March 17, 2014
Sowing and Reaping
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. NIV
There’s a warning against deceiving ourselves, imagining that we can sow one thing in life and reap something different, imagining that we can get away with things that God won’t see, that we won’t be caught up with the consequences of our actions. The Bible warns us this isn’t so. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
We know this is true in the natural realm. We know that if we plant an orange pip an apple will never grow. We know that if we sow maize, barley will never grow. What we sow is what’s going to come up out of it. So many, however, that see this in the natural don’t realize it’s equally true in the spiritual.
God has made the whole universe with the same principle – that what we sow we reap. If we sow unkindness, we’ll reap unkindness. If we sow selfishness, we’ll reap selfishness. If we sow bitter words, we’ll reap bitter words. But if we sow peace, we’ll reap peace. If we sow love, we’ll reap love. If we sow joy, we’ll reap joy.
Are you dissatisfied with your life? Are you dissatisfied with the way things are? Remember that what you are reaping is the result of what you have sown. If you want to reap differently, you’ll have to begin to sow differently. God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
To listen to Derek’s original audio on our website click here.
I finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy this week and wanted to share a few thoughts about some of its themes. I liked the books very much, and contrary to what they might seem, believe that they provide a healthy contrast to many of the messages young women are being sent today. Mrs. Judgy provides a nice perspective on why Katniss is a good example for young women (language warning). Many of the nuances of why that is come out in the book in a way that would be impossible to include in the movies, so if you liked the movies, the books will be that much better. If you’ve neither seen nor read The Hunger Games trilogy, this post will completely spoil it, all the way to the end. I would hate for that to happen, so you should read the trilogy and come back and share your thoughts.
There is a theme that comes out in my writings and comments about ideal life vs. real life. When we have discussions about what roles women should ideally take on and how a family should ideally be structured, we can easily overlook the fact that many people–men and women alike–were not born into ideal circumstances, and many encounter situations in life that can throw a wrench into that ideal life if they ever had it at all. Katniss finds herself in an extreme version of a non-ideal life for reasons beyond her control: born into a deeply unjust and morally defunct society, losing her father and family breadwinner at a young age, having a mother who descended into lifeless catatonia, experiencing constant hunger and deprivation, and finally, being sent into an arena in which her only choices are to kill or be killed. It is in light of these circumstances that Katniss’ toughness and her anger are put into context, not as examples of having something to prove, but of doing what it takes to survive.
It is interesting to note that Katniss’ mother was born into a relatively privileged life and is one who could not cope with the hardship she and her daughters faced after the passing of her husband, allowing young Katniss to bear the responsibility for making things turn out right. Even in the end, when Katniss is sent back to her home district in a state of virtual madness, it is her mentor Haymitch who accompanies her rather than her mother, as her mother could not bear to return to the place where she would be reminded of her lost husband and daughter, Prim. These were also significant losses for Katniss, but Katniss has the strength to eventually confront her pain and grief and move forward.
There is a theme in the book of those who are not used to suffering being unable to withstand adversity when it arrives. Aside from Mrs. Everdeen, the contrast between the character of the citizens of the Capitol and those of the Districts is another example, of whom it is said of the former, “They don’t know how to go hungry.” Virtue in The Hunger Games is often wrought through hardship, through deprivation, and through an unending barrage of situations that force individuals to choose the best act to produce the best outcome in dire circumstances.
And so in light of this theme, we see Katniss’ greatest virtue, present from the start: She rises to meet whatever challenge is required to survive and protect those she loves, which remains her central motivation throughout the series. Her love is not self-indulgent in that it is often, if not always, self-sacrificial. And she does so with no sense of entitlement to anyone’s love, protection or provision. Examples include her continually risking serious legal reprimand to feed her family and friends, going into the games in place of her sister without any reason to think that she would survive, being genuinely concerned about Rue’s safety and genuinely grieving for her and her family during the games and afterward, making a deal with Haymitch to save Peeta rather than herself, protecting Gale from being whipped, and so forth. Her love is really without limit or condition in that respect. But it is a practical love and not particularly emotional. Having lived a life of constant deprivation and survival, her love takes the form of sacrificing herself so that those she loves can survive. And even then, she understands how to depend on others for help, as seen in the strength of her friendship with Gale, her relationships with those in District 12, her brief alliance with Rue, and her eventual reliance upon Peeta to help her see and realize the possibility of rebirth and renewal of life.
