Likely, they’re all in one person, causing my husband to deem this “the yelling show.” But the yells are so candid, coming from a place of tough love and committed love. The eldest brother Peter is a no-nonsense sales guy who picks on younger dreamer Crosby. Sarah is the Daddy’s Girl and single mom paving the misfit way opposite corporate lawyer Julia. There are many in-laws and grandkids, as well as grandparents Zeek and Camille. What twists the siblings up is Peter’s son Max having Asberger’s Syndrome (a fantastic job of writing in this personage), Crosby marrying his biological son’s mother to become a family man, Sarah falling in love with a man also dealing with Asberger’s (Ray Ramono- exceptional) and Julia’s “perfect” marriage falling to pieces. Everything culminates in the very last episode: unconditional love of family trumps everything. Long harbored resentments are freed by gratitude and kindnesses amidst knowledge of life’s brevity. Community, in this case the show’s viewers, can rally behind it all and there is no yelling in such final moments.

Notes escaping the mouths of singer-songwriters Rhiannon Giddens (a soloist, The Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Sam Beam ( Iron & Wine) have already proven their talent. Giddens has her own unique voice and then impressed Parenthood‘s creator Jason Katmis with the collaborative album Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes (a Bob Dylan tribute). Beam worked with Katmis on this show’s soundtrack already. Together the two covered “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan. Although both performers have experienced sold-out, bells-and-whistles concerts, this song appropriately feels like company in a fire-lit basement. Toned-down piano, guitar, percussion and strings are like wind to the vocals’ swirling leaves. It’s a fitting partner to the last episode of Parenthood. That it was Dylan’s lyrics a generation ago, causing hearts to come together, is precious. Read:

“May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous

May you grow up to be true

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy

May your feet always be swift

May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful

And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.”-    Bob Dylan

Society gathers to be thankful for love and the idea of eternity. They are spurred on in 2015, thanks to two brilliant musicians. This Benefactor is the staying power of covers.

Monotonous human suffering can vex us. Political posturing, stories of unchecked greed, and surging deaths wreck the globe. How is this met? The Benefactor, illuminating all art, assumes the position of peace and harmony. Forsaking doubt, giant groups of humanity join hands to point this out and make songs for the next set of the masses.

Posted in Come Read With Me and Share My Love | Leave a comment

Labor’s Pause: Changing Colors and Mindset

Though autumn is traditionally the season bearing quick harvest, a long and sleepy kind of reflection also exists. It’s felt in weekends spent on pumpkin-spice drinks, home improvement projects, family bike rides and slow company among friends. Life trickles down in interesting little snapshots throughout the community: festivals and marathons and events at parks. The lovely turning of trees amasses hours for a journal; my favorite season, before summer.

Mere days before this metamorphosis our son was born.

Like the medical illusion of a due date, my hilarious pre-baby thinking advised me that labor would be quick and smooth. Healthy pregnancy, easier contractions, surely? I even read The Bradley Method and practiced all of the relaxation techniques– let me cash in my chips now, Baby Jesus…

So contractions lasted long enough to warrant breaking my waters and a few drops of Pitocin, but I’ll backtrack.

At about three or four in the afternoon of Friday, August 15th (Ian’s due date), contractions began to ascend into “%&*#! Did my mind really skip from the glowing last trimester to an automatic and happy newborn in my arms?” I advised Travis we would need to go to the hospital now. I was obviously dilated.

I was not, but had effaced 90%. Yahoo! What does that even mean? Travis and I went to IHOP since it was open, I lost it later and we rummaged through more contractions for the rest of Saturday. By early Sunday, the pain was intense enough to risk another non-insurance-covered trip to the maternity ward. This time, four centimeters were won and I had completely effaced. Better than all of that, we could remain in the hospital until he was born.

Mary, our incredible doula, was there as coaching support. Travis was thrilled, and I was feeling brave because I wasn’t having real contractions yet. Nurses everywhere at Women’s Hospital were amazing, and we hit the midwife lottery with Vicki as our attendant. By three in the afternoon on Sunday my contraction pattern was sporadic and non-starting and Vicki was worried I would burn out and not be able to continue without an epidural if I kept this up. They offered to break my waters and if that didn’t rile Little Bear up, give me a little Pitocin. We agreed it was for the best.

“Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers” was on the hospital television, making the night more magical. The birthing tub helped to ease my pain from about ten to one in the morning and then things climaxed. I thoroughly enjoyed the pushing stage, and decided to labor in the bed with stirrups instead of the tub. I was a frizzy, sweaty badass who gained respect for hereself and from the staff for my tough and quiet focus. Always on the stoic side with pain, I initially thought this was a weakness. But in our weakness, He is strong for us. A few loud grunts and rumbles, but no all-out screaming or stressed-out yelling. It was the hardest thirty minutes of my life, but I knew that little bugger was in there and I wanted him with us. Just when I thought it was over for me, Ian came out with legs and arms spread in the air. He was placed on my chest, and tears exploded reflexively. We were all crying, and it was beautiful.

