Saturday, March 31, 2018

Soul Musings from an Old Journal


Today is Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. I've been scurrying around getting ready for my adult children and my grandchildren to come over for dinner tomorrow, joining the ones who still live here. While I was tidying up the house, I could hear my heart telling me to slow down and tend to my spirit. So I did. 

I retreated to the blue table in my bedroom -- where I do my best reading and writing -- and finished the last three chapters of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior. I could feel my own soul move at the words in her memoir; I'm glad I took the time to read and reflect. I still had stuff to do, though, so I got up and went back to cleaning and checking on food supplies. Where did I put those bags of frozen Alfredo fettuccine for our Italian buffet? But again, I felt that insistent inner tug to go back and settle my heart. I decided to pull out a journal and write, but first I picked up an old journal and read. I'm glad I did. It was like a buffet for the soul.

These lightly edited excerpts of several journal entries are from a two year period quite a while back. I have interspersed them with recent photos from a foggy morning at a local pond.

(The first entry here was apparently prompted by something I had read on a home school blog about teaching children about God.)

I have been questioning, and in some ways recoiling from, much of what I had built my life upon for 25 years. There is, of course, a necessary drawing back to evaluate. We must not accept anything blindly, no matter what it is. Truth is to be examined; the real thing is solid enough to hold up to scrutiny. And yet, I cannot put myself above truth. We must submit to truth, just as much as we can stand on it. It is not there for us to merely look at, but to live, because there is a moral force, God, who put it there for that purpose. To reject Truth (mentally) or to rebel against it (practically) is a choice - and a sin - against God. 

The first question then, is not about teaching children, but about who God is. What is his nature? And after the nature of God, what of the nature of mankind? God is good. That is the fundamental essence of his character. 


What helps me to hold onto faith are two things: seeing God as the Creator of a beautiful creation (including and especially mankind) and the life of Jesus. Humanly thinking, I am touched by people who live and create artfully -- whether visual or written or musical or whatever -- to reflect spiritual depth and not just doctrinal exactness. There is beauty in the gospels, the poets, the clouds. Mirth and exuberance help, but so do solitude and reflection. I find some sanity and sustenance for the soul. Thankful also for Bishop William Frey's book, The Dance of Hope, which helped me see through the creation lens, not just the fall and redemption. There is dignity in being human - fearfully and wonderfully made - the crowning act of creation. 


I just don't know how to reconcile all of what I know and experience in my heart and mind; so much seems paradoxical. I shouldn't feel bad about this, though. This is the full-time livelihood of countless theologians and philosophers. Who am I to master all of the mysteries all of a sudden? It is also very hard to wrap myself around how to integrate the ideals and theories into daily life. I love beauty, yet there is this messy house. I yearn for kindness and grace, but then I get angry with the stubbornness and thoughtlessness of others.


I started reading Chesterton's Orthodoxy on Kindle today and find it witty and profound. I like his quotes on poets, mysticism, and sanity. Only the madman thinks in a tight, small circle. The truly reasonable one expands and thinks beyond, and can even embrace apparent contradictions. I think I see that in some people around me: the tendency to get stuck or fixated on a thought, so that every sensibility must fit in tidily with that or be rejected out of hand. Going in circles, circles, like on a British roundabout, when it is high time to exit to a side street, get on with life, and see the bigger world. A similar picture that comes to mind is of oxen attached to a radial bar with no other place to go, trudging round and round on the same rutted path, turning the cogs in bondage. But I am being a cynic here. Perhaps the remedy for all our souls, if we are to bear breaking free of the endless circular trajectory, is the gentle question, "What if?"


I sometimes feel guilty for not being as devout, settled, and conservative as I used to be. I don't fit into the pious paradigm that I clung to for so long. I am trying to stay true, trying to remain in "the pale of orthodoxy" - but I am finding that circle being enlarged in my mind. I see real people, real stories, not statistics nor villains. 

So many things sound so pious, especially when couched in self-effacing phrases. We still have to be Bereans, even if it means cutting through misguided piety into common sense and real reasoning.


