Posted in musings

unity of mind and will

In college I read quite a bit of Kierkegaard – some was assigned for my freshman honors seminar, and I kept going from there – and one of the major themes that has stuck in my memory since then is single-mindedness. I always find it challenging to quote succinctly from Kierkegaard, since he did not write in easily divisible points but in arguments crashing over and rolling underneath each other like ocean waves at the shore, and it is necessary (or at least highly recommended) to read a whole discourse to grasp the end to which all his words were tending. So in that light I would encourage you to read “Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing” – but I will also attempt to include some short excerpts.

In that particular discourse, Kierkegaard began by contemplating the words of James: “for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anythings from the Lord.” (James 1:6-8). Those are concerning words to anyone who looks inside themselves and sees the draw of our desires and thoughts to multiple things: a desire to be loved, or to be respected, or to gain power, or to accumulate wealth, or to live comfortably, and so on. We try to follow God while part of our heart gazes mournfully off to the side, complaining and trying to persuade us to take a different path; we avoid the unseen and tedious acts of faith like daily prayer and Scripture reading while continuing to perform the outward acts of church attendance and token service; we pamper and comfort our bodies instead of ruling over our physical desires and denying them for the sake of the good; in short, we love God with only part of our mind, part of our heart, part of our soul, and part of our body (cf. Matthew 22:37).

Shall a man in truth will one thing, then this one thing that he wills must be such that it remains unaltered in all changes, so that by willing it he can win immutability. If it changes continually, then he himself becomes changeable, double-minded, and unstable. And this continual change is nothing else than impurity. […] In truth to will one thing, then, can only mean to will the Good.

Soren Kierkegaard, “Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing”

For of course, the only unchangeable One is God, so the only one thing that we can will, the only single purpose and direction we can have that doesn’t change through the seasons of life and even past death, is God Himself. The Psalms are continually pointing that out, after all. “Whom have I in heaven but You?” the Psalmist asks, “And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides You.” (Ps. 73:25). And again, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” (Ps. 27:4). Those are the words of a heart truly desiring God above all else and choosing to seek Him alone, not the changing passions of the body or the changing ideals of human culture.

What I have been realizing, stumbling through the Psalms and the Epistles in ways clearly not of my own planning, remembering that lingering philosophy, is that it is not easy to be single-minded, to have unity of purpose within myself, to truly and honestly will one thing in heart and mind and body and soul. I can say that I want the Good but be too cowardly to act on it when confrontation (or even just conversation) is warranted, showing that my will is also for safety and peace. Or I could be too undisciplined to pursue the Good diligently, again showing that I also desire comfort and convenience. And all the time I should be striving to say with the Apostle Paul that “one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it even encompass the world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all! So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. […] Alas, but this has indeed not come to pass. Something has come in between. The separation of sin lies in between. Each day, and day after day something is being placed in between: delay, blockage, interruption, delusion, corruption. So in this time of repentance may Thou give the courage once again to will one thing.

Soren Kierkegaard, “Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing”

But as Kierkegaard reminds us, there is help from the Spirit along the way, and the chance for repentance to choose to set aside our sin once more and attempt again to follow God with unity of mind and with totality of self. Our salvation is not a single prayer to cover all time, but a lifetime of learning and growing and choosing to walk in the path of the Lord, desiring Him and loving Him with all that we are, setting aside all that distracts and unifying all that is good and helpful into that greatest Good of all.

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – just living life

This is a real {sqt} post this week: just seven updates from our life 🙂 Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the linkup!

