Friday, October 31, 2008


I only properly appreciate the daylight when I've stayed up for the whole night and seen the sky gradually lighten. Even though I do not feel the black of night as a weight, its solidity outside the window is formiddable.

Night was black, like a stain. Inky darkness: for all I knew, the world might have melted and darkened into nothing while I was sitting here at my desk. . . But at some moment, the sky changed--not all of a piece, not to blue, but quietly, to not-quite-black. It wasn't light per se, but diluted darkness.

And then each time I looked back, the sky had flashed to a clearer color. The trees struggled into being, one leaf at a time. The dark faded, like water slowly evaporating. Nothing changed inside--J. was still sleeping, I was still typing, typing, typing. K. was still keeping me company. But the light that seemed so distant at first silently filtered into the room, and its arrival seemed not to add a presence but to create largeness, generosity, amplitude. Space and time blossomed before me.

Finally, I went to sleep, freed by the light.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Post #101 == Poem

[This poem could probably use some more editing, especially because I was too lazy to mess with the indenting in html. But I like it anyway.]


Shadows pattern the wall as I write to you
The light from the setting sun is golden
filtered through the leaves (the maple's stars,
the lines and angles from the pine)

On the other side of the glass, the breeze
stirs the pine, the maple, all the leaves
(Their shadows dance on my gilded wall)
The light is the color of honey, of amber,
of summer, of a long and tender silence.

The sun sinks toward the horizon
(like a child sinking into sleep)
It does not blaze through the leaves
anymore, but the light still glows gold.
I would not trade that color

for anything. I need its warmth when
my heart shivers in the cold breeze
that shakes the leaves. (I do not know
how the wind gets through my ribs
to chill my heart. But it does.)

No one around me seems to mind the cold
Maybe they do not feel it, walking arm in arm
Beside them, I walk, and I know all their names,
and we all talk, but: we never touch
(I never tell them I am cold.) I watch

the sun setting in a pale sky, as the trees
darken, and the star and needle shadows
bristle together, choking out the light space:
and the pattern vanishes. I blink, and only
an afterglow remains, staining the white wall

to yellow, to cream, then to the ancient hue
of ivory, of an elephant's tooth, broken,
lying cold on the silent soil.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Thirsty at the end of the day, I poured water into my mug. It is solid ceramic, mottled like an oyster shell outside and inside. Its weight in my hands was reassuring. I drank. The water tasted mildly of tea.

When I looked into the water a few minutes later, I saw what seemed to be a small white jellyfish at the bottom of the cup. Its milky membrane wavered in the water. Its tattered edges fanned upward, as though it were swimming, but if it was swimming, it was trying to go down through the bottom of the mug. What was this sea creature doing in my cup?

The moonjelly was actually an incarnation of the soy milk I failed to wash out of my mug this morning. The day dried it to a skin, and the water softened it and loosened it from the ceramic, till it swam free.

I stopped drinking, but the jellyfish continued evolving and dissolving. It is trying to become a cloud of milkiness. It does not wish to be solid.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Am Puzzled

I have been talking to so many boys, and it is weird. I wish I knew: Are boys more likely to talk to smart girls than other girls are? If a boy asks for a girl's number, is he always thinking of it as "asking for a girl's number", or can it just be "asking for a classmate's number"? Why do boys confide in girls? Do boys talk to each other about their problems?

Why do so many boys talk to me? Why do I talk to so many of them?

I almost think it would be simpler for me to be a boy, given my personality. Then I could be friends with all of them, and not think about whether they were thinking of me as a girl or just as a person. Not that I actually wish I wasn't a girl, at all. But it would be simpler. Maybe.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Human Need

You are lonely, you tell me, and you never have a good friend. I mustn't tell anyone what you will tell me next, you say, and you tell me ------. You tell me and tell me the things that make you unhappy, and your unfruitful struggle to change. You want to be a better person, but you don't know where you are going, or how to get there, and nothing satisfies you, because you are empty.

You tell me these things, and I can see you in my mind's eye. You are sitting at your desk, in front of your computer. The lights are off, and your face is lit by the light from the screen. It paints your skin silver and green, even paler than it already is. The glow shadows your eyes. They seem hooded, or even haunted. You are there alone, hunched over, in that dark jacket.

What do I tell you to ease your sorrow?

