April 29, 2008

Wallpaper from JumaDesign [editor]

I love collaborations.

...there was this idea to mesh some different parts of Silhouette together. If only I knew some crazy talented graphic designer to pull these various aspects together...

Our friend at JumaDesign, Juliann Itter, has made some awesome wallpaper using a mixture of quotes and art from Silhouette contributors.

They are simple, complex, definitive, questioning, artsy.

wallpaper_1024x768.zip | wallpaper_1280x1024.zip

Download [right-click > save as] the 6 packs of Silhouette Wallpaper according to screen resolution. Hint: if you need some "blank" space around the more complex pieces, choose a smaller version than your screen resolution and center it to create a "border" around the image where you can organize your icons.

Quotes: Jay and Justin
Photography: Ben

Quotes: Jana and Jenna
Photography: Ben

Quotes: Karen and Matt
Photography: Ben

Quotes: Mark and Naomi
Art: Jana

Quotes: Liz and Jessi
Art: Liz

Quotes: James and Sean
Photography: Mark

I like them all. But if I had to pick my favorite...
I will have to say number five [5].

Which is your favorite?

Thanks to everyone for sharing in the whole of the Silhouette Words Project. Enjoy!

...continue reading...

Author: Brian Doyle [editor]

The You of You
from The University of Portland Magazine: Vol. 26, No. 4

A guy who works in a hospital tells me stories. He is a nurse. A lot of babies are born who don't live a day, he says, but of course their parents name them, and I keep a list.

There was a woman who named her son Once. He lived an hour. There was a boy named Chance and a boy named Jesus and a girl named Wonderful. We had a stillborn baby the parents named Almost. One man named his daughter Lost. Some people name their children after trees and birds and such, Ash and Pine and Hawk and Wren. We have had several Rivers and one Ocean. A lot of names have something to do with music, like Harmony and Melody, and a lot of them have to do with light and color and natural phenomena like rainbows and sunshine and summer.

A lot of the babies don't get any names at all because they die so fast and the mother is exhausted and despairing and we don't press the matter. Those are the babies who are named A and B and such in the records. Baby Boy A, Baby Girl B. We name them quietly ourselves though. If you look at their faces long enough their names arrive. Maybe those are the names the babies are really supposed to have. You never know.

I think every child born has a name just as every child born has a character and a personality that was never in the world before and never will be again. Me personally I think that when you are formed in your mother's womb you have a name that is part of every cell in your body. You are your name. Your name isn't a word or even a sound, it's the you of you. I am not being articulate but you know what I mean. You stare at a baby, you know; a child who has been dead for half an hour, a child who was alive when she came out of her mother, and who she was, maybe who she is, her name appears in your mind. A friend of mine says you hear the name in your heart like the ringing of a bell but that seems too poetic and fanciful to me for what really happens, which is that somehow after a while you just somehow know her name. I go write it down so it doesn't get lost.

We keep the list private, just something among us working here, something important in ways that are hard to explain. Hey, you're a writer, you write it down and try to explain it. I can't. I just know it really matters somehow to listen for what her name is and then write it down. Somehow that's what I'm supposed to do. There are a lot of things we are supposed to do that are really important in ways we will never understand but we do them anyway, right?

Brian Doyle is an essayist (Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies) and editor of Portland.

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April 24, 2008

Tipping the Scales [jessi]

Who has time to accomplish everything they set out to during the day? Maybe more people out there are better at time management, and more realistic in their goal setting than I am (in fact, I'm positive that this is the case). Nevertheless, there must be some people who can relate to hitting the pillow every night with a sense of failure lurking in the dark because nothing on that ever-increasing list is getting done, and there doesn't seem to be a way to change that. All you can do is continue to hope for a better day tomorrow.

There are 168 hours in a week. 40 of mine are spent at work. 45-50 spent sleeping. This leaves me with 78 free hours, more or less. We all have commitments outside of work and sleep, but even so, 78 hours is a significant chunk of time. Somehow, in those "free" hours this week, I haven't found the time to put away the clean laundry that I pulled from the dryer and dumped in the laundry basket in the middle of my floor last Thursday. And trust me, that isn't all I haven't found time for (pardon my double negative), but listing more would require me to meditate again on everything I haven't done. It's depressing. And in the face of such frustrations, I've been searching for some calm.

