To Dream and to Talk Too Much

Yesterday, I wrote a mild diatribe at my uncertainty over God’s gender. I’ve written about this elsewhere in the past. This morning I worried I had said too much about something I really can’t understand. Well, that would probably mean I’m always guilty of that, whenever I open my mouth to speak at all. One can only worry so much that they’ve done a bad thing rather than the good thing they were hoping to have done.

Many mornings, I go for a walk in my neighbourhood. My favourite, mildly challenging route takes me down the road, up a hill into a neighbouring hilltop suburb, then down the other side and eventually to the local coffee shop. This coffee shop is about 10 minutes walk from here, but I like to take 30 to get there, by putting a hill in the way. It gives me more time to think, and lets my body burn a calorie or three.

The very top of the hill – that part where I’m done with most of the climbing, and am now on my way mostly back down again – is the apex where I feel closest to whatever it is I’m praying to on that journey. It’s become symbolic to me, and so it’s an important part of my routine.

Yesterday, as I crested the hill, I felt connected to something – perhaps just a permission to dream big, on behalf of those in my life who might benefit, if not for my own self. I don’t know if it’s hubris to imagine your own self as potentially important in the lives of others… and that is probably a problem of mine I should consider addressing. Of course people matter to each other, and I am people too. I deserve my dreams, but more importantly, so do they. It brought me to tears, at the top of that small hill: It was the feminine face of God that told me there that it was really, really ok to dream that way, and to dream big. I came home and wrote a blog post about it. There you go.

This morning, as I crested the hill, I asked myself (or was asked) what was important to my heart. I was now thinking about my heart as a separate thing – and not just the same thing that did my dreaming – because of something I read last night, in A Year With C.S. Lewis. It is an anthology of clippings from his various books.

The passage in question – the one that got me to thinking about my heart, rather than my dreams, was the one for Sept 28, called Fantasy Virtues. It is from Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (which I haven’t read completely, only passages from A Year With…).

The character Screwtape, being a devil, considers God to be the Enemy, and is concerned with the corruption and downfall of a human subject (the patient), and here, describes this human as a series of concentric circles:

“…his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the Will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his Will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart).”

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This got me thinking differently, so my morning prayer-walk involved asking this: where do my dreams come from, if not my heart, and are they alone able to make me a good person? What if my best dreams and inspirations are simply a God or Goddess giving me the gift of sound advice? This is often how dreams and inspirations seem to be. Is it my own good quality to have something else inspire me toward better things?

The word inspiration is about receiving something from some other source, more than it is about producing that thing oneself; inspiration is not exactly a product to which the inspired can lay claim for having created. My dreams, in other words, are not where my true virtue rests, though they form a good map, when at their best.

Likewise, to recognize, assess, comprehend, agree with, prioritize, choose, and even announce my dreams aloud – those things which the intellect does – are only first steps. I can only consider myself blessed to be able to consider dreams and inspirations in the context of this life: what they might mean for those around me, how they might come about, which ones are most worth pursuing, given current circumstances… the planning and contemplation phase. Undeniably important, and, as far as I can tell, within myself to choose to think, or to not think.

But inward thought is only the beginning of outward action, and so my true virtue only begins there, but is not yet fully realized into the world – it may in fact be in even greater peril of never coming to fruition, having taken real time and energy to almost-manifest-but-not-quite-yet. A trophy for the Screwtapes of the world to prize – and a threat to them as well, should they become a matter of my will.

All the good thinking in the world does not resolve something good into being, except in one’s own imagination. If thinking and even deciding good things was all that was needed to be a good person, we would only need to be brains, without hands, feet, and mouths (the tools of change we have been given to actually do things while here). Even blogging about what I dream for this world is only manifesting something good up to a point, though it is certainly better than keeping thoughts and ideals entirely to myself.

Of course, many people “only” write, but do it well, and with great heart, conviction, and purpose, that this is more than enough to manifest something worthwhile of their own best selves. Recall that not everybody has full use of all of their parts at all times, and so the parts we do have use of are where our true worth can always be found.

So what is my heart, then, according to Screwtape, according to C.S. Lewis (and according to whatever inspired him to write those words)? My heart and will are the engine, I think, that brings dreams and inspirations into fruition, in the best way I can manage. It is about effort, and intention, and sticking with something good to a proper completion, even when new inspirations (and their resulting patterns in my over-thinking noggin) pop up and demand that I drop the good things I’m doing, in order to stare at these shiny, novel notions.

