Friday, January 18, 2008

Mingled providences

I cannot help but chuckle at the peculiarity of providence. What in this life isn’t some mingling of joy and sorrow? What in our puzzling existence isn’t some blend of the delightful and the grievous?

Marriage, for instance, is an interesting mixed bag. What an adventure. On the one hand, there is the delight of having the companionship of someone who complements you physically and emotionally and intellectually, and at nearly the same moment that person drives you crazy because they don’t think like you, react the way you do, or have the same pleasures you do. In another instance, work gives the satisfaction of having something to do that is worthwhile, fulfilling, (which is especially the case with me … I love my work) but is frequently laced with aggravations and frustrations that make me long for a permanent vacation in a tropical paradise … or maybe just a gardening job. But even then, vacation, however fun or entertaining or stress-free, generates a wan listlessness if there isn’t something useful to look forward to … and even gardens produce some tenacious weeds.

I could multiply examples, but just fill in the blanks from your own experience.

The circumstances that gave rise to my previous post haven’t gone away, and if I have any insights into life, won’t go away for quite a while. When they do go away, what will be left in their wake, good or ill, won’t look at all like what they started out to be; and nobody who is close to this will remain untouched. I certainly won’t be the same.

But the fragrance of Lilac is in these turbulent winter winds. In nearly the same week the upheaval came in, a new grandchild was born into my family, who is a delight to us all; and I will be so stupidly bold as to say I am the most thrilled. There is a fresh experience of wonder watching a child become conscious of the wide mystery of the world; and it’s an especially fresh and delightful experience when it’s your grandchild and you live close enough to be regularly involved.

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
Douglas TenNapel, Earthboy Jacobus
Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy
Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism
Al di Meola, Elegant Gypsy and Casino
Doug Trowbridge, Songs Unspoken
Montreux, Sign Language

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Fierce Winters and Sidestriking Winds

Turbulence and driving winds. That’s how this New Year has arrived.

This first week comes accompanied by turmoil, stress, pain and the threat of alienation. My family is in upheaval. Loved ones are hurt, becoming estranged and looking around for someone’s feet where they can lay the responsibility. People are talking about but not to one another.

I’ve been stretched emotionally like never before. Each day’s end brings the exhaustion of having to navigate narrow relational channels filled with rocks and the prospect of sudden shipwreck. Each night is mingled with ten thousand what-if’s that keep one awake with the unsatisfied hopes of a predictable outcome or some kind of resolution.

And it all comes through no obvious fault of my own. So much is outside of my control, and outside of my influence. All I can do is wait and sigh, and talk and listen, and catch up on sleep I miss at night trying to solve what is not mine to solve.

But since my nights are filled with a tangle of thoughts and emotions, here are a few:

1. What you have can disintegrate in a minute through pride and selfishness. And it can happen before your very eyes, even if you are scrambling to prevent it.

2. There is a principle called “dying to oneself.” It’s required of families. If you don’t die to yourself, you expect others to die for you, and that can only result in alienation. When you choose to lay down your own prerogatives and give yourself away so that others can be benefited, you remove alienation in most cases. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but more often than not, it does. But families have to do this, because each person is so different.

3. It is agony to watch someone you love receive the consequences of their choices. But if you don’t let them go through it, you might not love them quite properly or fully enough. Thus love frequently involves agony.

4. Through it all, you have to keep your eye on the compass. You cannot avoid being buffeted and driven and slowed to a stop and spun around and driven again. You cannot stop the turbulence and driving winds. But you can keep your eye on the compass and stay oriented and make course corrections as soon as the opportunity presents itself. This works best if you have a clear star beyond the horizon by which you set your course.

5. It sure helps to have a good crew at your side. You’ll likely never make it alone.

6. Oddly enough, ‘tis the turbulence that can make you. “An acorn is not an oak tree when it is sprouted. It must go through long summers and fierce winters; it has to endure all that frost and snow and side-striking winds can bring before it is a full grown oak. These are rough teachers; but rugged schoolmasters make rugged pupils.” Henry Ward Beecher.

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring
Samuel Barber, Essays for Orchestra, including Adagio for Strings.
Cambridge Singers, Brother Sun, Sister Moon