40 days ago I was sitting on a bit of ruin on Palatine Hill. I know, Palatine sounds a lot like the name of a Star Wars character, but it's actually the foundation of the city of Rome; the centermost of the storied Seven Hills. Compared with other circus-like touristy destinations nearby, like the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, Palatine is very quiet. In the heart of one of the world's oldest cities, I sat above the noise. Out of earshot of traffic, and out of reach of the vendors hawking plaster miniatures of Michaelangelo's David and the guys dressed up like Roman soldiers who loaf about the Colosseum. It was downright peaceful—a shock to the system after 10 days of busy travel and sight seeing. I found that on vacation I was having some of the same struggles that I have in real life—filling empty space with busyness. I sat for a while on the corner of an ancient foundation and wrote:

Others pass through; I bask in the sun, feet resting on brick laid by hand thousands of years ago. Others pass through, stopping only to take a self portrait with the house where Augustus was born in the background. I am finally content to see less, and see it well. To live slowly in the Eternal City. I've walked myself off my feet, hitting every tourist destination, and using words like "Marathon" and "Push on through", and "Do" as in: "We'll do the Vatican, push on though to St. Peter's Basilica, and cap off our Marathon with the Crypt of the Cappucin Monks."

What a dumb plan. Today I'll take a fresh breeze, warm sunshine, and a rock older than St. Paul.

Giving up the chance to stand where Charlemagne was crowned for that moment of peace in the sunshine was maybe the only smart thing I've done recently. I've been mulling over how to re-create these retreat-like moments in my every day, and it has been very tempting to blow off my commitments and make myself into a recluse. But would that really bring peace? I've been reading through Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude and on the first page he says, "There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us…the death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality but a complete gift of ourselves which involves total commitment to reality."

How do I find the balance between running myself ragged, and running away?

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April 22, 2008

O, the Lengths We'll Go [james]

Humans crave community. We need love; we need to love.

In general, a common way for us to show our love and be loved in return is through the wonderful, blissful, sacramental shackle of marriage. And in our modern culture, marriage doesn't happen without at least a few strikeouts in the dating game. Herewith, a few ways to play this game.

speed dating
1. At a bar or church fellowship hall, you participate an organized 'round robin' in which each man interviews each woman (and vice-versa), each hoping to make a life-long connection in 8 minutes. Girls get free drinks; guys talk trash about how many www.tossabledigits.com phones numbers they got.
2. The date is going terribly, and one or both of you are looking for an excuse to end it early and with dignity (for example, "I'm afraid I have to go--my hang nail is acting up").

blind dating
1. You buy dinner for, and make idle chit-chat with, someone you haven't previously met. This is often accompanied by high blood pressure, extraordinary pre-conceived expectations, and deeper devastation when it goes poorly.
2. Dinner with Marlee Matlin. Oh, wait... she's deaf. But you get the idea.
3. See also job interview.

missionary dating
1a. You are devoutly religious and you hope that you will convince him/her to have your same faith. There will be no kissing until you hear those three important words: "I love Jesus."
1b. You're dating a religious freak and you hope that you can help him/her "lighten up."
2. While in the field as a missionary, you're still long-distance dating someone back home who is too pansy to live in a hut.

online dating
You use an impersonal website to hook you up with potential mates. The computer matches you with others based on likes and dislikes, and you filter the computer's matches based on profile pictures taken before the people got fat. See also blind dating.

steady dating
Also called exclusive dating, or going steady. You don't date anyone else, and neither does your sweetheart. You've been together so long that you've already achieved the "marriage blahs" without that pesky obstacle of the marriage ceremony. Friday night is always Princess Bride Night.

