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.  


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lift High the Cross (Strength in Hymn)

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,

The hosts of God in unity combine.

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

Each newborn servant of the Crucified

Bears on the brow the seal of Him Who died.

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,

As Thou hast promised, draw the world to Thee.

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

So shall our song of triumph ever be:

Praise to the Crucified for victory.

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

This is my new favorite hymn. I'd sung it before, but heard it again recently at Asbury United Methodist Church. It has been ringing through my soul ever since. I find myself singing the chorus to myself day after day. Today, as we begin Holy Week for 2018, I thought it would make a good addition to my Strength in Hymn series.


If you would like to know more about this old Anglican hymn, which was written for a missionary conference, you can read it here: History of "Lift High the Cross"

The heart of Christianity is Jesus - his eternity in the Divine Trinity before mankind, his birth on earth, his sacred life, his miracles, his teachings, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his continued intercession for us at the right hand of the Father Almighty, his powerful work through us as his body.

Let us lift his cross high, proclaim the love of Christ, and devote our lives to adoring his sacred name.

Does this mean we retreat into religion and ignore what is happening out in the world? No! I believe that those who follow Jesus should be actively engaged in social justice such as combating the evils of human trafficking and  abortion, serving those who are homeless or hungry, welcoming immigrants, advocating for abuse survivors, caring for those who struggle with mental illnessempowering women around the globe, and protecting schoolchildren from violence. We turn our faith into action. It is because we march in resurrection triumph that we can be bold for the sake of others. Jesus had compassion on the poor, the prostitutes, the foreigners, the women and children. So must we as those who proclaim not only his name but his justice. 

If you would like to read more Strength in Hymn posts, here are several I like best, or you can look through my index to find your favorites.

Here are some of my posts related to Holy Week from past years:

I photographed all of the artwork in this post in Paris and Geneva in October 2016, on a trip which was an amazing gift from God. I love cathedrals and art museums, and always gravitate to masterpieces which glorify Jesus. You can click the links to see other pieces from each site. From the top:

Lift high the cross!

Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

PTSD: Pain that Keeps on Giving While We Go on with Living

Dear friends,

Yesterday, I spontaneously posted the photo below on Facebook along with an analogy about PTSD. Despite the ugly photo, my words must have resonated, because as of this morning, it's been shared over 20 times, with many more likes and comments. That's not exactly viral by Internet standards, but I'm glad it's touched people.

On scars, triggers, and PTSD: In college, I was washing a Muppets promo glass from McDonald’s (remember those?) when it shattered and sliced an outer tendon of my left thumb joint. My roomie, who hated the sight of blood, rushed me to the ER and bravely sat with me while the surgeon repaired the damage. My hand was in a brace for six weeks - which made it nearly impossible to write since I’m a leftie. I had to take class notes with my right hand. Later, after the stitches came out, I had to do PT exercises to regain the use of my left hand. 

So, I’m all healed up, right? Well, except for the circular scar. And the constant numbness which I’ve learned to mostly ignore. And... Today, 35 years later, I was cleaning the toilet and bumped that edge of my hand. I shrieked! I may or may not have let a mild epithet fly. You see, though I don’t often consciously think of my hand injury, it’s still there! And if it gets bumped hard, which happens at least once a year, it’s quite painful! My hand is still throbbing a half hour later! 

It made me think of PTSD from emotional wounds. Some people think that if a traumatic incident happened a long time ago, and the time of crisis has passed, that it’s a done deal. It’s not. The person may not think of it as often or seem as deeply affected as more time goes on, but then what looks like a trivial trigger pops up and WHAM! Aaagh! I myself had an ugly cry just last night when a painful memory resurfaced. It took me a little while - and half a box of Kleenex - to find my calm again. And there is nothing wrong with that at all. 

So folks, just think about that when you are talking to or about trauma survivors, OK? Don’t chide them for not being OVER IT already. Their pain might make you uncomfortable and you may not want to deal with it. You want them to stuff it so you can’t see it. But like my squeamish roommate, love sits with the wounded. Even when the trauma rears its ugly head weeks, months, years, or even decades later. Let them own their pain. Create space for them to grieve and re-heal. And learn to be gentle with yourself too.

#metoo #PTSD #trauma #CreateSpace #empathy 
#innerhealing #tenderspots


So here are my followup thoughts to the original post:

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is the pain that keeps on giving. I know it because I have lived it, though fortunately it does not still bother me that often or that intensely.

