A Higher Love

[I issue a warning before a rather long post, largely due to quotations, but only because Mr. Lewis supports his claims better than I could.]

My parents were watching television in the den and on my way to the kitchen I overheard one of the characters asking, earnestly (though poorly acted), “Did you ever love us? At the end of the day… did you ever really love us?” She went on and on, and I don’t quite remember what the context was, but I was struck at how empty her life must be if whether or not that other character loved her (and whoever “us” were) was the highest meaning in her existence.

Not to be harsh, or to be read myself out of context, as I have just finished reading C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. The purpose of this book, and of its delineations between Need-love and Gift-love, natural loves and love by appreciation, Affection (familial), Friendship, Eros (romantic), and Charity, is to point out that all earthly/natural loves are finite, limited, and unable to achieve their fullest potential without appealing to a Higher Love, to Love Himself, and, as Lewis begins and ends with: God is love.

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More than ‘just semantics’

Words have worlds of meaning behind them, and often it seems that words are thrown around too easily without any consideration for their connotations as well as their denotations. I am advocate of precise language: use the best word possible for what you mean, do not settle for synonyms that are left grasping at your intended meaning. For instance, “compassion” may be a synonym of “mercy,” but mercy connotes action, compassion feeling. Another synonym is “pity,” but that connotes condescension.

To some, this is splitting hairs over words that have more or less the same meaning. “Just semantics,” they would say.

It was brought to my attention yesterday that C.S. Lewis insisted upon the archaic spelling of “abhominable” in Prince Caspian, when Edmund brings the challenge of mortal combat to King Miraz. I wouldn’t be surprised if most readers thought Lewis was just keeping up the chivalric atmosphere, or was using a quirky British spelling, and that what he really meant was “abominable.” Yes… and no.

abominable (adj.) – repugnantly hateful; detestable.

abhominable (adj.) – obsolete, from ab homine, or inhuman.

“Ab,” out from, or to be cast out, and “homine,” man/mankind. When High King Peter and King Edmund describe King Miraz’s actions — regicide, usurpation, oppression of the Narnians as well as his own people — they are not merely saying that he has done something detestable. No, his actions have been so counter to the accepted chivalric code that he has effectively made himself an enemy against humanity. He has rejected what it means to be human; he has cast himself out from humankind.

In an increasingly postmodern and “anything goes” Western world, do we have the ability to make such judgements anymore? Do we have a clear sense of what it means to be human, to be a part of the fellowship of humankind? With growing awareness of human rights and social justice (another example of similar things, but with differing shades of meaning), should we not reclaim this word, lest we lose the ability to define certain acts as being truly abhominable?

Returning home

Today I walked into church not knowing which Sunday School I should go to. I found myself in the Young Singles class, where I was attacked from behind by my mentor and like-a-sister Pami. Although many faces I didn’t recognize, and some did but I couldn’t remember names, still there was a welcoming and homecoming that enveloped me into the fold. The lesson, fittingly enough, was about the purpose of the church: to glorify God, in part by being a community, a body, fellowship.

This Sunday we had two services (once a month we have a contemporary service in the other chapel), so I went to the contemporary one. I stepped into a room full of people I remembered. I knew I was home when I could exclaim “John!” to the booming enthusiastic response of “Chera!”, a hug, and a “So what’s this about Scotland?” and “What’s this I hear about Peru?” When I turned around and little Anne-Marie isn’t so little anymore. When, even in a “proper” setting, a traditional chapel with everyone in their Sunday best, it was perfectly okay to clap and dance and be joyful. When I would trade grins with Julie, who was in the band, like we would do in youth group. When afterward as we chatted, she said in response to my grad school plans, “You’re crazy Chera Louise, but you’ve always been crazy!”

I knew I was finally home when after dinner I tapped my pastor’s shoulder, politely interrupting his conversation, and he did a double-take when he saw me. “Mercy!” he exclaimed and gave me a great big bear hug. When he lifted his eyes to heaven in thanks that my arthritis has gone to remission, when he laughed with pure joy that I’m going to Scotland. He hugged me again and said, “Always remember where your church is.”

A non-PhD alternative…

In the process of discussing what Kali should do to determine what she could do after grad school (because both of us are realizing that we might not want to spend our entire lives in academia after all!), we decided that it would be really, really cool if someday we started an NGO of some sort. This idea for a possible future is exciting. It would utilize my talents because, as has been pointed out to me often the past few weeks, and because Kali and I came to this conclusion, my forte is remembering. If I worked with administration or management, I would be able to remember that old lady who called two weeks ago who said X and though it didn’t seem important at the time it’s pertinent now. Or I would remember that so-and-so put down that piece of paper (that turned out to be an important form) on the table next to the plate of day-old cookies, and on the back they had written the phone number to this other place that we need to call. And I can write just about anything. I can write letters or edit proposals, etc. Basically, if it has to do with words or details, I can do it. With or without Kali, I would love this.

