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.

Advertisements

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.

Sorrow

“Sorrow is better than laughter for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecc.7:3).

Broken hearts can split your face into a slow grin over time. I love sad things. I love strolling through cemeteries. They teach me something. No pain feels good in the moment. But sorrow brings perspective. Sorrow brings wisdom.

Those who never stop laughing never close their mouths long enough to learn from heartache. Don’t be afraid of pain. Don’t be afraid to feel sadness. It’s okay to be sad in the same that it’s okay to feel alive.

The Year in Reading So Far

I love to read. I used to read a lot more fiction than I do today and I’m trying to fix that. Sometimes I read because it immediately helps me with my job. But always I read because it helps with my psyche. Sure, I read to know I’m not alone (C.S. Lewis), but I also read to know I’m not insane. Other people live on this little planet and thrive and find the whole endeavor exhausting, so that gives me hope. And plus, reading is just fun. But it wasn’t always.

When I was in elementary and middle school, I devoured the Redwall series (my favorite being the Bellmaker), the Animorph series (they all kind of blurred together for me), and Zoobooks.  In high school, I let my conversion to Christianity root out my love for fiction (and accident that did not need to happen) and I steered toward theology books more and more as I felt called to the pastorate. I’m sure I grew in Christ because of it, but my imagination stagnated as my mind grew fat with delicious theology.

I hope I’ve balanced out in terms of what I read, even though this year it’s been all theology. I read two excellent books on miscarriage and infant mortality that were great helps to me. I read a phenomenal book on pastoral counseling that has sharpened and equipped me for that branch of soul care that my work calls for. But fiction isn’t that far off on my reading schedule (and yes, I have a reading schedule). The remaining Harry Potter books that I’ve not read (starting from the tail end of book 5) will soon become mine. And I finally want to dedicate some time to Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead and the poetry of John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins (outside of the famous ones that everybody knows).

Each year, I try and become a better reader in terms of volume of books read, quality of books read, and comprehension of books read. In 2014, I read 63 books (10,936 pages). In 2015, I read 61 books (10,951 pages). 25 days into 2016, I’ve read 6 books (1,701 pages). I’ll try and break the 11,000 page mark this year. We’ll see what happens. Life is more than books.

Why am I doing this? It’s not because it’s easy for me. I’m busier now than I’ve ever been and life will probably get crazier. I read at night and when I get a spare minute. I’m a slow reader and am easily distracted so I have to really focus. It’s not because I want everyone’s admiration. I haven’t shared those numbers above since I started this quest and, frankly, there are folks whose ability to read lots and to read well blow mine out of the jungle.

I’m doing this because sometimes you have to make a game out of a good thing to get yourself to enjoy it. Like a parent feeding a baby with an “airplane” spoon full of Gerber’s, I have to distract myself from the fact that I don’t always want to read by challenging myself to read. How many can I read in a month? Can I read two a week? How diversely can I read? Can I read someone I don’t agree with and learn from it?

I’m also doing this because inspiration is overrated and discipline is vital. I rarely feel like marching out to my subfreezing garage to put on the gloves and do 30 minutes on the punching bag. But five minutes into it, I’m in the groove and I forget how warm my bed is and how terrible the act of getting there really is. Likewise, I rarely feel like reading. Netflix is way easier. My phone can charm me for hours if I let it. But if I actually schedule it into my day, I get what I don’t realize I need: the pleasure of reading. At least, that’s what it’s like so far in 2016.

  • What’s on your reading agenda for this year?
  • What are you reading now?
  • How do you handle busy life with reading books?
  • What genre do you love to read the most? Is it the one you usually end up reading the most?
  • Who’s your favorite author?