O LORD, how weak I am,
give me strength—Yours—
to own You and to
wear Your Name
choosing to be
covered by Your blood
—Your name my identity.
Monday, May 30, 2016
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Particulars matter. Of course, so do Universals and Forms. I hold to a healthy mix of Aristotle and Plato, tempered by Jesus and His word. I find it interesting that the particulars make up the whole, even if the universal was set into place first. For example, God said, Let there be light, and there was; then He went on to make the sun, moon, and stars. The universal preceded the particulars.
However, we live inside the universe—that is, within the universals. We live inside one planet in our solar system, which is in our galaxy, inside the whole universe. We live within time—second by second, the future becoming now, becoming the past—in such a rapid succession that it is a good thing we don't constantly focus on how fleeting the present is as it arrives. We would miss it if we did. We live inside the seconds, minutes, and hours that make up our days. We live inside the days and months that form the years. We live inside this framework of time, within our rolling universe.
All this I realised in a few moments when writing the date on the upper right corner of my journal, the place and time of day in the upper left. Upon studying abroad, I learned that most of the world writes the date in ascending order: day, month, year. This seemed logical and more practical to my understanding, and I quickly adopted the practise. In fact, North America (and parts of Canada) seems to be the only place(s) where dates are written in a mid-form of month, day, year.
When did this odd practise begin? Though I gave this question a bit more than a cursory search, I could not find a definitive answer. However, I was stunned as I realised that writing the date month-first deconstructs our very selves, as well as the universal framework in which we live. You see, if we begin, not with the overarching framework of the year of our Lord, nor the particular minutes or days that make up our part in that story, what do we have left? An arbitrary median that shows us neither the details nor the whole picture. It is like looking at an impressionist painting at a middling distance—it is merely blurry, causing one to miss the intricate strokes and colours of the up-close detail, as well as the clearer picture from a farther vantage point.
Our minutes and hours are how we spend our days, and as Annie Dillard says: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing."1 If we live only in the minutes, in the what we are doing, without the framework of the universal 'year of our Lord' or the metanarrative of all of history, then what we are doing becomes those unintelligible brushstrokes of a Monet, seen an inch from the canvas. Our moments in the story are unintelligible without a larger framework.
However, there is a big picture laid out from the beginning of time, from the conception of the universe. When we find ourselves placed inside of that framework, then our moments and days—how we spend our lives—flow in the picture. Our days are the light and shadow of a section of the painting. The stroke of our lives may seem incredibly small compared to the giant canvas, but our placement matters in the whole.
Is there room for something between the particulars and the universal? Like months slipped between days and years? Yes, of course. There is something between individual atoms and the galaxy: planets and stars; water and plants; animals, man, and more. So, too, there are individual humans as particulars, society as a whole. What comes between? I posit two middle-forms: the family and the Church.
Families are made up of individuals, helping one another both to survive and to thrive; society is made up of families composed of individuals. The Church (throughout time and space) is made up of individuals and families being knit together into the Body of Christ Jesus. It is these blurry middle-forms where we sometimes have a hard time seeing either the whole story or the individual words.
It's like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
full of moonlight.
Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.2
You know the individual words, you begin to see the whole story by the stringing and weaving of those words together into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. The middle-form of a story is a chapter—often the length of the story that we read in one sitting—if we are savouring the book. A chapter is a good length of the story to read, to mull over, to build upon. But a chapter alone does a poor job of conveying the story as a whole with its plot and chronology; nor does a chapter catch the depth of the characters, their memories, histories, or significance to the whole. A chapter is a necessary middle-form or larger building block—much like a month—obviously somewhere between the details and the whole.
So, we return to families, the building blocks of society. There is really no such thing as an individual family—there are always extended relatives, family members marrying and branching out again and again. It is easy to see why we use the image of a tree to explain families, because there is that continual growth and branching, like a tree, that make up a whole. A family is a bit elastic, expanding in marriages and births, constricting in deaths. It is fluid, and thus a bit blurry; like a swift stream, like the Monet seen somewhere between brushstrokes and long-distance clarity. The present is the same, the blur between the future and history. The middle-form is always the blur, the brushstroke, the action point, the beam swinging from the crane in the building process. It is like present circumstances, rather hard to understand as you are going through them, but easier to see the edges, the whys and wherefores, after you have made it beyond, gaining perspective from the passage of time.