  1. I now officially have my autism diagnosis! So if you read my series for Autism Acceptance Month, which I wrote during the diagnosis process, you can now be comfortable in the knowledge that it comes from a “real” autistic person instead of an imposter. Not that I think most self-diagnosed individuals are – but it was how I was afraid I would be perceived (and honestly, I was deeply afraid that it was true of myself). It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and also a lot more uncomfortable. I was so afraid, the whole time, that the psychologist would tell me I was just intelligent with typical gifted quirkiness – and then I would be left wondering, if that were so, why I seemed to struggle so much with things that came naturally to the gifted friends I grew up with? But fortunately for my peace of mind, I can now say I’m autistic with confidence, and I say it to myself a lot when I need to advocate for myself or address areas of weaknesses in my life, and it helps to stop the perfectionist depressive thinking patterns from asserting themselves.
  2. I have realized how much game play helps with the development of strategic thinking and forethought, by watching Rondel grow in those skills. I’ve seen him take the initiative to plan a course of play at the beginning of a game; stay aware of the events of the game so that opportune moments for deviating from that plan can be seized; look ahead at his opponents’ possible moves to make the optimal choice for his own; and see several steps ahead on the pathway to his desired end – in several different game settings. These are really valuable skills for life, not just for games! This is all about considering options, observing the environment, planning for the future, and making decisions in the moment that affect long-term goals. When I write up his kindergarten year summary, I may include some of these games in a SPED section under executive functions…
  3. Teaching something that I don’t remember learning is challenging. In other words, while we are all into math and science over here (definitely at least a grade ahead in math, and more for Limerick), we’ve barely done more than the alphabet and letter sounds when it comes to reading, and I’m struggling to know where to go next. I have a few ideas from my sister-in-law and I looked up some phonics/beginning reader games online that look fun (my kids are always up for a new game) – but to me, reading is like breathing. I can’t imagine (or remember) life without it. And how would you go about teaching someone to breathe?
  4. I may have a new favorite food, and I think Aubade would agree. I whipped up some heavy cream, added some yogurt and maple syrup, and discovered paradisiacal creaminess with just the right balance of airiness and weight, sweetness and tang. We’re calling it “breakfast cream”, over here.

    IMG_5466
    Picture is of Aubade in a black and white striped polo shirt at a kitchen table with a bowl of whipped yogurt, eating a spoon of it, with white smears all around her mouth and nose.

    The recipe is very straightforward: two parts heavy cream, whipped until very stiff; beat in three parts plain Greek yogurt (I used full fat); sweeten with one tablespoon maple syrup for each quarter cup of yogurt. Last time I made it, I rolled it up inside fresh crepes with diced peaches; Aubade just ate three bowls of it unadorned 🙂

  5. The cantaloupe vines have reached the top of the trellis (8 feet high!) and are beginning to claim the other side. It makes for a beautiful shady green retreat from the world, tucked under the trellis on a camp chair, looking out at the sunflowers starting to bloom. The fruits themselves are not overwhelming in number (which could be because I planted too many too close together), but they are massive. Paul keeps asking me if I’m sure they aren’t actually watermelons and I can’t really blame him because I have never seen cantaloupes this size in my life…

     

  6. Every few months for the past couple years, I’ve pulled out my old pattern blocks to see if the kids are interested in them – and now at last their interest and their fine motor skills are there! Limerick and I make patterns (he prefers to work with me rather than on his own, even if he’s making all the decisions), and Rondel tends to build animals. Aubade isn’t really ready – but she has fun playing along with the boys 🙂

    It is such a great foundation for an understanding of geometry and the more mathematically abstract styles of art, and having the hexagonal base is a nice contrast to our other building toys which are either octagonal (Brain Flakes) or rectangular (Legos). And it’s just so much fun… I could make patterns for hours.

  7. This past week was rather interesting for me in terms of theological discussion. My sister-in-law and I had a discussion about Protestant/Catholic differences that spilled over onto Facebook (where actual Catholics got involved, to my delight) and many text messages days later. Then, I spent a morning with two Protestant missionaries on home assignment, and finally was accosted by two Mormon missionaries that same afternoon. These are all concepts and divisions I have thought about and researched a lot, but I don’t often have the opportunity to actually discuss them in real life very frequently. And I realized that while I still am officially Protestant, I was arguing the Catholic side and thinking in Catholic terms more often than not during all of these interactions. So, having surmounted the autism diagnosis hurdle, addressing this theological hurdle is next on my list of Important But Uncomfortable Things To Address. I’d be interested in any resources, thoughts, or experiential wisdom you have to offer here!

Again, don’t forget to visit the linkup today! If you share your own blog there let me know and I’ll make sure to read it, or I’d love to hear some of the highlights of your week in the comments as well 🙂

Posted in musings, quotes

looking up at the heights

“Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can’t live long on the heights.”

“No,” said Merry. “I can’t. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little.”

Like Merry, I have grown in a deep, rich soil; my mind, my heart, and my soul have been nourished well by the people, books, and experiences I’ve had. And I’m thankful for that! But sometimes I catch glimpses of the things that are deeper and higher: the beauty, the truth, the holiness that stands guard around the simple things I know and love, and sanctifies and transforms it. Can I see it fully, or remain there long? Not yet. But I am glad for what I can see, and hope to see more someday – and maybe grow into those greater things myself, at some point.