office dating
1. You have a semi-serious relationship with someone who is also employed by your employer. Recommended for people who say that they don't like people talking about them, but secretly want other people talking about them. After the break-up, you have to go out of your way to be normal. Which ends up being weird.
2. At your workplace, you spend a lot of time (harmlessly?) flirting with a certain member of the opposite sex. At the end of the business day, you go home to your spouse.
3. You think you're making a connection because you share a couch between 9pm and 9:30pm on Thursdays. I hate to break it to you, but you'll never be Jim. Stop trying.

shot gun dating
1. You go out with as many people as you can in hopes that something good will happen with at least one of them. All your potentials actually do know each other, so make sure you keep your story consistent. Not recommended for people who actually care about other people's feelings.
2. You spend a romantic day at the abandoned quarry with your sweetie, a picnic lunch, and your pump-action Remington 870.

pity dating
You go out with someone because he seems nice, and you hate making people feel bad, and you have been meaning to do a favor for your friend, and she keeps bugging you about her brother... You have no intention of a second date or even enjoying yourself on the first one. But at least you get a free margarita.

carbon dating
1. The process of determining the age of an object based on its elemental carbon markup.
2. You go out with someone who is old enough to be your parent.

quantum dating
Trapped in singleness, you find yourself going from date to date, putting things awkward that once were normal, and hoping each time that your next date will be a date at home.

non-dating dating
1. A form of pseudo-dating in which you and “just a friend” “just hang out” at regular non-date places like coffee shops, ball games, and restaurants (where you invariably pay for dinner). If at any time you suggest the possibility of a real “date,” it's over. For the love of communal lattés, don't say the D word.
2. In your mind, you've had the best date ever. The next one is already planned, and the sky's the limit. Good for you! Maybe next time you can try reality, where you actually ask her out instead of daydreaming it all.

...continue reading...

April 18, 2008

Losing Face, Losing Touch [justin]

She waits outside the dinning hall for him, slightly anxious, checking her anniversary watch every thirty seconds. Tonight he is being honored for fifteen years of faithful work, even though now he is ten minutes late. A man startles her from behind as she fiddles with her watch again. “Sorry I’m late. The barbershop was packed and the tailor had to make some adjustments on the new suit before I left.” She jerks back, shaking her head and he can see in her eyes that she doesn’t know him at the moment. The change of style, anxiousness and unfamiliarity of her surroundings have aided in her loss of sight. “Honey… it’s me…” he takes her left hand and cups it between his two and massaging slightly, “…your husband.” It takes a moment for the touch to secure her, but after their wedding bands click together, she knows him again with a sigh of relief. This hasn’t been the first time the severity of her face blindness has shown up – it won’t be the last. He kisses her and places his arm around her back. “Come on, Love. Follow me.”

The technical name for face blindness is prosopagnosia, which comes from the Greek word for face (prosopon) and the medical term for recognition impairment (agnosia). It’s a condition in which a person has severe difficulty pulling together various aspects of a face and placing them together into a memorable facial identity. This condition is more than the normal occurrence we all experience of forgetting somebody we have briefly met once or twice. For those suffering from face blindness, it can be troublesome to recognize the people they are closest too, including their own children, their own spouse, even their own self.

In his writing, the sometimes popular theologian, John Calvin, said that “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” These two pillars, knowing God and knowing self, can be glorious and fulfilling as we wrestle with faith and doubt. On the other hand, they are the most complicating, disillusioned, and maddening necessities to pursue. When redemption sparks in a fallen being, it is confusing on so many levels.

There are moments and seasons (even years) when we forget the face of God and coupled with that, ourselves. “Man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends.” (Calvin) The symptoms are assorted and as diverse as we are as individuals.

For some of us cynicism and acedia are spiritual gifts–jaded the new joy. Other’s share with Israel in their wilderness complaint asking to be placed back into the old life of bondage because this freedom and trust craze is harder than anticipated. Thoughts of heaven are awkward because most don’t know how to interact with God unless asking for forgiveness; somewhere along the line we got stuck in a cycle of psuedo-repentance. Tozer says on this, "To say that we have not sinned when we have is to be false to the fact; to insist that we have sinned when we have not is to be false to ourselves." The list goes on… we have all experienced (and will experience) something of the sort. We are often stricken with a type of spiritual prosopagnosia.

