and there an answer

I had an idea that I should re-shape my mind to focus less on striving for romantic love, and more on the sweetness of God.

In pursuit thereof, it seemed beneficial to form new habits, which would give a different cast to my mind: reading Scripture every day (less sporadically), praying more regularly, avoiding certain haunts on Tumblr and Ao3, and reading some devotional work or poetry (beginning with The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis).

The poetry that first came to mind was the product of a Facebook friend.  She’s more of an acquaintance after we’ve spent so many years in different places, yet I would delight in any time spent with her.  While I don’t wish to follow her footsteps exactly, her life’s path struck me as a useful exemplar: a woman who reads widely, writes beautifully, has never seemed concerned with Eros in her life, and who has discerned a vocation as a nun.

I set out to capture her poetry (lest she remove it one day from Facebook) and, along the way, also captured her quotations: a sort of vade mecum, even if it was originally hers and not mine.

In so doing…

Well, obviously I fell prey to envy once again.  Not merely over her reading and writing, her photography, or her understanding of the world, but her graduate degree, the time she spent growing while teaching, and her friendships: lively and verdant and close, full of delight and encouragement.

I was also envious, during this process, of my past self’s relationships and pursuits, wishing I’d worked harder and studied more (somehow found energy to do more of everything).  I’m disappointed in the sites or blog posts from 3 or 5 or 7 years back that have since disappeared.  I miss the way the world was, I miss how we engaged with each other, I miss feeling part of it.

I don’t really feel like I’m part of anything, these days.

So of course I asked a different friend how to deal with regret over past failures, and of course he counselled that forgetting what is behind and striving toward what is ahead generally works best.

And so I turned back to today’s reading on Psalm 119 (laboring, as ever, over Oh how I love your law!) and chapters X and XI of Book 1 of Imitation of Christ.

Just look at this:

CHAPTER XI
Of seeking peace of mind and of spiritual progress

We may enjoy abundance of peace if we refrain from busying ourselves with the sayings and doings of others, and things which concern not ourselves. How can he abide long time in peace who occupieth himself with other men’s matters, and with things without himself, and meanwhile payeth little or rare heed to the self within? Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall have abundance of peace.

How came it to pass that many of the Saints were so perfect, so contemplative of Divine things? Because they steadfastly sought to mortify themselves from all worldly desires, and so were enabled to cling with their whole heart to God, and be free and at leisure for the thought of Him. We are too much occupied with our own affections, and too anxious about transitory things. Seldom, too, do we entirely conquer even a single fault, nor are we zealous for daily growth in grace. And so we remain lukewarm and unspiritual.

Were we fully watchful of ourselves, and not bound in spirit to outward things, then might we be wise unto salvation, and make progress in Divine contemplation. Our great and grievous stumbling-block is that, not being freed from our affections and desires, we strive not to enter into the perfect way of the Saints. And when even a little trouble befalleth us, too quickly are we cast down, and fly to the world to give us comfort.

If we would quit ourselves like men, and strive to stand firm in the battle, then should we see the Lord helping us from Heaven. For He Himself is alway ready to help those who strive and who trust in Him; yea, He provideth for us occasions of striving, to the end that we may win the victory. If we look upon our progress in religion as a progress only in outward observances and forms, our devoutness will soon come to an end. But let us lay the axe to the very root of our life, that, being cleansed from affections, we may possess our souls in peace.

If each year should see one fault rooted out from us, we should go quickly on to perfection. But on the contrary, we often feel that we were better and holier in the beginning of our conversion than after many years of profession. Zeal and progress ought to increase day by day; yet now it seemeth a great thing if one is able to retain some portion of his first ardour. If we would put some slight stress on ourselves at the beginning, then afterwards we should be able to do all things with ease and joy.

It is a hard thing to break through a habit, and a yet harder thing to go contrary to our own will. Yet if thou overcome not slight and easy obstacles, how shalt thou overcome greater ones? Withstand thy will at the beginning, and unlearn an evil habit, lest it lead thee little by little into worse difficulties. Oh, if thou knewest what peace to thyself thy holy life should bring to thyself, and what joy to others, methinketh thou wouldst be more zealous for spiritual profit.

Well.  There’s my marching orders.  Lay the axe to the very root of our life!  Thank God for such pointed words.  May He grant it.

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A Prayer Before Cleaning

Lord Jesus Christ,

Thank you for this home and everything in it.

As I set out to clean it and to examine my belongings, go with me.

Wash me as I wash these dishes, this tile, this countertop, these stained drainboards, this table.  Sweep away my self-centeredness.

sweep

Make me as aware of your holiness and as dissatisfied with my sin, my pride, my complacency, my slowness to love and to help, as I am dissatisfied with mere untidiness of physical things.