You need a mother to hold you, and tell you everything's going to be all right--You need a girl to sit in your lap and say she loves you--

No: You need a truth to grip your life with hard hands, and shake out the stress. You need a blazing light to shine on what matters, and leave all the rest in shadow. You need to know who you are. But it is not I who can tell you. All I have to offer is a short hug, and long listening.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Watching Muslims Pray After a Day's Fast

A disembodied voice swung through the cadences of an unintelligible tongue. Syllables murmured around the ordered rows of figures, all facing the same way, and all shoeless on the patterned rugs. At the front of the room, the young men stood in their thick socks, facing the wall. They could have been any collection of boys, in jeans and jackets, skin like cocoa or like toast or like butter, dark hair on every head. A few yards behind them, the girls stood clustered into three rows, but they looked to me like simplified figures, not complete bodies. The body is a complex, intricate, fragile thing, but these figures were wrapped and draped. Despite the jeans, despite the stylish shoes left to the side, despite their youth, they did not seem girlish. With a headscarf, a female human is a woman, not a girl.

The scarves were every color--black, yes, and white, yes, but also embroidered in gold, and purple to match a coat, and checked yellow and pink over a gray outfit, and red, and every pattern. Coats were cut long, hiding legs. The figures stood, all facing forward, perfectly still.

The voice hummed along, dipping and swooping, and at a word, the boys bowed, the bend rippling across the group like the wind across grass. The girls bowed too, all together, like dancers.

More words I did not understand, like the song of an owl, like the singing of the waves on the shore, and the crowd knelt, stood, bowed again, sat, touched foreheads to the floor, rose again. Each time, the girls moved in perfect unison.

No hand rose to adjust a scarf. No head turned right or left. No whispers slithered across the room. Everyone listened, and rose and fell together, as the voice chanted.

And then the chant was at an end, and fingers twitched. Head scarves were straightened, smiles exchanged. Figures detached themselves from the crowd, became individual girls. (The boys were individuals all along, though.) They found their shoes--heels, sneakers, flats, sandals, dress shoes--and found their way out. Quietly.

The rugs lay on the polished floor, their patterns all that remained of the chant's fixedness.

I left, and broke my fast.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I do not want to see that wild hair again, yellowed like old elephant tusk. I do not want to see those thin fingers rake compulsively through it. How many times during that hour did that gesture flash by? As many times, perhaps, as I tried not to think about his sunken teeth, yellowed like his white hair, seen between lips also sunken and sere. As many times as I curbed a desire to leave. Now. Just get up, and go, nevermind my witness. As many times as I prayed for patience. As many times as my mind reached for replies that never reached my mouth, because of the river of words pouring from his pale lips.

He talked and talked, and never came to a point. He repeated the same words, the same phrases, entire paragraphs: contextualist, literalist, C.S. Lewis once said, That's like asking which side of the scissor is more important. Works. Pauline, Petrean, Your Communion says. If they had understood, Eat his flesh and drink his blood. The Third Council, the Nineth Council, in 310, in 321, in 68, not the Nineth Council, that was later. Peter II is the last book, not the Revelations, Revelations is not the last book. Chronologically.

His lips never rested. Even when no sound emerged, they gaped and stirred, unable to stem the flow of words for long. Words and words flooded out again, in that peculiar accent. I had to focus all my attention to catch those blurry-bordered words falling from his shriveled mouth, as his thin, thin hands repeated the same wild gestures, trying to remember, remember.

I would like not to remember. I do not want to see, even in my mind, that greasy white hair, or that faded denim jacket/shirt/pants. Especially, I do not want to see those crouching, blurred teeth, or those restless lips.

What I would like to see is the purpose of that hour. Please tell me, with clean white teeth in a mouth that does not reek of tobacco and that does not judge. Please tell me, and I will try to listen. I am good at listening, even when the speaker is not good at talking. Please.


It is so easy to break the veneer of being composed. A few words, an hour stretching into eternity, a shift in tone of voice, one person who didn't show up: and I am in tears under the round white moon, among the whispering trees, feeling so alone. The dark stretches around me, and the each scattered pedestrian is flying through the void to his own empty planet. I cry and cry, and can't even say why.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Find the mirror taller than yourself (the one that looks like a narrow door). Escort it to a clear space, and lean it against a wall. Collect a newspaper, and unfold its delicate leaves to cover the floor. This is where you will sit: on this rectangle, on layers of paper, gazing into the silver mirror.