Those who experience face blindness need another distinguishing characteristic of a person so that they can remember them. For us as God’s people, and in essence for the world, it is Christ’s wounds that heal us back into remembrance.

I’ve read the text many times before, including Jesus’ encounter with Thomas, but it didn’t hit me until I saw the visual in The Passion of the Christ. During the last few seconds of the film, Gibson shows Jesus’ resurrection. The mind-blowing detail is that Jesus–in His perfect, risen, glorified, walking-thru walls body–still had His wounds. If you think about this in any fashion, it is absolutely astounding. It is as though they were always part of the “true” Him, only revealed to us after His resurrection.

His wounds are His signet that displays Him as friend and King; His wounds are His non-verbal authority that speaks to us in truth and love saying we belong to Him; His wounds are His eternal wedding ring to His bride, which is the Church. His hands alone reveal so much about His character. The prophet Isaiah even says our names are engraved/tattooed/inscribed on His palms.

If the hands and wounds of Jesus are of vital importance to our relationship with Him, to actually knowing God’s countenance, what happens when we lose touch with them?

Society in general is losing touch; it is almost like a digital gnosticism in denying the physical. Emails with spell checkers are replacing hand written letters with their scribbled out art. CD’s are going all digital, leaving you with nothing to lie on your chest as you lay on your bed soaking in new music for the first time. The internet allows us to connect with those on the other side of the world, but we don’t know our neighbors names who are on the other side of the fence. Wives know their way around IM lists and keyboards more than they do their own husbands. Just because the personal assistant has become digital does not mean unfaithfulness has evaporated. Husbands turn on their PDAs and know their way around them better than… well, you get my drift. Some of these might seem like small things and technology is a great convenience, but I can’t help but know that something is missing in this digital age.

Christ’s wounds are an incarnational reality that are always waiting for us to come. Doubting Thomas touched Jesus and declared, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It is through faith that we can touch His wounds and receive healing from our face blindness. There is no magic formula, only His wounds that beckon us to remember, to know, to lead us into recognizing the face of God again.

Two friends walk down a dirt road together, exchanging conversation, exchanging periods of silence and contemplation. A man they do not recognize approaches them, asking why their faces are so long with grief. They are stunned that the man does not know what has been going on and explain to him the death of Jesus the Nazarene, how they themselves hoped in Him for deliverance but how the religious leaders crucified Him and how, just now on the third day, they are more confused at reports of His tomb being empty. The man, somehow both meek and bold, takes a shot at their ignorance. “Why have you not believed in the scriptures that the Messiah must first suffer before He could be glorified?” He then went through all the scriptures, well into the evening, pointing out the Messiah to them. As the sun was setting, the friends asked the man to stay for dinner. They sat down and in a moment everything changed. As they communed together, as they broke bread together, the bread that is Christ’s body… with hearts burning within, their eyes were opened and the two friends recognized the man as Jesus Himself.

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April 15, 2008

Apples and Independence [jana]

"An apple a day"
It sings health.
This day is an apple day.
It sings health.

I took a train to the city.
An experiment in independence
The scuptures clear, graceful, restful,
Flat like trees against the sunset.

Rare day—cold but blue.
Sitting on a low wet green hill,
Incognito amid the lunching suits
Ties awry and white socks showing.

A coffee cup, seed laden bread with cheese,
Two apples, water to my soul,
I ramble alone, fulfilled.
This is my apple day.

...continue reading...

"Today" (From Zion) [sean]

The lyric escapes like a breath vacates a fresh cadavre.
Stuck and arguing on an irrelevant fact-of-the-matter.
"Yes?" "No-- let's not waste the effort. They're already done."
Demons don't even try. God's Son died and all we do is banter.

I'm a hypocrite, yes I'm a hypocrite too.
I'm a hypocrite just like you/Is this what we're reduced to?
Under the floorboards, all the dirty skeletons. Yell at them.
A Word. A crack of Light. Take these bones and make them new.