As I seek to clear long-neglected corners, awaken me to my long-neglected faults.

Help me to be as meticulous in the eternal as I am in the arrangement of this room, these books, these papers.

Make me as grateful for the utensils and ability to prepare my daily bread as I am for the supply and the eating of it.

Give me the wisdom to look my life and my possessions in the face.  Grant that I may be able to let go of the needless, both tangible and intangible, the sin that entangles and the objects that distract.

Give me the understanding and the will to let go of the items I do not want or need,
to let go of the preparation for projects I have not done and will never do,
to keep from chasing the wind.  Teach me to number my days.

Preserve me from a covetous and envious spirit.

Grant me peace and not restlessness.

Help this order to be useful to arranging my life and my days for your glory.

As the cats flee the vacuum cleaner, so I flee the roar of life’s trials and duties.  Guard and reassure me, as those trials merely remove dust and filth.  Protect me from worry, distrust, and fear.

Lord, bless this house of muscle and bone,
and come live in it yourself.

In Natales et Pascha concurrentes

It is, for a little while yet, the 25th of March: the day the Church celebrates the Annunciation, whereby the Word was made Flesh.

It is also Friday, and we call this Friday good: for it is the day our Lord Jesus Christ climbed the shameful gallows-tree, transforming its shame to glory, trampling down death by death, bearing all sin in His sinless body to save us from our sin.

That these two great days occur together is apt, and rare; it will not occur again for 141 years.  On that account, John Donne wrote a poem (both here, and in the 2 prior links).  George Herbert also wrote a poem on the subject (item 67), this one in Latin, and that is the one I wanted to share:

Cum tu, Christe, cadis, nascor; mentémque ligavit
Una meam membris horula, téque cruci.
O me disparibus natum cum numine fatis!
Cur mihi das vitam, quam tibi, Christe, negas?
Quin moriar tecum: vitam, quam negligis ipse,
Accipe; ni talem des, tibi qualis erat.
Hoc mihi legatum tristi si funere præstes,
Christe, duplex fiet mors tua vita mihi:
Atque ibi per te sanctificer natalibus ipsis,
In vitam, et nervos Pascha coæva fluet.

Translated the best I can (after years without Latin practice, but with the benefit of some dictionaries):

When you, O Christ, fall, I rise;* it bound both my mind
And one of my members a little while, with you on the cross.
O how unlike, to me, that birth from the divine will now spoken!
Why do you give me life, when for yourself, Christ, you reject it?
I would even die with you: life, which itself you disregard,
Receive: unless you give such, as was given to you.
This would be a sad legacy for me if you would bestow death,
Christ, your death will doubly be made my life:
And yet, when I would be sanctified through your birth itself,
In life, and strength, your Passion coeval will flow.

*Alternately: When you, O Christ, die, I am born…

A friend has offered this (far superior) rendering:

As you die, o Christ, I am born: and my mind is bound
a little while with your limbs, to the Cross.
O what different destinies – of the man born, and the god.
Why do you give me life, which you, O Christ, renounce?
That I might die with you; take from me the life that you misprize [disregard],
unless you give to me a suffering similar to yours [??]
And if you grant to me – miserable creature – such a death,
o Christ, then your death would doubly be made my life.
And thus might my birth be sanctified to you
in life, and strength will flow from your sacrifice.

The Unity of the Church (Augustine)

Happy Pentecost!

In celebration, I give you This is an excerpt from St. Augustine’s sermon on Pentecost, and an awesome El Greco painting.

 

Dearly Beloved, God greatly commends unity. Let you dwell upon this, that in the beginning of creation, when God established all things, He placed the stars in the heavens and trees and all green things upon the earth. He said: Let the earth bring forth, and trees and all living things were brought forth. He said: Let the waters bring forth creeping things and flying things; and it was done. Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind and cattle and beasts of the earth; and it was done. Did God make the other birds from one bird? Did He make all the fish from one fish? All horses from one horse? All beasts from one beast? Did the earth not produce many things at the same time? Did it not complete many created things with numerous offspring?

Then He came to the creation of man, and He created one man; and from one man the human race. Nor did He will to create two separate beings, male and female, but one man; and from this one man He made woman (Gen. i. II). Why did He do this? Why did He begin the human race from one man, if not to commend unity to mankind? And the Lord Christ was born of one person. Virgin therefore is unity; let it hold fast to its integrity; let it preserve it uncorrupted.

