True Voyage is Return

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

–From “Little Gidding,” T. S. Eliot

“True voyage is return.” The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin

For someone whose wanderlust threatens to drive her insane at times, the line “True voyage is return,” a proverb by the brilliant and admirable Odo, hit me like a hammer. It’s one of the three or four lines that stuck with me after finishing the book a month ago, repeating itself in my thoughts unbidden, raising questions as I plan to live abroad. Laura quoted to me from “Little Gidding” yesterday and I was excited about the first line: “We shall not cease in exploration”!! Huzzah! But it continues, saying that we will “arrive where we started.” I read through the Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot this morning, a work of genius, and the resounding theme is cyclical, “In my beginning is my end,” “What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present.”

For Odo, the meaning was connected to all her other thoughts and the society she created, a working anarchist utopia, communal, free. For “true voyage” to benefit the larger society, the organism of which the individual is only part, there must be “return.” Knowledge, experience gained, must be brought back to the community and shared. That isn’t what Eliot meant in “Little Gidding”: he is more concerned about the cycle of things, the days, the seasons in an unending pattern. You return to where you began because you have traveled the world, seen everything, so that the only place left is where you started, because it has now become the unknown. “Through the unknown, unremembered gate / When the last of earth left to discover / Is that which was the beginning.” Implied is the idea that the cycle would continue, and you would once again leave, never ceasing in exploration.

The explorer, the voyager, does not set out on their journey knowing when they will return. They know that they will, or might, someday, if they are able, but that is in the indeterminate future. As Bilbo said, “It’s dangerous business walking out your front door [..] you never know where you might be swept off to.”

Even the original Walking Song from The Hobbit includes return: “Yet feet that wandering have gone / Turn at last to home afar.” But I prefer Bilbo’s version from The Fellowship of the Ring:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

A fine day for walking

It amazes me that for four years the Back40 escaped my notice. It’s roughly forty acres (or, used to be) of undeveloped land behind one of OBU’s dormitories. It being such a lovely day, I went for a walk with a camera in hand.

That one is my favorite. It captured, really, how I saw the grasses with the afternoon light falling on them, through them. Five years in Central Oklahoma, and I’m finally seeing it, appreciating it. Last July, after celebrating the July 4th with the Bylands and Williamses, it struck me how I had stayed in Shawnee through the summer, that I will have lived in the same house for over a year. Unlike all the other college students, my housemates and I stayed in Shawnee, working, living. I’ve finally seen Shawnee in all its seasons. I can appreciate the spring sun shining through the prairie grass, and call it beautiful.

As I walked, I encountered a bunny. S/he dashed ahead on the path for awhile before I caught up with it again. Unfortunately it evaded my attempts to get it on camera. Rather than be disheartened, I gathered flat stones to three-hop skip across the pond.

Further up and farther in, I saw a plastic bag. Not wanting my newfound animal friend or any of its compatriots to strangle to death and die, I picked it up, filling it with more trash as I went along. Among some of the treasures was an invitation to Heritage Church, a manual for programming your remote control, someone’s Greek homework, a beer bottle cap, and a ten dollar bill, none of which I believe are naturally occurring items. I pocketed the latter as a reward from the animal friends for tidying up their home.

More pictures below the cut.

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Sara Groves says this better than I can, or at least, more succinctly. From “Every Minute”:

I am long on staying
I am slow to leave
Especially when it comes to you my friend
You have taught me to slow down
And to prop up my feet
It’s the fine art of being who I am

And I can’t figure out
Why you want me around
I’m not the smartest person I have ever met
But somehow that doesn’t matter
No it never really mattered to you at all

And at the risk of wearing out my welcome
At the risk of self-discovery
I’ll take every moment
And every minute that you’ll give me

Justice, Mercy, Humility

Yesterday I sat through four hours of presentations on Fair Trade Coffee, Gender Violence, Genocide, Civic and Sex Education, Palestinian Refugees, Keats and Negative Capability, and I can’t remember what else (but which of these does not belong? Just kidding…). Hearing so many Human Rights presentations during this week of the Transforming Virtues symposium refreshed a lot of what I already knew and fleshed out what I didn’t.