Is this what we're--"behold, the Lamb. Come to take away the..."
I will fall down a sinner shedding tears and begging for mercy.
I will lick the dust, I will hide my eyes and hang my head in shame.
He will lift it, saying "do not be afraid."

Look up. Look! The crossbar; the pain; the twitching skin.
Splinters working their way in. The mutilated mass of flesh.
Look! "Like one from whom men hide their faces." Understand.
The land plunged into nightfall. "You shall name Him Emmanuel."

You want a picture of grace? Well there's one.

... and with nothing else that could be done, we sang a song:

Forgiven by the blood of the Father's Son,
Not by my righteousness (because I have none).
A little more lyric and a little less lies;
Brought near to the King when I should be despised.
Oh, that was all we ever needed.
On that Day, God will wipe the tear from every eye.

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April 11, 2008

Man of Dreams [mark]

I think we dream so we don't have to be apart so long. If we're in each others dreams, we can be together all the time. [Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes]
I had prayed some time ago to be a man who dreams, so there I was in the living room with George MacDonald. Why he materialized as a Mii from my Nintendo, I do not know. I sat there feeling like the character from C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" sitting, listening intently to his mentor George MacDonald.
He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it. [Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy]
Dr. MacDonald sat on the couch as the early morning sun woke upon the Alberta plains to the east; his eyes twinkled as he went on about the metaphor in his fairy tales. I am sad that I do not recollect what he said, I have tried again and again to bring it back into my mind, though, that was not what the dream was for. I just recall the silvery strands of his beard undulating with every word. Another character appeared, then another, and soon we four--Chesterton, MacDonald, Mario and I--in our electronic forms were playing tennis inside the console.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one, I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one. [John Lennon, Beatles]
Gilbert, George, Mario and I played a few games until the conversation about literature and theology became too much for Mario so he threw down his monogrammed hat and racket in an unsportsmanlike manner and stormed off the court. Gilbert wiped the digital sweat from his brow and mentioned that he was, "not a man disposed towards exercise no matter how electronic it may be" so we surrendered the court.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. [Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven]
I am becoming a man of dreams. My mind and heart are wrapped up not in what is, but, in what can be. If given the chance to be satisfied with life and everything I have accomplished I don't know what I would do. To live life as a dreamer is to content yourself in being constantly dissatisfied with where you are. To live life as a dreamer is to be a person who, in essence, closes his eyes on the present, remembers the past, and sees the future.
We die daily. Happy those who daily come to life as well. [George MacDonald]
House sitting a mansion on the side of a hill overlooking a city of a million people and more; every day I wake up to look at the rolling hills stretching out into the flat land covered almost completely with houses and buildings. In each of these houses lives a human being ...a human existing. People who have taught themselves and been taught to never allow themselves to dream. They accept the issued aspirations of wealth and prosperity.
Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. [Edgar Allen Poe, Eleonora]
I will use one last quote; a quote that has inspired me this week to trudge on with my journey from a lonely man to a dreamer. As an artist, a poet, a mystic and a prophet, this speaks to my heart.
Loneliness can become a source of creative energy, the energy that drives us down new paths to create new things or to seek more truth and justice in the world. Artists, poets, mystics, prophet, those who do not seem to fit into the world or the ways of society, are frequently lonely. They feel themselves to be different, dissatisfied the status quo and with mediocrity; dissatisfied with our competitive world where so much energy goes into ephemeral things. Frequently, it is the lonely man or woman who revolts against injustice and seeks new ways. It is as if the fire is burning within them, a fire fueled by loneliness. [Jean Vanier, Becoming Human]
In the movie version of Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is finally captured by Javert. Just as Javert is about to shoot Jean Valjean he turns the tables, Javert slaps the stocks on himself saying, "You are free!" and then throws himself into the river. Jean walks away with the eyes of a free man, suddenly seeing the life and beauty of Paris around him; the things he never saw as a slave to his own guilt. My dream is to see the world with the eyes of a free man, with the same eyes as Chesterton and MacDonald. My dream is to shout, "You are free!" and give away the eyes of a free man.

...continue reading...