My heart needs to be engaged. A heart is never at rest – it beats until it doesn’t want to anymore. The body (its servant and extension), must do things too. Real things. This is where I become the good person I am here to be. The virtues feared by Screwtape must find their way to the centre of who I am – these, formed into daily habits of the heart and its extended body, are the essence of walking well in the world as a verifiably, demonstrably good person. I think this is why Jesus walked around so damn much. He was never long at rest – his heart was too busy manifesting good things all over the place. He knew he had to move – not just pray and ponder, not just always preach from the same mount.

That is my belief today, in any case. Who knows what I may be led to believe tomorrow?

So today’s hilltop visit posed to me this question: what does your heart want? What does your will want? What does it mean for your will and your heart to want something, anyway? Your dreams and your thoughts are what they are: you can dream a great dream, and then recognize its value. Your dreams are given you – or perhaps invoked – and your thoughts are formulated… but things wanted in both these places are abstractly so. This is fantasy and thought just doing their bit. But the heart and the will and the body (hands, fingers, feet, tongue… whatever you have that you’re able to make change with) want by doing, not by receiving, or thinking. That is how the heart wants, I think. It needs that spark, it needs a spark to make it go somewhere. It always goes where its spark leads it.

How do you spark your heart in an intentional way, tangibly toward a dream you are given to acknowledge and love, in your mind’s eye? Your heart is here, in the world – if it is to want something, it must bring that thing to itself, here.

I think that takes a kind of practice. I am still unsure what kind – but probably just regular practice of the day-by-day kind. All I know is that my heart wanted to write about this, and share it somehow, in case it might matter. And so my feet brought me back home, my hands opened this laptop, and my mind and fingers then formed and shared these words, to you. My heart got what it wanted. Had it not wanted to do these things, we’d not be here together right now.

As I ascended the hill this morning – before the question about my heart’s desire (and exactly how a heart manages to effectively desire) – I thought about how this physical world is where the “rubber meets the road”. My walk up the hill confirmed this: I wore rubber on my feet, and I was walking the road – not just dreaming of it, or thinking about it, or telling somebody I was going to go for a walk one day. I was walking, which was what my heart had decided to do with the early part of its day. I chose to spark it that way. I wanted it to be, and then wanted it into being so.

There are places I’m sure where dreams alone come from – and maybe where they exist as a primary reality, unbound by time and space and gravity and all the mess that is here. The mind, somewhere between Here and There, then seems to be where thoughts live, and then plans, and also memories… all symbols for trying to make sense of what it is we dream about and are inspired by while here.

The world of matter though is where we are given a chance to turn some of those things into solid manifestations – though for what reason, I can’t say. It feels like school here; we have ideas and assignments and the freedom to choose to read them over, and then do them and hand them in, or not. Our call, our way.

That is, I think, the homework of the heart.

How to be a Hero

I woke up the other night and started to write this, and it got big, and I realize I can’t find the edges of this topic. So I’ll post it, typos and all, and then move on, and will no doubt have more to say later, in and among the brambles of my regular days.

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What Part of Jesus do I Hang on my Wall?

QUESTION: Should they, the Early Christians, have chosen something else to symbolize God’s love?

God’s son: rendered in wood, and hung upon a cross – that ancient instrument of intimidation, torture, humiliation, and death. It seems at times to me a bit unseemly to remember and announce a transcendent God in quite this way; a rather poor eulogy for His Saviour Son of Man. Jesus had so many better moments in his shortened life.

And yet perhaps no greater moment than this – his last. Would we have remembered Jesus any better otherwise… or still less, or even at all? What if he had died an old man, surrounded instead by loved ones upon his blessed deathbed, after a long, full life of healing the sick, walking on water, multiplying food & drink, challenging authorities, and delivering life lessons in the form of riddles?

Maybe it was that shocking (and, as it turned out, temporary) end to his story that keeps it in my mind, somewhere. Maybe it is that very image of a man hung high for the crime of claiming a connection to the divine – one that he told us we all share – that keeps me longing to take lessons from one sad story of good news.

My Daily Denials

I keep a crucifix in a bedroom drawer – next to my other unmentionables, and additional random remnants I keep as talismans too, inexplicably: a broken shoelace, a ball of wood from some art supply store, and a bookmark (mentioned in another post), bearing the words of another, differently contentious prophet. A curious trove of trinkets and treasures, from the arguably practical to the I’m-not-sure-quite-what. Strings, stones, boxers, briefs, socks, words, and an eternally dying plastic Jesus Christ.

