Chasing the day

The Song of Songs is a story about a lover dedicated to the pursuit of her mysteriously elusive beloved. With the desire of love and longing she calls after the fleeting presence, “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my lover, and be like a gazelle on the rugged hills…” “Until that day,” she says to him, “run free.” Like a used lover asking to be lead on, she is content just to chase after him, pursuing the shadowy presence of God not to possess him, but as one who is possessed by longing for the time when “the day breaks and the shadows flee.”

God set his children free, but not before commissioning them to longing so that their longing would lead them home. Like love weary wanderers are prone to do, we often stop to deify the expressions of our longing. Rather than reckoning with the terrifyingly true God of reality veiled in thundering clouds, we get together to construct towers and golden calves and systematic theologies. Rather than being drawn into the saving Mystery, we worship the gods that we can wrap our minds around and run our fingers through.

We inhabit the dominant ideologies of the day that promise to conduct the saintly procession into the highest heaven. “Everything happens for a reason,” they say, “there are no accidents, and we know why.” The preachers and the teachers, their philosophies and ten-step solutions, those who speak for God and those who laugh at God, these are the merchants we meet on the road, and they will only stand in our way.

God is an intentional mystery so that we, like lovers lost, will spend a lifetime captivated. There will come a breaking day when the shadows flee upon the horizon, but it is not that day. We are still a people commissioned to our longing, being lead on by “a poor reflection as in a mirror” until that day when “we shall see face to face.” Today we “know in part,” and so we search, drawn by the hope of a lover after her beloved wherever the shadows lead, chasing the day when we “shall know fully, even as [we are] fully known.”


Thank You

My dog is dead. My little kangaroo. When I say Joey was the best dog ever, you have to understand that there were a host of people who owned dogs of their own that agreed with me. Joey was what every dog strives to be: the one that waits impatiently for your return – greets you at the door every time – will always win you over, and never lose in a fight to see which of us is going to get up first to end the snuggling.

I hadn’t spoken to my big brother in awhile. A lot has happened since the last time I’d heard his voice, it sounded different. These past weeks I thought I might be losing him too. He stated the facts my mom had already told me, Joey’s dieing, he was attacked by a coyote, they said the surgery would cost thousands of dollars and, even then, he probably wouldn’t survive. “I know” I said, still no more accepting of it, and now unable to hide my tears from my tough older brother, but he didn’t sound so tough anymore: “He was such a good dog. You know I’ve been going through a lot right now, and I really can’t take this. Joey has really helped me out, you know? He’s always been there.”

I always had to brace myself when, while I was lying on the couch next to the door, someone would call Joey in from outside. He would instantly stop whatever he was going about at in the yard, tear into the house with bundling speed, and jump straight on top of me, my body absorbing the impact of all that unrestrained momentum.

The night before last (a day before any of this had happened), my mother said something on the phone that seemed trivial at the time. I was only half listening and half scouring over the box score of the D-backs game. My mom has been through a lot lately, and she must have been saying something about Joey, how he loves us so unconditionally or how he helps us bear the days we can’t. I knew what she was saying without having to hear her say it. Anyone who has become a part of Joey’s life knows deep down somewhere in some pathetic corner of their soul is the recognition that they are truly, unconditionally loved, if only by a dog. “You know dog is god spelled backwards?” she said, “Hahaha, I know it’s silly, but it’s true!”

“Yes, that’s a nice little coincidence,” I replied..

He loved us better than we knew how to love each other. I had a blessed childhood, but still I never failed to recognize that some things about our family were harder than how things appeared to be in other people’s families. My parents found the Lord and then each other not long after their horrifying childhoods. Our family had problems, ones that we could never really hide from view, not that we ever tried very hard.

When we became Joey’s people he brought a way of loving into our house that was foreign to us. Certainly families who fight passionately also love passionately, but there were too many times when that love was hidden by fear. Joey was completely unafraid. When someone needed to feel love but was too stubborn to let anyone in, Joey would come pattering boldly down the hall, his little toenails clicking on the tile,  scratching at the door until we let him in so that he could jump on the bed and burrow his way into an embrace.

My mom put me on speakerphone, I heard the vet as she explained the wounds my dog had sustained, his organs had been pierced, the puncture in his lungs, internal bleeding. “We gave him medication and he doesn’t feel any pain right now, he’s very peaceful,” she said. I know that was supposed to help, but it was exactly what I’d heard when we were putting Havilah to sleep, and her words only began to make clear to me the reality of a world without my dog in it.

