- Not all secrets are supposed to be kept.
- You make everything else feel lighter.
- At least your ghosts are beautiful.
- The last time is not truly the last time – nor the time after that.
- You are afraid. And afraid. And afraid. And afraid. And afraid. And afra–
- You can stop being afraid.
- You are absolutely and terribly powerless.
- Sometimes, that is a good thing.
- “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us. We are wondering just how painful that best will turn out to be.” -C.S. Lewis.
- You are not the exception to the rule.
- You are the rule to Christ’s exception.
- Stop shaking your head.
- “How dear you will be to me then, you nights of anguish. Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you?” -Rainer Maria Rilke.
- Sometimes, when I searched for you, I found saltwater in my pockets.
- Lists are comforting. They hold no crevices.
- Your heart is aching. Stop pretending. Your heart is aching.
- I would rather accept condemnation than grace.
- Loneliness is Satan’s most devastating weapon.
- You do not have to be okay to be okay.
- If only you knew how beautiful everything will turn out to be.
- Not everybody is untrustworthy.
- “Thou foster child of silence and slow time.” Thou art… Thou art.
- Still you type, and still the truth runs from you.
- Strange thoughts awaken in the midnight darkness.
- “The prince of darkness is a gentlemen,” says the bard.
- Do not let yourself be courted.
I went to the pool alone today. Usually Katie is with me, but today she decided not to go. I usually feel a little uncomfortable going to the clubhouse by myself; it can feel a bit eerie, being alone in a large, dimly lit room with only large windows and glittering water for company. But today it was a welcome kind of aloneness. I swam and in the other-worldly quiet you can only get underwater, I thought. I thought about why I’m afraid to go back to school – why, even in the midst of deep excitement, I am undeniably afraid. After about twenty laps, I decided that the thing I am afraid of is change. I am afraid that my relationships will change. And they inevitably will. While I’ll be living in the same hall as I lived in last year, a lot of my friends will be living in other dorms. I will have different classes, a different seat in chapel, different roommates and suitemates. It’s inevitable that some of my friendships are going to change – that even though I will most likely still hang out with a similar group of people, the dynamics of those relationships will be different now. A summer can be a long time. People will have made other friends, new friends – and that, if I’m honest with myself, is the essence of all my fear. I am afraid of being rejected. My greatest fear is that my friends will not like me anymore. That they will have found different people they want to hang out with, people who are more entertaining, louder, more extraverted… Crazier. It’s always been my deep, underlying fear. After nearly twenty years of fighting hard against feeling invisible, of being terrified that my soft voice will be drowned out by the inevitably louder people around me, that my not-even-five-foot frame will be blocked by the inevitably bigger people around me, that my deeply introspective personality will be overshadowed by the inevitably more social people around me, this fear is now nearly engraved inside of me.
It took perhaps another five laps for me to realize that in the end, I’m not really scared of other people’s cruelty, or insensitivity, or impatience, or unkindness. What I’m really scared of is my own capacity to be wounded. I wish I could choose not to feel, but I have learned that I don’t have that choice. I can’t harden my heart to pain – that’s not the way Jesus lived. As Frederick Buechner writes,
The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against be opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own.
The only other option, the only true way I can deal with all of my fears, is to dwell on the love of Jesus. To remember that though people change, “There is no shadow of turning with Thee.” To remember that His compassion is steadfast, that His grace is unfailing, that His affection is unwavering. And with the strength of this truth, the fear is not any less real, but it starts to become a little less true. A little less substantial. It’s hard to dwell on the love of Jesus and be afraid of other people. Something about perfect love seems indeed to cast out fear.
Sometimes you have to let the sadness be. Let it take a walk inside of you, let it linger far longer than you would desire. Sometimes you have to learn to give in to it without giving up to it.
There are people who would have you and I think that sadness is the opposite of faith. That if you have enough Jesus, you shouldn’t feel sadness, or fear, anxiety. Loneliness. I’ve come to realize over the years that I don’t think sadness is the opposite of faith at all. Sometimes I think it can be the twin of it, the product of it.
It is because of faith that I feel enough hope to also feel a glimmer of pain – because the two often come hand in hand. It is because of faith that I know things aren’t the way they should be. It is because of faith that I know this is not the end of the story, and so I can feel some measure of sadness as I wait for that good ending to come.