I wonder at times why I don’t have an image of Christ on my wall where I wake up every day, and then I recall what that image is, and what (I think) it represents. I suppose I owe the man that much, to remember his sacrifice, but Jesus Christ (sorry, Jesus)… who wants to celebrate that moment, and see it every day? Is that what God would want? It’s a kind of macabre celebration of a life, to fixate so fully on its last and agonizing moments.

There is of course the sanitized version of this symbol: the crucifix without the dying Word of God upon it. It looks to me like an inverted sword; it has a practical handle for holding up against vampires too. It has an epic simplicity to it, and works as well in rough-worked wood as it does in gold – probably better in wood, all things considered.

But then… would I carry around a tiny noose, or a rack, or maybe a miniature iron maiden – and any of these out of context – as a symbol of my faith in the good that resides at the very kernel of each of us? Of our collective potential to transcend violence and anger and fear?

No, I would choose maybe an acorn, or a bird, or a cloud. Something light, something fluffier, and a wee bit less gruesome. The cross alone was simply an instrument of death inflicted by mortals upon other mortals (and maybe one immortal volunteer). Jesus upon the cross changes its character and meaning entirely. I have never appreciated the meaning of the word sanctify, but maybe this is as good an example as any example could be of a word-used-well.

I have a problem with the suffering in this world, and a problem with being reminded of the suffering of a man who we have since come to remember for his message of healing, compassion, peace, and forgiveness. This contrast is understandably stark, and itself deeply mysterious. At least, it is those things to me. What is the allure of Jesus hung in pain (and presumably some amount of resigned disappointment), alone upon a lonely post?

Maybe it is sacrilege to ask. But then I think the Christian God at least appreciates questions. Maybe even demands them. As long as we’re asking questions about how to better ourselves and others, I’m not so sure any divine creator worth their salt (and our devotion and attention) would care if we at times struggled around the edges of what our faith and devotion to better ideals should look like.

I don’t know about yours, but my God appreciates effort, and understands human minds are capable of only so much wisdom without a good deal of making mistakes in the process of pursuing it.

Choosing a Means to Remember

So given that I have been given the right to choose how best to remember this man Jesus, what would I have chosen, as a symbol to remember Jesus by, if not his execution?

Would it have been his face? And what arrangement of features and skin tones would be sufficient to give credit to every person in every part of the world who would like to see some of themselves reflected in Him, so they could better reflect Him in themselves? I have no answer. Maybe Jesus could be carved to look like any one of us. But then, how would one recognize him?

Would I have chosen his crown of thorns alone, without the suffering skull? Perhaps with a respectful drop of divine blood? This too would be an appropriate symbol, though perhaps might be conflated with a wreath in these modern and commercial times. Also, the thorns would need to be a bit blunter, were one to expect to wear a smaller crown around their neck. Still, maybe the crown of thorns would be the thing I would choose, at least if pressed to choose quickly.

What about the feet of Jesus (with or without sandals)? The objects of reverent kisses; the very members that moved this travelling prophet around the lands he had come to land upon? The ones that touched the now-holy grounds most physically? Are there stones still in the world that were touched by those very feet? The fleshy surface of Jesus that came into most direct contact with our own world: the feet that could defy gravity, and walk on waves. Maybe those? But who would hang feet upon their wall, and where do you cut them off, respectfully? Perhaps just his footprint… but somehow without making assumptions about his size, in any way. It seems a tall order to celebrate God with a pair of feet, in any case.

Would it be a shroud, or a hand, or the tongue which spoke divine words? A tongue alone is probably taking it too far. The hand, but without identifying fingerprints (an invasion of privacy and personal security to be sure)… the shroud, but then it would need a regular washing, and would that require holy water and/or soap? I cannot know these things.

You might begin to get the idea. It is hard to properly immortalize the already immortal, using the common materials and symbols at hand.

Is it one of the many paintings of Jesus, that I might prefer to see when I look at a given wall? No, those are just paintings, and images are a dime a dozen these days. They are sure to only resolve God into a man with a beard of a given length, and a certain eye colour, and some kind of hairstyle. I think there is something to be said for the Muslim decision (as I understand it, which I admittedly might not) to not characterize such an important figure in such a visually literal manner. It collapses something big into something ordinary, regardless of how colourful one might choose to make it.

But the Christian god – my God – does at least put up with this, and would not approve of violence against those who might wish to paint his Son (in various media), out of love or otherwise.