I managed a fifteen-hour labor (about three for the finale) with two drops of Pitocin and membrane rupture. I wouldn’t change a second of it. Now that fall is about to settle, we are learning everything about this strong, sweet, handsome little gift. We’re building our family, and trying to appreciate each small moment. I am totally that parent who picks up her baby anytime he cries, co-sleeps with him almost every night, asks you to wash your hands first, and evades strangers with a blanket over the carrier and death eyes. He was worth every pain a million times over.

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The Moon’s Gravity and Letters

Moonlight, the piano, and lyric letters have been heavy on my mind these past few weeks. Moonlight for its brilliant, haunting, redemptive connection to past and future. The piano for ascending notes handled by talented songwriters like Sara Bareilles and Audrey Assad. Lyric letters because writers Petrarch and Laura Cereta write eloquently of mountains and pleasure to their friend and sister, causing the reader’s internal mirror to focus. Snaking themes of second chances, appreciation for nature, and quiet mystery coil neatly around these things. The three objects work so well together, shaping an image of a beautiful woman playing the piano underneath the night sky or a distant concert echoing through the moonlit forest a man camps in. It’s powerful, complex and ancient. It causes questions to build up, ideas to pursue here and now. Instead of plowing through anthologies to build up a false sense of pride, why not explore unexpected places and take the beauty for what it’s worth? Rather than try to tackle hobbies in a fury, creating designer dresses and playing flawless music, why not make a napkin or practice scales each day in commitment? Perhaps fruitful conversations with the time allotted relationships, versus frantic purging to try to have the world over for a Martha Stewart dinner? As most of these other internet musings return to, I thoroughly enjoy asking and sitting with such interrogation. This comes especially in preparation of the birth of our son.

The moon has been written of by everyone at some point, and for great reason. It (she, he) is a cosmic masterpiece showering the largest light in darkness. Not much further inspiration is needed to create. Half of children’s books have a large picture of the moon on its cover. Goddesses and muses alike dance in its presence. Spartan kings creep into battle by its luminosity. After reading “Lullaby: Moonlight Lingers” by Robert Penn Warren, an audience can see the dreamlike atmosphere of a little boy’s sleep in the wash of such light. Because night can be frightening in its unknown territory, the moon signals relief. Its magnetic pull of the ocean is the same that holds our gaze no matter where we are. It may be taken for granted in the throes of baby showers and full days of work, but one long look at its regal pose restarts priorities. It also plays with time, mixing together reflection of the past and dreams of the future. Sitting beneath it has been a sweet surrender, and will hopefully bring peace to Ian’s nocturnal cries.

Mulling over the moon is an easy step to music. For several years now I’ve really enjoyed the tunes of Sara Bareilles and Audrey Assad. Bareilles is a fantastic pop songwriter, as Assad works incredibly well in the medium of hymns and God-focused songs. They don’t smack of repetition and laziness, but of a mind that is really trying to showcase the Creator of the universe. Needless to say, a concert from either of them should be underway soon. I recently discovered Assad’s pleasantly-written blog here, which lets me know that she is now the mother of a son and most likely won’t be touring much. It also means I feel an even deeper connection to her as a fan. These two women have other-worldly voices, the kind that spark the need to imitate such art. Singing along with their pieces, particularly “One Sweet Love,” “Gravity,” “I Shall Not Want” and “O My Soul” is a day’s highlight. I’d like to imagine their coffee-stained drafts of songwriting, late night conversations with friends, and hours spent perfecting rhythmic skills. All of it regulates artistic imitation.

Hand-written letters are rare and pretty in the pen of a ready writer. Petrarch, the father of his named sonnet and Laura Cereta, a fascinating woman in early modern Europe composed such letters. “To Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro (On Climbing Mt. Ventoux)” by Petrarch is addressed to a monk who gave the narrator a copy of Augustine’s Confessions. Clearly influenced by this work, he writes of climbing a mountain with his brother and the painful hardship, breathtaking scenery and tormented inner dialogue that comes along for the hike. A memorable passage of the author addressing himself:

“’What you have experienced so often today in trying to climb this mountain you should
know happens to you and to many others as they approach the blessed life. This is not
easily realized by men, however, because although the movements of the body are
visible, the movements of the mind are invisible and concealed. The life we call
blessed is certainly located on high, and, as it is said, a very narrow road leads to it.
Many hills also intervene and one must proceed from virtue to virtue with very de-
liberate steps. At the summit lies the end of all things and the limit of the path to which
our traveling is directed…” (Petrarch)

While Petrarch concentrates on the deliberate virtues and limited path, Laura Cereta focuses more on the genuine pleasure of human free will. She fleshes out a happy, carefree picnic in the mountains with companions, in contrast to Petrarch’s very serious undertaking. She describes birds that joyfully interrupt their collective nap, the types of food they eat, and the freedom they enjoy by actually enjoying themselves. I wonder how that might look today, in exchange for 24-7 work-communication-performance. Her standout quote:

