Monday, September 29, 2008


"Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind. . ." (Eph. 4:14)

I am waiting for that day, when waves and winds will not be able to flurry me here and there. I am waiting to understand the restlessness that I cannot pin down as it scurries around my feet, climbs my furniture, tangles my hair, keeps me up at night. I am waiting to become a person who can wait in peace.

Without emotions shredding my thoughts, without emotions flashing across my field of vision, life would be so simple--

Life would be so colorless, without emotion.

I am waiting to find the right palate of colors, vibrant but not clashing, bright but not overwhelming. I am waiting for the right light, so I can begin painting.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Rain silvers the air outside. Space shimmers with water falling, falling.

The trees stand perfectly still behind the rain. Each leaf is waiting for its raindrop. Tiny globes of water glisten on the ends of the pine needles, each one a crystalline world poised to leap into the void. Around the pines, water flashes and falls and gleams and glistens. Each of the thousands of drops shoots down through space alone, splatters into the ground alone, vanishes as an individual--alone. The trees watch these thousands of births and deaths in silence. On a tree, each leaf clings to its twig, and each twig to its branch, and each branch to the trunk. There is no solitude.

The plummeting drops shatter on the pavement, explode in the grass. The collective noise of their passage roars in the air. I shut the window. I am inside and dry, in the quiet, in the stillness. My world is solid, not liquid. I sit on a bed which stands on the floor, which rests on beams and walls, which reach roots into the earth.

Here, the earth is solid, dependable. It will not leave its place just because of the rain. Today it is raining, but tomorrow or the day after, my world here will still have its former shape. The rain will not have washed anything away. In other places, the rain has more power. . . Last night I watched the Indian film "Before the Rain," in which the coming of the monsoons is a real threat to the stability of a road being built in the mountains, and thus to the entire life of the British planter Moores, who has staked his entire fortune on a the project of building this road. The coming of the rain is a non-negotiable deadline. Meanwhile, his life and the lives intertwined with his are falling apart because of his careless love affair with a married woman from the local village. He tells her he loves her, truly loves her, and she trusts him enough to put her honor and her very life in his hands--and he fails her. Then he sends her away. But a person is not a raindrop falling alone and sinking alone into the soil. From the leaf of her disappearance follows a full tree of disatrous consequences. As Moores's unsuspecting wife, Sajani's distraught brother, and the entire village look for the lost girl, Moores does his best to bury the incident in his mind, and instead focuses on building the road.

Leaf by leaf, twig by twig, events branch outward. . . Nothing is in Moores's hands anymore, though. He had one real choice in this story, and that choice determined the tragedy that destroyed his family and wreaked Sajani's life. He chose to break the bond of marriage, discard his own promises, tear through Sajani's vows. He destroyed that one thing, and everything grew up around him, inevitably.

When finally the rains come, the road stays steady. But Moores, his friend, his wife, his lover, his son--all are gone. The Indians march for Mother India, and the rain pours from the sky upon an alien landscape.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"It's snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers"

[A free-writing exercise. Prompt: The above first line from a poem by Donald Justice.]

It's snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers--here, at least. I heard that in the next village a boy cliams to know a field high on the mountain where the flowers grow despite the cold, piercing the snow. Their red petals, he says, stand out like wounds. I see them: drops of blood on the cold skin of the mountain, blossoms of pain, grown from seeds of memory.

In this region, every mountain has its ghosts--travelers who lost their way and never retrieved it, spurned lovers who left society, hapless victims of weather.

The mountains loom over the hamlets that squat between them. Towering over us, they are our sky. Their crags teem with memories. We who live in the lap of the mountains can feel the gaze of those who have left our lives, but are not gone. No one leaves, really. They stay, and drive the clouds away from one peak. They stay, and gather the clouds around another, mounding up the roiling mists, wrapping themselves in fog. They stay, and send up scarlet flowers. They stay, and ride the snow flakes down to their old homes. They drift on the wind, they slide in the shadows.