One of the main things that I liked about Katniss was that, although she maintains deep bonds with others, she is not consumed with ideas of being loved nor with the expectation that others will do for her. Although two desirable young men openly vie for her affection, she is not taken with the idea of herself being the object of their desire. If anything, she seems to view the pressure to choose between them as a distraction from her more pressing task of saving those she cares about. She remains a faithful friend to both and gives of herself for their good, but is not overly concerned about what she will receive from them. I think that this is an important aspect of Katniss’ character because it reflects the fact that she is not preoccupied by thoughts of her own happiness and fulfillment. Rather, her consuming focus is on protecting those she loves, which include both Peeta and Gale, though in different ways. When it comes to the future, she lights up when her sister Prim tells her that she is training to become a doctor. It is Katniss’ hope for Prim’s future that makes the world seem brighter rather than hope for her own. Peeta highlights this aspect of Katniss’ character when he asks her to share a happy memory and when she has finished, tells her that he knew that one of her happiest memories would be of giving a gift to someone else.
A central story arc of the novel concerns the relationships between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. The presence of a bonafide love triangle might scream “teenage angst” to some, and perhaps fairly. But it works in this story, one, because of Katniss’ outward focus, and two, because there’s a purity in their loves that comes from the other being seen as an end in themselves rather than as a means of personal satisfaction and gratification. In fact, their selflessness is almost unrealistic, but is perhaps likely in light of how strongly the character of District citizens is portrayed.
The Boy with the Bread
In their first meeting, Peeta, the baker’s son, intentionally burns bread and takes a beating from his mother in order to sneak bread to a starving Katniss, who is only a girl he likes from school at that point. Much later, Peeta’s apology to Katniss after they win the first Hunger Games is another example of his unselfish love for her. Rather than giving into bitter thoughts of being led on, he acknowledges that he knew Gale was in the picture before the games and that Katniss did what she felt was necessary for them both to survive. When they discover that Katniss will definitely be sent into the arena once again, and that either he or Haymitch will be sent with her, he volunteers in Haymitch’s place to go and prepares to sacrifice himself for her survival, secretly insisting to Haymitch that he must work as their mentor to save her rather than himself. In the arena, once Peeta realizes that Katniss has also made a deal with Haymitch, but to save him rather than herself, he attempts to persuade her that she still has the possibility of a good life with Gale and her family. After he is “hijacked” and tortured, and comes to see the worst interpretation of Katniss’ actions without the veneer of romantic love, he ultimately chooses to allow memories of the goodness shared between them to form the basis of renewed trust and closeness with her. And finally, after Katniss is sent back to District 12 with Haymitch, Peeta comes as soon as he is allowed, with flowers to honor Katniss’ sister Prim, and then bread for them to share. Peeta repeatedly chooses to love Katniss, even when he could easily justify doing otherwise.
Gale’s love for Katniss comes primarily in the form of his provision for her and her family. He shows her how to make snares and become a better hunter for her family. He provides companionship in her lonely struggle to survive. He is willing to follow through with a plan to escape together into the woods with their families, to relieve their suffering in the District. And when she is in the arena, he takes over her responsibility for bringing food for Prim and Mrs. Everdeen. During the rebellion, when they decide that it’s necessary to rescue Peeta, Gale volunteers to go on this life-threatening mission to save Peeta–his romantic rival–likely because he knows how much Peeta means to Katniss. But when Peeta becomes a danger to Katniss, he is ever ready to protect her from him. He wakes up multiple times in the night just to make sure she is OK.