“This end, however, has but one object for our soul: the one God; and he, so that we
might enter Paradise, has placed us, since we are sojourners, in the exile of our fragile
flesh. Let us devote ourselves, therefore, wholly to virtue and to the innocent and
celibate life of our Savior and let our sinful life revert to him also. Let us imitate
the many illustrious men in the Church who, detached from all desires, have yearned
with full hearts for eternal life. Nature has taught us always to incline our hearts
freely and deliberately towards the good, so that it will finally come about for us that
God will win us over as heavenly beings for all eternity.” (Cereta)

We have here gingerly composed updates, peers into the lives of those living centuries away. They’ve thought deeply about many things, processed theories in the shelter of trees, and left a lasting impression on the world with their words. The letters don’t end with finality, but allude more justice and grace in the future. It’s worth producing one or millions of these for Ian, for family and companions. It may never be published, but it will be art.

Now that I hear piano music by moonlight, it’s easy to sit and craft a letter to the tiny boy due in about a week (sooner or later?). It will start with, “God is beautiful and true, and that’s all any of us need to know and chase…”

Posted in Baudelaire's Grimace | Leave a comment

Running Happily in the Empty Places (Some X-Men Spoilers)

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The movie experience of X-Men: Days of Future Past has pleasantly and forcefully thrust the concept of love back in my face. Concise, aesthetically-pleasing story-telling throws mutant against human and fear against hope. The rambunctious Wolverine, persevering Professor X, and misdirected yet passionate Magneto assemble as main characters that travel through time in order to become peacemakers. I never wonder that the Bible has shimmering pieces of wisdom buried in unexpected places. It’s clear that the words of Christ to take up His cross and love our neighbor burrowed comfortably in my soul through a 2014 Marvel movie. While it was quite fun to relive childhood comic memories through the piece, God is why I enjoyed it so much. His gentle, consuming fire is what keeps my heart pumping and I can’t stand by and pretend that’s not true. I’ve needed to step back and re-assess who my allegiance stands with, and today at Brassfield Cinemas the seed was planted. Though spousal and motherly love is heavy-handed these days, love for God and the world at large continue to encircle everything like a sky-sized pack of birds. The birds are singing loudly and swooping overhead to make themselves known. The groaning pains of life are subdued under their flight.

I’ll begin with what I always pictured love to be at different stages in my life. From birth to eleven, it was the comfort of family and friends. Summer barbeques and approving looks from extended relatives and being a good church girl were all I thought I needed. Puberty to early college was some undiscovered being of perfection that would pair his romantic and incomparable care with my neuroses. College to mid-twenties was shaped by an outpouring of “community” that I hoped would mean continued codling and twenty-four-hour attention. Now, it’s probably my role as a wife, mother, and friend. Sprinkled in this mirage was and is the gracious, life-giving power of a love donated by the Creator. He sang over me in patient, blood-soaked sacrifice and whispered that there is more that needs to be done.

If I remember the historically-accurate, stupefying, makes-you-look-like-a-fool-in-front-of-your-cool-nonbelieving-friend faith in Christ, I’ll have remembered the words of Luke 14:27 (“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”). Jesus is not asking me to skip hand-in-hand with Him and live a prosperous, rosebud life. These moments will and do occur. But He is saying that if I can’t die to everything that ever mattered for Him, I can’t hack it. Harsh and unloving? No. Honest. Brutally, beautifully honest. How we need honesty in our paths these days! I can’t wax poetic about the horrors of murder and injustice if I won’t stand up for why Christians believe what they do about the Old Testament and how it enhances the New Testament. I can either do this without the Holy Spirit (spewing out hatred to those who disagree) or with the Holy Spirit (having conversations, and yes sometimes sarcastic ones). But if I put on the label of a disciple of Christ, I’m not allowed to sit in the stands and watch the Lord fall on the field without falling in pain right behind him. Learning to die every day is tricky business.

One of the most intriguing scenes in this movie involves Quicksilver, a mutant who can move rapidly through the time-space continuum. He, Wolverine, Prof. X and Magneto are surrounded by cops who don’t understand why they broke into the Pentagon. When it looks like things are over for our four characters, Quicksilver calmly freezes the moment they are all in and works to undo damage. Weapons are inverted, bullets are deftly removed, and he is truly enjoying the long minutes he has to provide an escape. He even has a little fun with it, making an officer punch himself and taking a taste of spilled food from the kitchen. Using the talents available to him, Quicksilver has figured out a way to make his life purposeful.

Revelations such as these may be sweeping and dramatic in theory, but they translate to the smaller and harder tasks. Ruining someone else’s day with a nasty comment, prejudging the motives of others without cause, and turning our noses up at the most unwanted and unloved person in the room is relational homicide and also suicide. Yet the only thing available outside of death is relationship. I’m ready to blaze outside of time like Quicksilver, listen to some mellow tunes, and remove the guns and kitchen knives of my soul altogether. It’s going to take a God much bigger than my expectations or demands.

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