We are never alone, not here, and there are no secrets. On a quiet day, we can hear the rocks whisper. In the wind, forgotten voices repeat their stories. Alone in this snow blanketed meadow, I can hear the sleeping flowers tell me of their dreams, as the snow continues to fall, bringing visitors from the past, from the mountains.


I have a new favorite author: G.K. Chesterton. I've loved the Father Brown books for years, but I recently finished The Man Who Was Thursday (which you should all read), and I just started Orthodoxy. I am utterly infatuated. (Yes, it is definitely possible to have a crush on a book.)

[Apologies for the content-less post. I am not getting enough sleep. I spend too much time discussing the difference between "soul" and "spirit" (a post will probably be forthcoming), and ineffectually trying to do CS even though there are people talking in my room.]

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two Windows

I dreamed:

I looked to my right over the shoulder of a man threatening me, out a blue-tinted window. The sun hung low over the violet ocean, drawing its reflection along the water like a narrow white path. I stared at it, but my eyes did not burn. The light stripes the glass, a single blazing line.

The man continued to explain why I had to die. I looked over his other shoulder, out another window. The purple ocean lapped against a burned shore. I see it still--

Felled trunks of redwood trees lie scattered across the blackened land like corpses of giants. A few trees, still standing, hunker down amidst the charcoal. The colors shine beautifully, but I want to cry. This scene is not supposed to be lovely to look at. It is so wrong that such destruction can have the iridescent colors of a raven's wing.

In the dream, I cried about the wrongness, and the man who wanted me dead turned and tried to comfort me. . .

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Here is my life-goal: to be able to read Psalm 27 and say every word with conviction, especially this part:
2 When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.

3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.

4 One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.

I've been reading I & II Samuel, and I am so struck by the complete trust that David displays. I don't mean to imply that David never feared or faltered, but time and again he acts, risking everything, in complete trust. His faith is completely real and practical. For instance, he consults G-d about military decisions (ex. II Sam. 5:17-25), and unhesitatingly takes the answers he gets as clear and trustworthy. I want to have that kind of radical abandonment to G-d's sovereignty, and that kind of clarity when I seek His will.

I want it so badly because I don't have it now. So often I catch myself thinking of praying as a self-help deal, or as a bonding exercise, or a good habit to teach kids, or as a demonstration of belief, when really it is a direct appeal to the Almighty, which, regardless of how the pray-ers feel during or after the prayer, has unfathomable capacity to invite G-d's intervention. When I pray, I don't often get a definitive-feeling answer--certainly nothing as concrete as the replies David gets. When I feel like I'm risking something, I don't have the rock-hard conviction that David expresses in this psalm. And I want that.

I want to feel and live consistently with what I say I believe.

But for now, I'm going to memorize the psalm.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Having struggled all day with words with arbitrary meanings, these names no one else knows, I am left disillusioned with the whole idea of language, and hating systems. The militant pixels stare back from the screen, sullen. They do only what they are told. They stand in their lines, march according to the instructions, no matter how dull. Each one keeps time. Not one ever wanders from the prescribed path, nor grows nor shrinks, nor changes color. . .

I need to be out in the greenery, in the waving leaves, in the wind that no one can cage or order here or there. I need to be in the world of blankets and dreams, scenes that swirl into each other and effects without causes, where perspectives shift moment by moment, and anything can happen. Give me reality or give me fantasy, but don't maroon me in artificiality.

Friday, September 19, 2008

In Spite of, Not Because of

At IV last night, the passionate and eloquent attorney spoke to us about salvation (specifically, in her own life). Her sincerity and conviction and intense trust in G-d were wonderful, and I want to preface this commentary with a statement of my great admiration and appreciation of her and her talk. However, I found a few of her claims to be of dubious theological validity. Towards the end of the talk, she said,
you can't do ministry out of your own substance. You have to be full [hand gesture at shoulder level] of the Spirit, and you minister from the overflow. [...] So as long as you're trying to work out your own mess, your ministry is on hold, because you're not full. You need G-d to fill you up, and then you can minister.
[This is only from my recollection, so please don't think it's entirely verbatim.]