I got Joey for my 13th birthday. We drove down to the poor side of town and gave forty bucks to some Mexican guy with a phony smile. On the drive home we took inventory of the cigarette burn on Joey’s neck and the way his ears were rotting away at the tips. He loved car rides, so that made him pleased to be with strangers. I thought that I was rescuing him.

“I’ll do it, I need to be the one who does it,” David said with the calm, determined resolve of someone who had seen death before. My mom was hysterical while the fatal overdose was being applied. So was I, unable to sufficiently muffle my cries at four in the morning in a house full of sleeping students in the midst of finals. “Oh Jesus, Oh Father” my mom kept repeating through her ferocious tears. I could tell she wasn’t mad at God and I knew she wasn’t ready to ask Him for comfort yet. It sounded like she was thanking Him.

Thank you, Father, for his wet tongue and his warm little body and for all the times he let me squeeze him too tightly. Thank you for loving us better than we knew how to love each other – for teaching our family about a love that keeps no record of wrongs – for burrowing that love into an embrace in each of us. Thank you for rescuing us.

Joey was just going out one last time for the night before he would have heard my mother calling his name and come bounding through that open door, jumping straight into my little brother’s bed to curl up for the night. Now that he’s gone, Father, I trust that my family doesn’t need him anymore, that you’ve taught us how to show love to each other like that dog showed love to us.

Thank you, Father, for sending me a creature that I could love so fully without ever having to fear that he would not love me back more. I so desperately needed that. Teach me now to love You in this way.

Excerpts – God is

I saw some feeble ambition and cronyism and I felt outside of that which was preached. It was only later I began to see that I was blaming people for being people, and transferring that blame to the very hope for transcendence that these people had in their hearts. I was looking at people and blaming them for their hope and prayers even if they could not manage to live up to them. One cannot do that without in some way lessening themselves. Yes, they failed within the church, but that did not mean I did not fail outside it. And many times. And leaving it was no guarantee of having success.

In fact much of what people on the left believe I believe as well. And much what they desire I desire also. But I feel they cannot achieve these things without faith. I realized I did not agree with the faithful (or at least all they said), so much as disagree with the unfaithful (or those who say they do not have faith).

Faith, I know, is pretty simple, and that is why it is considered at times simple-minded. But it is not. Nothing anyone has yet argued has convinced me that what intellectuals consider simple-minded is not the clarity required for the sublime.

Faith will never answer the question of why. But faith in some way proves it.

Faith passes all understanding, and as Saint Ambrose said, he did not understand so he would have faith, he had faith so he would understand.

When one has commended themselves for forgiving those who have done them wrong, they are ready for the sterner test, to forgive those they themselves have humiliated, cheated, and betrayed. This means we have to admit we cheated and betrayed, and it is usually done to people we do not think worthy. Why? Well, many times they loved us more than we loved them. So we, because of their love, believed we were better than they were.

Faith in God helps us diminish the mimic inside us… As Rene Girard has said about the mimic, Christ knew that no one would throw the first stone, but that everyone would throw the second… We are all mimics, and we mimic those who are more powerful. Power never seeks liberty for those it controls. It only seeks control.

To become liberated through faith is to not say there is no sin, but to be able to lessen its tendencies over ourselves. To lessen the mimic that exploits and forces us to try and be like others. And in my mind the only way we become liberated of this is through faith.

What Fred Cogswell once said [in a folk song] sums up all of man’s hopes and dreams: “Over these prison walls I would fly.”

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” – Browning

Only faith could save the desperate, I guess that’s why Stalin opened the churches.

I have discovered that with faith the world is absolute and true. Faith has not guided me away from sin and wrong, never that, but away from what I had once believed in, that liberty was bought with power, and toward a more astonishing recognition of the sacred in our midst.

I know from experience that the Something we pray to is well worth it. Something has always kept its promise no matter how strange it comes about. Made the lame walk and yes, the blind see.

-David Adams Richards

more than just ’til death do us part’

On the Sailboat – Friedrich (1820)

The following are notes from art history class:

As Pascal famously said, “We are embarked” – we have set off on the voyage… what is this a metaphor of? Human life.

Embarking is a metaphor for the true condition of human life, our birth, our point of departure is behind us, there’s no turning back or standing still, nothing but the uncontrollable influence of wind and water bringing us closer to the end of our journey with every passing moment. This painting is about where their lives are headed. The image constitutes a kind of emblem, a symbol of a three part relation between a man, a woman, and a destination they share. The painting shows this all at once, holding it fast.