The Lord commends to the Apostles the unity of the Church. He shows Himself; and they think they are seeing a spirit. They are frightened. He gives them courage, when He says to them: Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? See my hands: handle and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have. And see how as they wondered for joy He takes food; not from necessity, but for His purpose. He eats it before them. In the face of the unbelieving He commends to them the reality of His Body; He commends the Unity of the Church.

For what does He say? Are not these the words I spoke to you, while I was with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me? Then he opened their understanding, the Gospel says, that they might understand the scriptures. And he said to them: thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day (Lk. xxiv. 44). Behold our Head. Behold our Head; but where are the members? Behold the Bridegroom; where is the Bride? Read the marriage contract; listen to the Bridegroom. You seek the Bride? Learn from Him. No one takes away from Him His Bride; no one puts another in Her place. Learn from Him. Where do you seek Christ? Amid the fabrications of men, or in the truth of the Gospels? He suffered, He rose the third day, He showed Himself to His Disciples. We now have Him; we ask where She is? Let us ask Him. It behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead, the third day.

Lo, this is now come to pass; already we have seen Him. Tell us, O Lord; tell us Thou, Lord, lest we fall into error. And that penance and remission of sins should be preached. in his name unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. It began at Jerusalem, and it has reached unto us. It is there, and it is here. For it did not cease there to come to us. It has grown forth not changed places. He commended this to us immediately after His Resurrection. He passed forty days with them. About to ascend to heaven, He commended the Church to them again. The Bridegroom now about to depart entrusted His Bride to the care of His friends: not that she should love one among them, but that She might love Him as Her Spouse, and them as friends of the Bridegroom; but none of them as the Bridegroom.

They are jealous for Him, the friends of the Bridegroom; and they will not suffer her to be corrupted by a wanton love. Men hate rather when they so love. Listen to the jealous friend of the Bridegroom, when he knew, through friends, that the Bride was in a way to being corrupted. He says: I hear there are schisms among you; and in part I believe it (I Cor. xi. 18). Also, it hath been signified to me, my brethren, (you, by them that are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you, that everyone of you says, I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (I Cor. i. 11-13.) O friend of the Bridegroom! He refuses for himself the love of Another’s Spouse. He wills not to be loved in the place of the Bridegroom, that he may reign with the Bridegroom.

The Church therefore has been entrusted to them (the friends of the Bridegroom). And when He was about to ascend into heaven, He said so to those who thus asked Him about the end of the world: Tell us when shall these things be? And when shall be the sign of thy coming? And He said: It is not for you to know the times which the Father hath put in his own power. Hear, O disciple, what you have learned from your Master: But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you. And it has come to pass. On the fortieth day He ascended into heaven, and behold, coming upon this day, all who were present are filled with the Holy Ghost, and speak in the tongues of all nations. Once more unity is commended; by the tongues of all nations. It is commended by the Lord rising from the dead; it is confirmed this day in the Coming of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

El Greco's Pentecost

El Greco’s Pentecost

Ich bete wieder, du Erlauchter

Here is another Rilke poem.  I read it first in Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, as translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.  Then I read through the German, mostly to appreciate the original words (Erlauchter, rauschender, bedrängte, jetzt), the interplay of e and i vowels, the consonance, the seeming levity that comes from rhyme.

Then, in an attempt to better understand the original, I went back and forth between a dictionary, Google Translate, and the Barrows-Macy translation.  This is the result.

(If that seems like a lot of slipshod work for little profit: it is enough for me to learn that Barrows-Macy rendered “ich war,” which is literally “I was,” as “I am” – removing the contrast between most of the poem and the last verse.  The rest of it may be a passel of mistakes; nothing like lazy translations to emphasize that language is 80% pronouns and prepositions.)

Ich bete wieder, du Erlauchter,                    I pray again, you Illustrious One;
du hörst mich wieder durch den Wind,       do you hear me again through the wind
weil meine Tiefen nie gebrauchter               because from my unused depths
rauschender Worte mächtig sind.                mighty words are rushing.

Ich war zerstreut; an Widersacher                I was dispersed; to the adversary
in Stücken war verteilt mein Ich.                  my self was given in pieces.
O Gott, mich lachten alle Lacher,                 O God, I laughed all laughter,
und alle Trinker tranken mich.                      and all drunkards drank me.

Glass shards

In Höfen hab ich mich gesammelt                In courtyards I have gathered myself,
aus Abfall und aus altem Glas,                      from waste and from old glass,
mit halbem Mund dich angestammelt,          stammering to you with my half-mouth,
dich, ewiger aus Ebenmaß.                          to you, eternal in symmetry.
Wie hob ich meine halben Hände                  As I raised my half-hands
zu dir in namenlosem Flehn,                        to you in nameless entreaties,
dass ich die Augen wiederfände,                  that I might find the eyes
mit denen ich dich angesehn.                       with which I once beheld you.