Merry’s deeper understanding of the great and true things around him leaves him not with a contempt or disdain for the little things and the simple everyday things that characterized his life in the Shire, and I think that’s an important point. It is a sign that we have strayed away from beauty and truth when we begin to feel that contempt, I believe, as Saruman did when he chose to pursue power, knowledge, and control instead of wisdom, goodness, and beauty; true growth will leave us instead with a deeper appreciation for all that was good and noble in what we knew before.

Posted in musings

“closed-hand” issues and confusing terms – a quibble with my pastor

In church on Sunday our pastor was distinguishing between what he called “closed-hand” issues (what C.S. Lewis might have termed Mere Christianity, the essential doctrines of the faith) and “open-hand” issues (points that aren’t clearly taught in Scripture and about which Christians are free to disagree, like the details of the end times or evolution). I was nodding along with him, as this is familiar territory for me, expecting him to take it in a truly ecumenical Lewisian fashion, when he suddenly burst out sola scriptura as a core, essential, inarguable tenet of the faith.

Excuse me?

I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that he simply meant to say that Scripture is inerrant and authoritative, the primary guide for our faith, because I don’t think any Christian group through the millennia of the Church would disagree. But what he actually said was that Scripture is the sole authority for the faith and for Christian living – and that is not Biblically taught and was not held by the Church for the majority of her existence. Logically, this makes sense. The Bible can interpreted in a million ways, some of them drastically different and leading towards widely varied ends, so as a sole authority it doesn’t seem to be very well-suited for keeping either orthodoxy or orthopraxy intact. There has to be some way to determine which interpretations are valid and which are heretical, and since Jesus is no longer living on earth to deliver those kind of judgments, it would make sense for the authorities within the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, to have that kind of authority.

If the Church isn’t led by the Holy Spirit, than to trust her authority and direction on the interpretation of Scripture would obviously be a dicey matter, no different than turning to any random person on the street and following their opinion. But we do see in the Bible Jesus promising to send the Holy Spirit to remind the apostles of everything He taught; we see the Spirit coming down with power and transforming the apostles and other believers; we see the early church following the decisions of the apostles as to which laws and traditions to live by. Was that just because they didn’t have a written Bible yet? Did all those councils and traditions and oral decisions become unnecessary once the Bible was assembled? Considering the number of heresies and divisions that have arisen in the 16 centuries since then, I don’t think so. We still need a person, or people, led by God, to clear up arguments and prevent error from creeping in to our understanding of the inerrant Word.

So please be more clear, pastor, about your terms and definitions. Please try not to exclude the vast majority of Christians throughout time and space from your tight definition of the “closed-hand” issues one must believe to be truly Christian by narrowing down the broad historically-accepted truth into your Protestant doctrine, which may or may not be true (I’d love to hear your arguments for it!) but which is most definitely not universally believed by even the great Christians of the past.

Posted in musings

Pentecost thoughts (a day late)

I learned this year (from Wikipedia, of all places) that the Jewish holiday corresponding to Pentecost commemorates the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. (See Acts 2 for the Christian Pentecost story if you’re unfamiliar with it – it is when the Spirit first comes down upon the new church.) This makes sense, of course, since Easter corresponds to Passover and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt!

But it struck me as very fitting that the Holy Spirit should come down to indwell the church on the same day that God had given His law to His people, in light of the prophet Jeremiah:

 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband,” says the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the LORD: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

– Jeremiah 31:31-33

The external law, which was the binding condition of the old covenant, has been replaced in the new covenant by an internal law: by the direction and transforming power of the Holy Spirit living within God’s people – and so while the old covenant was broken by Israel’s disobedience, the new covenant can be fulfilled through the grace and power of God Himself, since He is now on both sides of the relationship. We no longer need to follow a list of rules, but rather to abide in Christ (which is not less, but more, than mere obedience), and it is the Spirit abiding within us that renders it possible.

And that great new hope, the beginning of the fulfillment of the wild promises of God to a wayward people, is why we celebrate Pentecost.

Posted in musings

gardening our hearts

When my husband and I started our backyard garden a few years ago, we overestimated the quality of our soil (well, I overestimated it) and made our garden soil mix with 50% native soil, 30% compost, 10% peat moss, and 10% vermiculite. I had actually found this percent mix recommended for particularly poor native soil and so thought it would work for our adobe clay.