We live in the moments and the days—the particulars. Particulars build those middle-forms of family and Church, of months and years, of planets and stars; all within the frame of the whole picture, God’s universal story. The moments matter—become material—like paint on the canvas or inky words on a page. The middle-forms matter, too—setting lonely people into their right place; ordering words and paragraphs; building brick upon brick—so that we can see the family, or story, or home. We see the whole by the blurs in concert, the fragmented pieces coming together.
Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
So the little moments,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
1. Dillard, Annie The Writing Life (New York, New York, Harper Collins, 2009), emphasis mine2. Oliver, Mary, "Breakage" in Why I Wake Early (Boston, Massachusetts, Beacon Press, 2004), 32
3. Carney, Julia Abigail Fletcher, "Little Things" Public Domain
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
About an hour into a conversation with a friend, we began discussing the death of Lazarus and Jesus weeping with Mary. Jesus had purposely waited to come to His friends that He might glorify the Father through the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus said to Martha, "I myself am the resurrection and the life." He knew he was about to push death right out of a man, to make him what he should be: fully alive. He knew, and still, when Mary ran to meet Him, trailing mourners and friends and tears, His anger was roused and He wept.
Everyone who saw Jesus weep said, "Look how much He loved him"—but Jesus was about to return Lazarus to life, He was not distraught because He would not see Lazarus again. No, He was angry when He saw how upset and sorrowed Mary and the others were. He was angry because death was not part of the world He had formed. Death had come to steal life, joy, and fellowship away. Death was hurting His belovéd friends—and so He wept at the brokenness, at the pain suffered by His friends. And then He stood there and called Lazarus to come forth, to live and breathe as he was made to.
At this point, my friend asked me: "What grave are you standing next to?" The question struck a chord that is still vibrating within me, as some weeks before, another friend had asked something similar, "What in us needs to die so that God can bring His life into us?" Perhaps having thought on that question already prepared me a bit for the second conversation. I confess that it takes God bringing something to my attention quite a few times before I really give it the thought it deserves.
A few weeks after these conversations, John eleven was my morning reading. I'm not sure I had ever noticed before that Jesus wept out of sorrow for Mary but also out of anger. Death is not the way it is supposed to be—and Jesus knew that, knew that one day death would be swallowed up by life, like you swallow a poppy seed. You are so much bigger than a seed, more complex in your biological life, and greater than it in every way. Life is like that when it swallows death. Death only exists as the privation of life, of something God made good. Any sin or evil is only ever a twisting of something God made good.
When I thought about Jesus standing next to Lazarus's grave and calling him to come forth, I realised that Jesus was calling Lazarus back to what was good: life. Much like the man in The Great Divorce with the lizard of lust upon his shoulder. Again and again the solid person asked if he could kill the lizard and the man whined, promised his pet sin would be very good now, even begged not to have it killed because that would kill him. But in the end, when he cried out that yes, the solid person could kill the lizard, he did not die. The lizard itself was restored, or reformed into something good, a stallion. It was such a warping of the good thing God had made that it seemed impossible that such a magnificent creature could have ever been shrivelled and degraded into a lizard.
At the grave, Jesus turned death into life. He unbroke the Fall and its consequences. He remade the fragmented, and He continues to do so in our lives. When I think about what needs to die in me I find that the grave must be my own. I need Jesus to be standing next to the grave of me and my selfishness. It is always myself at the root of my sin—whether it is lack of compassion or sacrifice; or if it is self-righteousness and self-consciousness; or even if it is my "good" efforts. I need to die so that I can be raised to new, abundant life in and from Jesus. He made me to be fully alive, fully—unfallen—human. I need the resurrection, the resuscitation, the breath of the Spirit animating me and keeping me alive.
What grave are you standing beside?