Back from Narnia

“Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.”- CS Lewis, The Four Loves

A place of safety and retreat for me is where I am sitting right now- in the armchair of my library, either reading, or writing, with a big fat mug of coffee or a glass of wine or pint of ale.   My books stand comfortably at their posts on the shelves behind me, and a few of those jolly souls occupy an honored spot of distinction on the end table beside me, a few dog-eared and well worn, others fresh from the field and awaiting perusal.

Many of these books are by or about CS Lewis.  Over the past few years, his books have been the pebble in the pond, sending ripples out to other books, other authors, living and dead, past and present, which now grace my shelves.  Lewis has been that particular member of the communion of saints who has opened door after door after door, engaging me, challenging me, until I learn more about myself as a writer, a teacher, a husband, a father, and a follower of Christ.

And wouldn’t you know it?  I have found others in my own situation.  I registered for the CS Lewis Retreat held in Navasota, TX early, knowing that it would be smack dab in the middle of a busy 1st quarter teaching my rambunctious seniors, but feeling it was high time to engage in person with authors I had only known in black and white thus far, and a hazy coterie of folks who had been touched by Lewis and I knew were out there somewhere and not just on WordPress and Blogger.  Who were the faces behind the fingers tapping at those keyboards?

“So how did you get into Lewis?” Andrew Lazo asked me as I found a seat in the lobby at Camp Allen Retreat Center in Navasota Texas.

I waxed semi-lyrically a rather incoherent reply.

Andrew seemed to get the gist.  And he must have also seen an undercurrent of pleading in my voice and eyes, as in “Did I make the right decision to take a plane and come here?  I’m not here with anybody.  There just seemed to be this necessary pull to…to trust that it wouldn’t be a waste of ti–…”

“Well, it’s great to have you here.  You’re home, my friend.  Welcome home.”

And that was pretty much the whole retreat, folks.  Just one interaction with “home” after another.  Further up and further in.

The primary focus of the retreat centered on Lewis’s The Great Divorce, an allegorical novel about a purgatorial bus ride to the lowlands of Heaven.  Speakers such as Joseph Pearce and Louis Markos expounded on the novel and its understanding of the true nature of sin and its application for us today, especially as (as many were in the audience) writers, teachers, and scholars.  A writer’s track featured Diana Glyer, author of The Company They Keep: Lewis and Tolkien as Writers in Community.  Using Lewis and Tolkien as models, she explained differences and writing styles and importance of recognizing our own styles and playing to their tune instead of the ideal tune we wish to fit ourselves into.  I had the good fortune of arriving early on Thursday and getting to know Diana and her 10 year old daughter Sierra.  Sierra was mid way through a novel with an unmistakable cover which immediately identified the author for me: The Pearls of Lutra, by Brian Jacques, the famous creator of the Redwall series.  So we ended up having a wonderful discussion about hares, squirrels, mice, otters, and the difficulty of mastering mole speech (as in “Burr-oi, soir, oim gurtly afurred of villy-ans.”).  Lancia Smith led a hosted group focusing on CS Lewis and our approach to prayer which was revealing and refreshing.

A highlight for me was Bag End Café, led by Andrew as a sort of open mic night for the retreatants.  Original poetry was read, songs were sung, music was played, and if the cookies and other assorted goodies, as well as the wine and beer, didn’t make you feel like you were sitting in the Green Dragon, I don’t know what else would have.  A few of us continued to burn the midnight oil when others had left, leading to a few more hours of horrible punnery, bad jokes, and multiple toasts to whoever and whatever.

Friends were made quickly and permanently.  A woman named Lani and I shared our stories over coffee.  Lani was friends with Lancia, who introduced me to William, who sat at lunch with Kathleen who pulled me into a fascinating conversation about cathedral architecture with Steve, which resonated with Katie, who introduced me to Thomas, and then there was that great conversation with Crystal, and …you get the picture.  Everywhere and anywhere, conversations abounded and fed our hearts, minds, and spirits.

