Monday, October 3, 2011
I've moved to a wordpress site here.
I hope to see you over at the Having Decided To Stay where I continue to write about wide world and the sweetness of the way...
Seize the Day!
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
What does Willa Cather’s O Pioneers – a novel about a struggling Swedish homesteading family in Nebraska – have in common with Emily Bronte’s classic story of a haunting and tragic love affair on the moors of Britain -- the windswept Wuthering Heights? Well, both stories deal with unhappy marriages, with impetuous and emotional people, and with the passing of time. Both stories deal with the history of personal tragedies, and both invite the reader to step back and take a good, hard look at his own life.
O Pioneers! tells us the story of the sweet, independent and wise Alexandra Bergson who transforms her family’s farm into a profitable business after her father’s death, despite opposition from her less intelligent brothers, Lou and Oscar. Alexandra has a close relationship with a neighbor boy, Carl Lindstrum, who is introduced to us at the outset of the novel as a slightly hardened but kind fifteen-year-old boy. He becomes estranged from Alexandra when his family moves away, and she doesn’t see him again until he is a grown man of thirty-five. He has always felt inferior to her, and so he is unwilling to marry her. Alexandra’s dream is to create a happy life for her youngest brother Emil, a full fifteen years her junior. She hopes to send him to college and see him make a great man of himself. When he returns from college, he is slightly indolent and does not fully appreciate the sacrifices his sister has made on his behalf. He entangles himself in an affair with a vivacious and unhappily married Bohemian girl, Marie Shabata. Marie’s jealous husband catches them together and shoots both of them to death in a blind rage. Alexandra realizes that she should have seen the tragedy coming and is devastated. In her time of weakness, Carl comes rushing home to see her and finally they are married.
Wuthering Heights tells us of the capricious and jealous Catherine Earnshaw and her relationship with her foster-brother, a gypsy foundling named Heathcliff. Perhaps the most memorable portions of the book are those detailing the childhood shared by Cathy and Heathcliff. A former family servant tells how the two passionate and unruly childen were unrestrained and left to their own devices. Upon the death of their parents, the children fall into to the care of their older brother Hindley, a selfish man who is envious of Heathcliff. He treats the younger boy badly, depriving him of the privileges he had enjoyed under Cathy’s father and reducing him to a position of servanthood. Heathcliff, always of a passionate nature, becomes bitter and this bitterness is increased to a vengefulness when Cathy chooses to marry his rival Edgar Linton. She doesn’t really love Edgar, but says it would “degrade” her to marry Heathcliff. Heathcliff hears a part of her statement and his pride is severely wounded. He runs away and does not return for three years, during which time he acquires a small fortune. The new Heathcliff re-enters the story only for the purpose of vengeance. He swindles and abuses Cathy’s relatives, including her brother Hindley and her sister-in-law, Isabella Linton. As book wears on, we see the horrific results of his tormented passions, and those of Cathy, who grows increasingly selfish and eventually dies unhappy and frustrated.
I think it is likely that the authors of these books want us to look at the lives of their characters as a whole. This is why the stories are told from so far back. Probably Bronte and Cather were hoping that we would step back and look from a distance at their word paintings to see the design. Both of these books seek to show the importance of childhood in the shaping of character. The authors are telling us that children become adults regardless, with adult problems and adult temptations, but that they do not ever really grow up unless there is someone there to grow them up. We see how Cathy, Heathcliff, Marie and Emil’s lethal passions could have been mastered by better training and more time with deliberate adults. Both books also strongly emphasize the power of childhood relationships with the opposite sex. Cather and Bronte try to tell us that when a girl and a boy are best friends as children, they have a homegrown love that goes deeper than a fascination with an attractive stranger. Alexandra and Carl do come together in the end. They wait for a long time. But they are married, and we are happy and gratified when the thing finally comes about. Cathy is more selfish and impatient than Alexandra. She does not want to wait, and she is flattered by Edgar Linton’s attentions. She spurns Heathcliff as a lover, even though she acknowledges that he knows her better than anyone else ever will. Cathy and Heathcliff are forever tormented by her decision and their bitterness causes them not only to ruin their own lives, but the lives of others.
