Friday, July 30, 2010

We will all go together when we go (when we go)

Today I read Michael Rowe's fascinating blog on the Huffington Post about Anne Rice's decision to renounce the title of "Christian." Two things strike me at once: First, that I cannot renounce the name of Christian. And second, that Evil's purpose to scatter the sheep is becoming more evident with every breath.

I know, as does Rowe, what the title "Christian" has come to mean. And so do you. So, I won't elucidate here. But I must say that as long as He strengthens me to do so, (remembering Saint Peter) I must bind to myself the name of the Savior who lifts me out of the muck and the mire. Who gives my feet a firm place to stand and enables me to do so confidently in the presence of an altogether Almighty God. What they called Him, they will call me. How they felt for Him, they will feel for me. What they did to Him, they will want to do to me. And I must count it as gain.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on me.

And I am reminded at the same time that as Christians, oh my brothers and sisters, as Christians, we cannot forsake assembling together. As for me, my feet had almost slipped in the matter. I am thankful for the process of redemption. We cannot - as meddlesome and altogether vexing as they are - forsake other Christians. Their sin is repugnant to us. The smell of it lingers in our nostrils like the smell of burning death. Yet, it is no worse than ours. We must awake to the realization of the little foxes in our vineyards and understand that we all stand together, before God, utterly condemnable. Amen? Amen. We need the fellowship of the saints. An orthodox faith doesn't stand alone.

I know you already know, but I thought it worth restating.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Literary Leanings

Like every great reader, I have a list of favorite books that I read and re-read over and over and over again. I generally go through several paper-back copies and reserve a hard-cover in case of calamity. (I don't want to be without a good read when the Apes take over the world.)

Few of them could really be labed "classic," although I'm sure at least one will pop up on our children's summer reading lists. (That is, of course, if they're still teaching reading at our local gub'ment sausage factories when our children finally get there.) Since I first read them as a child, it's hard to say if I love them because they appeal to certain dearly-held sensibilities, or if they actually created them in the first place.

I find myself returning to these stories at the times when the bottom of my world seems to drop out from under my feet and I find myself, arms flailing, reaching for something solid and true around which to wrap my mind. So, I suppose in that sense, they're something of a religion. Of course, I still believe in an Omnipotent and Loving God, it's just that I know he exposes His own to suffering like a doctor breaking the leg of a child only to set it right again. (If He were not ultimately Merciful, what would we do? My books are far more predictible.)

I read them during the mad whirl of my upheaved adolescence, during the unsteady squash-and-cucumber summers I first spent away from home working in a kitchen in North Carolina, after my first real heartbreak, shortly after I was married, when my grandmother died. When I lay awake at night during my first pregnancy, round as a melon and uncomfortable with impending labor, my husband read them to me. It's one of my sweetest memories. I'm reading them now as the uncertainty of the future presses around me like a slew of strangers in a close elevator. Every time I read them, I understand them on a new, if not deeper, level.

From these stories, I've learned the import of purpose, of quotidian pleasure and of animal compantionship. I've learned what it is I aspire to and what it is that brings lasting pleasure. I find myself writing in the voices of the characters I love and making mental narrations that cushion difficult circumstances in bearable frames.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a bar in Connecticut in the uncomfortable position of explaining my relationships with books to some of David's business associates. (A position, it must be said, that he put me in solely for the pleasure of seeing me vexed.) I tried to explain the difference between the deliciously cerebral delight of constructing a 20-plus page article on some obsure aspect of a dusty old text and reading. The first is the clinical, albeit frequently grubby disection of literature. It's the fascination of seeing a beating heart during surgery. The second is the untidy and almost lascivious consumption of literature and the accompanying pleasure brought by the beating of your own heart as you experience the world first hand.

I love them both. I'm a lucky girl.

My short list, in no particular order, is as follows:
The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
All Creatures Great and Small, James Heriot
All Things Bright and Beautiful, James Heriot
All Things Wise and Wonderful, James Heriot
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
Answered Prayers for Owen Meany, John Irving
A Child's Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson
What's yours?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Captive Israel (Or, O Come Immanuel)

Kyak off a Hunting Island, S.C. beach that doesn't exist any more.

Strange days, these. For some reason, the yellow smog doesn't hang as heavy upon this city this summer. Not yet, anyway. As I push the stroller down the buckled sidewalks, I feel like I'm more focused on the cracks and pits in the sidewalk than on what's going on around me. I don't see quite like I used to and I wonder if I've entered the ranks of the voluntarily blind.

I saw a woman in a headscarf making her way past a row of mouldering houses on her way to a neighborhood supermarket known for having a selection of Halal meat. She swung an empty Whole Foods bag as she walked. Pecking her way down the street. First on the sidewalk and then, in the gutter as the terrain warranted. I wondered at the similarity of our daily lives: See him off. Make the breakfast. Change the diapers. Wash the dishes. Wait for his return. Amen.

I followed her not because I was interested, but because I didn't want to manhandle the 50-plus pounds in the stroller up the steep and broken grade going another way would have dictated. I've gone lazy. And I can't help but compare the me of the present to the me of the past who would have followed with greedy and journalistic eyes longing for a glimpse of the strange color or even suffering I thought lent authenticity to my neighborhood, my companions, my life.

Like Aslan on the table of the White Witch, my idealism has been sacrificed, transmogrified, and reborn. I see the real. The truth will set you free, but it will kill you first.

I remember somewhat fondly, actually, the relish with which I absorbed the grit of this neighborhood. I saw the drugs, the prostitutes and the cops they attracted. Strangely, it's a much quieter neighborhood now and I wonder if all the action has just been pressed down the street, or if the economy has effected the street commerce. I almost think it's the latter. The hos and pimps had to get real jobs. They really needed the benefits.

Even the 100-year-old beauties of my neighborhood have gone shabby with the sub-prime crisis. The Jemison house needs to be painted in the most desperate way. And it breaks my heart. Even in my parent's neighborhood, there is a house with boarded-up windows. It's something marvelously out-of-place there, almost like a 1954 Packard in the driveway or something. You know the Packard? A great steel megalith of a car with a frowning grill looking as if it has just eaten a monstrous sausage and is experiencing the most vile dyspepsia.

I liked being a tourist of suffering. I liked being able to take it all back up over the mountain for dinner. I liked being "among them, but not of them." But these days, I confess, I feel the weight of the suffering everywhere. It seems to pour down the drainpipes off the roofs of the world and trickle maliciously into the attics of every house in the city. Housewives feel it drip on their faces as they pour the coffee. Businessmen scan the skies as they drive to work. Uh oh. Here it comes. There isn't a home here that hasn't suffered. Rain falls on the just and the unjust, and these days, I'm not so sure that money provides any sort of flood insurance from the onslaught of suffering. It drones through the evenings like a twin engine Cessna through a cloudless summer sky. (A sound that to me, means lonely.)

Last night, I felt again the whisper of the still, small voice saying "peace, peace" when there is no peace. It was as if the peace was being birthed. It wasn't so much a restatement of what existed as a creating of what was not. It moved, making a way in the wilderness. Tying up all the loose ends and spreading a table for me in the presence of my enemies. (And Tom Bombadil. Why not?) My grandmother came to me in a dream with rolled-up jeans and an enamel bowl full of blackberries. Everything, she said, is so beautiful here.

Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel.
And ransom Captive Israel.
Who mourns in lonely exile here.
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.