Gale and Peeta even share a conversation about their interest in Katniss that is interesting if only because they express no animosity toward one another. Eavesdropping, Katniss notes that Gale has brought Peeta a drink of water and they are talking as if they are friends. They even laugh about the situation and acknowledge that Katniss has a choice to make between the two, but both seem important to her. They speculate about what will ultimately happen, but don’t allow their own pride or desire to put pressure on Katniss or to mistreat the other.
Both Peeta and Gale show their love for Katniss without entitlement, just as she does. Their love for her is not contingent upon her fulfilling their wishes; but rather is a choice based on their desire for her good. They know her worst traits, but believe the good is still worthwhile. The romantic nature of their love is seen in their desire to be in an intimate relationship with her; but she remains in their eyes an end in and of herself, without respect to whether their desire for her is fulfilled. This is what fundamentally distinguishes romantic love from lust.
As admirable as Gale and Peeta’s loves are, I am somewhat conflicted as to whether they set expectations too high for young women regarding what they should expect from men, or whether they simply provide a distilled and concentrated version of the type of love everyone ought to seek in a spouse. I lean toward the latter, which I hope to explore in another post soon.
But even our loves can be come a hindrance. All protagonists must have a central flaw. And insofar as their central virtue is their selfless love, their central flaw is that both Katniss and Peeta love with shortsighted vision; with their beloved as the utmost consideration. Katniss initially thinking only of Peeta’s fate instead of seeing the big picture of the resistance. Peeta initially giving an interview with Caesar asking the rebels for a ceasefire in order to protect Katniss. Both of their attitudes and actions were misguided on those points, and I could only think of Richard Lovelace’s poem, “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”:
Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Lov’d I not Honour more.
Written from the perspective of a soldier leaving his beloved to fight in battle, the line “I could not love thee (Dear) so much / Lov’d I not Honour more” expresses the soldier’s conviction that he has more transcendent ideals to pursue than the creaturely love between himself and his love; and not only that, but that it is his embrace of those ideals (namely honor) that enables him to love her as much as he does. An aspect of the dystopian nature of The Hunger Games is that the characters generally have no hope beyond what is immediately in front of them, with the constant fear that what little they do have might be stripped away at any moment. And so, the people Katniss loves become the beginning and end of her hope and reason for being. Peeta also admits to Katniss that she is all he has to live for. It is not until Katniss believes that Peeta is lost to her that she begins to focus on the importance of the rebellion. And then, considering him lost to his hijacked and tortured self, her love for him is trampled under her own survival instinct. Haymitch has to reproach her and help her to see love as something that transcends survival and protection in the present moment. And in finding a more transcendent love, Katniss learns to love Peeta again in a better and deeper way.
Gale does not fall so easily into this trap. Rather, his love is more like that of the soldier bidding farewell to his beloved Lucasta. When Katniss runs to him, finally wanting to run away, but mentions that some of the districts have already begun to rebel against the Capitol, all his previous thoughts of fleeing leave him. Gale cannot consider fleeing, not even to save himself and Katniss from President Snow’s threats, when the possibility of working to fight against the oppression that has created their predicament presents itself. In his conversation with Peeta, Gale wonders whether he had not sacrificed enough for Katniss, saying to Peeta “No, you won her over. Gave up everything for her. Maybe that’s the only way to convince her you love her…I should have volunteered to take your place in the first Games. Protected her then.” Though Peeta reassures him that Gale showed his love in taking care of her family [and Gale also had to take care of his own], implicit in Gale’s speculation is an acknowledgment that Katniss was not his all-consuming focus. At the end, when Gale realizes that she will never be able to look at him without wondering whether he was (indirectly) responsible for her sister’s death, he expresses regret but picks himself up and moves on with his purpose in life–working to help build a new society. This is in contrast to Peeta, of whom it is unclear what purpose he would have outside of a life with Katniss. I do not believe that any of this indicates that Peeta loves Katniss more, nor that Gale loved Katniss less (and Katniss never makes such a comparison) only that Gale’s love was kept in broader perspective, with other responsibilities to fulfill and higher ideals to live for than Katniss Everdeen.