The problem I am faced with at the end of the day is not whether I am motivated to do something or not (because I am, and I do), but how to reconcile my life with the knowledge that I have. To accept that my life, here, in Shawnee, America, with my three bedroom house and Bachelor’s degree, is still valid. That my aspirations to study medieval literature in Scotland and postcolonialism in science fiction literature and to write novels are still valid. That when I walked out of those lectures and went home, that curling up in bed with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere was still valid, when children are being abused and dying, when farmers are being exploited, when people around the world are being deprived of their right to vote, love, live.

I am intensely aware of how privileged I am. Like someone from the past transported to the future, I am still astonished by electricity and that we have it everywhere. By running water, both hot and cold. By supermarkets and medicines. A roof over my head. The ability to read and write. That my greatest worry at this moment is how I’m going to pay back my student loans for graduate school in a few years. A day does not pass where I see something in every day life and say, “Wow. How is it that I have this, and others do not? And how dare I take it for granted?”

In another strain of thought, Saint Louis University in Madrid has assured me that deferral of enrollment is possible and that I could actually guarantee my place for Fall 2009. It is a dual-degree program; I would earn a Master of Arts in English from Saint Louis University and a Máster en Estudios Culturales y Literarios Anglo-norteamericanos from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. I had joked with friends for years about how I would be a collector of degrees if I could, and it is actually possible: three masters degrees from three different countries, no less. But I am torn between excitement and apprehension: the last time I was in Spain, I was miserable, utterly alone, and suffering from untreated rheumatoid arthritis. But it would be different, this time. Totally different set-up. The faculty are extremely kind and encouraging; I’m already on a first-name basis with who would be my adviser. It’s the apprehension of the unknown. But prayer, pondering, and a great deal of trust will be put into making this decision.

Of cousins and friendship

Happy Birthday to my wonderful cousin and housemate, Kali!

Kali isn’t really my cousin, but she might as well be. Garden State says that a family is “a group of people who miss the same imaginary place.” When I think of “family,” the things that comes to mind are our Saturday Night Dinners, talking or watching Star Trek or Firefly with Kelly and Kali, cooking with the Williamses, as well as my parents, brother, nieces and nephews. Family to me are people knit together by bonds of love and fellowship, even if they are not blood-related. So, Kali is my cousin. It’s a good Shakespearean designation.

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A moment

Springtime. I am glad that it is finally green again. Green makes me happy. The trees winter had broken are now full and lush. The quiet rustling. Soothing. A million greens in a single tree. A kaleidescope of dancing shadows. I am glad for warm weather and skirts and shadows that no longer look like bears but long-armed dryads. For the touch of a friend, of a journal and a good ink pen.

Zen. To remember the sun on my back and the wind in my hair, writing to the notes of birdsong, and dwell in that moment even after the sun has set.

The Bread, Wine, and Herbs

“Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by the strength of his hand the Lord brought you out from this place.” Exodus 13:3.

Tonight we celebrated Passover–unconventionally, and before sundown, and definitely not kosher, but it was the symbolism and spirit that mattered here. I spent all day cooking and preparing (and cleaning!). I felt like Martha, and was glad to finally sit down at 6:00 p.m. to start the ceremony. John and I led, being the eldest, and Kelly was the child. “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

I got more out of the preparations and the knowledge I gained researching the various things I’d need to do than I did out of the meal itself. (Spending ten hours, plus a week staging things beforehand, preparing for something that lasts only two is anticlimactic, I must admit.) But I hope the others did. I was surprised to find that the others were relatively unaware of what a Passover Seder was like. For several years now I’ve wanted to host one, and I’m glad that I had the chance to take advantage of our Saturday Night Dinners to finally do so. I believe it is very important as Christians to know our Jewish heritage, especially when the Passover Seder was most likely the setting for the Last Supper.

What struck me the most was that amidst the joy of deliverance was sorrow for the price for which it came: “A full cup is a symbol of joy. Yet our joy is diminished because the Egyptians, who are also God’s children, suffered from Pharaoh’s evil ways. Lives were sacrificed to bring about the release of God’s people from the slavery of Egypt, and we do not rejoice at the death of any of God’s children. As we recount the plagues, we will spill a drop of wine from our cups for each plague to recall the cost of sin, and the consequences of evil in our world.”