The Ad Deum Dance Troupe lent movement to many emotions and insights unvoiced in a beautiful performance which made me forget the pain in my knee and just revel in unspoken story.

Thus, after a full weekend of almost too many expectations fulfilled, it was time to say goodbye.  Stan Mattson, president of the CS Lewis Foundation (and may I take this opportunity to just rename him King Frank, as humble, forthright, and good-natured as that character was in The Magician’s Nephew?) led us in an old folk song entitled “Will Ye No Come Back Again,” a fitting, quite emotional end to our time together as our voices (including my reedy tenor) intermingled with a sense of true fellowship and completeness.

I left with a heart a thousand times lighter, with grace and a sense of purpose I haven’t known for a long while.  And with, as the theme of the retreat indicated, a sense of eternity, in the here and now.

Wandering Tree 2011 Review: A Dialogue with C.S. Lewis

Note: Less a review and more of a reflection.  Much thanks to an unknowing Bruce Edwards, who wrote a much more informed and coherent Lewis dialogue here, from which this piece gets its inspiration.  Happy New Year to all!  

The roar of laughter rang from the small cabin as I tramped into the forest clearing, stamping my feet for warmth.  The windows were lit from the dancing light of a roaring fire in the hearth.  Smoke wafted from the chimney, as if the house itself were enjoying a pipe along with the inhabitants inside.  My fear of freezing overtook my shyness, and I knocked on the door.

A balding man in a worn tweed jacket, smoking a Woodbine, answered.  His face lit up with assumed recognizance, competing in welcomed warmth with the fire within, and he boomed a glad tiding:

“Hullo there, Mr. Pyne- er, Wanderingtree.  We’ve been having a lovely soak in your forest these past few days.  Come in, and pull up a chair, for heaven’s sake, you’ll freeze out there.  You know, at least know about, Tollers, Charles, and Warnie, I take it?”

“I do, sir.”

“Jack.”

“Mr. Lewis, for now, I think.  Sorry.  It’s been a hell of a walk.”

“The road is always long and hard, when you don’t stop for rest and perspective,”  Tolkien muttered through the pipe in his mouth.  He turned back to Charles Williams and continued his discourse with him.

Lewis took my arm and steered me toward an armchair.  He smiled knowingly.  “Been immersed in my books and still not taking the hint, eh?”

“I suppose.  I mean, what a terrific year, though.”

“The boy.”

“Rowan, yes.  Rowan William Pyne, born April 23rd.  Holy Saturday, in fact.”

“Congratulations.  And the girl.”

“Isabelle!  Yes, my niece was just born a few weeks ago on December 7th.”

“Wife, house, and job.”

“All present and accounted for.  No complaints, really.”

“And yet,” Here Lewis looked me dead in the eye.

I faltered.  What word really summed it up for me, both in spite of and also incorporating the blessings I’ve received this year?

“Er, rushed.  Yes, rushed.  I feel I’ve rushed past everything.  People, places.  I can’t remember all of it, really.  Stopped writing the blog for a while.  Been reading like a fiend, however.”

The room was warm.  I removed my sweatshirt, tossing it onto the empty dining room chair on which Lewis had flung my jacket.  Lewis took this moment to light another cigarette.  Laughter and the pouring of ales from casks into heavy tankards by Williams and Tolkien.  Lewis took two and gave one to me, taking a long pull at his own.  He smacked his lips.

“Yes, and I do appreciated the attention to my books- by the by, more MacDonald in your diet, I think, but I do like this man Brian Jacques.  Coarse and gentle at the same time, like a swaggering pirate bending down to pet a puppy.  Been meaning to have a pint with him since he has arrived.  But to the point, of course: down with my pen, and up with your own.  ‘Ink is the great cure for all human ills’ I think I said long ago, with some naiveté but some truth as well.  What stopped you?