The man and the woman take each other’s hand and look at the distance toward their destination. They are not looking at each other, but rather are joined together in looking at their common destination. They are joined by their own will, two people choosing to move through their lives together. The painting shows them joined in their shared attention to something that lies beyond them, that toward which their lives are moving. Not just the unknown, not just the life they will live together, but the thing they’re moving toward is seen by them both as beautiful and captivating, even more so than they are to each other. It’s that shared destiny that unites them, freely joined and moving through life together.

Aristotelian telos – every human life has the telos (purpose, end) of a human life, that perfect condition which by its actions and choices it hopes to reach, ultimate fulfillment, the highest good. The knowledge of this end has a huge impact on life. It is necessary to have a perception of that end so that one is capable of moving open eyed toward it. What is that telos for a Christian? The beatific vision.

We are not married by choice, but in spirit and in truth relative to where our lives are going and what our lives are for. A good marriage would be one where the end really sought in the way one lives is the same for both, sought in common.

In this unchanging end lies the unbreakable core of marriage, stronger than all intention and promise and struggle and effort, since here one has actual union, not just abstract, promised union. One vessel, a ship, carries them forward toward the same thing. Any force that pulls a couple toward different destinations would rip the ship to pieces. Here’s a painting that shows us a conception of marriage, presenting literally and figuratively a depiction of what marriage is. A distinct conception of what makes a true marriage.

This conception of marriage is more than just ’til death do us part’, it’s a state of being bound to someone not by choice, taste, desire, or will, but by a shared destiny purposed beyond each other, given that the inclination of their hearts join each other in a single striving. That’s a clumsy sentence, but the painting shows it.
Lecture by Dr. Edward Tingley, Augustine College

Excerpts – Sacred Journey

We are far too anxious to be definite and to have finished well-polished, sharp-edged systems—forgetting that the more perfect a theory about the infinite, the surer it is to be wrong, the more impossible it is to be right. I am neither Arminian nor Calvinist. To no system would I subscribe.

We love those who know the worst of us and don’t turn their faces away.

Caliban’s dream – “The clouds methought would open and shew riches ready to drop upon me, that when i wak’d I cried to dream again.” -Shakes (Tempest)

faith is like the dream in which the clouds open to show such riches ready to drop upon us that when we wake into the reality of nothing more than common sense, we cry to dream again because the dreaming seems truer than the waking does to the fullness of reality not as we have seen it, to be sure, but as by faith we trust it to be without seeing. faith is both the dreaming and the crying. faith is the assurance that the best and holiest dream is true after all.

we search for a self to be. we search for other selves to love. we search for work to do. and since even when to one degree or another we find these things, we find also that there is still something crucial missing which we have not found, we search for that unfound thing too, even tough we do not know its name or where it is to be found or even if it is to be found at all.

what i had not found, i could not name and, for the most part, knew of only through my sense of its precious and puzzling and haunting absence. and maybe we can never name it by its final, true, and holy name, and maybe it is largely through its absence that, this side of Paradise, we will ever know it.

to lose track of the deep needs beyond our own needs and those of our closest friends; to lose track of the deep mystery beyond or at the heart of the mystery of our separate selves- is to lose track also of what our journey is a journey toward and of the sacredness and high adventure of our journey. nor, if have our eyes, ears, hearts open at all, does life allow us to lose track of the depths for long.

i choose to believe that, from beyond time, a saving mystery breaks into our time at odd and unforeseeable moments.

something in me recoils from using such language, but here at the end i am left with no other way of saying it than that what i found finally was Christ. Or was found. It hardly seems to matter which. There are other ways to describe what happened to me – psychological words, historical words, poetic words – but in honesty as well as in faith I am reduced to the word that is his name because no other seems to account for the experience so fully.

And the way we go is full of perils, both from without and from within, and who can say for sure what we will find at the end of our journeys, or if, when that time comes, it will prove to be anything more than such a beautiful dream as Caliban dreamed.

Here at last I find myself thinking of King Rinkitink again – another king strong in his weakness and stout of heart in the face of despair – and of those three pearls that he carried with him. The blue one that conferred such strength that no one could resist it. The pink one that protected its owner from all dangers. And the pure white one that spoke wisdom.
Faith. Hope. Love. Those are their names of course, those three – as words so worn out, but as realities so rich. Our going away presents from beyond time to carry with us through time to lighten our step as we go. And part at least of the wisdom of the third one is, as Rinkitink heard it, “Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.” Above all, never question the truth beyond all understanding and surpassing all other wonders that in the long run nothing, not even the world, not even ourselves, can separate us forever from that last and deepest love that glimmers in our dusk like a pearl, like a face.

-Frederick Beuchner