Find the comb. Tug it through your hair, like threshing grain. Feel the pulls of tangled strands sharp in your scalp. When your hair lies smooth and parted (docile), clear the comb of its web of hair. Tease one silken strand through your fingers. Then throw the whole tangle away.

Find the scissors. Make sure the light is on, and the door is locked.

Sit down. The mirror will stare back at you. Pay it no mind. The scissors will be reluctant. Pay them no mind, either. Take them in one hand, and drag the fingers of the other hand through your hair again. And then cut.

Hair falls around you, in clumps like mown grass, and in small rains, and like grains of sand dribbled between the fingers. It outlines your body on the paper. The scissors grow ever more truculent, but the silent mirror suspends judgment, and you keep cutting. Trees lose leaves with the changing seasons. It is only fair for you to change, too.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Punctuality (Or: I Am Grumpy at Night)

I love Intervarsity, I really do, but sometimes I get really frustrated with the way the leadership team works. It kills me that meetings will get canceled without the team members all getting notified; that nothing starts on time and nothing is expected to; that our staff worker occasionally just isn't there; that fellow Bible study leaders don't always show, and don't warn me in advance; etc.

To be fair, there are extenuating circumstances for some of these cases. Irregularities in attendance and meetings tends to result from school holidays (notably, Jewish holy days), and the staff worker did in fact send an email to warn us that she couldn't come, even if I didn't get it until after the meeting had already happened.

But starting on time? It's not that hard to do. You make a decision about what's going to happen, in accordance with what is feasible, and then you act on that decision. Being on time is about following through on your commitment. It's about respecting the authority of the person who asked you to come at that time; it's about respecting the time of the people you are asking to come at that time. When a leader asks his team to come at 7:00pm, and he doesn't arrive until 7:03,--and most of the team is still not present at 7:10,--and then the people who are there are just standing in the hallway till 7:20,--and then once they make it into a room, nothing is coordinated for another 10 minutes--then that leader has insulted his team. By asking for that time and then not using it, he has made the statement that he deserves their time not because he's going to use it for something valuable, but simply because he asked for it, and that the other things his team might have been doing during that half hour simply do not matter to him.

At least, that's the message this scenario sends me.

Granted, his team still has free will to come late or not come. Granted, they may have every opportunity to ask him to change his policy. Granted, there may be reasons, even good reasons, that nothing can be done at precisely 7:00. Granted, the fellowship that can occur during that half hour is by no means worthless.

Nevertheless, some of this leader's team members honored him by giving up their free time, and he did not honor their sacrifice. The result is discouragement and frustration for the team.

You can probably guess that I am one of the punctual team members. I must confess that my irritation with this situation has, at its root, a hunger for acknowledgment and respect, and a desire for things to go according to plan, and a demand to be treated the way I want. Essentially, I am angry because my pride has been insulted. Ultimately, I am anxious because I don't trust God with my task-list. I have my own issues to work on.

But still. Could we please start on time?

Saturday, October 11, 2008


The kite swooped and danced.

We both watched it, intently, but I kept looking back and forth between N. and the kite, my eyes traveling along the lines of the kite string. Her gaze never wavered from the rainbow kite above us. Her hands, though, responded to the kite's fidgeting. The angle of her body and the position of her hands echoed the gliding of the kite, spoke to it, puppeteered it. They both moved so gracefully, each absolutely absorbed.

There was nothing else in the world--only this duet. The ocean behind her was only a painted backdrop, a study in purple and green; the sky, likewise, was blue canvas; the sun, a tilted spotlight. It all faded away, for this moment.

The sun stopped setting, to watch, and even the waves paid attention. The silent sand stared up at the show. We were all in the audience, our lives set aside. All that mattered was this counterpoint: this exuberant kite (straining to escape, then plummeting earthward, then soaring toward heaven again) and this grave girl (concentrating, quietly). This swaying. This wind.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Freedom and Law

We usually think of law as something that constrains us. In particular, Christians tend to consider God's law (as given in the Old Testament) a burden, in that it is a standard we can never succeed in fully attaining by our own effort. The law feels like a cause for fear, a prison of rules and regulations, a list of barriers that must be surmounted.