“Nothing to…”

“Balderdash and rubbish, my boy!”

“Well, then, not enough time to…”

“Equal parts trash and buffoonery!  Didn’t my demon Screwtape teach you anything in his wicked way?  ‘Humans live in time…therefore…attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself and to…the Present.  For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity…in it alone freedom and actuality are offered.’”

“So when I rush past things and don’t stop to value or appreciate…”

“Then you live in the Future, that thing ‘least like eternity.  Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead.’”

“Hmmm…”

“Let me guess: Christmas slipped away from you this year almost as if it never occurred?  Even though you were with family?”

“How did you know?”

“The Incarnation remained in the manger.  You kept chasing the star.  Poor show, my friend, it needs to stop.”

“New Year’s resolution time, then?” I asked jokingly.

Lewis grimaced.  “Every morning,” he said, “and not with the morose face of the perpetual penitent.  He offers the morning star, you know.  And the repair, if you let it, is always constant.”

I leaned back and stared into the fire, which had started to burn low, with idle, comfortable clicks, snaps and sparks.  Williams and Tolkien still conversed animatedly, with Lewis now joining their laughter.  Snow fell into view from the window, framed by the dancing lights and shadows of the room.  More people entered the cabin, more than I thought possible- new friends and old, family living and dead.  Hugs, cries of greeting, and glasses filled and raised.  A call for a game, where followed jocular competition.  The beginnings of a poorly sung song.  More laughter.

I took a deep breath.  Then another.  Lewis beamed.

“More of that next year, my boy, understand?  Well, good New Year to you.”

To you too, Jack.

CS Lewis and The Doctor

 

Lewis once wrote in a letter to his father in 1926 “Will you think me affected if I number a small illness among the minor pleasures of life?  Work is impossible and one can read all day for mere pleasure with a clear conscience.”

If the forest of the Wandering Tree has been quiet for the past near-month, it is simply due to creatures, myself included, needing to crouch in small lairs to ride out an infestation of feverish maladies which have crept in through the underbrush.  Unlike Lewis’s small illness of minor pleasure and conscience free reading, I’ve had to endure some downright hellish fevers and a persistant sinus infection, and a mood and outlook which would make a postmodern nihilist blush.   That I’ve continued to teach throughout may be marked by some as courage and fortitude, but the reality is that semester exams are upon us and I need to close out grades post haste.  Our current three day weekend has been a welcome respite, and provides a moment of reflection.  And, as my sickness abates, it has turned into that small illness of minor pleasure of which Lewis speaks.

I’ve found little to no peace in my state of mind over the past week, vacillating between frustration and anger at not being able to focus.  Yes, I know: when one is sick, one needs to chill.  But I so often give a perfunctory wave to this caveat , and a round of self bullying ensues, leaving me going on the round and round like St. Paul in Romans: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  Whereas Paul sees the reasonable out through Christ, I tend to stay on that merry-go-round until all my convictions are sufficiently blurred.

Therefore, I was happy to come across a literary prescription by Lewis in a letter he wrote to Arthur Greeves:

To his friend Arthur Greeves Lewis wrote about Samuel Johnson: “Isn’t it a magnificient style- the very essence of manliness and condensation.  I find Johnson very bracing when I am in my slack, self-pitying mood.”

Ah, Dr. Samuel Johnson.  A lion of literature from 18th Century England.   Hmmm.  So I pulled out my old battered Norton Anthology of English Literature, turned to page 2,674, and immersed myself in Johnson’s reflections on Spring, a distant future to most in the States, but a lingering image to a Floridian.  Johnson acknowledges the existence of those such as myself.

“It must be laid down as a position which will seldom deceive, that when a man cannot bear his own company there is something wrong.  He must fly from himself, either because he feels a tediousness in life from the equipoise of an empty mind, which, having no tendency to one motion more than another but as it impelled by some external power, must always have recourse to foreign objects; or he must be afraid of the intrusion of some unpleasing ideas, and perhaps, is struggling to escape from the remembrance of a loss, the fear of a calamity, or some other thought of greater horror.”