And yet, both Bronte and Cather seem to suggest that a mistake such as Cathy’s should not be considered a fatal one, and that it is crucial for those people involved to choose to get over it. In both novels, we see how the lovers’ unwillingness to move on proved to be destructive, and did not alleviate their regrets. The bleak and unlovely lives that are the results of Cathy and Marie’s refusal to accept their own choices are contrasted starkly with the beautifully normal and simple lives of others around them. Cather adresses the issue of a contented, simple life when Carl returns home to see Alexandra for the first time since he was an adolescent. He has been wandering the country for awhile, trying to make ends meet as an artist, just doing his own thing. He tells her this has not made him happy. “Freedom so often means one isn’t needed anywhere,” he says to her. While Wuthering Heights and O Pioneers! certainly hold their own as mere stories, their chief merits lie in their ability to warn and caution the reader through the mistakes of their characters.
Seize The Day!
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
(This is a paper I wrote a few months ago.)
You're Not a Genius Until You're Dead
(Reflective Narration from The Arts by Hendrik Willem Van Loon)
Recognized today as one of the greatest Western composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived his short thirty-six years not only overworked and underfed but unappreciated. Music-lover that he was, perhaps as a young man it wouldn't have bothered Mozart too much to learn that his strenuous composer's lifestyle was to bring him quickly to the grave --- but chances are he would have the resented the fact that it was to be an unmarked pauper's grave.
Mozart's musical career began at the age of three, with his father, a violinist in the service of the Archbishop, as his private teacher. He was performing in public a year later, playing his own compositions. At six he went to Vienna to play for Maria Theresa. "How pretty you are!" he said to her young daughter Marie Antoinette on this occasion. "When I am grown up, I shall marry you." Did she perhaps remember these words as she stepped up to the guillotine thirty-one years later and prepared to breathe her last? Had this childish dream been realized, Marie Antoinette might have lived to see old age. But it would have been an old age without Mozart. By then he had already been dead two years.
When Mozart returned to Salzburg as an older teenager, the old Prince Archbishop had died and his successor was neither courteous nor an admirer of music. Mozart found his new master's superiority complex so frustrating that he resigned his position as honorary Kapellmeister. This action only further enraged the Archbishop who determined to do everything in his power to make the young man's life miserable. At that time in history, there was a great deal that such a power figure could do to a poor musician. Mozart's family fell into debt and he began traveling Europe in attempts to support himself. He fell in love with a penniless young German girl and this only made life more difficult. In response to his father's pleas not to allow his passion to ruin the girl, he wrote that he was hopelessly in love but too conscious of his duties toward God to do anything wrong. Shortly after this, he had to send news of a different sort. His mother had died in a Paris boarding-house after a long illness. It is apparent that the Mozart family's debts would not allow a doctor visit.
After his mother's death, Mozart acquired a position and was able to marry Constance Weber, the younger sister of the girl he'd so hopelessly pursued a few years before. Unfortunately, she was as bad a money manager as he was and the bills began to pile up. A poor man has to take what he is given, and while many exalted personages had commissions for Mozart, none of them paid well enough to enable him to live comfortable. When a Count Walsegg commissioned a requiem that he would later palm off as a composition of his own, Mozart, worn and stressed and in a constant fever, imagined that the valet sent to request the goods was a messenger from heaven, announcing his approaching end. The next day he died.
On the day of Mozart's burial it rained so hard that not even his wife was able to accompany him to the cemetery. The only one of Mozart's friends that was there to see his body dropped into a common grave was his faithful mongrel dog. Constance remarried and she and her new husband spent the rest of their lives organizing Mozart's compositions and preparing a biography for him. Since then dozens of biographies and monuments and memorials have been erected in his honor. Unfortunately no one even knows what exactly killed the composer, because his body, thrown into a grave reserved for the poorest of the poor, cannot be identified.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
to sit by the window and hold your eyes open.
Mine that are cloudy cannot tell who you are –
but it was good of you to come sit awhile, watch a man dying.
The night has been a long time going by –
a long time for a fretful old man to fidget between the blankets.