Ich war ein Haus nach einem Brand,            I was a House after a Fire,
darin nur Mörder manchmal schlafen,          where only murderers sometimes sleep,
eh ihre hungerigen Strafen                           and their hungry punishments
sie weiterjagen in das Land;                         pursue them through the land;
ich war wie eine Stadt am Meer,                 I was like a city on the sea,
wenn eine Seuche sie bedrängte,                 pressed by a plague,
die sich wie eine Leiche schwer                  which like a heavy corpse
den Kindern in die Hände hängte.              hung the children in the hands.

Ich war mir fremd wie irgendwer            I was a stranger to myself as one
und wusste nur von ihm, dass er               of whom I knew only that he
einst meine junge Mutter kränkte,             once offended my young mother
als sie mich trug,                                     as she carried me
und dass ihr Herz, das eingeengte,            and that her heart, thus constricted,
sehr schmerzhaft an mein Keimen schlug.   throbbed achingly about my sprouting self.

Jetzt bin ich wieder aufgebaut                      Now I am rebuilt
aus allen Stücken meiner Schande                from all the pieces of my shame
und sehne mich nach einem Bande,            and yearn for a bond,
nach einem einigen Verstande,                     for a unified understanding,
der mich wie ein Ding überschaut,              which regards me as one thing
nach deines Herzens großen Händen           – as I yearn for the big hands of your Heart [to hold me]
(o kämen sie doch auf mich zu)                    (oh, let them draw near me)
ich zähle mich, mein Gott, und du,                I count myself, my God, and you,
du hast das Recht, mich zu verschwenden.     You have the right, to waste me.

Und Gott Befiehit mir, daß ich schriebe

I keep reading Rilke of late.  There will be more thoughts of mine and poems of his to share later, but in the meantime, here’s one that seemed apt enough for Ash Wednesday.  Have a blessed Lenten season, my dears.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich schriebe:
And God commanded me, that I write:

Den Königen sei Grausamkeit.   Leave the cruelty to kings.
Sie ist der Engel vor der Liebe,  Without that angel barring
und ohne diesen Bogen bliebe   the way to love, there would be no arc
mir keine Brücke in die Zeit.     to be my bridge into time.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich male:
And God commanded me, that I paint:

Die Zeit ist mir mein tiefstes Weh,    Time is my deepest woe,
so legte ich in ihre Schale:                so I laid in Her bowl
das wache Weib, die Wundenmale,   the waking wife, the painted-wounds*,
den reichen Tod (daß er sie zahle),   the rich death (which he pays for)
der Städte bange Bacchanale,          the cities’ fearful bacchanalia,
den Wahnsinn und die Könige.        the madness and the kings.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich baue:
And God commanded me, that I build:

Den König bin ich von der Zeit.       I am the king of then and now,
Dir aber bin ich nur der graue          but to you I am just the gray
Mitwisser deiner Einsamkeit.           confidant of your loneliness.
Und bin das Auge mit der Braue  And I am the eye under the brow

 Das über meine Schulter schaue          …which looks over my shoulder
von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit.                     from eternity to eternity.

 

I confess my understanding of this poem to be limited, given that I’m working in translation and am by no means fluent in German. Any criticism or correction would be welcome.

God’s being was narrowed, in Christ, to a finite span of time; it seems to me that “time” thus becomes shorthand for saying “a human being with a mortal lifespan.”

Since God commanded me that I paint is followed by a description of woeful things laid in a bowl, I imagine the paint to be blood, dripping into a bowl from Christ’s side. His suffering the weight of the world’s sorrow allows such grievous things to be transformed into stories, song, and beauty.

*Kenning for stigmata

Links for Thinks

I don’t often reblog other articles, nor do I tend to share quick picks from the internet at large.  But some of these things are worthy of discussion, and I wanted to share them with you to provide an opportunity for that discussion.  So here goes:

6 Ways to Love Single Women in Your Church
On one hand, I’m leery of being That Single Person Who Is Always Lamenting Her Singleness.  On the other hand…these are all good ideas, practical ways of being charitable, and Lindsey has written them in a charitable way.  I’ve been blessed with a loving and giving and supportive family, friends who ask, married friends who invite.  But that doesn’t always take away the loneliness – especially as more and more of my friends get engaged and the circle of comrades-in-singleness shrinks.  Do you think there’s anything she missed?

