Body and Soul

I was chatting with some friends earlier this week. I love to have good conversations. If we can imbibe coffee or enjoy birdsong whilst talking, all the better. Alas, it was an indoor conversation, but there was plenteous caffeine. And so it goes.

Anyway, we were discussing the importance of physical location in worship, and at one point, someone said something like, “But of course, your soul is the real you…” and the conversation went on. I circled back during a lull and focused on that phrase.

The soul is the real you? The spiritual is the best indicator of who you are? In February, we buried my Grandmom. I did her eulogy. And I heard a lot of the same talk. People would look at her in the casket and say, “We know that this is not Mary Kay. She’s up in heaven right now.” Then who did we put in the ground?

You are your soul. And you are your body. And you are your emotions and your mind and your will. You do not simply bear the image of God. You are the image of God. Otherwise, the resurrection of the body makes no sense. Christians aren’t Platonists. Christians aren’t Gnostics. We aren’t materialists.

The body and the soul belong together. Death is just a brief separation. We put my Grandmom in the ground. And my Grandmom is also in heaven. One day, her body will sprout like a flower from the grave and her renewed soul will be reunited with a renewed body.

That’s the hope.

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Selah

I’ve never been very good at Lent. I understand that it’s a beautiful gift to the Church. It’s a time of “bright sadness” (Alexander Schmemann) and “shadowless light” (Wendell Berry), but as someone well acquainted with the darkness, it can be an interesting and challenging time.

I chose to give up Facebook and Twitter for Lent, and it’s ridiculous. I find myself instinctively typing in the URL only to come to the login page and remind myself that I logged out for a reason. But Pascal was right. We hate to be alone with our own thoughts in the quiet. So, I find myself checking my email almost compulsively. Youtube gets a lot more screen time. That might be the next to go.

Why do I have to distract myself so readily? Be still, says the Lord. Still? Still still? How long, O Lord? How long must I be still? Until I know that he is God, despite the roar and foam and swelling of life’s raging ocean.

סֶֽלָה

Mid-Air Refueling

For Lent, I’m stumbling through my resolve to walk firmly. Mindless scrolling is the thing to go, I think. Logged out of Facebook, Twitter, and usually Instagram. We’ll see. But what I love so far is that I’ve reignited my friendship with pocket notebooks. After lifting this morning, I snagged some pancakes at the local IHOP before my first meeting of the day. I had a beautiful 45 minutes to burn, so I wrote and wrote. I drank some Psalm 37 and let the ink spill back out on to my Moleskine.

I’ve come to a realization about myself. Most days, I run out far too quickly. I’m up at 5:00am on my “training days.” I lift. I sweat a little. I maybe have an energy drink or some black coffee. I fill up on a slow churn bucket of Scripture and a little prayer. And by 3 or 4pm, I feel the darkness pressing up from where I locked it. That’s why I think it might be helpful to return to the daily office.

Matins. Noonday prayer. Evensong. Compline. I used to think of them as sets to pump my way through each day, trying to get each rep better than the last. I’m starting to see it more as mid-air refueling. My capacity just isn’t as great as I think it is. Or maybe I’m just flying too fast. And every now and then, a goose flies into the engine. But I’m going to keep flying. I’m not sure I was ever taught how to land.

Pulled

It’s easy to be disenchanted. It’s tough to walk around homesick with your nose to the sunrise, knowing Something is out there, haunting your loves and your pains. I woke up wounded on a summer night 1986. That wound, magnificently gashed too deep to see, will only fully heal when I’m in the arms of that relentless Someone. Caught up into a higher life, “being pulled into God, by God,” while still remaining myself.

That’s where the magic smolders eternal. In an ordinary prayer. That’s where I hear him singing.

Like Ferns.

Sometimes I think that I don’t really like books; I like sentences.

Now, that’s not entirely true. Some books I do love in their entirety, for the overall feel they give off. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane was like that. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (probably my favorite fiction) is like that.

I’m working my way through Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley right now. It’s a story about a writer who wants to get more in touch with his country so he goes on an American road trip with his French poodle, Charley. As one does, I suppose. But there’s one line that I keep thinking about, probably best left without comment simply because it’s a smart sentence and a beautiful image. For your enjoyment:

“The customers were folded over their coffee cups like ferns.”