But now that I know I will not see the morning,
one night maybe isn’t such a long time after all.
Suddenly I want to say some last words,
something you could write down and be proud to have heard.
You could say, “I was there when the old man died. He said------”
- if you weren’t nodding a head too heavy, too long watching,
if you weren’t snoring, dreaming on the windowpane -.
“Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough already.”
Well, Marx, old man, you said more than enough.
But me --- have I ever said anything worth saying in my whole life?
I feel my eyelids slipping --
not the withered, fleshy ones against the wet lens,
but the ones under, up against the Being, cutting off
the shapes of this dingy room and the candle flickering on the wall.
I also can’t hear the quiet anymore. No soundlessness of the death-watch
and the middle of the night. Instead, there is this splashing on rocks,
so close I can feel that the mist of the waterfall is cold,
but still blurred in with the fading dark.
I have been a long time dreaming
but this is not like the world blacking out,
but like the glass darkly is getting thinner,
the veil keeping me in dreams falling off.
The stuff of Afterwards doesn’t bubble into the picture
through a screen of boiling water so as to make you not-sure it’s real
like in the movies. Oh, there is water - only water you can touch
and splash fingers in and slurp cold over the dry tongue.
I cannot see you anymore -- you by the window --
the realness of this waterfall has closed in over you.
But I know you could still hear me if you weren’t so fast asleep,
because right in the middle of the plunging white
still flutters that pathetic candle that called itself a light.
God, if he could see this light dumping over the mountains like a million suns,
feel this sharp infusion of aliveness!
Man, you would never, never sleep again.
Funny, I am not looking for them –
for the girl with the finger that wears my band of gold,
for the woman with the smile that the cancer took away
while a little boy watched it, begged her not to go.
The little boy is not looking for his two buried babies.
Instead I am wondering what exactly is a man with no last words worth saying
supposed to say to a very busy Judge trying him for murder.
And I’m guessing nothing.
You by the window,
giving in to the clock and the still night,
when you pass from that dream you’re in to the next one,
find my clumsy heart still beneath the sheets, thank you.
It was good of you to sit awhile, watch a man waking up,
eyelids slipping right wide open.
all rights reserved
Sunday, April 10, 2011
an animal with gasping, wild breath,
and groping teeth and lunging, starving eyes,
and he will catch you, it's as sure as death.
Two miles from town and by the clock of night
1:00 in the morning, we found prints of yours
tracking the snow with frightened sneaker-feet
and followed them right to the bolted door.
By windowlight I saw your silhouette,
made out your shape, your blackness, in that room
"Snap leashes! Subject bolting for the door!"
and all His dogs came raging after you.
We watch you jerk through darkness from the steps,
and hurtle over winterfallen white
after you they come like bullet bursts
and howls curdle blood and chill the night.
Your sleeping days are over - you will run,
your sitting-down time gone - you will pound feet.
We love you and the only way to show
it, is to free you from your sultry peace.
The world rolled out before you - you have room
Press hard heels into firm dirt - you can run,
You have a lifetime to attempt escape.
Go for it - let us know when you are done.
You will not tear forever over fields,
and up the rocks and crannies of the walls
You will not run the circle of the world
unending - someday you will trip and fall.
You will wear tired and you will miss steps
someday toes slide and you will feel the ledge
His hounds will find your flesh and meet their teeth
through frenzied skin, and drag you from the edge.
I told Him softly, “I have one I love,
one distant and one orphaned from the day.
Maybe you could send a couple dogs
To take him down and bring him in someday?”
by Bryana Joy
(all rights reserved)
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
We had a thunder in the night that came
Like evil laughter heralding the rain.
I woke and found my city half-asleep,
And I put on old shoes to walk the street.
We have too many cars here on my block,
Even in blinding rain at three'o'clock.
I know I'm not the first one to complain -
Don't we all hate our cities just the same?
I turned to take a back-alley and found,
God, sitting in a puddle on the ground.
It'd been awhile since we'd kept in touch,
But I could see He hadn't changed that much.
"Where have you been?" I asked Him kinda slow,
"I'm pretty sure the whole world wants to know
If God has sent us coasting down a hill,
And took off work and left the steering wheel."