Circumstances have allowed me to go to Scotland and Spain for masters’ degrees in medieval literature and American & English literature, but I think I’m going to those places more to keep my eyes open for what other opportunities may come my way.

The old visa excuse

I’m behind on JuNoWriMo (the June version of NaNoWriMo, little known due to being invented by moi, but Kelly and Laura are participating). Kelly chided me, but today I’ve been distracted by loan and visa applications, answering questions like:

“In times of either peace or war have you‚ ever been involved in‚ or suspected of involvement in‚ war crimes‚ crimes against humanity or genocide?”

“Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?”

And explaining how and why I got an unconditional offer of a place at the University. I think everyone is relieved to know that I answered “no” to both of those questions, and “no” to suspected terrorist involvement (with a slight jibe from my Republican parents for voting Democratic), though I would wonder at the intelligence of anyone who would answer affirmatively to any of those questions. Apparently, I also need a biometric visa for the UK. Talk about a technological world.

First day of Limbo

You have gone so far away
For all I know it’s outer space.
La la la la, pining for yesterday…

     -“Diana” by Waterdeep

Well, I’m back. In San Antonio, that is. Yesterday morning I finished clearing out my things from the Little Red House and loaded up my car. Kelly followed me around with mournful glances. My bedroom was barren and my heart felt empty, too. I had breakfast at Cracker Barrel with Kelly and Joel, said our good-byes in the parking lot. I admit that I cried as I drove from Shawnee: never before have I so firmly shut the door on a life I had unwittingly come to love.

But the eight-hour drive down south so meddled with my sense of reality that by the time I reached Waco I wondered if the morning had existed. By Austin it was becoming more of an abstraction. By New Braunfels I was too distracted by the news that my sister was in town on a surprise visit to really think about it. Only this morning, waking up to the boxes in my room still decorated with horses and Star Trek from high school, making tea with a pot on the stove instead of a kettle, looking instinctively to the corner on the couch where Pokey should be but wasn’t, stepping into the backyard to investigate the garden and say hello to Jewely, and wondering if we really needed three bottles of glue on the kitchen table, did the events of yesterday morning come back to me, vivid yet still abstract, memories of a past life that I now have to figure out how to incorporate into this new one.

Today I have to find a lender for my student loans so that I can start on my visa application. And I’m going to start reclaiming my room from my past self and from the storage room it had become over the past few years. As of now, I cannot access my library, and that is a problem. Carving a place of my own out of this house is the first step to living here, again…

Unlocking sensibilities

From Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest:

“Maybe the best way to understand the future implications of the movement’s daily actions is to remember Emerson’s moral botany: corn seeds produce corn; justice creates justices; and kindness fosters generosity. How do we sow our seeds when large, well-intentioned institutions and intolerant ideologies that purport to be our salvations cause so much damage? One sure way is through smallness, grace, and locality. Individuals start where they stand and, in Antonio Machado’s poetic dictum, make the road by walking.”
Emerson’s Savants

“Technologically, Western culture dances to preeminence with an iPod plugged into both ears. When it comes to innovation, literature, and creativity, it is dazzling. The ability to go deep into the ocean or as far as the moon is spectacular, but as Robert Oppenheimer reminded us, being blessed with technological insight does not confer self-insight. If we measure Western culture by how it has treated people of different ethnicity and race, it is anathema. If we judge it by the the treatment of its own people, including children, the elderly, and the poor, it is an embarrassment. And if we try to calibrate American superiority by its treatment of the environment, the United States is one of the least intelligent civilizations in the history of the planet.”

I’ve only read a few chapters, but I highly recommend this book. As Hawken says in “Emerson’s Savants” regarding Thoreau when he read Nature, “Books that influence us often contain ideas we already recognize due to intellectual preparation or predilection; rather than casting thunderbolts from the blue, they may unlock sensibilities from within.”

More change

I wasn’t expecting him to last through the summer, but I had hoped he would make it until Tuesday when I would see him and say good-bye. My dear, sweet Pokey. He was old (14 years) and ready to go, I just wish I could have said good-bye. Thankfully he was not in pain and I did not have to make the decision to take him to the vet. Still, my parents’ house will be less the same now without his presence there. The picture is from three years ago, but that is how I will remember him: full, regal, beautiful, and loving.