Even cartoons can be a good way to remember, and continue to consider; remembering and considering are considerably better than discounting and forgetting. I think Jesus had a sense of humour anyway. It’s all good, He might say, I’m not entirely in that image anyway, but you go ahead and try and guess what I really look like I’ll still be waiting when you’ve got more questions.

The Power of an Unfinished Story

The Christian faith to me remains a curious personal struggle with mystery and faith. These and others are the words I have been handed by circumstance to consider and repeat, and perhaps to build upon, in my own life.

Christianity to me does not seem to be an immutable set of pat answers to anything, even though scripture is very often accused of attempting just that, and is very often used in just that way.

Look at the man: he did not settle somewhere and build a temple to himself (or his father, Our Father)- he moved around. He followed the roads available to him, moving at what mostly appears to be Human speed. He retraced steps. He evaded pursuers. He stuck to the ground he was given – but he moved. When not welcome in one place, he shook the dust from his feet and moved on. He told others they should do the same. There was work to be done everywhere, just like today, and too little time to do it all. He even lost his cool now and then, and might have even regretted it afterward. He didn’t carve his words or behaviours into stone or dogma: we did that after he was gone.

Today, we remember this mobile man, by affixing his image to the sawn trunk of a dead tree, re-posted in the ground – or itself hung upon a wall, and most often indoors. We place this symbol of a movement in fixed positions in our homes and houses of worship. The physical tokens of Mobile Jesus still get around a lot, captured in that one fixed moment in time and space.

I could go on, finding other symbols that I would prefer to hang upon any given wall, to remind me that Jesus died for the forgiveness of my sins. One might well roll their eyes at my presumption here. After all, there are as many if not more in the world who do not consider Jesus a given, at all. I am only reiterating what I have been told, and continue to consider.

And still, here I am: the hearing of this story, and my continuing consideration of it in light of the things I’ve personally gone through in my life, has been objectively important to me – in saving me from some dark and downward spirals I might not otherwise have escaped.

The story alone carries with it an undeniable Holy Spirit. Jesus, whoever you feel he may or may not have been, did save me from something, and continues to do so. Call that Magic if you will, or call it the power of Faith, or the power of God, or even the Power of Intention if you must – but it manifests as solidly as solid matter, in my heart and mind, and then in the things I choose to manifest in this world.

So for now I peek at my dying Jesus now and then, and say a very-Canadian Sorry for not wanting to put a nail in the wall, so that I can nail Jesus once again to something stationary, trapped in one place and time.

I carry instead the symbol in my heart and mind, and when the Holy Spirit (or whatever you might wish to call it) is suitably stirred up in me, I can see Jesus (that is, God; that is, Love) in the faces of those around me, and in the animals, and in the water and the trees… and even within myself.

The Word is not a dead word – it is animated and fluid, and living, and works its way through how simple people continue to struggle with their own simple selves, in the pursuit of answers that are continuously given through the active asking for them. Nothing is nailed down.

Happy Sunday! I hope you are safe and well and continue on your own better searches.

Routines, Episode… something

This morning, like most mornings, my eyelids fluttered and my body tossed this way and that, and my neck felt a bit sore, and my chest a bit heavy. I was leaving the world of dreams to enter this one. Things here are more-or-less real.

I had breakfast. I had a shower. I answered the varied calls of Nature. All in some kind of order. It involved putting on clothes and gathering things.

I found myself at the wheel of my father’s red truck, having said good morning and see you later to my Mum (often though not always the first one to rise in her household), and with my Dad still asleep and healing soundly.

The truck brought me down the road, while I rebooted my thoughts, dispelled again my inward concerns, and heard the ear worm I had created over the last several weeks playing in a quiet and steady loop at the back of my mind.

Then I was at the gas station. According to a new little sign on the pump, I was supposed to wear a mask even while outdoors now (in “public spaces”). I had rebelled, accidentally. The world for me at 50 is officially changing faster than my habits can keep up with. I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to breathe outdoors the way I had once done, a week ago, and all of my life before that. Now I know. I’ll try and adjust.

I got some coffee, after driving myself in a different direction than I had in the previous week. This, for variety – and to delay the inevitable start of my one-more-day-till-the-curtains-close.

I don’t mean to be morbid, in mentioning my mortality.

It’s Friday, and I’ve survived another arbitrarily strung-together sequence of weekdays. My mood and thoughts are shifted slightly now, knowing the underlying tone of my next two days will be slightly different: I’ll feel more vaguely free – though nothing at all will have changed, and by Monday the cycle will start again. I know this from great experience.