I hoped to see a fire light His face,
To kneel there conquered by a flaming grace.
God didn't look up from The New York Times,
"Go on," He said, "what else is on your mind?"
The sullen anger seething in my head
Exploded into wild wrath instead.
"I have a list, get ready!" I half yelled.
"When I'm done, see if You can do as well!
I want to know why You hate innocents,
And why You feed the world at their expense.
I want to know why God has set apart,
And holds a grudge against the pure in heart.
If God is sovereign, He cannot be just,
(And I'm prepared to prove it if I must).
If God is just, He has no final say ---
Judge of the Earth, You need a Judgment Day.
We had a knifing right here yesterday -
A good man going on his quiet way.
I want to hear You say You did not see,
It will make it much easier for me.
We have a lot of babies clean, unborn,
Unstained, and quite unwanted and so torn
With scissors in a sanitary space,
Tell me You have not seen this taking place.
What of the kids that line our night-time streets,
And sell themselves because they have to eat?
I know You passed a few outside that store,
God, don't You help the children anymore?
When one who loves You lets his whole world go,
Why doesn't God who saved Abednego
Take His scared, trusting lover from the flame,
And bring a matchless glory to His name?
'Three times beaten with rods and one time stoned,
Thrice shipwrecked, one night in the deep alone,'
Is this the way God sees the blessed meek?
As targets for death and calamity?
The Devil roams the streets and countryside
And takes whom he shall find and rips him wide,
The wretched righteous call You through the years,
Please tell me You have cotton in your ears!
God set the Evening News down in the mud,
And smiled, like I dared to hope He would.
And in that one igniting of His eyes,
Was life and death and sunset and sunrise.
All shades of stars within the Milky Way,
And all the flaming colors of the day,
The passion of the surf upon the sand,
And laughing of the ship in sight of land,
The holy joy of altar-kneeling tears,
Through all the multitude of counted years,
The sparkle of a thousand glories dead,
Hung, hovered in his smile when He said,
"You say the 'pure in heart' - I've known one man
And only one since all the world began.
All outrages, all wounds to soul and skin
Pale when compared with what was done to Him.
Those hands bound, that cheek slapped upon the kiss,
That head crowned thorny, -- yes, I lived through this.
Those shoulders robed in mockery and shame,
And all the hurting spitting out the Name.
That back bared, those arms stretched to take the sting!
A man can look at almost anything,
But this wrong wrongs the one that has to watch
The eye can take a lot, but not that much.
Go on and tell Me what I should have done,
-- All forces of the universe My own ---
Tell Me I should have held the striking hand,
And sent that legion scouring the land.
You will be right. My child, you will be right.
But tell Me what you would have done that night --
Would you have spared the blood within that heart?
And left the children crying in the dark?"
I thought that I had other things to say ----
The wind picked up and took my breath away.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
Yes, I've taken a long break from blogging. In fact, it was such a long break that I should now have more than enough topics on my mind to keep me blogging every week for months. January has been a very busy month here. My family runs fifty goats and we just went through kidding season while my Dad was on a business trip overseas. We now have eighteen baby goats running around the farm and several more on the way. Several have to be bottle fed around the clock. I'm tired. My eleven-year-old sister also broke her arm this week.
There's a topic that I've spent so much time thinking on over the past year, I'm going to take at least two posts to write about it: EDEN.
To be quite honest, it all began with C.S. Lewis' Perelandra, which I begin to understand is probably the most overlooked and underrated book I've ever read. For months after reading it, I continued to persist in my opinion that The Space Trilogy was dry and difficult to read and that there was really nothing wonderful about it. But when I think back and realize how much Perelandra has influenced my life, and how much it has encouraged and inspired and excited me even during the months in which I was insisting that I didn't really like it, I think I need to go back and read it again.
But before I write about Perelandra, I'm going to write about its prequel, Out Of The Silent Planet. In this first book of The Space Trilogy, a man from planet Earth is taken to another planet, a perfect planet without a "fall into sin." At one point the protagonist, Ransom, tries to explain the concept of sin to some of the creatures on the other planet, but they are totally unable to understand him. The only word in their language that can even be used to refer to sin is the term "bent" or "twisted." Ransom tries to talk to them about promiscuity and they are not even able to understand what could possibly induce a creature to want to be unfaithful. Their nature is not evil like ours, and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts is only good all the time.
