The Way it Should Be

I have resigned to the fact that I miss the Rite II, Prayer C liturgy of the American Episcopal Church, and am surprised that I miss Father Clark and the cozy sanctuary of Emmanuel Episcopal. I just remembered the simple statue of Mary and I miss her too, for how beautiful she was and how she challenged me in so many ways. I should have invested more while I was there, but I am here now, and am learning the ways of St Andy’s and the Scottish Episcopal liturgy. Today is Ash Wednesday and I loved the Eucharistic prayer for today:

Worship and praise belong to you, maker of light and darkness. Your wisdom draws beauty from chaos, brings a harvest out of sorrow and leads the exiles home. In Christ your Son, enemies are reconciled, debts forgiven and strangers made welcome. Your spirit frees us to live as sons and daughters in our Father’s house.

It fills me with sadness that this is not how the Church is. This is instead a vision of the way it should be. We have the ability to make it so, through the Spirit, but it is up to us. Thus it is my prayer that this Lent, all those observing Lent and all those who love God and the Church will find their lives revolutionized by that love, be invested with the vision of a Church that is welcoming and kind, sincere and full of the awesome power of Christ, and make it so.

I read this morning in Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.” I was reminded this evening: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from your sin and turn to Christ.” This is a beautiful, broken world and I am in it but for a little while.

About to begin

A few people have asked me, and so I decided to write here the answer to Why I Celebrate Lent:

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” struck me with their solemnity when I went to my first Ash Wednesday service with a Catholic friend in high school. For years I was used to seeing my classmates come to school with smudges on their foreheads but I never really knew why. We were entering into a period of mourning, and like the ancients we placed ashes on our heads and fasted. Since then I have practiced Lent, each year manifesting itself in a different way as I, coming from a mainstream Protestant background, largely observed this practice alone.

Lent, for me, has two main purposes. First, we are mourning for the death of Christ and for our sin that was the cause for him to die. Secondly, it is a period of spiritual self-discipline. We fast because we mourn, but maintaining the fast is discipline. I’ve described it as “spring cleaning” for the soul, and Tim Sean has likened it to Spring Training for baseball. Traditionally I give up soda and chocolate, but I try to find something else each year, too. I try to choose something that I’ve come to depend upon instead of Christ. One year I limited my Internet time to two hours a day. Another year I gave up at least an hour every day after dinner to spend time studying Deuteronomy. Last year I gave up listening to music-with-words. The weeks leading up to Lent are spent in self-searching, and then Lent is spent relinquishing control over that part of my life, or relinquishing its hold on me. The self-searching continues during the harsh scrutiny of Lent, stripping away the layers of indulgence that have built up over the past year to find the naked soul. Above all, Lent is to prepare us for Easter. With the resurrection of Christ, we too are resurrected in hope and faith, being clothed in white robes of righteousness. For forty days we fast, mourn, and meditate, and come Easter morning are better Christians because of it.

The year I studied Deuteronomy fused together the thread of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt and of his deliverance of all people from sin through Christ. That Holy Week happened during Passover always fascinated me, and was why I hosted a Passover meal last year. The result is that I conceive of Lent as spiritual journey: these forty days are my years in the wilderness, mirrored by Jesus’ forty days in the desert, spent meditating, learning, relying on God to provide the manna and the quail, the water from the rock, the way to the Promised Land, ingraining these lessons into my heart and mind that I might remember them in the days after Easter.

That said, I need to eat the rest of my chocolate stash before tomorrow. 🙂

Productivity

n63654Yesterday was my day off, so I read The Day of the Owl, a semi-fictional account of the mafia by Leonardo Sciascia. I found the characters’ feigned ignorance and that half the novella was complete anonymous dialogue without any tags whatsoever tedious. Very Hemingway. I like Hemingway, but this was a bit much. I probably would have appreciated the novel better if I had known more about the mafia, or at least had seen The Godfather; as it was, I was mostly working from what I gathered from The Sparrow and Children of God (I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something not mentioned in those books…). The day was not a complete sabbath because I managed to slog through the introduction to The Regiment of Princes.