Herbert.

Sometimes a poem just knocks you flat. George Herbert is one of those kindred souls I love to dabble my way through. He was probably an Enneagram Four as well (aren’t all poets?). In my copy of Seventeenth Century Verses (New Oxford edition), I came across one of his poems I’d never seen before: “The World.” Allow me to quote:

 

Love built a stately house; where Fortune came,

And spinning phansies, she was heard to say,

That her fine cobwebs did support the frame,

Whereas they were supported by the same:

But Wisdome quickly swept them all away.

 

Then Pleasure came, who, liking not the fashion,

Began to make Balcones, Terraces,

Till she had weakned all by alteration:

But rev’rend laws, and many a proclamation

Reformed all at length with menaces.

 

Then enter’d Sinne, and with that Sycomore,

Whose leaves first sheltred man from drought & dew,

Working and winding slily evermore,

The inward walls and sommers cleft and tore:

But Grace shor’d these, and cut that as it grew.

 

Then Sinne combin’d with Death in a firm band

To raze the building to the very floore:

Which they effected, none could them withstand.

But Love and Grace took Glorie by the hand,

And built a braver Palace then before.

 

Blazing across the world from 1633, that last stanza blindsided me. Sin and Death formed an alliance to burn this world to the ground. No one could stop them. This creation’s stains will be purged by fire. It’s going to happen. But what comes next? Do we end in despair? Do we “hold with those who favor fire”?

 

Love and Grace took Glory by the hand, and built a braver palace than before. This world starts as a stately house. It ends as a palace. Better than, braver than, more glorious than before. Whatever else I might think of the theology thick in Reverend Herbert’s imagery, this is the great Christian hope: that love and grace will win out and God will gloriously built something better out of the ashes of sin’s ruin.

Of Bono and Shattered Labels

So, here I sit. By light of the Christmas tree, by light of this laptop, uncomfortably propped up on the couch. An open Bible, flopped apart somewhere in early Deuteronomy. I read a Martin Luther quote last night. He was writing to a songwriter, a George Spalatin, asking him to turn the Psalms into hymns that could be sung. He wrote:

“I wish to follow the example of the prophets and Church fathers, and compose German Psalms for the people ; that is, spiritual songs, so that the Word of God may dwell among them through the hymn. Therefore, we are seeking poets everywhere.”

Searching everywhere for poets? When did the Church stop doing that? Joseph Ratzinger contended that one of the final and true apologetic for the Church is her art. Bono famously lamented the state of the arts in the Church, especially in her evangelical subculture. Andrew Peterson helpfully pointed out that there are tons of honest and beautiful art made by Christians.

Luther’s quest to find poets is an ongoing one for the Church. They are there. They are creating. And beauty will speak in this secular age more than our jargon. This is especially vital since Evangelicalism as a cultural byword is losing its usefulness.

This proverb has been rolling through my mind the last few hours:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Christmas Eve always ends, but Easter lasts for a lifetime. No emotion is permanent, but the glory of good beauty will always be a deep well from which to drink. Adoration-of-the-Shepherds

Spending the Day With a Six-month Old

First off, I don’t babysit him. I’m his dad, for crying out loud. But nine hours with him, me, and our 2 year old pharaoh hound? Here’s how we spent my day off

Hour one: he and I watched an episode of that Netflix show his mom strongly encouraged me not to watch without her. Tell no one.

Hour two: he begins to fuss. The dog comes over and licks the dried boogers out of his nostrils. This makes him happier. We watch some cars go by.

Hour three: he’s down for his mid-morning nap. I successfully avoid the creaking parts of the nursery floor. Take the baby monitor downstairs for an hour of playing Halo 4 and reading Steinbeck in between games. Also, have a couple leftover Olive Garden breadsticks.

Hour four: realize I forgot to make coffee today. Also realize that we’re out of milk. Life is dark and God might not love us after all. The puppy is lowing, the baby awakes. We go back to Netflix on the couch.

Hour five: alternate between the Jumperoo, his crib, the couch, and my arms. Give him his lunch bottle. And his Gripe Water. And his baby Tylenol. And his teething capsules. This kid is so medicated.