He then suggests that  very few men know how to take a walk, and that to reflect on nature affords an intellectual respite from self bullying, that “he that enlarges his curiousity after the works of nature, demonstrably multiplies the inlets to happiness.”

A walk is a bit out of the question now, with a jolly good Florida downpour beating against the window panes, but surely I must pause to remember how long it has actually been since I’ve taken a walk, and how the rhythm and pace of my feet hitting the sidewalk often bodes well for my well-being.

And, in the meantime, a recognition of gratitude, once again, to Lewis, who has a tendency, if not himself to bundle up our personal issues into a coherent ball, then to point us in a coherent direction to those who can.

On the Incarnation

Merry Christmas to all!  My wish is that all will find the Hope and the Peace of this day!  Here are some reflections on the Incarnation by CS Lewis:

from Miracles, by CS Lewis:

In the Christian story God descends to reascend.  He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time, and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created.  But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.  One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden.  He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders…

 

from “The Grand Miracle” in the essay collection God in the Dock:

The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him.  It is precisely one great miracle.  If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.

Winter Break Reading Festival

…which takes place every day I am on break, from approximately 9 am to Noon, in my lumpy red Gryffindor armchair, with a big fat mug of tea or coffee.

I’ve recently dived into Brian Jacques’ The Bellmaker, the 6th?  7th? book of the Redwall series.  This book is more of a continuation of Mariel of Redwall, featuring the familiar characters of Joseph the Bellmaker, Tarquin L. Woodsorrel (one of my favorites) and Dandin the Mouse.  Some fascinating new characters are introduced, such as the sea-faring sea otter Finbarr Galedeep and the self-awarded Field Marshal Meldrum the Magnificient.  As always, Brian Jacques has a flair for language and an infectious desire for no holds barred adventure.

Browsing the stacks at my bookstore, I came across Here, There Be Dragons, by James A. Owens.  This is the first of the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, where three intrepid Oxford scholars named John, Jack, and Charles embark on a journey across the high seas with a map of all the fabled lands of yore, such as Atlantis and Avalon.  Hmmm…scholars from Oxford?  John, Jack, and Charles?  Could it be….?  Turns out, yes it can!  John, as in John Ronald Ruehl Tolkien; Jack as in CS “Jack” Lewis; and Charles as in Charles Williams.  The Inklings on an adventure?  What could be better?  Well, perhaps the pacing of the book is off a bit- could use more descriptive passages to immerse the reader in the story, instead of jumping from plot point to plot point, but it is a rollicking adventure nonetheless, and since it features my favorite authors, worth the read.

Also new to my bookshelves is Foundling, part one of D.M. Cornish’s Foundling’s Tale Monster Blood Tattoo series.  He is compared to Tolkien, which are some pretty big boots to fill.  Reviews also note that he took 13 years to write the book, which is on par with Tolkein’s laborious writing of LOTR.  The cover has a wonderfully bleak Dickensian look about it, and while I regard it as trite, I am nevertheless a sucker for interesting covers.

Two more sidenotes: picked up Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Why?  For some reason, I had an urge to revisit Jim Henson’s Storyteller series, which is now streaming on Netflix.  Many of the tales are based on actual old folktales from Europe and the Far East, so I am going to one of the major sources of collection for these stories.  Could this be the recovering English major rearing his head?  Possibly, but for right now beyond the surface of articulation.

Lastly, for some reason this blog is getting more hits than usual, which, if my calculations are correct, should push it over the 10,000 mark by New Year’s.  Woo-hoo!  An unexpected Christmas present!  I’ll be there when the wheel turns…I guess blogs are much like cars in that respect.