Flumen: One Thousand Words [liz]

River in the Night
acrylic on poster board

When the river is deepest it makes least noise.
:: Proverb

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.
:: Winnie the Pooh

What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn't have any doubt - it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn't want to go anywhere else.
:: Hal Boyle

Flumen - Elizabeth Janik

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April 8, 2008

Author: Andrée Seu [editor]

Triangular Truth
from Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me

I would submit to you that knowledge has a shape and that it is triangular (see John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God). This would be of interest to all, I should think, but I have in mind in particular those who aspire to be writers, those Bezalels of word-crafting for the kingdom of God. Therefore, as I am helped by the humble triangle in visualizing what I'm up against in putting pen to paper, I have just enough effrontery to think it may benefit another.

Call the three angles Gods law, the world, and one's self (or, to make it fancier, the "normative," "situational," and "existential" perspectives, respectively. What is important to note here is that we are pretending, for pedagogical reasons, that knowledge can really be separated out like that. In fact, you will never encounter, in the wild, a "situational" running around without a "normative" or an "existential"-by which I mean nothing more than John Calvin did in his opening words of the Institutes, where he declared that to know God you must know yourself, and to know yourself you must know God. There will be overlapping, and a broadening of each angle to include the other two.

Think of a flashlight. You appreciate its light only as it illumines the stray sock or wayward homework assignment under your bed. Likewise, God's law in Scripture edifies as you see it give definition to your world - you read that a "soft tongue can break a bone" (Prov 25:15), then one fine day you observe a wise woman defuse a potential catastrophe with a soft answer to an incendiary remark. You observe the downward spiral of a neighbor ensnared in adultery, and then belatedly remember the prophecy, "many a victim has she laid low,...Her house is the way to...the chambers of death" (Prov 7:26-27). And so we find reciprocity: The more you know about the world, the better you understand Scripture. Life illumines Scripture as Scripture illumines life. Behold King Solomon, knower of God's mind, botanist, and wildlife expert (I Kings 4:33).

The Christian writer has it all over the non-Christian writer on the "normative" angle-in so far as he is consistent to his profession of faith, that is. As Moses exclaimed, "What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous...Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples" (Deut 4:6-8). We have a secret weapon-the truth-and are heady as the man in Matthew 13 who found hidden treasure in a field. Meanwhile, your counterparts in the big news rooms scramble frantically to find facts ("situational")-and then have no framework of truth ("normative") to plug them into, something they then try to conceal by their talent ("existential") for stringing words together. Like the Blind Men and the Elephant of the John Godfrey Saxe poem, one mistakes the trunk for a snake, the other an ear for a fan, the other its tail for a rope, and so on, all of them missing the pachyderm!

The Christian journalist is not naive and is not caught by surprise. "Follow the money" is a tip right out of our playbook on the depravity of man, and should not be credited to Woodward and Bernstein's secret Watergate source "Deep Throat" as if it were original to him. The assiduous acquisition of Scripture knowledge ("normative") hones our intuition ("existential") about what's really going on. Trust your Bible-honed instincts, then check them out with the facts ("situational"); it's a reciprocal dance. And remember too that "facts" ("situational") may not always be as firm as they at first appear (remember the "Piltdown Man"?), not "instinct" as flimsy-especially "instinct" that is the distillation of a thousand "quiet times."

Finally, if our triangular analysis is right, one corollary would be that knowing the Bible is not enough to be a journalist (no more than it was for Bezalel to be the architect of the Tabernacle). Who will write a helpful column on the Arab-Israeli conflict? Neither the one who knows only Scripture nor the one who knows only Middle Eastern history but the one who is versed in both. The richest writing (the writing I envy) draws from a wealth of knowledge from various spheres. I once heard Frank DeFord, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, do a radio essay on baseball's shrinking strike zone, and the crazy guy made allusions to metaphysics and Shakespeare's Hamlet!

Every writer on the planet has strengths and weaknesses that fall differently on the normative, situational, existential triangulation; and if anyone possessed all three to perfection, there'd be no living with him. Nevertheless, wise is the wordsmith who recognizes the importance of the triangle and does his best to sharpen each angle. He will be a "workman approved by God" indeed.