Nevertheless, despite Peeta’s shortsighted vision, it is ultimately his virtue that wins in pointing Katniss to the possibility of goodness and life in spite of everything that they suffered. Peeta was not deeply loved by his family, lost everything, almost died multiple times, and was tortured terribly, but continued to see the good and to act for goodness and peace and love. Peeta always held himself above the constant manipulation of the game makers and the Capitol to be self-seeking, cruel, murderous; he always held himself above their insistence that he had to play the game on their terms. This is reflected in his exchange with Katniss before their first games:
“I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only…I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?” he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? “I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.”
I bite my lip, feeling inferior. While I’ve been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self. “Do you mean you won’t kill anyone?” I ask.
“No, when the time comes, I’m sure I’ll kill just like everybody else. I can’t go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” says Peeta.
Katniss also recognizes that it is not only herself that can see that Peeta is “truly, deep-down, better than the rest of us.” Others, particularly Katniss and Gale, give themselves to vengeance and the self-protective instinct to immediately go for the kill without thinking of other options. When Katniss and Haymitch agree to a final Hunger Games to enact revenge on the Capitol citizens, Peeta is furiously adamant that such a course of action is wrong. Peeta’s continual refusal to stoop to that level is a significant part of what makes Katniss ultimately recognize her need of him and his ability to bring renewal to her life beset by grief, fear and anger. The ending of the trilogy is incredibly wise in that respect and true to life. Katniss and Peeta have broken bodies and broken hearts, but work day by day to allow spring to replace their winter. As I mentioned in my post “Where Has the Coming of Age Tale Gone?” this lesson is one of the most valuable we can learn.
This post was originally published about two and a half years ago, but a post I read today reminded me of it and the fact that its message is still relevant. Literature is such a powerful tool for growth in understanding, as it helps us to observe and place ourselves in situations that we may not encounter in real life. But by standing in the characters’ shoes, we come to better understand life, people, the world, and ourselves through their experiences.
What do you get when you combine a young person, a hardship, grief, and a lesson? A coming-of-age tale! Such stories used to be popular, but what happened to them?
This is what happened to the coming-of-age tale:
Yes, Teen Paranormal Romance has it’s own section at Barnes & Noble. It’s not just “Young Adult Literature” or even “Fantasy,” or “Teen Romance,” it’s specifically “Teen Paranormal Romance”. I have to admit that I’ve not read or watched anything belonging to this new and popular genre, not even the Twilight series. So I have no specific critique about any book or series. But I did find the contrast between the coming-of-age tale and teen paranormal romance to be striking.
When I was kid I read incessantly. Favorite books were Madeline L’Engle’s Troubling a Star, Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Numbering the Stars, Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terebithia and even Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. None of these books is significant because I liked them, but they were all widely hailed as being great juvenile literature. (Well, Angelou’s book wasn’t for young people in the least, but it is a worthwhile book nonetheless.) They had a certain trait in common–they dealt with kids or teens encountering hardship of one sort of another, and being forced to become more mature because of it and deal with the world with a more adult outlook. That might sound a little like a downer, but I don’t think it is. The attraction of the story isn’t the hardship, but the triumph and the growth, and the fact that the reader can grow along with the character and himself be a little better for having read it.
If I were to make only one contrast between the coming-of-age tale and genres such as “teen paranormal romance” it would be this: the coming of age tale uses life circumstances to take the character and the reader to a more mature outlook on life, to greater wisdom and character. It forces the character away from his own wishes and desires to grapple with the world as it is. Teen romance novels highlighting relationships between girls and vampires, warewolves, and the like play to a young woman’s fantasies about being highly desired and the temptation to give into an aggrandized sense of having an “impossible love”–the kind that seems significant if only because all the odds are against it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with falling in love! But I wonder if young women in particular are being encouraged to focus on their own fantasies and ideas about themselves and the world than on life as it truly is. (Even though I haven’t read this kind of lit, my response is based on hearing the reactions of young women to the books and their reasons for liking it.) It’s more gratifying to the emotions of a young woman to dwell on the idea that there’s an epic battle over her affections than to accept the fact that she may truly fall in love, get her heart broken and have to grow beyond it to become a better person through it.