Definitely planning a post for Christmas Day, but if you are signing off before then, God rest ye merry gentlemen (and women!)  A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

Singing for Silence: An Advent Reflection

One of our lectionary readings during Advent comes from the part in Luke’s gospel where Zechariah is told that he will have a son.  Z, a high priest, does not believe the messenger who relays this to him, and for his impertinence is rendered silent until the baby is born.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” 21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

But I wonder if she let him sing.

This past month I have been back at Emmanuel Episcopal to sing Lessons and Carols and their Christmas Eve service.  A number of reasons led me back to Emmanuel for the holiday season, but the most grace-filled unintended consequence has been a time to shut up and sing.

Let me admit right now I am an advocate of organized religion, but I know it’s not for everyone.  When I stumbled upon the Eucharistic liturgy of the Anglican Church, I knew I was right where I needed to be.  And why?

Well, when you have the attention span of a gnat on crack, a bit of structure, especially spiritual structure, is a good thing.  Quite often, I refuse to hear the calm voice of the Lord over the incessant chattering in my mind.  Ironically, this chattering is often revolving around theological issues: I love reading other people’s take on theology, especially in reaction or appreciation to CS Lewis.  But this I find more often than not, is a hindrance to grace, an intellectual posturing that does more to remove my mind from God than focus on Him.  So when Providence places before me, this ADD addled stumbler-after-Christ, a point of focus, I grab at it like a lifeline.  Hence, the liturgy.

How does singing enter into this?  I don’t have much of a voice, a shaky tenor at best, and the musical ear of a white cat (they are usually deaf).  They say that singing is prayer times two, and I think the reason is because it focuses the singer on singing the song, not analyzing its lyrical content.  Therefore, the cadences and rhythms and poetry of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” is more important than say, an analysis of 15th Century German theological understanding of Jesse’s lineage.  The repetitive phrase “Praise Him, Ye Angels” sung over and over again, while not intellectually taxing, is nevertheless (to me anyway) a spiritual time out from the brain’s cacophony of words, words, words.

Did Z have this problem as well?   I think he might have.  The first part of verse 22 lends itself to the possibility:  “When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.”  Meaning, possibly, that when Z came out, he usually had something to say.  It was clearly not pleasant to be in this situation, as can be inferred from the last part of the verse “he kept motioning but was unable to speak.”   Z is a high priest, a man immersed the Book, a man, most likely of clear arguments and rebuttals, of binding and loosing.  And yet he cannot speak.  What can he do?  What does God want him to do?

Listen, of course.  But he’s impatient.  This doesn’t make sense to him, he needs to talk it out.  But no, silence.

But perhaps one night, before John was born, he realized all of this, let his mind be as quiet as his voice, at which point, maybe, just maybe…he sang.

My gift of silence comes from being in the choir-a bit of paradox, I know, but a place where I am forced to breath, to listen, to hold a note and not bombard it with thought.  To rejoice in waiting.

The Monks Are Back…to stay? Pondering Monasticism and Oblation

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A personal goal I made at Oxford centered on not allowing myself to get sucked into the demands of school and be spit out like so much exhausted gristle at the end of the year, panting and gasping for breath.

Part of this goal involved a re-appraisal of my interest and connection to monasticism, particularly of Benedictine Monasticism.  I am now aspiring to be an oblate at St. Leo Abbey.  After a couple of monthly meetings, I will be able to announce my intention to be a novice oblate, and then after a year of spiritual formation, formerly dedicate myself to the Abbey.

Yes, the monks are back, as I stated in a blog post over a year ago.  And now I look at the month-plus absence of words on this blog as a bit of a blessing, especially given the vitriol of mid-term election politics.  At least I can say I haven’t added to the din.  But, before this quickly turns into a self-righteous pat on the back, I have to admit, during my lunch hour at school, I’ve been addicted to reading nasty remarks people leave each other when commenting on news stories or op-eds.

