Category: Literature


The Beautiful Is

“By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy – indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self satisfaction.”
-William Osler
Am I apathetic? Am I prideful?
I’d like to say I’m not. But I am.
Pride is the inability to focus on what is, the I AM. Pride instead focuses on what we think is, who we are, and who we think we could be. If our focus is on ourselves, we will never be content, we are incapable of satisfying ourselves and our deep need for perfection. We should all be perfectionists: people pursuing the Perfect One relentlessly, not people trying to perfect themselves with their imperfect attempts. Will I let my desire for perfection drive me closer to the One who defines all else, or will I try to be greater than He is? Tell Him my plan and require Him to approve it?
Am I apathetic? I’d like to think I’m not. But am I apathetic about what is most important? Am I focusing on reality or only my perceived reality? Am I relentlessly living for the God who spoke the world into being, or am I trying to mean the world to others?
How can I so quickly forget? And why do I so frequently go after what I know will not be enough, while ignoring the One I know I need?

“Watch and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
-Matthew 26:41

I was encouraged multiple times today to lean again on God. On “just” God, and yet, EVERYTHING on God. Somewhere along the way, I’ve decided I’ve become self-sufficient, that I can somehow handle everything, or be responsible for everything. I think I must find my own strength. Be good enough. Be more. Reach perfection.

I cannot.

I will never find perfection in my own futile attempts to try. I must fly on the wings of the Perfect, take time every day, every hour, every thought, to cherish His perfection. To see Him for who HE IS, to be reminded of who he is and then by default, who I am.

“It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures… but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream… If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows – the only food that any possible universe ever can grow – then we must starve eternally.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pp. 41-42)

I am not perfect, but He loves me. He is perfecting me: not for my own satisfaction, but so that I will be more lovable and able to appreciate His perfection more. This inevitably leads to incomparable satisfaction, but it is not the end goal; I am not the focus. And knowing that, really knowing it, is so incredibly freeing.

Over break, I read C.S.Lewis’s book “The Problem of Pain.” I am reminded of a section from the third chapter of the work, titled “Divine Goodness.”

“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some “disinterested”, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of his love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of terrible aspect”, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, nor the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest ‘well pleased.’ To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities – no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt…What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.

“I plainly foresee that the course of my argument may provoke a protest…it may be objected that a mere reversal of our own ethics is precisely what we have been asked to accept. The kind of love which I attribute to God, it may be said, is just the kind which in human beings we describe as ‘selfish’ or ‘possessive,’ and contrast unfavorably with another kind which seeks first the happiness of the beloved and not the contentment of the lover…

“The truth is that this antithesis between egoistic and altruistic love cannot be unambiguously applied to the love of God for His creatures. Clashes of interest, and therefore opportunities either of selfishness or unselfishness, occur only between beings inhabiting a common world: God can no more be in competition with a creature than Shakespeare can be in competition with Viola. When God becomes a Man and lives as a creature among His own creatures in Palestine, then indeed His life is one of supreme self-sacrifice and leads to Calvary…But God in His transcendence cannot easily be thought of in the same way. We call human love selfish when it satisfies its own needs at the expense of the object’s needs…None of these conditions is present in the relation of God to man. God has no needs. Human love, as Plato teaches us, is the child of Poverty – of a want or lack; it is caused by a real or supposed good in its beloved which the lover needs and desires. But God’s love, far from being caused by goodness in the object, causes all the goodness which the object has, loving it first into existence and then into real, though derivative, love-ability. God is Goodness. He can give good, but cannot need or get it. In that sense, all His love is, as it were, bottomlessly selfless by very definition; it has everything to give and nothing to receive.Hence, if God sometimes speaks as thought the Impassible could suffer passion and eternal fullness could be in want, and in want of those beings on whom it bestows all from their bare existence upwards, this can mean only, if it means anything intelligible by us, that God of mere miracle has made Himself able so to hunger and created in Himself that which we can satisfy. If He requires us, the requirement is His own choice.” (pp. 48 – 50)

God has granted me sight to see and appreciate the Beautiful, the Good, His Being. Will I continue to see through His eyes, be so in tune with His heart that my heart breaks for what breaks His, and rejoices for what gladdens His? Or will I instead be like Peter, James, and John when with Jesus in Gethsemane, they failed to realize his heart was sorrowful,even after spending years with him, and hearing him tell them that he was grieved and requested their prayers? Instead of praying, they slept. Will I choose sleep, my own good, over what He would ask? Will I apathetically ignore the Good, pursuing the ugly instead of the Beautiful?

“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
-Micah 6:8

“A weary lot is thine, fair maid,
A weary lot is thine!
To pull the thorn thy brow to braid,
And press the rue for wine.
A lightsome eye, a soldier’s mien,
A feather of the blue,
A doublet of the Lincoln green–
No more of me you knew,
My love!
No more of me you knew.

“The morn is merry June, I trow,
The rose is budding fain;
But she shall bloom in winter snow
Ere we two meet again.”
He turn’d his charger as he spake
Upon the river shore,
He gave the bridle-reins a shake,
Said, “Adieu for evermore,
My love!
And adieu for evermore.”