In Perelandra, Ransom is taken to another "un-fallen" planet to save it from a fall into sin. The book raises all kinds of thrilling and important topics, from the sovereignty of God to the need for Law, to righteous hatred, to demon possession. But the thing that I found the most interesting was the assertion of the superiority of a perfect world.
At one point in the book Ransom is wrestling in his mind over whether or not he can risk his entire life for a faint hope of saving the perfect planet. He begins to ask himself if, after all, it is so necessary to save the planet in the first place. If it were to fall, surely God would redeem it eventually, just as He did ours. Not in the same way, maybe, but it would be redeemed. And his mind, agonized and afraid of doing what he knows he should do, begins to wonder if perhaps redemption is better anyway than un-fallen perfection. After all, didn't we get Jesus out of the Fall? Don’t we have the Kingdom of God among us, and the Spirit of God dwelling in us? However, these lines completely void his argument:
"Whatever you do, He will make good of it, but not the good He had prepared for you. That is lost forever. The first King and Mother of our world did the forbidden thing; and He brought of it good in the end, but what they did was not good, and what they lost we have not seen, and there were some to whom no good ever came nor ever will come."
After Ransom makes his decision he goes and finds the "Eve" of the planet sleeping in the woods, and there is this beautiful and heart-breaking passage:
"As he stood looking down on her, what was most with him was an intense and orphaned longing that he might, if only for once, have seen the great Mother of his own race thus, in her innocence and splendor. 'Other things, other blessings, other glories,' he murmured. 'But never that. Never in all worlds, that. God can make good use of all that happens. But the loss is real.'"
The loss is real. We don't know everything that we lost when we fell into sin, but it is a real loss - a loss of things that God wanted us to have. And because of this fall, everything here that was created whole and lovely and majestic is broken.
I was instant messaging a good friend of mine a couple nights ago and we were talking about this concept of brokenness as a result of the human fall into sin. I think that very often we don't even come close to realizing how deeply sin has perverted everything in the world. Sin has perverted even the good things. The world is messed-up and even the beautiful things are adulterated. If you just take a minute to think about this, you can trace the effects of sin in every sphere of life. Here are a few I thought of off the top of my head:
Human Love: As Galadriel says in The Fellowship of The Ring, "In all lands, love is now mingled with grief." Love in our world comes with pain. I'm not necessarily talking about romantic love between the sexes here, but just about love in general. Even the very purest and deepest love that we have for other people is sure to get us hurt in some way, whether by death or betrayal or separation or misunderstanding or something else.
Nature/The Outdoors: The nature that is still praised by poets and idealists as the way to relax the mind and still sought by city people as a refuge from the horrors of social problems and urban stress, is messed-up. Cruelty is manifest in nature. The fittest survive, and the weak suffer.
Human Nature: The nature of men has been destroyed. Our "natural" lusts for blood and violence and ready sex are indicators that nature is not absolute, and has definitely failed. Our more subtle desires for power and position and fame and wealth and control at any cost are other examples of this perversion.
Human Beauty: God made us in His image, and we are beautiful. But how frequently our beauty is corrupted by our lusts! How frequently are beautiful people regarded not as living testimonies to the glory of the Creator but as things to be played with and discarded when we are tired of them! And how frequently we refuse to reflect the beauty of God in our bodies and instead choose to allow ourselves to be ugly?
My friend was highlighting the fact that even God, when He is blessing us with the most vital and important things, has to break us to do so. We live in a sinful world, and when we hurt and break ourselves with sin, the only way for Him to heal us is to re-break the bone we’ve broken and set it correctly. It's almost a contradiction that the perfect and Almighty God has to heal us by breaking us again. Jars of Clay has a sweet, sad song about brokenness and the wretched condition of humanity and their first lines go like this:
"Oh my God, look around this place
Your fingers reach around the bone
You set the break and set the tone……"
After reciting a list of the horrific evils, they end it with the simple cry,
"Oh my God,
Oh my God,
Oh my GOD!"
