Monday, January 26, 2009

Under the Weather

In driving down I-95 last night, as it runs through rural Virginia headed for North Carolina, my husband at the wheel and me at the ipod dock, I found myself once again desiring to listen to one song and one song only. As I began to scroll through the album titles in search of Rattle and Hum, I knew that my companion would probably laugh at me (and deservingly so, as I do listen to this song at least once a week), but this in no way deterred me. The song I was looking for is about a search, a search that persists no matter how many times you find. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is at heart (according to Bono) a gospel piece and as such, it provides a strange, yet real comfort to me.

The search, lack of satisfaction, and yet, continued faith despite obvious and persistent doubt is what makes this song so audibly attractive no matter how many times I have heard it. I, too, know the truth of grace and yet, I keep searching, unsatisfied with the beauty that is before me. Unwilling to find my worth in something so counter-cultural, so abstract, I continue in pursuit of a worthiness that will never satisfy. Unwilling to be comforted by the only means of lasting comfort, I carry on seeking comfort in passing moments and unnatural highs (and lows). In the midst of the loneliness this inevitably produces, "I Still Haven't Found" is a source of comfort as it reminds me that I am not alone in my possibly neurotic struggles.

It seems incredibly fitting to me that the working title of this searching song was "Under the Weather." That is in fact how I feel, under the burden of a storm that will not pass, unable to find my way out. Why do I persist in my search when I cognitively know the truth? I can speak the truth of the gospel, but believing it is quite another thing. Do I know that my worth comes from the Lord's gracious activity and not my own attempts? Yes. Do I know that I am never abandoned, never alone? Again, yes. But I continue to plunge into the indulgence of these thoughts despite my knowledge of their fallacy. It is like I stand in the rain, with an umbrella in my hand, refusing or unable to open it, despite the obvious fact that it will keep me dry.

In spite of what it might seem, I do hope in the midst of this downpour. I do indeed believe that my bonds have been broken and my chains loosed. And even as I continue to search for whatever it is that I'm looking for, the cross of my shame has been carried, the Kingdom will come and "then all the colours will bleed into one." Restoration is coming and has come to this broken world, but also to me, an individual sinner who persists in an endless doubt-filled search. One day, I hope to find and to rest, for when I do, it will be a beautiful day when my faith is made whole. But until that day, I choose to meet that doubt and yes, continue to search - a search to move beyond the walls of my imagination to the incredible character of our King.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why Write?

Today, nearly nine months after finishing my study of Flannery O’Connor, I found myself returning to her texts. However, my purpose was to not reminisce over the hours I spent in coffee shops with dear friends nor the joy I seemed (perhaps strangely) to find in working late into the night with only my laptop and The Complete Stories for company. Instead, I returned to O’Connor to find a quote that has been pervading my thoughts as of late. In considering why I desire to write and feeling a need to explore and express this desire, I keep returning to an exchange O’Connor recounts in her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction.”

When asked why she wrote, O’Connor responded simply, “Because I’m good at it” (Mystery and Manners, 81). In saying this, O’Connor was not being arrogant, although on the surface it might seem that she was. Rather, for her, “it was the only answer [she] could give” (Mystery and Manners, 81). O’Connor firmly believed that her desire and ability to write was a gift that, because of her faith, bore “considerable responsibility:”
“It is a mystery in itself, something gratuitous and wholly undeserved, something whose real uses will probably always be hidden from us. Usually the artist has to suffer certain deprivations in order to use his gift with integrity.” (Mystery and Manners, 81).
While I do not presume to say that I am “good” at writing, I, like O’Connor, do presume to say that I write because it is a gift that God has given me and, as I am beginning to see, it is a responsibility that I am called to steward well. How do I know this? Simply, because of the deep pleasure I feel when I write.

For me, writing is a medium for critical examination and reflection, a mode of creativity, and a means for the imagination to take hold. I believe that to live honestly as a Christian it is necessary to face the reality of the brokenness of our world. It requires a “plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system” (Mystery and Manners, 78). Without such a plunge, our worldview is sheltered, shallow, and, therefore, inaccurate and, any attempt at the working out grace, is futile. It is when I write, that I most able to bear this broken reality, and, simultaneously, I am most enabled to hope. It is then that I am most able to think critically and then that I am most enabled to be my most imaginative.

For what purpose I have this desire to write, I do not yet know. How good I am at, again, I do not yet know. But, I do know that I relate deeply to Eric Liddell’s character in Chariots of Fire when he says, “I believe God created for me for a purpose … And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” I may not be a world class writer as Liddell was a world class runner, but I do indeed feel God’s pleasure when I write.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Clod or A Pebble?

William Blake composed "The Clod and The Pebble," as part of his Songs of Experience. Blake, an admirer of both Dante and Milton, was incredibly well-versed in scripture and seemingly used the poem to describe two types of love:

Love seeketh not Itself to please
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.

So sang a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattles feet:
But a Pebble of the brook,
Warbled out these metres meet.

Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight;
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite.

Simply, selfless and selfish love are contrasted in Blake's poem. However, they are not as distinct as one might imagine. A "clod" is not merely a mass of earth; it also is a synonym for an oaf or a dolt, both of which have negative connotations. Blake chooses to bestow selfless love upon the unexperienced, malleable mass, in keeping with the concept of "child-like faith." In contrast, it is the more defined pebble that is the voice of selfish love. The pebble itself is not unchangeable, it will slowly be reformed as it is continually worn down by the brook's water flowing over and around it. It like the clod can and will be reshaped, only more gradually. However, unlike the clod, this reshaping has seemingly only made it more selfish.

Is this indeed the reality of our brokenness? As we become more educated and lose our child-like naivety, is it inevitable that any love that we have becomes selfish? I don't think so. But I do think that Blake has an important point. The impact of life in this broken world is unavoidable; it is a reality that must be dealt with. There is cause for great grief and when actually confronted by it, like the pebble is engulfed by the brook, a bleak hardening results. However, there is also cause for great hope and, even, "child-like faith." Due to the activity of grace through Jesus Christ, we, as Christians, are called to do much more than grieve; we are called to hope and therefore, to truly love. To remain in hardened bleakness is to discount the activity of grace; however, to ignore such bleakness is to deny the need for Christ's return. Redemption is coming in the midst of the submersion.

So, a clod or a pebble? As I examine myself and my own ability to love, I find it impossible to draw such a clear distinction between the two, despite the obvious differences iterated by Blake. Since moving to Roanoke Rapids, I have been confronted by a community with more cause for grief than I have ever experienced. The brokenness of this town and community is obvious in painful and disheartening ways, both in my job and in Will's. It is in fact the New South that I wrote about in my thesis and that frustrated Flannery O'Connor immensely. I find myself often overwhelmingly frustrated and saddened by the lack of education, lack of ambition, lack of authenticity, lack of faith. Yes, it is the "Bible Belt," but Christianity is a culture here, and rarely a religion.

Perhaps with this admittedly grim perspective, you could argue that I have become a pebble, but again, I don't think so. While, admittedly, I often struggle to do so, I am in fact hopeful and I do (attempt to) love. The manner in which this community is broken may be more obvious to me here, but I believe this is a lifelong struggle, not relegated to life in Eastern North Carolina. Is this not the condition of the Christian? Struggling to balance the unavoidable grief the fallen world provokes and the great hope and love we are given through the grace of Christ?

And so, this is how I begin and what I imagine much of this blog will deal with: an attempt to grapple with the reality of brokenness and the truth of grace, and a search for a right balance between grief and hope. I suppose, somewhere between a clod and a pebble.