Why Miscarriage Matters When You’re Pro-Life
On the other side of the marriage fence, there’s the opportunity to bear new life, but it doesn’t always turn out as planned.  I have at least six friends who have suffered miscarriages, some of them more than once, and it’s…well.  It hurts.  It’s hard to talk about, because what do you say?  Death has made its way into the sphere where we expected life.  I can’t imagine it.  However, I’ve learned from those friends that the loss is real, the grief is real, and the care we take in discussing it also should be real.

Prayers
Sometimes I ask the denizens of Facebook their thoughts or preferences or whatnot.  Yesterday I asked them about their favorite prayers, and got all manner of fascinating responses!  Some tend toward the short and simple: Lord, have mercy.  Jesus, I trust in you.  I believe; help my unbelief!  Others go for the beauty of traditional prayers, like this one by Ephrem the Syrian: O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk.  But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity (integrity), humility, patience and love.  Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Expect to see more mention of prayer throughout Lent.  What do you pray for the most?

On a lighter note…
Between the drink menu at Zola Bistro, where I spent an evening with my housemates last week, and this fun map quiz, I have whiled away some pleasant times!  Make a note of which drinks you’d like, should you ever come to call, and let me know how you fare should you join me in quiz-taking.

Roadside Rescues

Last week, I was getting on the entrance ramp to US-23N to head to work when Friday Night came on my radio.  I may have accelerated more than was wise, which resulted in the car spinning about some 270 degrees and coming to a stop off the left side of the ramp, mostly on the shoulder but jutting a bit into the median.

Which, no matter how smooth the aftermath, is alarming.  Fortunately, no one hit me, I didn’t get stuck in the snow, and I hadn’t gone off the right side of the ramp, which slopes down into a clump of trees.  The only casualty was the splash guard, which was partly dislodged from under the front bumper.  And so I thanked God for my safety, resolved not to listen to the radio whilst on entrance ramps henceforth, waited for the adrenaline to stop flowing, and carried on driving to work.

~~~

Yesternight, having decided to get my hair trimmed, I was driving down Sheldon Road when I hit one of those potholes they’ve made such noise about.  Bam!  Immediate flat tire on my front passenger side.

Which was incredibly annoying.  Dang and blast it all, there went my plans for the whole evening: haircut, picture for a new passport, going home to read and clean and generally Take Care Of Business had all been swallowed up by waiting for assistance and the expense of getting a tire fixed.  Fortunately, I was able to get off Sheldon, my phone was charged, there was a spare tire in the trunk, and the plans were more or less etched in Jell-O anyway.  And so I thanked God for that and made some calls.  With my brother Mark’s help, I cancelled the hair appointment, called AAA for roadside assistance, and ordered a personal pizza delivery given the expected 2-hour wait.

Settling down to read Something Wicked This Way Comes, I was heartened when a woman stopped her minivan to ask if I needed help.  “Nah, I’m fine – just waiting for Triple A,” I told her.  I said the same to two teenage boys who stopped their vehicle some minutes later.  When the third minivan stopped, I said “Well, I’m waiting for roadside assistance, but if you want to change a tire, well, go ahead.”  So this fellow parks his car, digs a couple of lug wrenches from my trunk, reveals a secret compartment (!) with another full-sized spare tire in it, and spends some 20 or 30 minutes trying to remove the lug nuts.  He wasn’t successful, but we spent the time chatting about the neighborhood, the schools and churches our families have attended, Michigan’s foster care system, urban beautification efforts in Detroit, his mum’s garage sales, and the startling spending of the wealthier folks in Grand Rapids.  Eventually he gave it up as a bad job and we sat in his car until the AAA guy arrived.  Ten minutes thereafter, I headed home.

~~~

This morning, I got on US-23 ever so carefully, my radio off, since I have the capacity for basic learning (although I suppose that’s up for debate.  Maybe I should be taking a different route?  Different car?  Moving to Panama?).  Everyone was driving around 35-40 mph given the snow, which seemed reasonable enough.  A little over a mile down the expressway, the person in front of me braked.  I also braked – gently, I thought, but evidently not gently enough: the car spun around 180 degrees, until I was facing oncoming traffic.

Which was swift and baffling and even more alarming than last week’s adventure.  Fortunately, I was on the right shoulder, neither hit the guardrail nor rolled down the slope, and no one hit me.  After a couple minutes, there was a wide enough gap that I could drive across and turn the car around; a few minutes after that, a wide enough gap to ease off the left shoulder and back onto the road, hazard lights flashing all the way.

And so I thanked God for my safety, drove the rest of the way as carefully as I could, and prayed we all might be delivered from the snow and ice.

Clearly I’ve been delivered three times already.  This reveals God’s glory to me if to no one else…but I keep wondering if it might not be more glorious for Him to send a thaw?