I don’t know if many people want reality anymore. I don’t mean the grittiest parts of human existence, I just mean real life. It seems that we’re at a place where as much as possible we want to think about anything other how things truly are, anything other than our real lives. Even “reality” television highlights the most extreme, scripted, and unlikely aspects of society. People may say that they just want an escape, but I feel that the answer is not an escape from life, but rather a journey through life. Life is the real adventure. And true joy and victory is only experienced when you actually overcome. So if you’re choosing to take on that adventure, a great coming-of-age story makes a good companion.
3/2014 Postscript: I’m currently reading The Hunger Games and think that the trilogy is an example of good juvenile literature. Though this post is a complaint about the current state of literature for young adults, I’m not so crumudeon-y to believe that nothing good is being written anymore or that nothing genuinely good can be so popular. I may write about the books in future posts.
A post I read today reminded me of the importance of understanding and being wary of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The roots of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit begin with rejecting the authentic work of God as a work of evil. We see this illustrated clearly in the Gospel of Matthew:
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul,by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, butwhoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12:22-32, ESV)
Theologians and the Christian Tradition more broadly have summed up blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as a refusal to accept salvation through Christ. We see in the passage above where such a refusal begins. It began with the religious leaders of the day seeing the works of Jesus and the ostensible power of God, and refusing to acknowledge it as such. And beyond simply being unable to recognize it as the power of God, they actually attributed the works to the power of Satan. It was obvious that *something* significant had occurred, but the explanation they reached for was that the power was evil rather than good. Jesus confronts their thinking, saying that the works that He did were good works, meaning that they worked toward a godly end. How could those works be done of Satan if they are promoting the Kingdom of God? Satan does not cast out demons or bring people into closer communion with God. If he did so, he would be undermining his own purposes.
We cannot both have faith in Christ, and at the same time, call the work of Christ the work of Satan. We cannot both claim Christ’s name and at the same time deride the works done in His name. For it is those very works which testify of Him.
The post I referenced above focused on the testimony of the couple in the video below.
It is the story of Raeul and Susan, a married couple that speaks of growing distant and cold over the years and of affairs had both by Susan and Raeul. Wanting to survive as a married couple, they sought help through counseling and became involved in the Re|Engage marriage ministry at their church. Highlights from what they shared:
Raeul: “Re|Engage was just a pivotal point for me in that the Bible just came alive…[W]e would come in and we would have issues; and there was always a biblical principle there for us; there was always something there that God had that we could hold onto.”
Susan: “As we really began to do that and to vertically align ourselves with Christ…horizontally the marriage began to heal.”
Raeul: “We are in the best place that we have ever been in our marriage.”
Susan: “Oftentimes when we think about what Re|Engage really is, we think about the three components: God’s word, God’s people, and God’s Spirit.”
Raeul: “Re|Engage brought to us the urgent need for us to follow Christ. It put our marriage in a place where it talks about oneness in Genesis, that we’re not out for each other, but that we’re out for us together.”
Their testimony is derided as being of the “Book of Oprah.” Some would have us believe that this couple overcame mutual infidelity and distance to be closer than they have ever been, to feel an urgent need to follow Christ, and to express a dependence upon Scripture through Oprah-principles. Oprah does not teach people to follow Christ. She does not teach people to depend upon Scripture, and she does not encourage people to submit to accountability within a Christian community. Those things promote the Kingdom of God and the Lordship of Christ. I would be extremely wary of deriding someone who testifies of their decision to follow Christ in obedience and the healing they experienced thereby. It comes very close to blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
The Pharisees hated Jesus and the works He did because He did not do it according to the prescribed order of the law (as they understood it) and it didn’t come through their authority. When they saw His power, they hated it, even when He performed miracles for people and tremendously changed their lives for the better. Why did they hate Jesus even when He was obviously doing a great work for people? Because He wasn’t doing it their way. The manosphere posits a lot of ideas about how men and women are supposed to relate to one another. This couple bucks their advice and ideology and is successful in doing so. But it seems that some would rather hear the husband say “I gamed my wife until she finally bent down to lick my boots,” than they would rejoice to hear, “We chose to obey Christ more faithfully and He has done an amazing work between us because of it.”