I don’t know what specific article initially triggered this, but I was reading some political article from either NPR or CNN, and after I had finished scrolling down to the bottom of the article I noticed a virtual bar fight commencing between others who had read the article and who wanted to throw their two cents in.  Republicans were referred “repukelicans,” and Democrats were called “demorats” or “democraps.”  Liberals were cited for their weakness and a claimed socialistic takeover of America.  Conservatives were derided for close-mindedness and a desire to return to days of slavery where white men ruled over all.  I never commented, but joined in anyway, scrolling down to find the most vicious and outrageous comments and fervently hoping they would have to deal with an equally vicious comeback.

Such was my front row seat to what was the shock and awe-no-he-DIDNT of the midterm elections.

“Really?” I could hear the Holy Spirit and Communion of Saints saying.  “Really?  THIS is what you are enjoying and contemplating?  After having read all of THAT?” (pointing accusingly at my wall of books on monasticism, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, Benedictine spirituality, the Divine Hours, etc. to which I walked sheepishly past every morning).

I was immersed in the cacophony of divisiveness, punditry, and political nastiness and forgot that God more often than not is found in the silence of our being, in the structured ordering of ourselves focused on God, to the banishment of all else.

So in the midst of this political free for all, I took up once again my books on St. Benedict, St. Bruno, and the Desert Fathers, read over my Merton, pondered the hazelnut with Julian of Norwich, structured my prayers to the Daily Office, and visited St. Leo Abbey in Florida to experience prayer and Mass with the brothers.

We look, in our own lives and in our society, for stability.  We look for depth and meaning as well.  We shake our heads at the television or radio every night, wondering how things got so messed up.  How can we get it right?  And when?  What do we look to?

I firmly believe that the examples of today’s monasteries all over the world, be they Benedictine, Carthusian, Trappist, or Buddhist, or any other variant of monastic community focused on living together in peace and harmony in a life of prayer and hospitality, can offer to the world a model to live by which would alleviate half the suffering in the world.  They are not bastions of perfection by any means, but the striving toward this perfection to tantamount to their life together.  They are not utopias, but in a better sense they shatter the illusion of utopias by recognizing the realities of human existence and suffering.

“The monastery is a school,” wrote Thomas Merton, “A school in which we learn from God how to be happy.  Our happiness consists in sharing the happiness of God, the perfection of His unlimited freedom, the perfection of His love.  What has to be healed in us is our true nature, made in the likeness of God.  What we have to learn is love.”

I keep going back and forth, interest waning and waxing in my studies and practices in Christian monasticism.  I think it is time for this to stop.  If the lives of monks and nuns throughout the Church’s history has truly open doors and created paths in my journey toward God, then so be it.  It is useless to ask or wish for more.  I have never come across a more wondrous and varied group of saints and would-be-saints for spiritual guides, who urge, above all things, to “listen with the ear of [the] heart.”

Therefore, I will continue to focus on monastic formation through oblation, a novice once again stumbling through the gates to hear the holy silence of God.

Hopefully lunch hour will be a bit different from now on…

 

 

 

 

 

 

RamblePost: The Church Calendar, Divine Hours, Oxford, and Chesterton

Bit of a lag in blog posting lately, thought much is on my mind, so I will proceed here with a “ramble post,” which invites to the dinner table both connected and disconnected thoughts which have merrily jumped around my head lately.

Great post on Internet Monk by Chaplain Mike on the Church calendar as we in the faith enter into “ordinary time.”  It was this sense of liturgical time which has given an enormous sigh of relief to me in my journey with Christ.  The ecclesiastical idea that there is a “time for everything,” really resonates here.  Instead of the need for a single spiritual high from one Sunday to the next, the recognition of a steady ebb and flow to the life story of our faith, much more conducive to reflection and spiritual growth, is sought after and lived on a month to month, year to year basis.  We have our Christian Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.