I was reading from the book Studying Poetry. It might seem I have no good reason for that, that it is unessential, and this is probably true. But the point is to stimulate and stretch the brain to make it fit, not just to understand poetry, but to understand life. This is perhaps not unlike the connection between listening to classical music and boosting math skills, or working through algebra and finding it strengthen your deductive/logical skills for more general problem solving. I think the same is true of playing solitaire digitally rather than with paper cards. There is so much to be learned about life from the simple strategies. I can go back and try something a different way. I can shift and shuffle and predict. I can ask for a hint. I can follow a trail for a little while, go in reverse, try a different one, and then compare the profitability of each. I can take a guess. I can realize that the "logical" move immediately at hand may not be the one that wins the game, that I may need to wait for the counter-intuitive move. Sometimes I need to put a card up on the ace stack knowing I will pull it down again later. I see the relevance of this to life, that some things are not hard and fast, and you have to experiment and try things differently while still employing the basic strategies. Open the mind. Think it through. Try it out. Try it again. Quite philosophical, I say.


I wish I could be a full-time contemplative -- without the daily distractions and demands of life -- and be free to travel, explore, experience. Yet it is as Luci Shaw reminds me in Breath for the Bones: a great poet is "tied down to earth" and "exhibits an understanding of the daily concerns of common humanity."  She notes that C.S. Lewis helped Mrs. Moore make jam and scrub floors. The poetry is made of daily life, which keeps it authentic and grounded.


Fragments of dreams from morning slumbers:

- a small blonde-haired child (not mine, but one who lived where I was visiting) up on my lap, looking at a book, answering questions about the pictures, comforted by my presence.

- unexpected visitors, old friends not seen in ages, bringing bags of Chex Mix because I had nothing to offer by way of hospitality.

- trying to throw away trash in a public dumpster, but underneath the top layer in my can were my dirty linens, which had somehow gone in with the trash and had to be fished out, while a new friend watched, understanding.

Common dream theme here: acceptance and grace, even though I was an "other" - either a stranger or one who apparently fell short.


Reading in Luke, I notice how simple Jesus is, so unlike the legalists and the celebrity preachers. What words he had for the Pharisees! But to folk like me: Believe. Repent. Love God. Love others. Listen. Pray. Give. Forgive. Remember. Follow. Obey. Bless. Shine. Do to others what you would have them do to you. Serve. Watch. Rejoice. Stand firm. Show mercy. Understand. Worship. Go in peace. Share the good news. Welcome. Bring the kids.


"Our little systems have their day,
They have their day and cease to be,
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they."
~~~ Tennyson

"I say that we are wound with mercy round and round -- as with air." Gerard Manley Hopkins

"It is better to avoid God, we reason, than to face his fury... We end up hiding from the one who longs to heal us." James Bryan Smith in Embracing the Love of God

We care. He cures. 

Wonder. Imagine. Savor.


One entry near the end of this particular journal made me laugh with delight:

"I am trying to envision the years to come. More education? A master's degree in Christian counseling? Asbury? Time is running short, though. I'm 50! I want to come into my own, not just tag along."

I wrote that several years ago, but then put it out of my mind for the longest time. I forgot I even wrote that, though I remember a similar discussion with my late mother over a year earlier. I'm even older now, but I finally applied to Asbury Theological Seminary last month, and my interview for entrance into the counseling department is this Thursday. Amazing and amusing what I find when I read old journals! 

Am I too old to start graduate level study of theology and counseling? I have been a Christian believer for nearly 42 years. As far as topics of study go, theology has always been my first love since I was a young teen. Close behind it has been humanity: how to love and understand and even guide others well. My beliefs (orthodoxy) and practices (orthopraxy) and emotions (orthopathy) have changed quite a bit as I have hopefully matured from an overzealous teen to a mellowed grandmother. My decades as a believer, though often so challenging, have served me well. I guess I'm not too old after all. I just needed the extra perspective.

P.S. Friends who have encouraged me on this journey toward seminary have also urged me to return to sharing my writing more. This blog post is one small attempt at that. I also just received, and look forward to reading, Vinita Hampton Wright's book The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers.  


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