I wasn’t entirely wrong, but quite a few seasons of plants have now struggled to grow deep roots through the hard earth, and been small and stunted as a result. I have only to compare the growth of the plants in my garden to those in my mom’s garden to realize the significant impact made by the poor soil.

IMG_4696
my oregano – a decent plant, but spindly compared to the massive bush in my mom’s garden, that has to be sheared back dramatically every few weeks to keep it from taking over

Each growing season, as we add more compost to the soil, it improves a little bit more, and eventually it may be as rich and soft and fertile as the soil in my mom’s garden was to begin with – but that process is going to take time, patience, and effort.

I think it is the same way with my heart – with all of our hearts, probably. We all start out in different places; some of us are more naturally inclined to virtue than others, some of us more easily bear the fruit of our beliefs, and some of us just need a lot more work before our actions take on the robust and fruitful nature of a plant in abundant health. We can all have the same seeds planted in us through books, experiences, relationships, and so on; we can all water those seeds in appropriate amounts through continued learning and the building of spiritual habits; but some of us will bear fruit in certain areas far more quickly and beautifully than others. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are trying harder – just that we had better starting material in that area.

For example, when it comes to sex, I started out with really good soil. I have no natural inclination toward sexual sins, and significant appreciation of the spiritual and physical mysteries of the marital act. It has always been an area that leads me to meditate on the incredible love of Christ for His Church, instead of an area of struggle and temptation. On the other hand, I have extremely poor soil when it comes to emotional regulation. My moods swing like a pendulum, and the negative emotions (anger, jealousy, suspicion, resentment, depression, and so on) linger and build up within me like a storm of darkness ready to break upon those closest to me. It damages my relationships, preventing me from becoming truly close to anyone, and wounds the people I love the most. So I can put in hours of prayer and concerted effort towards managing my emotional reactions and redirecting my thoughts and attitudes toward Christ, and still appear to have weak and scraggly plants in that part of my garden – but I can put almost no effort in to resisting sexual temptation and still enjoy healthy and thriving plants in that area. And these areas of strength and weakness are different for every person.

We can and ought to put in the time and effort to improve the soil in those struggling areas, and not just focus on improving the short-term health of the plants therein. How do we do this? By making everything we do be about Christ, centered on Christ, living in Christ, knowing Christ, loving Christ; by immersing ourselves in His word, by constantly coming to Him in prayer, by unifying ourselves to Him and to His people. If He is first, if He is all, everything else will find meaning and beauty in Him. If He is in us, He will be transforming us, mixing the rich compost of His life into the hard clay soil of our hearts, making us more like Him.

Posted in musings

thoughts on suffering if God is good

The suffering of the innocent is one of the most emotionally compelling arguments against the existence of a loving and powerful God. If He is able to intervene in our world, why doesn’t He stop more of the atrocities that poison it? Why do we seem to see Him act at some times and at others seem to be so conspicuously, unavoidably, alone? Why do some people receive supernatural visions or material comfort, while others suffer abuse and feel that heaven itself is blind and deaf to their prayers?

I will never be able to answer those questions. When my atheist friends bring up the dilemma, I have no short answer to satisfy them, no list of possible divine plans or actions that could make those evils ok.

But what I can tell them, what I do try to tell them, is that Christianity solidly agrees with them that the suffering of the innocent, the oppression and abuse of the vulnerable, is most definitely evil and is never “ok.” I don’t worship a God who is on friendly terms with evil. He hears the cry of the oppressed and avenges the innocent. Why He doesn’t just prevent the evil from occurring in the first place I don’t know for sure, but I would argue that it is because He gave us free will, and for that free will to be meaningful it has to be able to actually affect reality. If love and creativity and courage and honesty are to be authentic, then there must also be the possibility for hatred, destruction, cowardice, and deceit. And the greater the potential good, the greater the corresponding potential evil. It is the beauty and the horror of humanity.

And what does God do, faced with humanity’s evil choices? He gives us a moral standard to understand the difference between good and evil, justice and injustice. He calls us out of darkness into His light, offering us the chance to be forgiven and changed. He promises to punish those who commit evil, either in this life or the next, establishing His justice as a judge in court. And He enters into our suffering alongside of us, offering us the comfort and strength of His presence, giving us the opportunity to use our suffering with Him for the redemption and re-creation of the world.