This is complemented by the “infinity of little hours:” the Divine Hours, which pattern our reflection and prayer for the day.  Lest one begin to think, with typical American indignation, that this hampers our “freedom” in faith, it is worth noting the number of monks, among them Thomas Merton, who relay, from practical experience, the tendency for this daily pattern to free, rather than quell, our spiritual growth.  More on that can be found here.

BTW, a great online resource for the daily office can be found at Brother Stendhal-Rast’s site here.

I tried to post a “Vlog” on Youtube, but the audio is completely out of sync, apparently a widespread problem for Youtubers.

Off to Oxford in (yikes) 22 days.  Currently reading (sporadically, even though I set myself up with a schedule) Bleak House by Charles Dickens, of which I am enjoying.  He has such a democracy of characters- we are all allowed, with our innocence, quirks, faults, and hopes to be in his novels in one form or another.  Next up, Middlemarch.  Then Return of the Native.  Why oh why did I sign up for Victorian Literature?

Reading and listening about GK Chesterton thanks to this little hidden site.  Here’s a little gem from Chesterton:

“When it comes to the World, we have to hate it enough to want to change it, but love it enough to think it worth changing.”

Here endeth the Ramblepost.

The Choice to Be Narnian

We have a choice on how we live each day, and our choices include our influences as well.  For some, this is an intense and challenging struggle.  Caught in addiction, violence, or other outside force, the choice to succumb or give up is palpable.  But ultimately there is a choice to be made.

But choice and the reshaping of reality are two different things.  A single choice, let’s say a choice of faith, can lead to a lifetime struggle to mold that reality.  From the Christian perspective, this entails allowing God, through Christ, to recreate your life anew.  And the process may take a very long time, a lifetime, and be very painful.  As CS Lewis stated in Mere Christianity, if we were houses, then we are not going to get simple repairs to the drains or leaks in the roof: the whole house might be knocked down, a la Extreme Makeover, and rebuilt.  Our Dragon skin could be torn off us quickly, or it may take a long voyage out at sea.

Here, I think, is where fiction comes in, as our choices of story affect our choices of reality.  What story would you want to be a part of if given the choice?  One can presume my answer by the title of this post.  I was led to consider this when I stumbled across a wonderful blog.

This was a wonderful meditation by Emily Riley, on her blog named (what else?) Live Like a Narnian.  She bases her reflection on this excerpt from The Silver Chair, Puddleglum’s famous speech to Queen Jadis:

. . .Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies playing a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.
~Puddleglum the Marshwiggle

This insistence by Puddleglum is the very essence of choice I am arguing.  To me, distinctly Narnian, and by default, distinctly Christian.

Now what?

A true choice must not be considered a passing phase or fad- merely part of a growth period involving recognition of various perceptions.  Rather, it is one to be made, and then…

lived.

In every aspect of life, it must be lived.  In humor, in darkness, in despair, in joy, in doubt, in certainty, on the peaks of mountains, in the valleys down below.

Consider the list below created, in part, by Stanley Anderson, from the old MereLewis site, and reposted by John, aka Dr. Zeus, on the Into the Wardrobe forums.  Have a laugh or two, then consider: the person who gives a nod or a “yes,” to most if not all of these may be certifiable, but oh, what a quirky, joy-filled life has been made by this choice!