Knowing that I had much to do, my goals today were to translate half of The Wife’s Lament and read the Prologue to Regiment, roughly 2000 lines (of Middle English, to be read on the computer screen). Felicity and I went to 666 this morning and stayed there until we were done.

img_7617….img_7623

It was a pretty day, so to take a break I went on a walk. I like to talk to people when I’m on walks, but none of my usual contacts answered their phones, so it was a good thing I took my camera along with me as well. I was defeated by a massive depository of seaweed so I didn’t make it onto West Sands proper (I must invest in a pair of wellies)—all of the people in my picture were sensible and took the long way around. I’m pretty sure that some of the coolest cloud formations I’ve seen have been at West Sands. The sign, in case you can’t read it, says, “Danger.” The black bird sitting on it amused me. I also went to Castle Sands and almost didn’t recognize the beach: the rock ridges (“bones” as I think of them) were completely covered with sand. I hadn’t been down there with the tide out since before the massive storm a few weeks ago, so maybe that’s what did it.

img_7632….img_7634

Now it’s back to work until time to Skype with Kelly, and possibly Kali…

At half three we shall
speak philosophy and life;
find joy in laughter.

The Hunt for Gollum

For true fans of Middle Earth, who have read the appendices, this movie is going to be a real treat. A bunch of indie filmmakers have adapted Aragorn’s hunt for Gollum and are making it into a 40-minute film. It will be released May 3rd as a free download (!). It’s not-for-profit, made by fans for fans, and it looks AWESOME. I can’t wait!

Oh, and there’s another one about the Dunedain called Born of Hope. The trailer is here.

Week Two

Well, Week Two will be interesting. All four of my classes will meet at least once, and only Latin at the times  it should meet, which, considering Dr M-S, does not surprise me in the slightest. My classmate’s plane was delayed so he missed Old English today, but I got a chance to talk with Christine about what’s giving me trouble with the language. I asked a lot of technical questions about verbs, indicating that I’d like to be able to practice them and memorize the different classes. She basically looked at me like I had just grown antlers and told me that no one in the field goes that far into it and even she has to look up words every day. She, like every other language teacher I’ve had except for Dr M-S, wants me to memorize vocabulary instead of grammar and learn the language that way. Fine, that’s wonderful for people who learn that way, but I don’t learn that way. I have to know the structure first, the puzzle, before I can start fitting the pieces in with confidence. Which is why I love Latin so far. It’s orderly and makes sense. Oh, and apparently my spelling abilities cross over into Old English because I had noticed a typo on the last test, and as a result won a bottle of wine. Those who have drunk of it inform me that it was very good wine. It smelled good, for my part.

I also just found out that there are now five people in what had begun as a private special topic. There are benefits to this, but I’m still a bit miffed.

But, despite all that insanity, I had a very, very good evening. Jesse and Casey invited Felicity and me over for dinner. When I saw the Sharpes at church yesterday, Morley wanted me to come over right then and later said that he wanted “the dark to come”—because when it’s dark, it’s time for dinner, and that’s when visitors come over. So when it was getting dark, Felicity and I walked back with Jesse and the boys were so excited. I played with them and read to them until it was time for dinner, and after the boys were put to bed we talked for the rest of the evening. And had amazing strawberry shortcake. We forgot to play Squabble, but there’ll be a next time.