Hour six: down for a cat nap. Up with a vengeance. I unswaddle him and we watch some more cars driving by. I put the dog outside and we go downstairs. Practice sitting. Practice walking with daddy holding our hands. This is our exercise for today, I guess.

Hour seven: more Netflix. I start to feel guilty about all the screen time and what it’s probably doing to his poor little eyes or soul or something. I figure out he loves to be a hat. Lift him up and put him, stomach down, on top of my head. He thinks this is hilarious,.

Hour eight: poopy diaper. I had a feeling he was saving it up for such a time as this. It’s like that green gunk you pull out from under the lawn mower on a humid summer day after you mow. It’s everywhere. Lord, beer me strength.

Hour nine: fussing. Both of us. There is no hope. Only darkness and sobs. We practice the sounds that different letters make. This is the funniest thing he’s ever heard. His laughter is its own reward. Also, I feel like a complete genius for coming up with something so funny. Mommy comes home. I go buy milk and she cuddles him.

Not a bad Friday.

I’ve Forgotten How to Long for What’s Beautiful

vangoghmuseum-s0176V1962-1920This is not a comeback attempt at a worn down, underused blog. Those sorts of things are like attempts to start a diet or stop smoking “on Monday” or “on the 1st”. Such ventures wither. This is an attempt to claw out my cluttered thoughts, to smear some of my pent-up affections onto a white page. And what really frustrates me lately is my half-heartedness when it comes to the pursuit of beauty.

Now, the woman I married is my definition of beauty, in a sense. That pursuit has ended and she is the culmination that daily inspires. But when it comes to letters, the belletristic quality that pushes me into the next page, that itches through my bones until I find just the right chord or just the right phrase or just the right smell? I’ve forgotten how to long.

I think that’s the problem, honestly. I could probably blame social media or any number of new technological anesthesia, but hearts grow cold over time and through remorseless neglect. But when, in the course of human events, you stumble across the prologue of the Lord of the Rings, something wakes up in your chest. It feels like an increased heartbeat, a rhythm placed where it probably didn’t belong. Or in a bland and stuffed state of mind, eyes completely half-closed, a song about Vincent Van Gogh (your long-lost kindred spirit) spills through the sand in your head. Or a Trappist monk in Kentucky, dead these past 49 years, reminds me that I was born into a mask and suddenly I’m “woke” and desperate for a good cry or a knife fight.

What do you do in those moments? A Gustave Doré painting, Eeyore the Donkey, and a French poodle in a Steinbeck novel all remind me that God fashioned my heart uniquely? The most motley choir ever assembled reminds me that I am not my emotions, but my emotions are not the misfit toys that I have exiled into the cellars of my rational mind.

I’ve got a lot of fiction on my reading list. No one spoil the new Star Wars for me. I’m learning to long for the good stuff again and I think God is pleased that I’m rediscovering his gifts.

A Failed Sabbatical

This weekend was supposed to be a restful sabbatical for my wife and I. Four times a year, the ministers at our church are given four-day weekends and are told not to do anything related to work. We don’t meet anyone for counseling or discipleship. We don’t do sermon prep. We don’t plan upcoming events. We’re just supposed to relax and recharge.

The day before the sabbatical, I got hit with a cold. I don’t get sick often, so a 101 degree fever was enough to do me in pretty thoroughly. My wife came to the rescue and I spent most of the weekend moping around the house like a wet cat, fiddling with the thermostat, and coughing up the demons that had intertwined snot tumbleweeds throughout my lungs.

I got a very few things done that I wanted to get done. My dad, brother, and I managed to cut lumber for a bookshelf on a day I could cope with, but the project remains unfinished. A stack of very interesting (and no doubt refreshing) books still sits on the coffee table unread. Actually, it’s not a stack anymore. The dog knocked them over with her tail and now it’s just kind of a failed Jenga pile. A fine metaphor for the weekend, I suppose.

But recharged or not, refreshed or not, I still have a job to do. Whether I’m at 100% or not, come Tuesday I need to press in, shoulder first, to the workload with all the Protestant work ethic a non-denominational minister can muster. That’s all anybody can do.

The ideal isn’t always realized. Sometimes you go back into the fray with just one boot on. Life is mostly rough drafts and near misses. I’m learning to be okay with that and the process is slow.