You Might Be a Narnian If…

1. Your car has a bumpersticker that says “I brake for Marshwiggles.”
2. Your fishing license has a stamp for Pavenders.
3. You have wading pools in your back yard that you periodically jump in to.
4. You taste water samples from lily ponds to see if they’re sweet.
5. Christmas seems to take FOREVER to get here.
6. You examine every lamp-post you see for signs of root damage.
7. When you hear the word fau(w)n, you think not of Bambi, but of parcels and umbrellas.
8. You have a keen respect for mice.
9. You secretly breathe on statues in parks and whisper, “In the name of Aslan…”
10. You always reach inside wardrobes and touch the back…just in case.
11. When referring to your boss, you say “May He Live Forever.”
12. You are always polite to animals.
13. You talk to animals.
14. Animals talk to you and you understand them!
15. You are a bit suspicious of middle-aged men wearing yellow and green rings.
16. Your preferred holiday destination is Archenland.
17. You know that the collective term for owls is “parliament.”
18. You float, rather than fall, off cliffs.
19. You sometimes wonder if humans are a myth.
20. You have a tendency to suck your paws at inopportune times.
21. You have ever been beaten silly by a mouse.
22. You have ever set off fireworks underground for fun.
23. Your interest in astronomy was sparked by studying the Ship, the Hammer, and the Leopard.
24. You’ve ever had history lessons about the Jackdaw and the First Joke.
25. Bullies at school threaten that they know the Deplorable Word.
26. The ultimate insult you give to people is calling them “a second Rabadash.”
27. You’ve ever sat around with several owls trying to impersonate Trumpkin.
28. You’ve ever mistaken a magician for an animal, vegetable, or mineral.
29. You are determined to live like a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia.
30. You always inquire at restaurants if it was a talking beast when you order venison.
31. You always clean your sword after battle.
32. The first time you ever heard the name Aslan, a curious feeling awoke inside you.
33. You know what a serious thing, a very serious thing indeed, it is to ask a centuar to stay for the weekend.
34. You like your sausages fat and piping hot and just the tiniest bit burnt.
35. You have conversations with your horse.
36. You have a strange approach/avoidance reaction to Lions.
37. You believe the stars in the heavens are people you have personally met.
38. You know that fireberries are a food.
39. You believe that a Lion can change a dragon into a boy by “peeling” him.
40. You enjoy having tea parties with fauns and beavers.
41. You know dwarves exist, but you are never sure which side they’re on.
42. Your closet contains fur coats and pine boughs.
43. You carry an umbrella in the snow.
44. You look to see if a lone bird is carrying a red berry in its mouth.
45. You have a picture of a lion on prominent display in your home or office.
46. You hear the words “further up and further in” in the sound of every waterfall.

This is the Morning.

“The term is over: The holidays have begun.  The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

So states Aslan at the end of the Narnia series, in The Last Battle.  I have been listening to the series via audiobook for the past couple of months in my car, as I drive to work, church, run errands, etc. and I find it wonderful divine coincidence that I should finish the series on Easter Sunday.  Many Lewis fans may allude to the scene at the Stone Table in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe today, given it is the strongest resurrection parable in the Chronicles of NarniaBut somehow the last passage of Last Battle evokes that Easter feeling of a New Beginning, of a Great Story just beginning to unfold.  A story of life after life, a rolling back of stone to release empty space, a recalibration of reality, of everlasting Spring.

Now, I suppose the irony of going back to school tomorrow should taint this a bit, but it doesn’t.  It did at times over the course of my Spring Break; a sort of looming dread of settling back to grade papers, discipline students, getting up before the sun, the weariness of a teacher just trying to make it to the end of the school year.  I felt I was procrastinating on my lesson plans.  There were times to buckle down which, through my laziness, I simply allowed to drift by.  But now, in the late morning of Easter Sunday, as the glorious ringing of the bells during the Sunday liturgy at Ascension still echo in my ears, and a warm blue sky lights up my room, and the knowledge that this world was meant for goodness and love, no matter how we conspire to twist things to the contrary, I feel I am ready.  Ready to lead my seniors to their own new beginning, to lead them to their transition from high school students to the world beyond my classroom.

And the wonderful thing is this feeling is only a mere part of the joy.  Things are certainly put into perspective on this day.  Responsibilities still remain, the mundane chores of maintaining house and home and preparing for work go on, but these things are under a light: by grace I am moved forward, rather than pulled down by the weight of despair or worry.

So the term is not quite over yet, but it is a new morning.  Christ has risen.  He has risen indeed.