Week One

There isn’t much to say about the first week of term. My only class that ended up meeting was Latin: Old English and Arthurian Legends aren’t due to start until Week 2, and Narrative & History was canceled at the last minute due to snow. I finished People of the Book, and though I admired the wealth of research Brooks did to write it, I was disappointed with her treatment of characters. But, this isn’t her novel that won the Pulitzer. I also finished Buke of the Ordre of Knychthede and prepared a presentation on Sir William Sinclair, its patron, for the class that was canceled, and so made a snow man of him instead. I read Tehanu, by Ursula K. Le Guin, the fourth book in the Earthsea series, and it made me very happy. Tenar is in it, and the longer I know Ged the more I love him (I didn’t like him the first time I met him, to be honest). I added four books to my personal library from the used book sale, and two others bought used online—fun books, I hope. And I discovered the King James Library in the Divinity school and have decided to study there as often as I can. It is how a library should be: old books on wooden shelves, high ceiling, open and full of light. It’s small, but not many people use it, and it is quiet. I like it very much.

Most of the week was spent in twilight, waiting for the solitude of darkness followed by the hope of dawn, but the sun is out today and the crocuses were blooming by the church gate.

This week looks to be a busy one. I hope I can be a good steward of my time, fix my eyes on Jesus, and be diligent and disciplined for his glory’s sake. The liturgy at St Andrew’s doesn’t include this prayer, but I pray it anyway: Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.

I mentioned snow. Because class was canceled, Felicity and I went out to play: Snow! pictures.

Back to normal

The spring semester has finally begun. The break was long enough that the seeds of self-doubt began to break the surface, and my perception of reality began to numb at the prolonged lack of direction. I knew this would fade once I had a schedule and things to keep such thoughts at bay. So in Latin this morning, when the class arrived early out of fear of being late, when Dr Maxwell-Stewart strode in wearing the full kilt get-up, skindu and all, and immediately began reviewing participles before going on to introduce deponent and semi-deponent verbs, and the present subjunctive, when Felicity and I were the first to be called on to translate sentences, I knew the world was back to normal.

My sentence today was: Utinam Corpus et Sanguis Domini Jesu Christi nos ab omnibus iniquitatibus nostris liberunt. May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ set us free from all our iniquities.

And, Dr M-S’s quote of the day: “When you have read the Mass, read the Bible.”

No Old English this morning, to my relief, which means the rest of the day is “free.” Read: time for laundry, reading up on William Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, reviewing Latin, translating Old English. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. The world is back to normal, neh?

In Retrospect

More often than not, I complain silently to myself about having a suppressed immune system. It usually happens when I go into one of the shared environments of the dorm (it’s a fact, the kitchen on my floor is the most disgusting) or have tea with someone I find to be sick. And I’ve done it all week. The antibiotics are working, and my thoughts are clearer, though I am still rather fatigued. But I realized the other day that it’s been almost three years since I was diagnosed with RA. I remember all the leaflets, information packs, etc. that my doctors gave me at the time, and they all said that left untreated, RA could completely cripple me “within three years.” So as much as I dislike my treatment, the injections and having a weakened immune system, I’m still able to walk. I can open jars on most days, and on bad days I have something else for breakfast. No, I’m not able to be as active as I’d like, but I’m well. And that’s a good thing.

Orion’s been resurfacing in my thoughts more frequently the past couple of weeks. It’s evolving. Something huge just changed, someone who I thought was on one side of the war just changed sides, causing a ripple effect that is restructuring how I approach the novel. Changes like this make me nervous, but also, I think, will make the story stronger. As I told Laura, I’m just waiting for the bolt of lightning to strike the pool—that flash of inspiration—that something living might crawl out of it. I wonder if any of my faithful readers will recognize it, once it does.

The Long Defeat

I have joined the long defeat
That falling set in motion
And all my strength and energy
Are raindrops in the ocean

I can’t just fight when I think I’ll win
That’s the end of all belief
And nothing has provoked it more
Than a possible defeat

–“The Long Defeat,” Sara Groves

As I compiled an extensive Dystopian fiction reading list for myself, I remembered how Kali once described me as a “pessimistic idealist.” I am someone who stares into the middle-distance and sees the ideal hidden behind a veil, within our grasp, should we choose to reach for it, but I also recognize that this is an imperfect world, where people are more attuned to their selfish desires than to squinting to see a world they cannot see. I’ve resigned that this sad fact is true for the world, but still hope, still dream, and still strive to reach for that ideal even if I am the only one looking.