I left out the thousand little details that got me from my leaving last night’s dreamland to sitting here, writing to you, from the passenger seat of a borrowed truck. These unmentioned details are all iterations of what has come to and from me, twenty-thousand times before (or thereabouts). You can fill in the details: towels for showering, opening and closing various doors, tying shoelaces, scarfing down an unmentioned muffin, and so on.

I wish I had never seen the movie Groundhog Day – I would be feeling (I think) a little less stuck in some kind of puzzle right now, had I not. But then again, maybe that movie was a clue to solving something. I’ve had this thought before as well, unsurprisingly.

I am a biological machine, and (thankfully) I don’t run a completely randomized set of instructions every day. Can you imagine? Without any routines at all, we would be utterly inconsistent and incoherent. We might be happy, but we would be alone in that happiness. My routines keep me tied to people and to causes and to places that I care about, for whatever reason. Maybe my reasons for caring are themselves just matters of habit – though I think there’s quite a bit more to it than that. That is what I refer to loosely as Faith.

Writing should have been a better routine for me these last few years, but it has been hard to stick with it, in the face of so many other things to graft onto (or remove from) the routines that make up the person that is me. Regular exercise and better nutrition should have been [could still be] a part of those routines as well. And other things. I’ve still got time, but I never know how much. That’s part of the puzzle.

All those red herrings and paths not-yet traveled. How does a person live well through a mine field like that? Like this? Too many metaphors to mix… so little time to untangle it all.

I enjoy the challenge of life, more days and moments than not. I won’t lie: I can’t take much credit for it, as I was given a good hand of cards from the outset. I had somewhere solid to start from, and return to. I still do. I think I write too much about the guilt I feel about this, though I’d like to believe that this too is a routine I can work my way through, and on to the other side. Maybe through writing, maybe through doing nothing at all except what I’m doing now.

Bill Murray worked though the puzzle, somehow. I don’t remember the details of that story, just that it had some sort of good resolution. He learned something. I forget what… but I remember that he did. I guess it was a good movie after all. Maybe I’m glad I remembered that much.

The clock closes in on what we have come to call 9:30 (at least in this narrow band of our world). This signals some part of my brain to think about wrapping this up, finishing my caffeine drink, and getting back home, where a collection of new and old routines awaits. Side-quests to complete, on the road to somewhere else, slightly different than where I am now.

May you have a surprisingly excellent Friday! I want you to experience something wonderful and new, out of nowhere. It is out there waiting – I know it.

Thank God For Fridays (TGFF?) 🙂

Always Unfinished

Every morning (almost like clockwork), the Universe tells me that I should wake up.

Sometimes a digital alarm is involved, and sometimes it is alarming thoughts about the time I have remaining here, brought on by curious dreams that pursue me as I emerge from sleep.

To know what’s truly at stake, in my effort to fully and finally awake…

I drove around today in a big loop, wondering how to break my cycles of enthusiasm and dread. I’m always too far in my own head for comfort – looking back into shame or regret, or trying to peer forward into the fog of possibility, uncertainty, worry, or inevitability. I can’t determine the nature of the fog – only that it is there wherever I look when I’m not paying attention to the present moment.

I see that our world needs help. I know that I have hands to help, and I try (I think). Who needs it the most? Starting from within, it would be me, so that I can be there for those closest by, and then, for an expanding array of others. The species may though might not matter. Pick someone – regardless of their bipedal-ness – and give them some time. Maybe that’s how the world is made better, by degrees.

Sometimes, that someone who needs your time the most is you. You will know when you’re asking for it from yourself, I think. Don’t ask me how I have come to believe this – I just presently do.

After that, go out and look for another in need of something you might currently have to give. I am speaking as much if not more to myself than to any other ReadWriter who might happen upon these words, after they’ve come to me from somewhere, to put down and then share.

As always, I am journaling sidelong toward something. Maybe some action involving my feet? Maybe something or someone in need of lifting.

I wrote recently about feeling like an adolescent, but there are days when I feel much more like a toddler. The spiritual onion has a lot of layers, I feel – it feels that way at times.

Toddlers are concerned for the most part with walking – taking steps with some purpose. The purpose is sometimes just learning to take steps – sometimes, there’s a real somewhere to go. Only the toddler knows.

I know I’m still trying to toddle to someplace, for somebody… or something.