She then back tracked a bit and said that we are always witnesses even when we aren't full/perfect/fixed. That last statement I certainly agree with, because anyone claiming to be a Christian, whether they act like one or not, is, by their life, making a statement about how Christians behave. The actions of every self-identified Christian add to society's mental image of a Christian.

I completely agree with the first claim, that "you can't do ministry out of your own substance." As fallen creatures, as works in progress, as humans, we can only rely on G-d. After all, "whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You [...] G-d is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps. 73:25-26). G-d gives us grace to do his work here (Eph. 4:7), and everything we do, we are to do in Christ.

However, the claim that you cannot minister effectively until you are "full" seems inconsistent with Biblical teaching to me. How does this idea mesh with verses like "We have this treasure in jars of clay" (2 Cor. 4:7) and "Although I am less than the least of all G-d's people, this grace was given me: to preach [...]" (Eph. 3:8)? Paul certainly seems to think that G-d works through us while we are still broken vessels, lowly clay jars, utterly unworthy. Look at the examples of ministry the Bible gives us: the bumbling disciples (an "unbelieving and perverse generation" [Matt. 17:17]); the chosen king David who nonetheless commited adultery and murdered Uriah (2 Sam. 11); the entire chosen nation of Isreal, who fell into idolatry again and again (Biblical reference: the entire Old Testament. Or more concisely, Stephen's summary in Acts 7); &c.

There is also my favorite example of how G-d can use anyone: Samson (Judges 14-16). Now, obviously Samson did not come from adverse circumstances (see Judges 13); his environment is not the remarkable thing about his "ministry." The remarkable thing, actually, is how bad an example he is. Samson disrespects his parents, disregards the religious rules for purity, succumbs over and over again to lust, acts rashly in anger, etc., etc. He is horrible. But G-d uses him anyway. In fact, I get the picture that G-d uses Samson despite Samson's best efforts to the contrary. Clearly, Samson is not in tune with G-d's will, not seeing through G-d's eyes, not fixed, not done with his own mess. He is busy making his mess worse and worse, but G-d is busy working to liberate Israel through Samson's actions, in spite of Samson's character.

I think Samson's scenario is the most Biblically typical (if more extreme than many). Yes, it is vital to be filled with G-d's spirit. Yes, it's important to clean up your life. Yes, we cannot minister out of our own strength. Yes, we are more effective both as examples and as servants when we are living in accordance with G-d's laws. But: no, your ministry is not "on hold" while you are "cleaning up your mess." Samson never cleaned up his mess, but G-d still used him in a powerful (if bizarre) way. G-d is "the same yesterday, today and tomorrow" (Heb. 13:8); he still works in spite of his servants' flaws. What a comforting and humbling thought.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


You probably know that medieval medicine relied on the idea that the body functions by balancing four humors, each produced by a major organ. The liver makes yellow bile (to make you choleric), the heart makes blood (to make you sanguine), and the spleen makes black bile (to make you melancholic), which leaves us with one more humor: phlegm.

What organ produces phlegm? you may ask.

Answer: the BRAIN!

Apparently, the brain grows throughout a person's life, which is problematic because it is constricted by the skull. What's to become of the excess brain matter??

Answer: Expel it through the nose!!!

...In case you didn't catch the implications of that momentous statement, I shall elaborate. This means that all the phlegm you blow out your nose or cough up when you're sick is actually brain matter that just didn't fit in your head any more. I.e., snot == brains. Yes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Grief or wrath or anxiety leave footprints behind them. I can track them backwards through the woods, into the darkness. I know the marks their passage leaves--the snapped twigs, the impressions in the cushion of fallen pine needles, the faint taint in the air. I can find the dens whence they came, and understand their secrets.