But in Psalm 119, the law is something else entirely. I especially liked verse 32: "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." Here, the law is a path cleared for us through the wilderness of the world, which sets us free from the struggle to move forward and find direction. Moreover, "the path of your commands" is one we can run on. What kind of path would someone run on? Not on a path with traps set in it; not on a badly marked path, or a dark path; not on a path toward doom; not on a path with no known destination. You run with a light heart when you know where you're going and how to get there, and you want to get there. To the psalmist, the law is direction and guidance, and freedom. In following God's law--in running on God's law--he finds his heart free. . .

I would like to have a free heart.

Looking elsewhere in Psalm 119, the law is something that wards off shame (6, 46), that leads us to God himself (10), that is worth more than money (14, 72), that shows God's love (64), that gives delight (24), makes us sing (54), grants comfort (52), gives hope (43, 47, 74), strengthens (28). . . These are all such good things--not just in the sense of "morally edifying", but genuinely desirable. Freedom, joy, delight, comfort: not judgment and condemnation.

"Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." (v. 18) This is how I want to look at the law--not as a duty but as a gift and privilege.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Let x equal the number of hours of sleep I got, and let the function f represent my mood, such that as f(x) approaches infinity, I approach a state of exploding with euphoria. Then f(x) = x^.5.


Anyway, I need to sleep more.


Yesterday, instead of blogging or doing CS homework or sleeping, I had a discussion about paradoxes in Christianity. Specifically, Christ being both fully God and fully man, and the Trinity being fully three and fully one. I think I expressed at least a few things well, but seeing as I don't have a thorough understanding of either paradox myself, the discussion was at times frustrating. I find myself keenly reminded of my own limitations--of the varying depth of my comprehension, of the patchiness of my theological education, of my inadequate ability to articulation myself. The discussion humbled me, but it also exhilarated me, because we were both hearing each other. . .

Can anyone point me to articles or books that would help remedy the gaps in my grasp of these paradoxes? (I'm currently reading Orthodoxy, and I'm hoping that will address them a bit, but I need repetition.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008


My words hold the power to summon tears, and it terrifies me. I see the shining eyes, the hand wiping the eye, the drop falling, and it seems to me that a soul is leaking out. I wrote something, said something, and now a soul is leaking from those eyes, and evaporating into the night air. Small matter that the tears come from a full heart: I still caused them. How can I dare have this impact on another human? Friendship is an unutterably immense responsibility.

Friday, October 3, 2008

About Reality

Today I heard 18 people's comments on the nature of reality. About half were retired people; the rest were college students. We wrote for 4 minutes, given the prompt "About reality," then read aloud our musings.

Almost everyone spoke of reality as something frightening and unlovely. "About reality--it is to be avoided," one woman began, and spoke of avoiding reality by traveling, reading, talking. Reality is the music in the command, "Face the music." Reality is cold, hard--gray, unforgiving.

But then, "Reality is what you make it," several people said. Reality is your experience; there is no ultimate reality; each person has his or her own reality. To my surprise, this notion of extreme subjectivity was just as common among the sexagenarians as the teenagers.

The funny thing is, these two common ideas are mutually exclusive. If we make our own reality, then it is mutable and squishy, not unforgiving and hard. Alternately, maybe we are saying that people who perceive reality as painful and harsh are in fact victims of their own minds. Their suffering is their own fault--it's their reality!


Two or maybe three people hinted at the idea of a reality too large to grasp, greater than our experience, behind the scenes that pass before our eyes--something transcendent, what C.S. Lewis might refer to as supernatural. Of these, two are hard-core Catholics.

And then there was me. I didn't finish writing as I would have liked. (Reality in four minutes? Come on!) But I said:

Reality is a smooth cold stone pulled from the snow-melt river. Hold it in the palm of your hand. Wait for it to warm.

(kinda like "may came home with a smooth round stone / as small as a world and as large as alone." [e.e. cummings], now that I think about it.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Another Important Life Lesson

If you pour the powder mix for instant chocolate pudding into two bowls but don't make an effort to stir it up pouring it, there is no guarantee that the resultant pudding will have the same consistency in each bowl. For instance, one bowl may be perfectly normal pudding, while the other may be much more reminiscent of chocolate soup.