Pruning Shears

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love - a scholar's parrot may talk Greek -
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

I've been stuck on this poem by C.S. Lewis for a while - ever since I re-read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz, in fact, since Miller quotes its first two stanzas. As much as I love those, it's really the second half that gets me.

"I see the chasm..."

We are all too wont to organize our lives, tweaking this and turning that, until we believe that we have found perfection. Whatever emptiness or shadow we may contain is hidden, usually papered over behind the cheerful wallpaper of determined self-ignorance. It is only when our eyes are opened, whether by a chance observation of another person or by a circumstance that obliterates our neat piles of Lincoln logs, that we begin to see all that we thought fit to exclude from view.

"And now the bridge is breaking."

What do we do when the things that spanned those gaps - not all of them mere wallpaper, some of them bridges that crossed and recrossed like stitches holding together the edges of a ragged wound - begin to collapse around us?

There is a time and a season... All dead things in our lives, whether good or bad, must be pruned away if we are to make room for the new growth. It hurts, God, does it ever, but if we do not submit ourselves to the pain, we stunt our opportunities and inhibit forward motion. Which is not to say that there are not times also to re-build what has been destroyed, but one can only hope to have the wisdom to know the difference at the moment of decision and perhaps there shall be vindication in time.

"Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
...Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice."


The Pain in the Process

"The growth of all living green things wonderfully represents the process of receiving and relinquishing, gaining and losing, living and dying. The seed falls into the ground, dies as the new shoot springs up. There must be a splitting and a breaking in order for a bud to form. The bud 'lets go' when the flower forms. The calyx lets go of the flower. The petals must curl up and die in order for the fruit to form. The fruit falls, splits, relinquishes the seed. The seed falls to the ground....

"There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops. If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to let it go when the time comes to let it go or unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used, we stunt the growth of the soul.

"It is easy to make a mistake here. 'If God gave it to me,' we say, 'it's mine. I can do what I want with it.' No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of--if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory.

"Think of the self that God has given as an acorn. It is a marvelous little thing, a perfect shape, perfectly designed for its purpose, perfectly functional. Think of the grand glory of an oak tree. God's intention when He made the acorn was the oak tree. His intention for us is '...the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.' Many deaths must go into our reaching that measure, many letting goes. When you look at the oak tree, you don't feel that the 'loss' of the acorn is a very great loss. The more you perceive God's purpose in your life, the less terrible will the losses seem."

{Elisabeth Elliot}



"August 17, 1948--Silence begins to drag on my soul. It is a kind of waiting which hears no voice, no footstep, sees no sign. I feel that I could wait ten years, if it were not this waiting, this silence. I have spent the evening by a little pool which held the silent sky in its heart. There was no ripple, no stir. Lord, let me be that pool."

{Elisabeth Elliot}


Learning to Love

Herman Melville's Moby Dick doesn't have the greatest reputation, and that's a fact. It seems to have stumbled into the canon of classic literature more by accident than democratic vote, or at least that would appear to be the case from most highschoolers' reaction to it. Thankfully, broad swaths of public opinion do not a statement of truth make, or Moby Dick (and probably most of Melville's other works) would be sunk. Frankly, were it not for a brief, but memorable encounter with this particular story, I would probably never have given it another thought myself. Why read something so universally shunned?

Such were my thoughts, until a quiet evening during IE break, which I spent with my roommate and her family. Her father is the sort of person I would like to call a kindred spirit, although I'm not sure how true that holds. We certainly had a lot to talk about, from G. K. Chesterton to monasteries. And at one point, we stumbled on the topic of Melville. As it so happens, Moby Dick is one of Pastor Brown's favorite pieces of fiction, so he had a lot to say about it, but even that might not have been enough to convince me of its worth if it weren't for the fact that he actually hunted down his copy and began to read from it.

Sometimes to fall in love, we have to see the object of our love through another person's eyes. I confess, I still haven't read it three years later, but the impression remains, along with a determined mental "eventually." Because the way he read those opening first pages was as if, if it were the only story in the entire world, that might not be such a bad thing, and that's about the best introduction you can possibly want, if you ask me.


Tracing Paper

Very nearly cast off husk
Of an old hive once
With life, old and new:
Now stirred only by the
Rattle and shake of a breeze
(So rare anymore,
This stagnant August).
You: mute master.
I: soft-skinned student do
Read the lines of your face
As the map to Heaven
Inlaid with sorrow, with joy.
You send me onward,
From life to life:
Breaking and unbroken.


Thoughts from the Morning Train

People aren't apathetic because they don't want to believe in something. Everybody wants to believe in something, even if it's just aliens or conspiracy theories. Rather, we choose apathy because truth demands a response out of us, and though we often acknowledge it guiltily and deep down, we are far less willing to make the requisite life changes that an open commitment would demand.