“I am lonely.”
And He knows. He knows. He sees me, when nobody else does and when nobody else cares. He loves me, when I’m still trying to decide whether or not I believe in love. And even though tonight I’m dying to see Jesus, dying to feel his hand on my face or my shoulder, I know that he is with me. Invisible but present; silent but listening. I believe it because what else can I do?
“And they will call him Emmanuel, “God with us.”
The Ebola hemorrhagic fever is now so prevalent that it has been declared a worldwide health concern. Tensions in the Middle East are crackling like a lightning storm. The U.S. is bombing Iraq. A dog sits in my house pathetically handicapped by a ruptured disc in his back. I start school in two weeks.
There is these days a sense of the surreal, almost of the ethereal. There is the sense that in this kaleidoscope collage of fragmented spheres I call daily life, some of these worlds cannot be real. Which is the truest reality? The world of Ebola wildfire and Middle East tensions? The world of sick dogs and sophomore year of college? Perhaps even the world of literary pilgrimage wherein Anne Bronte and George Eliot have been my guide for the past two weeks? Try as I might, I cannot melt all of these different spheres into one conjoined reality where everything has weight, density, truth. How can I feel for all of these things? There is not enough emotion in me. In and despite and through all of these things is a grace that pervades like the best kind of disease; I just can’t see it, can’t feel it, can’t trust it in faith as well as I should desire to.
Somewhere inside this mess that is at times beautiful, at times fearfully horrendous, there is a Christ. He came into this mess and made it his home and called it his beloved. He loved the mess and he wept for it too. He knew both its beauty and its grief and we still know it, still love it and weep for it when we are human enough to have the heart and the tears. It is hard to know where to spend yourself, on which things to allow yourself to let go and which things to command yourself to be courageous enough to keep and to hold and to fight for and to feel. I do not have the heart for all the things I see around me. I have barely enough heart to trust in each tomorrow. But in this mess and also above it is a Christ, and he leads me through both the valley of shadow and the path of righteousness, which may at times be two ways of describing the same place. In him I will stake all of my hope – my hope in a truth that will stand; my hope in beauty; my hope in a Christ-bearing mess. All the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Art defines itself in corners, as if to say
it is in cramped places that a person first learns to
feel their own rib cage. Breathes a syllable or a simile
into that skeleton chest of treasure,
listens to their heartbeat – finds
there is space to mold and gold to spade
even in the midst of all that white.
One learns to tread softly, to plait the poetic lines
of each peeling horizon. Sink into
the sidewalk cracks where sonnets stretch
to create an elastic pentameter strong enough to waltz across.
We chip cement off our skins and watch
a whitewashed mural of humanity
form slowly under the brinks of our soles. We are
a people of parched beauty,
rigid and without a rhyme to dance,
and glimpsing a footsore truth that tears every time we blink.
Some will forget. Some will choose
to never understand.
Others will walk tethered to an empty station -
astronauts surrounded by white walls,
corners, ribs that no longer
shape poetry around their sinews.
We are trying not to lose our grip on gravity. Sometimes
we grasp too tightly; we are unused to the weight
of our hands. We have found
more ways to protect
than we have ever found to love.
[I originally wrote this poem, to my best estimate, in July of 2010. It was the first "real" poem I ever wrote. I went back to it today and decided to re-type it out, revise some of the grammar, and edit a few lines. For the most part, it remains unchanged. It's a far cry from my usual poetry but perhaps my 16 year old self was a far cry wiser than the present day one.]
Says the Night to the Dawn, Won’t you come into my arms?
I’ve been watching and I’ve seen
how you move and I believe that I could be
Replies the Dawn to the Night, I too have watched, but I
know that we cannot, for you and I
can never be at peace together.
Don’t you see, He says, Don’t you see, He pleads
We are what we are only with each other.
What is Night without Day, what is Day without Night,
oh, don’t you see?
And She sees His sincerity, but She cannot let it be, She knows
that One they will never reach.
Says the Darkness to the Light, Come into my arms. Beautiful Dawn,
I say, won’t you sit a while with me? Won’t you grace my halls
with your Bright? Come, come, what a glorious sight we shall be.