Confronted with a beast, I may flee, but at least I know the enemy that pursues me. Once it departs to plague other locales, I can look around and understand where it broke through my fences, what enticed it or allowed it entry into my domain. I know how to treat the wounds these beasts inflict, and how to banish them, at least for a while.

And so I survive.

But sometimes there comes another menace that leaves no tracks, only a haze of melancholy. Anger is a bear, and grief is a wolf, but this is a faceless creature with an unpronounceable name. It descends noiselessly, and its shadow blocks out the sun. Cloud-like, it creeps into every corner. When I awaken to its presence, it has already penetrated my inner courts, and I cannot escape, nor drive it away. I can only wait.

I wait, and wait, cowering in its shadow and shivering in its chill. I wait, and try to go about my business, while it hangs overhead, shedding darkness and miasma. In its presence, I am weak and cowardly. I dare not look up, lest I gaze into its terrifying eyes. I wait, and sleep, and wake to find it still flapping about, and still I do not know how to drive it away.

But one day, something triggers a change. The shadow and the creature casting it glide away. The sun shines unsullied again, and I rejoice. But I rejoice with bewilderment, because I do not know what dismal region birthed this monster, nor what it wants from me. I cannot tell what drove it away, nor what might bring it back. Again, I can only wait. I cannot track a creature that falls out of the sky.

I put up little charms, hang garlic on my doorposts, drink tea with herb picked by the light of the moon, listen to my intuitions. But the mystery cannot be dispelled, and I must continue a life of uncertainty.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

An Important Life Lesson

Chocolate makes things better.

Secondary, but also useful:
Deep roasting pans + cooling rack + charcoal == excellent barbeque

Friday, September 12, 2008


Question of the semester: What does it mean, in practice, for a particular group to be my primary community?

Does it mean I spend more time with that group of people? Does it mean I am most emotionally invested in that group of people? Does it mean I turn to those people for advice and comfort when things go wrong? Does it mean those are the people I start missing first?

In "The Devil Wears Prada," the neglected boyfriend says, "The person you're in a relationship with is the one whose calls you always take." Are the people who are my community the ones whose calls I always take? the ones whose company I seek out in favor of others'?

If Christians are supposed to be my primary community, what happens to the people that I naturally gravitate towards spending most time with and confiding in most? I'm certainly not going to ditch them. What do I have to do to live out my priorities? (and what are those priorities, anyway?)

[Advice and answers are welcome.]

Brought to you by the letter B

"Hang on a second, something's wrong with my jeans," I said.

JS and I paused in our walk to breakfast, as I bent to adjust the outside seam on my right pant. The seam was bent oddly, I thought, and that was why it was bothering me. But when my fingers pinched at the fabric, they found a small bump between them. "It's not just the seam--there's something here--" and my left hand held the bottom of the pant leg open for whatever it was to fall out. (An egg sac? I imagined. Probably a dried-up sticker from some plant.) It skittered scratchily across my skin on the way down, down along my leg, down through a jean tunnel, and fell my hand--

a small black thing, segmented,
gleaming, with two narrow wings and too many jointed legs--!

My hand flung it away. It landed on the sidewalk, a beetle-y bee or a bee-like beetle. A shudder convulsed me. That was in my jeans? How did it get there? Was it dead?

It did not move. We glanced at it, then scurried away, babbling.

Bees, please stay out of my pants.

(It seems this blog has an entomological theme this semester. I assure you, it was not planned. All events recorded thus far actually happened as described.)

[POST SCRIPTUM: I realized that, when I found the bee in my jeans, I had not worn those jeans since last washing them, and that I had hung them outside to dry in the sun. . . Apparently a bee wandered into them while they were drying, and just didn't make it out. What the heck.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The crickets are chirping. If summer has a sound, I think this is it.

Instead of reading Shakespeare

... I read this article on Wikipedia (credit goes to Kevin for telling me about Conway's Game of Life), and it took me to the article about Garden of Eden patterns, which in turn showed me an article about a novel, Permutation City, and in it, this amazing poem of anagrams (all of "permutation city".) If Shakespeare had been mathematically inclined, I bet he would have written something similar.