If—

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowances for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling

September rainings are not exactly what I’d call cheery. Nor do they seem to promote cheeriness in those venturing out into the wetness.
Yet for all the gloomy greys and despondent dampness, this rainy morning does have potential to be joyful. Maybe I am attracted to Dickinson’s poem because it seems to be the converse of what I am experiencing today.
Why do we often associate rain with tears rather than bubbling laughter?

A DROP fell on the apple tree
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.

The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fête away.

-Emily Dickinson

Eyes aloft, over dangerous places,
The children follow the butterflies,
And, in the sweat of their upturned faces,
Slash with a net at the empty skies.

So it goes they fall amid brambles,
And sting their toes on the nettle-tops,
Till, after a thousand scratches and scrambles,
They wipe their brows and the hunting stops.

Then to quiet them comes their father
And stills the riot of pain and grief,
Saying, “Little ones, go and gather
Out of my garden a cabbage-leaf.

“You will find on it whorls and clots of
Dull grey eggs that, properly fed,
Turn, by way of the worm, to lots of
Glorious butterflies raised from the dead.” . . .

“Heaven is beautiful, Earth is ugly,”
The three-dimensioned preacher saith;
So we must not look where the snail and
the slug lie
For Psyche’s birth. . . . And that is our death!

– Rudyard Kipling

Over dangerous places… I feel I’m there; I’m chasing butterflies, aerial phantoms of the wind. I need the Father to come quiet me, to still the riot that my ever-chasing, wandering heart is facing.
Psalm 46

Conversation Among the Ruins

Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.

Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?

-Sylvia Plath

1.
They say that Hope is happiness–
But genuine Love must prize the past;
And Mem’ry wakes the thoughts that bless;
They rose the first — they set the last.
2.
And all that mem’ry loves the most
Was once our only hope to be:
And all that hope adored and lost
Hath melted into memory.
3.
Alas! it is delusion all —
The future cheats us from afar:
Nor can we be what we recall,
Nor dare we think on what we are.

I have made bold the sections of this poem that I most enjoy. Reading this is like indulging in eating a slice of lusciously rich cheesecake. The word pictures he paints by using only words are astounding: he gives tangible reality to intangible thoughts such as what one imagines during fleeting daydreams (“So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me/ With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear/ Most like articulate sounds of things to come!”), the sound of what is seen (” shall hang them up in silent icicles,/ Quietly shining to the quiet moon; Sea, hill, and wood,/ With all the numberless goings on of life,/ Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame/ Lies on my low burnt fire”), and the methodical yet completely whimsical ways our minds work (“But O! how oft./ How oft, at school…”); yet he also uses words to make gloriously intangible what is often tangibly commonplace – lakes and rocky shores become “lovely shapes and sounds intelligible,” while “summer clothe the general earth/ With greenness,” and “eave-drops fall/ Heard only in the trances of the blast/ Or if the secret ministry of frost/ Shall hang them up in silent icicles…”

The frost performs it secret ministry
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud–and hard, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
The calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness.
Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, ever where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself.
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft.
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day.
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me,
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things I dreamt
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!

My babe so beautiful! it thrills my hears
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet moon.

Since the end of August, I haven’t thought about school. For this year, at least.
I have been so busy trying to heal, trying to study for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) that I’ll be taking in October, looking up potential law school choices, and getting back into the swing of working, that I feel like I’ve found my way into a wrinkle in time. A sort of time warp in which because I am still at home, working at my typical summer job, I feel like I am still at home, and that school will be starting soon.

Until today.

On Facebook, my cousin randomly asked me to help find a poem suitable for performing in one of her college classes. I quickly grabbed my Norton literature anthologies, my treasured Victorian poems, and scanned my collection of literature – textbooks accumulated over my three years of English Literature classes, novels bought on Amazon, a pale green Shakespeare collection with gold etching on the covers (I found this treasure at my first library sale). And, of course, I was frantically searching Google for online texts of my favorite authors and poets.

I was in college again, doing what I loved. Only this time, no one else expected anything, no one wanted to hear my interpretations on a theme of Tennyson.

When my cousin began describing her speech class reading assignment, I remembered my Performance of Literature class. I remembered learning how to create space, not simply abide in it. I remembered learning how to utilize subtlety, how to move without moving, cry without tears, fly without leaving.

How I miss it all.

And as suddenly and unexpectedly as it came, my awakening is suddenly and unexpectedly gone.

But it did wake me up. It reminded me of all the treasures I have on my shelves, just waiting to be read. It made me come alive. And now, there’s no going back.

I just began reading this narrative account of a Dutch woman who became involved in the underground effort to help Jews escape during World War II. These quotes are taken from the first five chapters of the book.
“Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings. It’s something we make inside ourselves.”

” ‘Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked, that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies too. Or, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.
‘God loves Karel – even more than you do – and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy.
‘Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, God can give us the perfect way.’

” I did not know, as I listened to Fathers footsteps winding back down the stairs, that he had given me more than the key to this hard moment. I did not know that he had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms than this – places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.”

“And so I learned that love is larger than the walls which shut it in.”