I do totally understand about moving on and releasing bitterness, not wallowing in negativity or being crippled by shame or anger or depression. This is not about that. It's about what happens when you are taking the necessary steps to recover your wholeness, but the pain keeps popping back up at unexpected times. It's about giving ourselves grace and not allowing this to suck us back into the dark vortex. 

When the painful memories resurface, this inner voice in our souls can whisper, "You'll never be free. You may as well just give up. You are doomed to a life of mental torture and it will destroy your physical health, too." 

Then we can, with practice and support and emerging courage, reply, "The pain will come and I'll deal with it when it does, with the help of God and the knowledge I have received and the support of wise people who care. I have decided that my past won't stop me from building my healthy new future. That story was not the last chapter in my book, and I'm choosing a happier ending."

And when that pain comes again and again and again, we don't take it as a verdict that we have failed in recovery. Instead, we deal with it, pick up our broken pieces, stick them back in place the best we can (gently!), and keep moving. I know it's much more complex than that, but this is the simple mental picture I use when I'm in the middle of it. 

Maybe our coping strategies aren't the optimal ones yet.  Maybe they are hurting more than they are helping. We can assess that as we go along and make the necessary adjustments. We learn more and we seek help to do whatever it takes to move forward, treat the root causes, and not just mask the pain.

This is what resilience is all about. It's not that we won't face obstacles, because we always will - whether it is old ones or new ones. It's that we rise to meet these challenges as courageously as we can. We might be "quaking in our boots" but I reckon we can walk and quake at the same time.

Two poems from my heart:

"Pilgrimage and Jubilee"
by Virginia Knowles

It’s been a long road
And I’ve traveled the valley of the shadow.
But I write as a free woman
Still with earthy bonds, yes
But able to rise above and go beyond.

We are called to the dignity
Of the Image of God.
We are called to walk the path
Of peace and glory.
We are called to hear the holy echo:
"Proclaim liberty throughout the land!"
So let us rise, strong and free.

Mine is the story of pilgrimage and jubilee.

~ and ~

"Lift Up Your Head and Laugh"
by Virginia Knowles

“Lift up your head and laugh!”
He spoke as a prophet.
But what did he know those thirty odd years ago?
What did he know of my future?
I was still so young then
With only a taste of raw and broken
And visions of a whole life open before me
Certainly not knowing quite what to expect
But with dreams and plans nonetheless:
Happily ever after with maybe
A few little bumps along the way…
Why not? And why not laugh?
Life could be, would be, one grand adventure.

It’s been a rather curious life indeed
This grand adventure of mine.
Now I shake my head and laugh
At myself, at how I clung to so much
That prickled and burned and then gave way.
Yet mysteries and marvels
Came to me when least expected
Laughter mixed with tears and sighs
And more than a few bumps along the way
So much good and so much grief mingled in
So much for dreams and plans!
A worthwhile journey still,
Just not how I thought it would be.

It’s not just me, I know
I watch the world walking by
And I try to understand, wonder
Where it is going: out and about
And home again, home again
A million silent stories walking by
A million mingling stories of mourning and mirth.

I have lived long and learned much
And I find myself speaking to the young ones
With their whole lives open before them
The words of the timeless sage
Thirty hundred years ago:
“There is a time for everything…
A time to weep and a time to laugh.”
They have seen me weep, and I will weep again.
But for now, I will lift up my head and laugh.


I've written a lot more encouragement, trauma-related information, and poetry on three of my blogs. Here are the links I think will fill a need to those reading today.

Inspirational posts from my blog This Mom Grows Up:

Posts related to trauma from Watch the Shepherd:

Poems from my blog Virginia's Life, Such as It Is:


Can I just say how much I appreciate those who have been so faithful to educate about trauma and PTSD? I am immensely grateful to the resources that survivors and their allies have online, in print materials, and in face-to-face support groups. We need to fully realize what is going on inside and how to best care for those affected by trauma. 

It is my goal this spring and summer to research more about wisely caring for other people. I want to be one who help them move toward healing and fulfillment and success in life, just as I am trying to do in my own life.

One of the books I plan to buy soon is Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores by Dr. Diane Langberg. I'd love to hear what other resources you have found helpful. Please leave a comment!

That's about all for now!

I'd love to hear your thoughts!