Most bloggers choose to blog under a handle other than their actual name. Most keep specific details about their location and work private. As I prepare to publish something that is a little weightier than my usual fare, I wondered whether I ought not attach my actual name to it. The reason is that I’ve always believed that people ought to have the courage of their convictions. A truth that you claim to believe in but will not publicly attach your name to seems to be a truth that you don’t believe in enough to be openly identified with. To be honest, the HBD supporters seem to be a prime example of this. Many claim that the public simply cannot handle such “politically incorrect” truth. But politicians, ideologues, and intellectual pundits argue with one another all the time publicly. And throughout history, many people on all sides of the political spectrum have fought, bled and died for what they believed to be the truth in light of extreme opposition.
When we insist on anonymity, are we attempting to sway others to a position without being openly seen as doing so? Are we dodging valid scrutiny and criticism? Are we trying to give ourselves cover and permission to say something we would not otherwise say, in a manner that we would not otherwise say it? Do we not want the people in our lives to know the things we write and our real feelings? Are we really concerned about someone from the internet harassing us, when plenty of strangers and casual acquaintances in our day to day lives can ascertain just as many details about us?
There was a hilarious comic I came across on another blog:
Everyone has thoughts and ideas that they have an intuitive sense are not quite right. A person’s deep-seated prejudice against certain members of society would be an easy example. They may mention it at the dinner table or whisper about it to a friend, but will nevertheless put on the friendliest face if they ever encounter such a person. Those feelings and impulses that come from the id, which have not been refined by a conscious reasoning process and the choice to be a better person are feelings and impulses that, in polite company, we would know to restrain. And we restrain them because we know within ourselves that they don’t come from a good place. But the anonymity of the internet allows people to indulge their id, and find others who will normalize and support those hidden thoughts and feelings. Internet anonymity ends up meaning that every idea, every thought, and every feeling whatsoever gets a voice and a platform and a support group.
And so I ask myself why I blog anonymously, and why I was so irritated with Google for forcing Google+ on everyone, and why I don’t want my YouTube account to carry my real name, and why I attempt to keep my professional circles separate from my online identities.
I’m genuinely curious to know what other bloggers think about anonymity and why they choose it (or don’t choose it).
Putting conservative values into historical perspective…
I’m probably not the only one who cringes a little bit when pausing on the local Contemporary Christian radio station. The best word I can use to describe it is formulaic. There must be a CCM app somewhere that enables producers to key in a general theme for the lyrics, a time signature, key signature and desired instrumentation, and out pops a new hit song for the Contemporary Christian charts. What’s worse is that it seems like the new CCM hits track very closely with whatever style is prevailing on the Top 40. Am I being too harsh? Too curmudgeon-y? Well, classical music is my wheelhouse, but I greatly appreciate all sorts, and really love to see contemporary Christian music done well. And this past weekend, I had the chance to listen to a CD by a musician I know that had me pressing the repeat button over and over.
An excerpt from track 2, “Psalm 51: Kyrie Eleison” @8:15:
“Wonderful Grace” is also definitely worth a listen. Enjoy.
The past few weeks have been filled with a theme: Walk in the light. At church a couple of Sundays past, we dedicated a new baptismal font. It reminded me of the song we used to sing at another church I used to attend:
I want to walk as a child of the light / I want to follow Jesus
God set the stars to give light to the world / The star of my life is Jesus.
In Him there is no darkness at all / The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the City of God / Shine in our hearts, Lord Jesus.