...continue reading...

April 4, 2008

Sacred Wine [justin]

Sacred wine in your tears and in your veins
Beware of freedom’s price, how bargains lie
Death sleeps with life, all that is gone, remains

Secrets, yourself hidden, daylight explains
Why exile began, but grief won’t deny
Sacred wine in your tears and in your veins

A girl waits in June, your Eve, sings refrains
Gray matters fear doubt, of nothing be shy
Death sleeps with life, all that is gone, remains

Shivering hands still feel the preferred chains
But cruel regrets made invisible by
Sacred wine in your tears and in your veins

Trash now into gold, the priceless complains
Written in red, rust has but one reply
Death sleeps with life, all that is gone, remains

Seventy-two wild horses, labor pains
Don’t know how to live, much less how to die
Sacred wine in your tears and in your veins
Death sleeps with life, all that is gone, remains

this poem was produced in villanelle form

...continue reading...

April 1, 2008

Shaking Hands with Old Man Winter [guest]

The ROBINS are here! I can still feel the exhilaration of running around the house, feet pitter-pattering, making sure that everyone knew the big news. Robins were a big deal to me; it meant that Winter’s days were numbered and Spring would soon appear in all of her glory. I, having read a few too many Mother West Wind books and visited far too many convalescent homes, thought of Winter as an actual old man with his long scraggly white hair and beard staggering through the woods with a twisted cane, his old man smells meandering close behind. Spring, by contrast, was a beautiful lady who wore daffodils in her long golden hair and her skin smelled like freshly cut grass and hyacinths. I despised Winter, and the robins foretold of his demise. They were Spring’s Elijah, those who “prepared the way”; oh, how I loved them. Every morning, beginning in February, I would press my crinkly nose up against the frostbitten windowpane and try to spot an orange belly. When they finally arrived, I would sometimes spread birdseed out for them because I knew that whenever I had a long journey--like an hour long car trip--I was usually hungry afterward.

Never in all of my life have I looked forward to Winter. I have always approached it with a feeling of dread, not even really being able to enjoy the depth of beauty in Fall because I knew that Winter was nipping at its heels. Part of this very likely has to do with my tendency toward Seasonal Affective Disorder, becoming slightly depressed without enough sunlight. Another part of it has to do with my geographical history. Having grown up on a small mountain with a very steep, unpaved driveway and a mom who is terrified of driving in the snow meant that we would at times be stuck in the house for a week, or, in certain rare incidents, even two weeks. If being stuck in a house with your family for two weeks won’t give you cabin fever, nothing will.

I guess all of these things combined created in me an affiliation of Winter with depression and loneliness, something that even the thought of Christmas could not absolve. Taking it another step further, I came to think of it as symbolizing a spiritual desert of sorts, a place absent of God’s touch. If there was one thing that I couldn’t stand to think about, it was losing my tight grip on God, and I had ridden the highway of holy living for the majority of my life until I hit about 21, when it all came crumbling down.

Without the grisly details, I took some pretty big hits to areas of faith and trust in the Bible when I was in college. If I was wearing any armor of God and standing on the solid rock before, certainly now I was stripped to my unmentionables and deposited in the sea. I suddenly found myself in unchartered waters, and little did I know that it was the beginning of a winter/desert experience that would last for five long confusing years.

True to form, when my spiritual Old Man Winter arrived with his wrinkled face, I resented him and kept waiting for Spring to rescue me. It was only a matter of time, I told myself, until this depression—this life void of passion for God that I had never been without—would be forced to retreat in the face of some compelling worship time, a communion service, or a walk by the pond on a starry night. But try as I might, it persisted. I held on to hope as long as I could, but, underneath, there was a foreboding sense that this was it. My spiritual days were over, and I was about to step into one of those stagnant shells of an adult that I never wanted to become as a teenager. You know the type, the ones who start most of their sentences regarding spirituality with, “Back in ’73….” and who haven’t appeared to learn anything since. I couldn’t comprehend turning into one of these people. Especially since, most of the way through high school, a typical day for me would begin with about an hour in the Bible and would end that night with around an hour of prayer in my closet (literally). In-between these activities, I also memorized Scripture for a competitive program, often achieving the “top memorizer” status. Last time I counted, I had over 2000 verses under my belt, including the books of Philippians, 1 & 2 Peter, James, and huge chunks of Matthew, John, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Hebrews. I was also respected in my youth group as a student leader and attended a yearlong internship program for a ministry in Texas (guaranteed to acquire you some fire!) between high school and college. You get it, I was the star. I won’t beat that horse any longer.

