The Quitter

I would quit

I have tried to quit

But it seems that I don’t know how

There is no window to submit your paperwork to

Or voicemail to leave a message on late at night.

You cannot march into God’s office

To announce your departure face-to-face

He will not reply, “I hate to see you go.”

No matter how hard

I try to quit

The well-worn ruts in my brain

Are etched out by more hours than I ever imagined

Spent in the company of the Divine.

The words carved into my psyche

Are taunting me and pulling at me

With that message I now want to quit:

“God is real.  He loves you like a father

like a brother

like a servant

or a friend.

He loves me like a man

Longing for his beloved

Just wait.  Just a little longer.

Resurrection comes with the dawn.”

I can no longer believe these

Chirruping reminders

But I know no better guide to follow

Than these deep grooves

Sculpted into my brain.

Although now I am lost.

My lover will have to come for me.

If he is real

And if he is good.

I will know his voice

should it come

I have heard it often before

Book of Job Chapter 3: Ever Wanted to Die?

Chapter 1 here

Chapter 2 here

At the start of Chapter 3 of The Book of Job, we find Job, having sat in silence with his 3 friends for 7 days, ready to talk. (Text of Chapter 3 here.) What comes out of his mouth is one of the more heartbreaking of the laments found in scriptures. Job does not curse God or Satan or even his misfortune. Rather, it is his very existence which is the subject of his lament.

One of the notable things about Chapter 3 is that it is where the Book of Job ceases to be a narrative story and becomes an extended series of poems. We are of course reading a translation which can make it hard for us to appreciate the poetry involved. In addition, Hebrew poetry uses something called parallelism where an idea is stated and then restated. This can happen between lines, within lines, between stanzas or withing stanzas. For example, verse 17: “There the wicked cease from troubling, there the weary are at rest” is an example of parallelism within a line. We can see it in the repetition of the sentence structure and the repetition of the first word of each phrase. There is also a pairing relationship between the wicked and the weary and ceasing from trouble and being at rest (ceasing to be troubled).

People with more patience and attention to detail than I have/can spend oodles of time teasing out these structures and themes. For the rest of us, however, the result is often that the text becomes repetative and we can get so caught up in the flow that we lose track of what is going on. Like I said, I am not a good detail person, so having to wade through a bunch of lines which repeat themselves with variations over and over again is not my cup of tea. I have found it helpful to look at these sections as what they are: poems. I try to break the poem into thematic sections which are usually composed of the same or similar number of lines. For this chapter, it looks like this: Continue reading

Self-Dependence

When I was a senior in high school, I came across a poem which became my moral compass in a way, for my life ever since. It’s called Self Dependence by Matthew Arnold (you probably had to read his poem “Dover Beach” in high school):

Self Dependence

WEARY of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At the vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards, o’er the starlit sea.

And a look of passionate desire
O’er the sea and to the stars I send:
‘Ye who from my childhood up have calm’d me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end.

‘Ah, once more,’ I cried, ‘ye Stars, ye Waters.
On my heart your mighty charm renew:
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you.’

From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer—
‘Wouldst thou
be as these are? Live as they.

‘Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

‘And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silver’d roll.
For alone they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.

‘Bounded by themselves, and unobservant
In what state God’s other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see.’


O air-born Voice! long since, severely clear,
A cry like thine in my own heart I hear.
‘Resolve to be thyself: and know, that he
Who finds himself, loses his misery.’

What I took from this poem in particular is the idea that we all have work which God has given us to do and our job is to do that work wholeheartedly without seeking approval or worrying about the consequences of performing this work.

