A Dawn of Paradoxes

Edinburgh Castle at Dawn

This morning I put Laura in a cab and walked away, down the predawn Princes Street in Edinburgh watching the sun cast its early light on the castle, and later down the still-sleepy streets of Town listening as the bells rang out over it. My head was filled with the first forty pages of Children of God, the sequel to The Sparrow that I had delayed reading out of cowardice. Something I could not have hoped for has happened, and yet it fills me with dread, apprehension. This is love—this is faith, I think as I dare to read on: to encounter the impossible and tremble at its terrible beauty.

I never wrote a review of The Sparrow, as I said I would. It is too personal. As I take this journey into the dark, back to Rakhat, I leave you with what I wrote in my journal while reading The Sparrow:

Who am I? That my plain, human heart would faint to love God, to commune with the Divine? I, who am both agnostic and mystic, believer and skeptic, lover and beloved? God is as constant as my changeable heart; God is faithful, alleluia, amen.

Last night, a Catholic-leaning Protestant said to a Protestant-leaning Catholic, both drawn to Judaism: “I see no reason why we cannot celebrate both Catholic tradition and Jewish tradition.” Her response was, “Now that is ecumenical reform.”

Daughter of now

Daughter of heaven Oh, daughter of now
Drifting away and don’t make a sound
We’ll cry when we hear that you ran from this town
She’s gone to a new place now
She’s gone to a new place now

–“Daughter of Heaven,” Kate Rusby

I went to my first favorite place today to journal: a ledge at the base of the ruins of the Castle, out of the way of tourists, overlooking the sea. This is what I wrote:

So many people from “before”—for there is a definite moment that separates my life before Scotland and my life in Scotland—have asked “How is Scotland?” It’s the same question that they would ask if I were on holiday, and so I find it hard to respond. I came here with the intention of living here. How I came to find myself here is a story so full of happenstance that I know I am here not by any ability of my own. The past few weeks, and still today, I have walked half in a daze, following with faith the steps laid before me. Even now that I am here with classes starting–finally–two days from now, I am not really sure what I’m doing here, but I’m going to do it anyway. I know that I am headed toward something and this is the way to it, whatever it may be.

In short, from the first glimpse of heaven’s fingers brushing the green earth, I knew I belonged here. The sight of the sea is intoxicating. It draws me toward its neverending horizon, pulling me to seek it out when I take a walk, even if my destination were elsewhere. (It isn’t hard, I live two minutes’ walk away from the sea.) The vast expanse of the sea inspires, how somewhere a Divine Will said “this far and no farther” and the seas obeyed. Even as I watch it with wary eyes, I am assured by the water mark that the waves will not rise up and wash the town away. I have grown used to the crying of gulls and of pipes on the wind, forming a backdrop to life here. The addition of RAF planes and the tolling of bells, the smell of clementines and of Fairy Detergent, only complete the sense of familiarity I have with this place.

I watch the fishermen on their boats and the couples skipping rocks and feel not the disinterested detachment that had plagued me for months. I am still an observer, perched on my ledge, leaning against the castle wall, but I feel more present. That’s what it all comes down to, a niche into which I actually fit.

Scotland is where I smell the freshness of the sea and the perfume of roses. It is where I taste the smoothness of tea that still warms my spirit. Where my old friend the wind still toys with my hair. There is a blend of familiarity and newness which has kept it from being a shock to my system and yet continues to drive my wanderer’s feet to the cobblestone streets for some exploring.

I’ve tried to gather my thoughts in a coherent fashion, but I’m not sure how much I’ve succeeded. I have seen so much, heard so much, felt so much, thought so much, that it is impossible to put it all down except for in the scattered recesses of my memory.

*  *  *

I hope this adds to the posts I have already written. I was out at the castle for an hour and I wonder in how many tourists’ pictures I have been. I must have looked very picturesque in my plaid brown skirt and striped brown cardigan, hair being blown about, the castle behind me, journaling. I felt quite Romantic. And that, perhaps, is my absolute favorite thing so far: the castle and the sea.

Imperfect

Borrowed from Amber:

Someone forgot to put that on my desk this week. Today, however has gone from worse to better. Even though I got very little sleep, work went by quickly. I’m starting to relax there, too; starting to laugh. It was a good day.

Ever since I memorized 1 Corinthians 13, I’ve been working my way through the list of what love is and isn’t. Next on this list is, “love is not self-seeking.”1 That lesson could have come a bit earlier, but now is as good a time as any. Also next on the list is, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,” from 1 John 4:18. I know it may seem like I’m once again holding myself to an impossible standard. But as Christians, we are. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), which I’ve always interpreted as “become perfect, be moving toward perfection.” We’ll never reach it, but the more we grow, the more we strive to simulate Christ, the closer we should move toward that goal. It takes conscious effort, and it’s gradual. It’s an imperfect process toward a hoped-for perfect result.

Paging through my journal to find my thoughts on these topics, I came across this [a response to a passage from The Painted Veil]:

Humans have the potential to do both great good and great evil, but we also have the propensity for selfishness. As a result, this world is a crazy, chaotic place. What makes life beautiful, worth living, are the relationships we form that serve as anchors in this raging sea. The beauty in a smile, a glance, laughter between friends. It is the mundanity of life that makes the great deeds of heroes valuable.