You can listen to this song here:
That is what I feel like saying sometimes. There are some things so evil that nothing else can carry their weight. Sometimes, when I get hit in the face by the full force and understanding of the depth of our fall, the only thing worth saying is, "Oh my God," because as George MacDonald puts it in Sir Gibbie, "Jesus is the one rock where evil finds no echo. Jesus is the cavern of destroying love into which all evil tumbles and finds no reaction and ends forever."
P.S. If that struck you as a slightly depressive post, don't worry: the next one will more than make up for it!
Monday, October 19, 2009
Henry V details the exploits of the young English king, Henry V, in the early fifteenth century. Carrying on a traditional war over the succession of the French throne, Henry V launches an invasion of France. The play is a story about his hopes, decisions and emotions during this time, but also about the actual historical battles that took place. Shakespeare even managed to insert a little love story as a subplot.
I've always thought of Harfleur and Agincourt as inexcusable wars of aggression on the part of the English. It is difficult for our culture to even consider this kind of violent attack as acceptable for any civilized monarch. However, in order to enjoy the story at all, we do have to understand the times and the national sentiments going around in an age where no one felt safe, even in days of relative peace. France was the traditional enemy of
England and both sides were apprehensive that as soon as the other should find it convenient, they would attack.
I really liked the balance in the movie. Even though the script for the movie is taken word-for-word from the play, the director shapes the attitude of the audience towards the story with the sets and actors he uses. While giving Henry a very fair chance to appear noble and showing his misgivings and his desire to please God, Branagh also paints the horrors of war vividly. He makes no attempt to glorify the battles, but instead makes them far worse than Shakespeare probably intended. I think that in a way he short-circuits some of Shakespeare's obvious intentions of romanticizing the war, and I do appreciate this.
I've heard Shakespeare's version of Henry hailed as a Christ-figure, but I must say that this analogy really doesn't bear any examination. Rather, the Henry in Shakespeare's play is a noble and heroic but severely misguided and violent man. (I can't speak for the historical Henry V. I'm only talking about Henry V as depicted in the play.) Although there are good aspects of his character and he is a generous and good-hearted king to his own people, his standards are far too low for me to even come close to considering that he could represent Christ.
The most famous portion of the movie and the play is the St. Crispin's Day speech. Indeed, the whole thing would lose most of its appeal without this scene that ties off all of the loose ends of both Henry's character and the motivation for the war. I was very impacted by this speech. When the King launches into these immortal lines:
He which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart. His passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse.
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day!
it made me think what a privilege it is to be living now, in the time and place that God has set for us. You can watch that scene here:
The movie reaches a climax of tragedy when the victorious English army returns to their camp to find all of their boys slaughtered by the angry and desperate French army. Boys too young to fight had been left behind when the army went to battle and it was illegal by the rules of honorable war to strike them. The unutterable rage and horror incited by the sight of the bleeding children provokes the king to cry, "I was not angry since I came to France until this instant!" As the triumphant but miserable and outraged English army sets out to bury the dead boys, this lovely scene wraps up the battle of Agincourt:
Kenneth Branagh's Henry V is an excellent way to watch Shakespeare's play. While retaining the original text, it brings the story to life on screen, preserving the Shakespearian regard for the man, but not without raising questions as to the ethical basis for the war.
Seize The Day!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
OK. :) I'm back. I've committed to try to post more frequently now that summer is over and the school term has started again.
Here is a sonnet I wrote last week. (I still think I like Sonnet II better- what do you think?) As always, suggestions are more than welcome!
Considering the present sufferings
Not worthy to be thought of or compared
To glory that shall burn away these things
And leave our souls and hearts and senses bared,
Some of the ransomed lovely ones in Christ
Refused the dying world's attentions
And named the named of Jesus at a price,
To obtain the better resurrection.
These ones held true and loyal to one Love
And watched their other loves die all around,
The ones for whom the world was not enough,
Of whom the world has been unworthy found,
O Church, are you to be the Bride of GOD?
You have not yet resisted unto blood!