I suppose that it is this willingness to devote one’s self wholeheartedly to the work God has given us to do without regard for the consequences which separates great men from average men. The problem, of course is precisely those consequences. We like to think that if we are doing the right, noble, Godly things, we will have comfort, admiration and hopefully even some prosperity to enjoy along with our greatness. However, as so many of the memorials of Dr. King’s murder 40 years ago remind us, this is rarely how greatness works. So many great people paid a terrible price for their single minded determination to do the right things. We look back at them now with admiration, but sometimes I wonder if alone, late at night, these people didn’t wish that they had taken the easy, average way of living life. Is admiration decades and centuries after one’s death adequate compensation for the cost paid to do great things? Surely God’s reward is more than sufficient, although too far off.

I wonder if the stars ever get lonely?

There are elves in the fire

I got to do something today which I had once planned on spending much of my life doing, but never really got the chance to do after getting waylaid by children and life and my own insecurities. I got to take a kid who thinks poetry is boring and meaningless and show them the magic which is present in those short, truncated lines with the fancy words.

I made my oldest son Noah copy out the poem “The Lion of Winter” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare into his notebook as a prelude to memorizing it. Part way through this tedious task he asked, “what does this poem mean anyways?”

Well, my son, I am glad you asked! So we sat down and unpacked it together. The reliably wonderous Mr. Shakespeare began by painting a picture of dreary, lonely winter, cold and quiet but for the calls of death in the field. Then he takes us to the barren grave yard where spirits rise up not to stalk like the wolf or haunt like the screech owl, but to glide like the fairies of spring who are painting this picture. Once the way has been cleared for the fairies to enter (by sweeping behind the door), he then brings us back into those quiet rooms of winter where the fairies and elves flit like birds in the shadows and glow of the lazy winter fire.

“Do you see how he started by painting a picture that we think we know – of winter cold and lonely and empty and said, ‘there’s more here. Come and look’?” I asked Noah.

“Yeah,” he said with a bit of awe in his voice, “And I always thought poetry was boring!”

I explained how poetry was not only not boring, but if you let it and get to know it, it will change the world you live in. “Next time you’re in a room where there’s only a fire for light, you will see fairies and elves dancing across the walls and ghostly faces in the burning wood. You will see things you didn’t even know to see, because of this poem. That’s what poetry does. It tells you that hard, stinging rain when you’re in a bad mood is like the sky spitting on you and soft raindrops in the spring are like jewels dropping into puddles. It makes the whole world richer and more interesting.”

“I didn’t know poetry did that,” was his reply. I wanted to cry.

Hummmmmmn. I explained poetry to a 12 year old boy and he “got it”. It’s a good night.

Spring Malaise

Spring officially begins in just a few hours, but spring time malaise has already set in here in the northern tundra. Perhaps this isn’t something you suffer from and you whole heartedly buy into all the wonderful visions of new life springing forth from the earth, the cycle of life and cute baby animals coming forth into the world. If so, I’m willing to bet you live in far more temperate climes than I do. Here, we’re still digging out from a couple of late winter snow storms which left nearly 20″ of snow on the ground. Usually I can augment this ugly reality by tending to the tiny seedlings I grow for the garden each spring, but this year we are moving to Lord knows where at the end of April. Even if I knew that I was going to have a garden somewhere this summer, the poor seedlings wouldn’t be fit for the trip. Sigh.
It’s cliche to even say it, but God really has provided a great balm for our spirits in nature. I suppose I should just learn to enjoy the stark beauty and bracing chill of the long winter months, but I don’t. It’s just to darn cold. So by this time every year, I’m claustrophobic and sick of people. Even things I usually enjoy like politics, education and news are oppressive rather than intriguing. Everything weighs heavier without a warm sky to send cares up into.
Add in a terrible sinus cold I’ve been fighting off for the last week and a pregnancy which has become rather uncomfortable and I’m just all out of sorts. Heck, I haven’t even found anything I’m real eager to pontificate about here for the last few days!
Ah well, like everything else, this will pass. Comfort is found in strange places and if we’re open to it, it always seems to come. So, nothing real interesting today, but I’ll leave you with this sonnet from William Wordsworth which seems particularly timely both for my spring time malaise and for the world at large:

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.