Conway's Game of Life == first really intriguing thing learned this semester.
Permutation City == next book I want to buy
Jenny == Wikipedia addict

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

This post is in reaction to a scene I witnessed a couple weeks ago. I was at Berkeley, visiting friends, and on the way to lunch we saw a crowd gathered around two incensed figures. One, a red-faced man who looked to be in his late 50s, was gripping a leather-covered Bible and flourishing it in the air as he spoke. The other, unkempt and quintessentially Berkeley, was wearing a shirt that read "Adults are stupid," though he clearly fell into that very category at least by age. He slumped with his hands in the pockets of his baggy jeans, leering, while the Bible-waver proclaimed The Truth (his terminology, not mine, thank you). The Bible-waver's proclamations included the following: masturbation leads to homosexuality; all gays and masturbators will go to hell; the earth was created in 6 days; Catholics aren't saved because they "aren't born again"; evolution is a fiction; Muslims are going to hell; hell is eternal burning and pain; etc., etc.

It was bad enough hearing him condemn people right and left, and make patently false claims ("masturbation => homosexuality"??), as well as theologically questionable claims ("Hell = literal fire"??), especially as he was waving a Bible. But what truly frustrated me was that he intermingled with his wrathful blather some nuggets of the gospel: We are all condemned to die because of our sins, but God out of his mercy and grace wants to pluck us out of damnation and grant us salvation, and sent his Son to suffer the punishment we deserved. I believe this too, and it is one of my most precious tenets. To hear it lumped in with the garbage this man was spouting was like finding a favorite dress in the box of rags, or my favorite book shelved with a bunch of trashy romances...

The "lumping" of messages resulted partly from their being said all together by one man, and partly from their being received/interpreted as one whole by the crowd of amused and enraged college students surrounding the drama--and by Bible-Waver's opponent, Mr. Unkempt. Mr. Unkempt would interject sexual commentary ("But it's so fun!") or purely obnoxious quips ("The Bible doesn't say anything. The Bible doesn't talk."). When Bible-Waver paused for breath or asked a question, Mr. Unkempt would straighten up, pull out his hands, and direct his response to the surrounding students. He used a variety of rhetorical strategies, actually: accusing Bible-Waver of being proven wrong by science, promoting the "fun" of "jerking off" &c., attacking the Bible itself ("The big shots at Constantinople just picked the books that they liked."), mocking the views the other man expressed, mocking the man himself ("He is so red in the face. I don't know how he does it. Is my face getting red yet?").

Watching this shouting and insult-trading, I couldn't help voicing out some of the things running through my mind. "What about 'speaking the truth in love'?" about all Bible Waver's condemnations. "What about the unity of the body of Christ?" about his reviling of Catholics. "The Bible doesn't mention the word masturbation" to his insistence on that topic. I really wanted to ask him what on earth he thinks he can accomplish by showing up on one of the nation's most liberal campuses and telling people they are going to hell. Honestly, whose heart was ever changed by such a circus act? He didn't understand that the students around him were not hearing his message, only his anger, and that they weren't even taking that seriously. I wanted to tell him to go read the Gospels again, to look at how Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery, the despised tax-collectors, the Samaritan at the well. Jesus acted with power, with authority, yes, but with love and gentleness. Religion that God accepts as pure is . . . I want him to go read Isaiah, Jeremiah, their scathing rebukes of the merely religious, whose hearts were not set on God. Love, for the day is near. . .

Of course, Mr. Unkempt frustrated me, too, mainly because everyone agreed with him. But he wasn't claiming to represent anyone besides himself, whereas, to my mind, Bible-Waver was claiming to represent Christ himself, and failing miserable. I was embarrassed to be associated with him, and furious.

