On Becoming a Rebel [I]

I have always loved to read.  My Mom taught me to read when I was five years old – by opening a large-print King James Bible to Matthew 5 and showing me how to add sounds together.  Something clicked, and I’ve been spinning words around ever since. As I’ve mentioned before, my reading choices were somewhat limited growing up.  My parents wanted to raise a “wholesome” family, and anything that could possibly undermine “wholesomeness” (for example, magic, romance, violence, Faërie, or anything that went against the Christian Tradition) was off-limits.  This is how I found the world outside.

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During my teen years I moved from surreptitiously borrowing church library books to reading real library books on the sly.  Since I started volunteering at our public library when I was 11, I had read all the “easy” non-fiction (juvenile and adult alike) that piqued my interest even the slightest by the time I was 16.  I think half of what I read in James Herriot’s books went straight over my head, but they were non-fiction stories from a rural English vet that were too medical for my Dad to screen and too thick for my Mom to screen.  And I loved them.

In eighth grade, I became something of a World War II nerd.  I ploughed through tomes by Stephen Ambrose and watched documentaries on the Pacific Theatre’s major battles with my Dad.  My specialty was the Allied Invasion of occupied Normandy, France, or, as it’s more commonly known, D-Day – June 6, 1944.  I could rattle off places and names and landing gear and divisions at the slightest provocation.  My Grandfather was a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, and though he never talked about it, I learned as much as I could from his written reminisces on life.

Though I read constantly, I was always hungry for more story, more mystery, more possibilities, more deep beauty than what I found in the “reality” of non-fiction.

The fiction I found in the church library – Ben Hur, The Big Fisherman, The Robe, Christy – was a good start, but usually left me wanting more.  Jane Austen was predictable, though witty and clever.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was brilliantly frightening.  I had repeatedly read the five Chronicles of Narnia (out of seven) that were approved; C. S. Lewis’ non-fiction had not yet commanded my attention.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was memorable, not least because when I finally closed the book and switched off my flashlight, the pre-dawn darkness revealed an April snowstorm outside my window.

Though fiction was generally restricted, my parents understood that a decent education involved reading some “classics” and so carefully steered me towards conservative, “safe” books.  But then one day I discovered the YA Fiction section in the library.  Before that day, I had not much thought about L. M. Montgomery’s work aside from the six Anne books I owned.  Before that day, every book I’d ever read had gone on my reading list as proof that education was indeed taking place.  My parents had approved – explicitly or implicitly – all my reading choices up to that point.

I did not intend to become a rebel that day.

[…to be continued…]

Living a Sonnet

I’ll never forget my first encounter with the sonnet.  While adequate, my schooling was not typical, and as I have settled into adulthood I have decided to fill in some of the blanks on my own.  Poetry as a whole was rather overlooked, unless one was reading the Psalms or Old Testament Prophets.  I didn’t know what a sonnet was until I was 28, and it took me another year to learn the distinction between English, Italian, and Spenserian sonnets.

That first glimpse of 14 lines of iambic pentameter was entirely by accident.

I was catching up in another arena of literature altogether: children’s fiction.  Throughout my childhood, reading fiction was discouraged.  Though I read Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and Marguerite Henry by the time I was 10 without much fuss, beyond that my reading tastes were directed more towards the “reality” of history, biographies, and non-fiction.  Fortunately, the realization that I was in control of my own reading diet came when I was surrounded by serious bibliophile friends.  Their suggested reading lists in the form of off-hand recommendations and group excursions to used book stores have opened my eyes to delights heretofore unknown.

So it was that I found myself reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Newberry Award-Winning classic, “A Wrinkle in Time.”

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A single afternoon was all the time I needed to devour the grace I found in that book.  My journal entry from that day says “my eyes weren’t dry at all” as I drank deeply of the beauty I found.  Fear had kept me away from L’Engle for a long time, but as I read I encountered only grace and beauty.

“We want nothing from you that you do without grace, or that you do without understanding,” Mrs Whatsit says to Meg, the young heroine of this sci-fi/fantasy series for children.  It was theology and physics mixed up in a way that made sense to me, though I had never studied either.  And then a glimpse of something I could have never guessed: perfect freedom within strict form, free will within predestination, art illustrating life.  The Sonnet.  “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you write is completely up to you,” Mrs Whatsit says.  She’s talking about living life well without knowing how things turn out.  Somehow, the words got through to my heart.

And so I began to live my sonnet.

I don’t know what it says yet.  I’m not even sure I know the theme.  But I am listening, and I am writing, and I am learning to rest and wait and pause until the right words come.

Renewal Prayer

My faith has been wobbly for more than a year now.  It is a strange, painful, gladsome realization when things once believed immovable become giant question marks instead.  At times it feels like the floor has opened up into a yawning abyss, and at times it seems the sky has been punctured, letting in a glimpse of a deeper reality beyond what is visible.