This resonates with me because so often the Egyptians are portrayed as completely irredeemable, the black and white “bad guys,” and films depicting the Exodus always use triumphant music that is supposed to cause us to rejoice when the waters crash over Pharaoh’s army. I always held my breath–I was glad that the Hebrews escaped, but what about the Egyptians? They died. It’s good to receive some affirmation that sorrow even for the enemy is acceptable, if not demanded. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44.

I loved playing with the light. We had bowls of charoset, maror, and salt water on the lazy susan. The centerpiece was a branch of dogwood flowers.

During the meal. Probably the best I’ve ever cooked! Roast beef, potatoes, green beans with tomato, matzo rolls, and of course, wine…

May the Holy One, who makes peace in the heavens, make peace for us and for all people. Amen.

The Word for World is Forest

Yesterday I read The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s unfortunate that it is now out of print because I would recommend it to anyone interested in speculative fiction, sci-fi, or the idea that literature explores humanity. Because that is what Le Guin does: explore humanity. She’s a master at it.

Humanity is the overarching theme in the Novels of the Ekumen (a.k.a. the Hainish Cycle). What is it that makes us human? How can “they” from this other world be as human as I am? In The Word for World is Forest, the issue is complicated by that the Athsheans don’t look human–the humanoids from the other worlds at least look more or less the same. But the Athsheans are a meter high and covered with green fur. It is easy, then, for the Colonists to treat the Athsheans as animals and for the Athsheans to cultivate fear and hate for the Colonists. You see all sides of this issue, even the side of the two people who do manage to form a friendship, bridging the gap between “two languages, two cultures, two species of the genus Man” (100).

I’ve tried to find the best sentences or passages that exemplify her use of language, but it is difficult, because the book has to be taken as a whole. The power is in the complete story. (Quotations are found below, click ‘Read More’.)

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Let’s go a-Maying

Laura and I went to Scarborough Faire today, a Renaissance Faire in Texas. I was so excited that there was a maypole and that we got to dance it! Maypoles are one of my most favorite things about spring. They also feature in my novels, Cords of Orion and To Govern the Night (lovingly nicknamed Cords and TGN, for future reference). Maypoles are an important part of the home-culture of my protagonist, Jenai Daila’in, from the planet of Aiden. Needless to say, I enjoyed pretending to be at an Inick spring festival!

A maypole pattern

The maypole with pretty ribbons and a simple weave pattern. We learned to do three different dances.


Going a-Maying! That’s me in the green, and amusingly enough, the girl in the gray beside me looked like a young Jenai.

We’ve also been listening to Kate Rusby’s version of the 17th century English ballad about Sir Eglamore non-stop. Fa la lanky down dilly!

Fighting a losing battle

Yesterday, as a coworker and I packed up beer steins (we work at a museum and are finally getting rid of hideous beer stein collection), we got talking about how God is working in our lives. We usually have different shifts at the museum, so we like to catch-up when we do work together. She mentioned regarding one of the issues she was talking about, “I need to remember that good things come from God, not evil, and that it’s the devil that is trying to destroy the good things.”

“Hm,” I said, and paused a moment. “I would hesitate to make it that simple: that good things come from God and bad things from the devil. We have to remember that Creation is fallen. The longer Creation exists, the more it will degenerate, constantly in entropy. Creation is not going to be restored before Christ returns, but that is no excuse not to keep fighting. Even though we’re fighting a losing battle, we have to keep trying.”

Creation’s entropy, and our need to strive to improve the world, I had thought of each separately before, but this was the first time the two thoughts converged and formed words. This is a prime example of what my housemates call my “pessimistic idealism,” but I would also call it truth. Just because the world is fallen, just because it seems like evil wins more than good, just because it’s a crazy, crazy world, does not mean that we, each individual, Christian or not, should give up. Our actions matter and we with our little bits can help slow down the entropy in our world by being kind, responsible, viewing all people as fellow human beings and the Earth as our precious, island home.