How to Die Beautifully

There are things I ought to have learned in science class, but I was too busy hankering for art class to pay much attention. Did you know that the reason the autumn leaves are so spectacular in the northeast is because the weather has an indecisive air to it? It’s true. One night it’s cold enough to frost and the next day it’s warm enough to kayak in a tshirt. In the mountains the reds and oranges are deep and rich, and in the valley fields the green is vibrant and lush. The sky is almost always a steel blue, nearly grey, but still clear. I cannot describe this well enough, I know. I’m sure I tend to romanticize it because I tend to romanticize everything. It makes for a better story, see?

But trust me: it is beautiful here. Even today, while it rains steadily outside the side porch where I complete my wedding tasks of the day, it is beautiful (of course it helps that my wedding tasks for the day were to take buckets of flowers and make them into eleven presentable bouquets).

Tonight I’m going to leave these bouquets of roses and hydrangeas, seeded eucalyptus and ranunculus here on the porch—outside, where temperatures will probably dip into the forties. I’ll leave them here. And for the same reason the leaves get more and more spectacular, I have no fear for these flowers.

It goes against my gut to do this, leave them outside. Because flowers bloom in the warmest months, I assume that’s where they’ll thrive best. But years in Texas are teaching me that while the heat may force a bloom to open, it does little to sustain it.

We all need a little indecisive air, a bit of a chill, to be sustained.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I had a conversation with a friend the other day and she’s asking the right questions: why does it have to be so hard sometimes? Why does it have to hurt? I don’t have answers for her. I’m finding the more I know, the less I really know.

But I know this: those leaves wouldn’t take our breath away if they weren’t dying in the process.

And I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I hate death, it is nothing but stings and barbs. But I love life because it is nothing but newness and cycles.

I love life because I know I will die a million deaths until the final one, but each one makes me a little more vibrant in the process, and each one brings the promise of newness. That’s something I can plant my soul in.

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Eating the Food the Universe Grows

"We are bidden to "put on Christ," to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.  Yet perhaps even this view falls short of the truth. It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature's nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George MacDonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men "You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you." That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally." 

—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain: Divine Goodness

The Wild Things are All Around Us

design "I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief," Wendell Berry says and sometimes I know he meant. Far enough into the wild things, I hold a six minute stare with a fox and keep my eye on the blue heron who stands alone, preening himself like a boy before his first date. Or maybe not his first but the one that feels like it because it is the first of all the rest of his life with her. My fox twitches and turns, dragging her white tipped tail behind her like a girl on her last date when she grabs her dignity and leaves.

The wild things are all around us if we'll see them. It's the peace that's so hard to come by. We who are all looking for seven ways to rest and ten ways to declutter our lives. Yes, it is the peace that's so hard to come by.

Here, by the lilypads and still waters, the peace is here. Yet when beneath it all is a soul not at rest, where can I come into the peace of the wild things? My heart is the wildest, raging one of them all.

I think I could learn from the wild peace of the animals who do not worry, what they will eat or where they will sleep, who they will impress or how, whether their homes will be good enough or the people kind enough, the time long enough or short enough. The peace of the wild things is there, in the turn of the fox, the dip of the heron, and here, in the heart of the Father's wild child too.

Jubilee

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 8.39.57 AM I was 13 when I knew I would be a writer even though definitions of verbs and adverbs and gerunds were still a bit hazy in my mind, not to mention my atrocious spelling. I came of age in the coming of age of spell-check which ruined it for us all. No idea how to spell anxious or brevity or volatile or naive? No problem. I wonder what will become of us now that most digital devices anticipate our words before we can spell out even their first few letters. We are already less than literate, now will we be less than half?

I'm no opponent of modernity, nor am I antagonistic to those who spend their resources grabbing up every new resource as it comes. I am writing this on a 15inch MacBook Pro, on which I spent more to get the anti-glare screen and super impressive pixel ratio. I wake up every morning to the alarm on my iPhone which gets me to work on time so I can learn and earn more so I can buy gadgets such as these. Praise God for GPS without which I'll bet cities wouldn't grow so fast so quickly.

Stepping back from the whole of it, though, the writing, the spell-check, the convenience, the anti-glare screen, (everything except the alarm), causes a kind of built-in pause, as it is meant to, and this morning I think about the year of jubilee.

Rightly understanding the law's place is one of the gospel's great benefits, but sometimes I lament that He who set us free indeed didn't keep a few of the more beneficial laws around for good measure. The Year of Jubilee would be one I'd have kept because I'm very bad at resting and my guess is you are too. Because we can do everything faster, better, and more efficiently, we can do more and more and more until we've lost sight of why we're doing it at all.

What are we doing anyway?

There's much talk of obscurity and the normal and going about our business, minding it in light of the Gospel and little else, and this resonates deep in me. But I wonder sometimes if the reason we have this conversation at all is because minding other people's business is so tres chic these days. "All up in your bizniss" in the street lingo. Sharing it all brings this strange delight, a false sense of togetherness and a true sense of coolness.

I used to think the word community was derived from common and unity, or together and altogether. But it's not. Com: together and Munus: gift.

Gift, together.

In the Year of Jubilee, God's people would return to their own land, and return the land they'd inhabited to its original owners. They would set free captives and slaves and servants. They would forgive debts. They would celebrate all year long the gift of God to them. They would community: gift, together. A long year of gifting.

When I set myself down and rest my mind and eyes and ears from all that which threatens to steal my joy, I think it's the stuff of it all that steals it most quickly. Instead of feeling gifted to by what modernity has brought, I feel stolen from. It steals my time and my energy, my opinion and my coolness. Apart from all that I do or have, I am not cool after all.

But it turns out things don't steal my joy, my need for them does

What is beautiful about Sabbath and Jubilee and rest, is when I'm set apart from what I do or have, I am nothing—and nothing is what I bring to the cross. Nothing enables me to gift everything and come, trembling and grateful, empty-handed, atrocious spelling, without GPS or alarm, come. Quiet and aware. Stilled and stayed. Comforted by nothing but His grace and love toward me.

Eat the Words

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset I cut my teeth on L'Engle and Dillard, mulled over O'Connor and Greene, struggled though four semesters of Shakespeare, found myself in the pages of Berry and Kingsolver. Good writing has carried me along. Good writing taught me more theology than six semesters ever did.

In the attention deficit world of the blogosphere, it can be easy to subsist on the crumbs. Comments back and forth, public discussion and debate, he saids/she saids, commentary on every public event that happens and quickly dissipates. This is the oil that keeps the machine running, greasy stories and grimy bits that catch our fancy for a moment and flee just as quickly.

I want the slow meal. The feast prepared with wooden cutting boards and whole foods, the juices of meats flavoring the whole. The spice. The wine. The tablecloth and the candles. Shoulder to shoulder, leaving the dishes for later, much later. The slow food.

Spotlights, whether by association or viral fame, do not a good writer make. Good writing is made in the kitchen, with the dashes and pinches, the taste-testing and stirring, ruminating and storing, aging and serving. Good writing sits and satisfies from the first bite to the last. It is a chocolate cake with a dollop of homemade ice-cream, from which only one bite is needed—because it satisfies.

When I lived in Central America the close of the meal was signaled by the head of the home saying, "Satisfecho." It was a statement. I am satisfied. He would lean back in his chair, push back his plate, and we would sit there still, until all were satisfecho.

This is the writing I want to read. The kind that satisfies, that isn't clamoring for more attention, for commenting, for debate, for the spotlight. It simply is. And is beautiful.