Point being, it was really disorienting and actually very humbling to go from my super scripted life to not being able to read my Bible for more than 10 minutes in a week. But it wasn’t a discipline factor, it was the desire. I didn’t want to read; I didn’t want to pray, and when I did either, it felt forced.

The longer this continued, the more I was pressed with a deep feeling of shame at my lack of spiritual fervor. I handled the situation like anyone else does when they are ashamed: I hid. I only confided in a very few friends who seemed to be having a similar experience and who also didn’t know what to do. Not to be disrespectful, but the few pastors who did hear me talk about my depletion of passion would either respond with something very inspirational such as, “You know, if I only spent ten minutes a week with my wife, my marriage would be in shambles”, or else they had nothing to offer. Silence. I already felt cut off from God’s presence, and now I was being isolated from any sort of real community.

And so it went, stretching out for years. Each year in the spring, I would add on another number to my time in Winter. Granted, there were some progresses made—a deep and profound revelation of grace—but even more setbacks. I loved the Old Man for a time, taking up a little more freedom in life and philosophy than was usual for me. Mostly, though, I hated it (hated myself too) and felt confused, interrupted, though never abandoned. After a time, I stopped trying to kick myself into doing devotions and just stopped altogether, and what was more, I felt like that was the only thing I knew for sure. I wasn’t supposed to do devotions. This was a concept so foreign to me that I did not dare tell anyone of it; no one, not even my husband, knew.

It was not long after I had reached this point—perhaps six months or more—that I finally found it. I discovered that my Old Man Winter has been known before, and that he has another name, an older one, even. He is known, and written about extensively, by St. John of the Cross as the Dark Night of the Soul. I had heard this term tossed around before, but it always seemed to be just that, a term thrown in there for good measure, with no real understanding of what the dark night of the soul really means. I found hope through those pages, and, gradually, saw hope expand in other places as well.

St. John of the Cross wrote,

...those who are on the right path will set their eyes on God and not on these outward things [religious objects or holy places] nor on their inner experiences. They will enter the dark night of the soul and find all of these things removed. They will have all the pleasure taken away so that the soul may be purified. For a soul will never grow until it is able to let go of the tight grasp it has on God.

This was contrary to all the teaching that I had ever heard before. Further on, he writes,

The sin of spiritual gluttony will prompt them to read more books and say more prayers, but God, in his wisdom, will deny them any consolation because he knows that to feed this desire will create an inordinate appetite and breed innumerable evils. The Lord heals such souls through the aridity of the dark night. …No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night.

If there is one thing that I learned through my involuntary relationship with Old Man Winter, and I learned well, it’s that reading more books and saying more prayers does not make us any dearer to the heart of God. In fact, these actions can often be used by Christians (such as myself) to color over the ugliness and reality of their sinful nature. When stripped of the desire to perform these religious acts, I am forced to recognize my helplessness in bold contrast to His ever-deepening grace. So I come to this conclusion: It is His gift to know my sin and His great love, especially this early on in life. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken. Christ remains.

For the first time—the very first time—since I can remember, I looked forward to Winter this year. I find myself seeing beauty in these grey days—even the sharp crispness of the wind is welcome to hit my face and turn the tip of my nose pink. I won’t protest. I’m shaking hands with Old Man Winter… and smiling at the thought of Spring.

He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

Naomi Boyer is a West Coast girl transplanted to Pennsylvania with her husband, Justin. She considers herself a realist and could own a car with both a "Life is Beautiful" and a "Shit Happens" bumper sticker affixed to it.

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