When I heard “The Long Defeat” by Sara Groves, I had to look up the phrase because she seemed strangely defeatist. I found that in Lord of the Rings, Galadriel says to Frodo that she and Celeborn “together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” No victory is complete or without loss, and evil will rise again. Apparently Tolkien wrote in a letter: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” I think Tolkien was a pessimistic idealist, too.

As a historian of sorts, and as a Christian, his words struck me as contrary to the popular belief I know to be held by most Christians: We have won. Christ defeated death and Satan when he triumphed Easter morning, and it’s only a matter of time before Satan gets his come-uppin’s and is thrown into the lake of fire. We continue in this imperfect world knowing that we are the victors, come the end of all things.

Yet the road is long, and the load is heavy. This is an imperfect world and each day comes a little farther apart at the seams. The universe spinning spinning toward entropy. We claim the hope that one day it may all be restored, but where does that leave us? The hope we hold restores all things by first destroying the old. For this universe, perhaps it is a long defeat. With every kind word, every time we place the interests of others ahead of our own, every time we are motivated by love instead of selfishness and choose the harder path over the easy one, we fight a losing battle against the powers of this world. But it is a noble battle, too.

“And nothing has provoked it more than possible defeat”—is this not true? The words of my philosophy professor come to mind: “You cannot claim your faith as  your own until you have stared atheism in the face.” He made much of the class uncomfortable. I have considered whether faith is only poetry and song, of the possible defeat, and I have made the conclusion that even if it is, it is poetry to lift the eyes of the downcast, song to lighten the hearts of the weary, and is the noblest lost cause I can think of to live and die for. The history of Christianity is far from perfect, and those who call themselves Christians imperfect still, but if God was someone we could fully understand or something we could be fully comfortable with, then he would be of human design. And that is not faith. The stubborn hope of the unseen, inspiring those who believe to fight the long defeat, and in the process bring a little light into the darkness—this is faith. We who believe, we must continue even when we think our victory unsure, for to give up is certain defeat indeed.

These thoughts spurred from a song, dystopias, and riding with the horse-lords of Rohan. The answer to the question, “What are we holding on to?” is, as Sam says, “That there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Wind; Waves

The past few days the townspeople have all been talking about the SIBERIAN SNOW FRONT that was going to slam into Scotland today. Well, it did. I woke up with the notion of chopping off my hands and agreed with uk.weather.com‘s assessment that today’s Aches & Pains index was “high.” I then called the porter to remind him that I had a medical delivery coming in today. He brought the medicine to my room and I was pleased to find that they had sent the pressure pens this time instead of the syringes. And since I still felt dizzy, I called the NHS to schedule an appointment and they were able to see me this afternoon. So I put on my trench coat and tramped through the wind, rain, snow, hail to have my suspicions confirmed that yes, I do have a sinus infection. I’ve come back, filled myself with chemicals, and am going to cosy up with some tea and the Buke of Knychthede and hopefully feel better. The nurse practioner reminded me to make an appointment to get my bloods checked, which amused me because I was wondering this morning how long it’d take for them to remember my name. Not very long, apparently.

I took a picture of the sea when I went to pick up some papers from the English office:

img_74531

Regarding my essays: I did well. Not as well as I’d like, of course, when one’s standard is perfection and when one is still unused to the 20-point scale of grading. I made Distinction on the essay that counts (the field I want to do my dissertation in) and Passing on the other two. By looking at the chart, I’m guessing that’s the equivalent of an A and two B’s, but I’m not sure. I hate reading the comments so I’m going to put those off until I’m actually able to focus on something.

Maybe reading in Old Scots isn’t a good idea considering my current mental state. I think I’ll just stare at the ceiling until I can think of something to do.