I still have thoughts regarding the Beggarman and Charity. Maybe they’ll eventually show up here. Maybe I need to mull on them a bit longer. All this mental energy spent on imperfection brings to mind Canon in B Minor, of which there is more of the story to be told. Perhaps Masters Russell and Edwards will inspire me to tell the rest of their story.


1 By no means does this mean the previous items on the list have been mastered. This, too, is an ongoing process.

Future-minded

I think I’m ready for it to be next March. By then, I should be well-adjusted to Scotland. Mainly, I don’t want a transitional four-month-long summer. Ugh. Let’s skip limbo, shall we?

For lack of other things to say, a few pages pulled from my journal. From August 2007 [Kali’s comment points out that I need to add the disclaimer I had decided not to put after all: The first statement is a prompt that I made up for myself to journal from, it is by no means what I actually believe, as indicated through my criticism of it through the rest of the entry.]:

So long as we have diversity, we will never have peace. There is only one way to have peace and that is for everyone to be the same. To agree, always, and to never see anything differently. There are a number of ways to achieve this… to have such an oppressive government, such as in 1984, that it crushes all opposition… to have such a liberal government, à la Brave New World, that the populous is too distracted to revolt… humanity has to be reduced to the lowest common denominator, studies of the humanities and liberal arts must cease, knowledge for the sake of knowledge must be stamped out – in essence, the defining qualities of the human race, curiosity, intellect, thought, diversity, individuality, must be erased. Widespread peace – meaning the absence of war, pain, and suffering – would come at the cost of what makes humanity human. Culture would end. Faith. Story-telling. Imagination.

By requiring everyone to be the same, and by removing pain, the human race would be stunted toward failure. Life is not worthwhile without love, without something to live for, and both of these things are tied up with heartache. To be denied the imagination, history, love, and pain, is to be denied humanity. The end result would be a world populated with one more race of animals incapable of imaginative independent thought.

This leads to some startling conclusions. As one who abhors the hate and horror of war, of the death and waste it causes, how do I reconcile this with my belief that pain defines life? Are casualties of war, though unfortunate, the necessary sacrifices for the survival of the human race, not merely the DNA code that defines us, but of a race that retains its self, its humanity?

Are peace efforts in vain, or even wrongful? Should I, as a self-proclaimed Christian, really hope for the day (or a day) that all people would bow and confess the name of Christ as Lord? Wouldn’t that make us all the same? I find the diversity of faiths a beautiful thing. The prospective loss of quiet Buddhist meditation, colorful Hindu festivals, the steadfastness of Islam, saddens me.

Is there any way at all to have widespread peace and maintain our diversity?

If we all become hermits, but then that ceases to be “life” also, for humanity is also defined by its community. Interaction between human beings, love, friendship, working relationships – even hate? Discord? Enemies? – are essential to life, for a human cannot reach its fullest potential in a vacuum. The few ascetics who do choose such a life do so for the sake of spiritual enlightenment, or as intercessors for their community, but not so that they themselves can be fully human. Community, then, in addition to diversity and imagination, define the human race. So is it possible to have all three of these things and have widespread, or even “world,” peace?

“Only by divine intervention,” I want to say. That again raises the question of religion, and reminds me of something Gandhi said:

“I came to the conclusion long ago […] that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu […] But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.”

So, where does that leave us?

If I had a magic wand…

I created this blog in part to have a venue for some off-line things that I’ve written. From July 2007:

As much as the stability of a suburban, middle-class life is tempting, there is something deeper in me that stirs for fantasy. For a quest, for glory, and grandeur. For a struggle between good versus evil, where the sides are clear. This is the part of me that identifies with Éowyn, with Lír, who wants an Order of the Phoenix that she can join to fight against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. This is the part of me that “fears a cage, a life behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” To stand beneath trees and actually hear the whisperings I fancy I hear. To see things. To know things. To do things. To feel the weight of responsibility that comes with power. To have an end for which to use that power.

The enemies today are political and corporate leaders, acting out human rights abuses and what have you, and the only way to fight them is on their political playing field. I have no heart for politicking. I have already tried. I would rather a sword, or a staff, or my voice with which to inspire others, and have my own grit and worth determine success, not the system.

I have to hope for the potential of mankind, in our ability to love and work toward the best of things. Yet every day I encounter utter selfishness in the people at work and just in normal people—well, they just don’t care. Maybe they’re jaded. Maybe they weren’t raised and instilled with the belief that we should be considerate and kind to all people simply because they are people, too. Fellow human beings. And not to be nice just because someone is making us or for our own self-interest. I care so much about having a purpose or doing something great—not for my own sake, my own glory, but just to do something for the greater good. But my hope that there are others like me is dashed every day.

What creature is man? So like an angel, so like a god, but so like a devil and beast as well. That we have such capabilities and potential for goodness and kindness, but how many of us choose selfishness and apathy instead. I see the rampant disease of apathy and it causes me to despair to the point that I become apathetic, also.

I firmly believe that the best heroes—Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, Lír and Molly Grue, Ender and Valentine—did not ask to be heroes. It happened. The circumstances were set and they had to make a choice. They could only make the best choice from what they knew at the time. That is all I can hope to do, too. If what I do helps to steer the world in the right direction, ever so imperceptibly, well, that is all I can hope for, isn’t it? And I will ever have an unrequited love for the glory found in fantasy novels.