But what does that fury make me? A hypocrite. I'd like to think I do a lot better than Bible-Waver, but in the scheme of things, I really can't judge that. God being infinitely good, anything imperfect is so much less, so bad, relative to him, that all comparisons here pale. What does it say about me that my immediate response to this man who is supposed to be my brother in Christ was not to pray for him, but to condemn him in my mind? not to point out where he was right, but to distance myself from him in my friends' eyes? not to see him with God's eyes of mercy, but to be repulsed by him? (Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord, have mercy on him, a sinner.)

I'm not saying, however, that I was wrong to be deeply frustrated by this encounter. I hate that God gets misrepresented. I wish more Christians knew James 1:27, and acted like it. If they did, I bet a lot fewer Berkeley students would support Mr. Unkempt. We are called to be a revolution in the world, and instead we are waving signs and shouting at drug addicts. (Lord, have mercy on your broken people.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

First Firefly

"A firefly!" said my friend Natalie. We were walking in the wood at dusk.

"Where??" I whirled around, but saw only leaves, that glowed only in the waning sun.

"You didn't see it? Wait, there it is again. Look!"

"Where?" I searched the leaves and vines, in vain. I waited anyway, watching. I was looking for a glowing, floating thing, like the searchlight of a microscopic airplane. Nothing, nothing--Until suddenly: a flicker of pale light! and again, flying. There! and gone again, leaving the leaves like an empty stage. But I had seen the star, the firefly: a green spark in the green forest. I had expected a leisurely movement, a gentle and steady light. Instead, I glimpsed a dancing spark, a flicker of the fey in a life of the predictable. Now I burn to dance as a firefly, in the green wood, at dusk.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Atlantic September

September is still settling in, tweaking and sweeping and adjusting, and maybe it's because August is reluctant to go that the seasons seem to collide. The humid air coats leaves and skin and the very ground with a sticky sheen. All the trees shine with life. Meanwhile, the humans grow sluggish. They drag their feet, breathe in tired pantings, wipe their glistening brows, groan and complain. The rain comes, but the heat stays stubbornly. Lightning flashes across the dark sky and the lagging thunder rumbles after it. Water pours from the heavens, clouds boil invisibly above the world, but the heat never changes. We live in a world of steam and sweat, praying for fall to come.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Something flew across the room like a shooting star. It turned out to be a cricket (pale gold, with long tenuous antennae) which sprang across the room when I reached for it. It latched onto my roommate's pants, and kept springing away from my hands. Up, down, onto the floor! I finally caught it in cupped hands. The antennae and legs tickled like whiskers. . .

(Writing, I think again of the little cricket fluttering and bouncing against my palms and fingers. It is so dark in this little skin-cave. Is he terrified? curious? exhilarated?)

His tiny feet and graceful antennae brushed my skin as he flitted back and forth like a caged fairy. My roommate and I ran giggling through the hallway. Just as I thought I couldn't bear the tickling any longer, I tossed the cricket over the railing, down the stairs. Again, he fell like a small star.

As the door slammed shut, the stairwell behind us filled with chirping.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

La Rentree

It's been multiple fortnights since I posted anything here, but now that I'm done working and am back at school, I fully intend to get back to posting something (no matter how short) every day that is not Sunday.

Human activities such as attending school have distinct stop and start points, but no matter what the calendar says, the seasons turn over gradually. Here I am: across the country again, spending my day in classrooms again, keeping notebooks again. Here I am, thinking it's fall again. But outside the confines of my own scant life, the sun still blazes as hotly as it did in August. The verdant forest still drinks in the light, and the sky arches its blue back as it did all summer. The calendar announces September's arrival, but the world turns slowly.

As slowly as the seasons change, I change slower. The contents of my mind remain tangled. Summer's passage may have loosened the knots, but I still cannot follow the path of any one thread. Here I am, in confusion again. Here I am, making the same decisions again. I am back to my problems, back East, back to French, back to work, back to my friends, back to my habits. But I want my habits to change, like the color of the leaves. I want to pass into a new season.