I want to see the brightness of God / I want to look at Jesus
Clear sun of righteousness, shine on my path / And show me the way to the Father.
We would sing this song whenever someone was baptized as an expression of the heart of the believer choosing to follow Christ. The verses echo the single-hearted devotion to the vision of God espoused by David in Psalm 27: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” (27:4, ESV)
From time to time, and hopefully more frequently in the future, I attend Mass at a wonderful monastery run by an order of monks and nuns called The Community of the Lamb. They felt called to come to the United States from France to live in an impoverished and troubled community On New Year’s Eve, the feast of the Blessed Mother Mary, the celebration began late on the 31st and continued into the New Year. As the clock struck midnight, we heard gunshots outside, which is expected. But then, there seemed to be more gunshots than normal…then the sounds of ambulances, sirens, and shouts. It all lasted what seemed to be a long time. Outside, it was dark, it was late, cold, and in a state chaotic confusion. But inside, we basked in warmth and light and praise. It was a beautiful picture of life in Christ vis a vis life in the world.
The order came to a dark place to be a lantern in its midst. Day in and day out, they pray and praise and sing purely because God is worthy of praise–like the seraphim about His throne singing “Holy, Holy, Holy!”. To some, monastic life seems dreary, boring and austere. But the more time I spend with the Community of the Lamb, the more I can see how brightly the light of Christ shines among them. Also, having been taught by several nuns, I’ve always thought the stereotype of the legalistic and harsh nun was unfortunate, as most that I have known have been without fail the most kind, empathetic, and charitable people I have ever met. I remember once when very little meeting a nun in the store and my mother and I were so happy to have met her that we went searching the convents in the area to see if we could find her again and visit her. We didn’t find her, but in my memory I can still see her looking down at me, beaming a smile. She was filled with light and it was that light that drew my mother and I to her. (No wonder saints are always depicted with halos!)
When I take the time to set aside all of my daily cares and allow their chanting to flow through my spirit, I realize just how small my concerns are, and often feel embarrassed by the worldliness of my desires. No one knows but me, and yet the purity of the light in their midst shines upon the dark spots in my soul. I find myself wondering why I’ve been preoccupied with such and such a thing, or why this and that seemed so important to me before I walked in. C.S. Lewis has some thoughts on this, from his essay “The Weight of Glory,” in the book by the same name. In fact, just this morning, our priest read the excerpt (starts at 30:40):
The whole sermon is definitely worth hearing, but the quote is here:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Lewis is one who had a particular gift for conveying the light of God in the coming New Creation through his writings. My favorite book of his is The Great Divorce, which I recently had the opportunity to see dramatized by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts. It was such a wonderful adaptation of the book, and completely faithful to its theological message. And as such, it quickly reminded me of why reading Lewis has always been so spiritually fruitful: Lewis makes the thought of heaven genuinely more desirable than anything we could ever call good on earth. I say “genuinely” because there are no “shoulds” or “supposed to’s”about it. When you see the vision of the goodness of Christ and His Creation through Lewis’ eyes, you cannot help but to see it as so much more beautiful and wonderful and worthy than even the best fallen humanity has to offer.
The light is always available to us. It is our choice whether to walk in it or not, whether to abide in it or not; whether to allow ourselves to continually experience the warmth of His Sun, or to allow ourselves to be tossed to and fro by the vissicitudes of life and our own frustrations, disappointments, and strivings. Moreover, it is up to us to desire the light more than the darkness of this world. One way to continually cultivate a desire for light is to meditate on those things that fill us with light. This accords with Paul’s admonition in Philippians: ” Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (4:8, ESV)
In an essay titled “Transposition” included in The Weight of Glory Lewis envisions the possibility of our earthly lives taken up into the life of God. Those familiar with musical terms will know that to transpose a song means to take a melody and accompanying chords and shift it into an entirely new key. It will sound the same, yet different. I realized at the performance that so much of the joy and delight I’ve found in reading Lewis’ writings is that he is constantly showing his readers the possibility of the transposition of this life into a higher, brighter key. We know that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” and at the same time rejoice in the fact that “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.” The Light that Christians bear within is enough to overcome the darkness of this world. And the Light within us bears witness to our hope of joining Christ in that City where the Sun never sets.