I was quiet at first about my own wobbliness.  I have continued attending church, continued experiencing the physical grace of Communion, continued sharing life with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  But I could not voice the doubts that alternately whispered and shouted in my day-to-day life.  I have listened to great thinkers, read great authors, and sat perplexed in the midst of prayers and sermons and Bible studies that no longer made sense to me.  What was the point?

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Scripture used to feed me.  Then I began to see how much it had been twisted to control me, and suddenly I couldn’t open my Bible without my heart racing and my hands shaking.  Now when I am alone, the most I can manage is a verse or two in Latin; I chose the Vulgate as an antidote to mis-comprehension in English.  I am grateful for a pastor who encourages doubts and questioning, because I now have space to meet the Real Jesus.  And what I found in the Real Jesus is grace, love, and mercy.

On Sunday mornings, I still find myself with hundreds of others, gathered in seeking, worshipping, learning, questioning, doubting, finding.  The pews are as familiar to me as the opening Doxology, and the lilting Scottish accent of my pastor is comforting whether or not I can digest what he says.  My heart usually settles into patient, uncertain hope by the time we recite the collect as a congregation.

O God our Father and King, forgive us for thinking less of you than we ought; for we think your truth too high, your will too hard, and your power too remote; but they are not!  We pray that you would resolve our confused minds with your Word, redirect our divided wills with your law, restore our troubled consciences with your forgiveness, and revive our anxious hearts with your presence, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us.  Amen.

And so, despite my wobbliness, I still hope.  Despite my doubt, I still believe.  Despite my questions, I rest in mystery.  What is that but grace?

 

Hurt, Healing, and Writing

Pain is one of those human experiences that is universally feared and avoided.  Yet I have never met a human who has successfully dodged any kind of pain – physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.  I know I have experienced all four, and my response has been anything but gracious.  Instead, in my pain, I am far more likely to hurt someone else – whether or not I realize it.

Healing, by its very nature, requires feeling the hurt.

So there is a very fine balance between accepting enough of the hurt to heal and feeling so overwhelmed by the pain that I lash out or withdraw, thereby causing pain to someone else.

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I have tipped the scales multiple times in both directions over the past several years.  Though it is never my intent to hurt another, it is nearly impossible for my wounds to scab over without someone else feeling the heat of my emotions.  Thus, in chronicling my own journey of healing, I enter a treacherous land, where offense may be given or taken inadvertently and in my own quest to become whole I take the holes of others into my hands.  There is no exact science to guide me here: “Do this, but don’t do that.”  I am flawed and fallible and often do not know my own strength.  Though I journal almost constantly, it is only in front of a wider audience that I am forced to make my thoughts coherent (and thus concrete).  How then can I seek healing without causing more hurt?

Last summer, I found Lucy Maud Montgomery had put into words what I wanted to achieve.  Emily Byrd Starr is Montgomery’s heroine with whom I most closely identify, and in Emily Climbs I found words strung together that opened the windows of Faërie to me.  Here is what Emily says about writing and healing: “It is better to heal than to hurt… But here and now I record this vow, most solemnly, in my diary: My pen shall heal, not hurt” (p. 22).

That is my desire.  That is my goal in writing: to heal, not hurt.  It has taken time — time and grace and love and mercy — to get to this place.  I want more than anything to share that grace and love and mercy with others.

Inspiration and Beginnings

When once poetry has pierced my soul, I cannot shake it off.  When once a shaft of light has entered my mind, I cannot close my eyes to brightness.  When once I have begun to feel, I cannot ask my heart to keep silence.  This is my journey unfolding.

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Where is the land of Luthany,
Where is the tract of Elenore?
I am bound therefore.
 
‘Pierce thy heart to find the key;
With thee take
Only what none else would keep;
Learn to dream when thou dost wake;
Learn to wake when thou dost sleep.
Learn to water joy with tears,
Learn from fears to vanquish fears;
To hope, for thou dar’st not despair;
Exult, for that thou dar’st not grieve;
Plough thou the rock until it bear;
Know, for thou else couldst not believe;
Lose, that the lost thou may’st receive;
Die, for none other way canst live.
 
‘When earth and heave lay down their veil,
And that apocalypse turns thee pale;
When thy seeing blindeth thee
To what thy fellow-mortals see;
When their sight to thee is sightless;
Their living, death; their light, most lightless;
Search no more–
Pass the gates of Luthany,
Tread the region Elenore!’
 
Where is the land of Luthany?
And where the region Elenore?
I do faint therefore.
 
‘When to the new eyes of thee
All things by immortal power,
Near or far,
Hiddenly
To each other linkéd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star;
When thy song is shield and mirror
To the fair snake curléd pain,
Where thou dar’st affront her terror
That on her thou may’st attain
Perséan Conquest; seek no more,
O seek no more!
Pass the gates of Luthany,
Tread the region Elenore!’

– Francis Thompson