Replies the Dawn, What do your halls hold for me?
Night smiles His quiet, knowing smile. He stretches out his hands:
Down in my halls you will find the dreams of ancient men,
who lost, sought, and never found.
Down in my halls you will find all the what-ifs and
But when you come and fill my presence, perhaps I will
begin to answer all those lost dreams.
Dawn quavers, and the world holds its breath,
but then the Light shudders once and stills.
I cannot, whispers Dawn, I cannot.
Leave my home, you ask of me? All that is fair
and made of beauty? It is not just my home, it is everything I am,
and I tell you, I cannot leave my home.
Night bids no reply, instead turns away
and hides. And in the land of men, darkness fades
and Morning comes.
Down in His lair where all is silent, Night has not fallen asleep.
He searches all the lost dreams that make His home,
all the faint shadows of the earth,
and He sees: His was not the only dream
that could not be.
But Darkness fades not so easily.
So He plans, and as Time weaves Her spell,
He leaves His vicinity.
Into the Day He flies, and darkness touches where He soars.
He boldly moves, and Bright disappears as
He clutches the Light in His hands.
And swiftly He returns down into His lair with His gain.
Let me go, Dawn begs, Let me return, for it is
not yet your time to reign.
Says the Night, Come, sweet, blessed Day,
won’t you sit with me a while? He holds Her upon His cloak,
and breathes. At once She stills, quiets upon His gloved arm,
but never once does She smile.
Never mind, says Night to Himself, Never mind. Let Her see
what it is like to live with me.
Yet soon He sees She is unhappy
and finds no rest in his home.
Says the Night, Come into my arms and you will see
how splendid together Dark and Light can be.
Replies the Dawn, Take me in your arms, and you will see,
how we cannot both together be. Dark either yields to Light,
or Light either yields to Dark.
He answers, Then take my name, and take my cloak, and we shall both be Night.
She sighs, What of mine? What of man, who need my glow to live?
Forget yours, forget man, urges He. Come and spend your life with me.
Dawn says quietly, What then, Sir Night, of love?
Love, says He with surprise. Love? What of love indeed?
Why, She asks, Have you never spoken of love to me?
Beautiful Light, I have taken you to live a life with me. If that
is not love, what can this thing called Love be?
Love, Day replies, Does not steal and does not force.
It does not take ice with fire.
Love also does not change the object of desire.
Says the Night in soft despair, Will you not even try to like it hear?
Upon hearing silence, upon hearing answer, He flings Her from His side,
unable to bear: Go! Get away, my Morning, for I see
that you would rather die than spend a lifetime with me.
And so with nothing to say, She leaves, and so He weeps,
and for a little while, it is neither Night nor Day.
He creates, and He spreads His arms,
Go on wishes and half empty dreams! Go on stars, be what I must be,
that I do not have to see Dawn’s splendid face
and remember what could not be.
She creates, and She spreads Her wings, Go on hopes, hard won victories!
Go on Sun, be what I must be, that I need not hear Night’s
quiet, haunting call and remember what must not be.
Late into the darkness, as Night ponders in His lair,
a message from the Day comes floating down.
It is a pale thing, a watery shadow of despair.
It is Dawn’s memory of what had, for a split second,
been – a memory she could not bear.
He watches it slowly drift, then extends His cloak
and holds it swift.
Says the Night, Come little memory.
Come, and sit a while with me.
[Excerpts from Gerald Gould's poem, "Sonnets." From Selections From Modern Poets, J.C. Squire, Pgs. 191-193.]
“Some call the world a shadow-world: to me
It seems too much a world of flesh and bone,
Of will and action, resolute and free,
Loud as a tempest, solid as a stone.
All these are real and must always be,
And I alone a shadow, I alone.”
“Our love is hurt, and the bad world goes on
Moving to its conclusion . . . Dear,
Is it not strange that hearts will hope and fear
And break, when our hearts, broken now, are
“But lo, compassionate, out of glory leaning,
You have called forth the music and the meaning
From doubt, retreat, confusion, and despair.”
“This is because you love me – all this scope
Of happy courage and insurgent hope,
This simple power to understand and save,
This great contempt of shame, this careless trust
In the divine occasion of our dust -
This is the strength that love to beauty gave.”