I love Karol Wojtila’s Love & Responsibility (Pope John Paul II before he was Pope). In it, he writes of romantic love as being more than a feeling about the other, but that “true love” is a mutual creation of two individuals who recognize the good in one another and the good that would manifest itself through a life together. As Wojtila understands it, “true love” in a romantic sense then becomes something greater than the mutual feelings two individuals have for one another though it does start there. (And I use “feelings” in the broadest and deepest sense, as feelings will originate from beliefs/conclusions about the other person. Emotions are the product of both conscious and unconscious reasoning processes). The couple before marriage decides whether they both believe in the goodness of a union. And if so, then they pledge to be faithful to it, which means faithful to one another, but also means faithful to the vision of that greater good. This is why, in Catholic teaching, children are considered to be the fruit of love and a willingness to have them considered to be a fundamental part of being faithful to the marriage covenant. They are a part of the good that is created when a man and a woman decide that they believe that a life together would be good and fruitful. Be fruitful and multiply. In other words, don’t only enjoy the benefit that comes to you personally from love, but allow that love to grow into something beyond the satisfaction of your own desires.
But what happens when one person believes strongly in the vision of the good that could manifest itself with another person, yet that person does not see it? Interestingly, Wotijla attributes the phenomenon of unrequited love to “a stubbornness.” It is a willful refusal to accept the other’s judgment that, “No, I do not see a life together producing good or a greater good than either of us would produce otherwise.” Because true love is a mutual recognition of a potential good, and a desire to embark upon nurturing that good together, where such recognition does not exist in either person, true love cannot be present. Oftentimes, a couple disagrees about whether joining together, or remaining together would be good. One thinks yes, the other thinks no. Sometimes people are tempted to blame the other, indulging in fault-finding as a way to explain why the other can’t see how good things could be. “True love” can be a tricky thing to come to agreement upon, and many find disappointment before they find its fulfillment.
While people may well make poor judgments, have unrealistic expectations, lack grace, etc., insofar as their judgments are a genuine reflection of their attitude and outlook about life, the wrongness or rightness of those judgments is actually not the important part. We are all maturing (or should be!) and will one day look back and see how wrong we were on some point(s), and perhaps sometimes with regret (though hopefully not too much). But, nevertheless, true love cannot be created by “should-ing” someone into recognizing the good in another or the good that could be between them. The recognition has to come authentically from within. (I speak of those who have not yet entered into the marital covenant. If one has already entered into that covenant, the task now is only to remain faithful to the good purpose for which it was formed. For the married, there is no “unrequited” or “requited” love, only “unfaithful” or “faithful” love).
What makes this “stubbornness” of unrequited love so intractable for some is a deep seated belief that it is the depth and intensity of one’s own feelings that measure the truth of the love. As I mentioned above, emotions are based on our beliefs and judgements–conscious or unconscious, and we might well be wrong about them. But even if someone is right about the potential good that could be, no matter how much one person sees it, and no matter how wonderful one person finds the other, the intensity of those feelings for someone gratifies the person feeling them more than the other person. Our feelings about others are in large part a reflection of how they make us feel, and a reflection of our beliefs about the good they bring into our lives, and are not about how we make them feel. And thus, even those who feel in love, or once felt so, can find themselves feeling out of love according to how they believe they are benefitting from the other person at the moment. But here is where Wojtila points us to the true love generated by faithfulness to a person and vision beyond ourselves rather than to simply the feeling of being in love, generated by the good we believe a person will bring to us.
Valentine’s Day is a day when we choose to celebrate eros, the exclusive love between a man and a woman. Expectations and pressures can run high, and many seek to find that one who will make their days and lives brighter. Let’s go further than this and seek to make that one’s life brighter, and through the fruitfulness of our love, brighten the lives of our families, friends, and communities.