Wholly Self-Centered

Blogger’s Note: It’s been awhile. We’ve had an eventful holiday season—I’ll catch you up soon! In the meantime, here’s a short reflection from this weekend.

I have long experience at being self-centered. Those who know me know that I am both self-critical and self-righteous, quick-tempered, easily disillusioned, and a bit of a navel-gazer. I fight against these tendencies, fail frequently, and because I know too well my own selfish tendencies, I see (or imagine) my failings in those I love.

I’m a peach; just ask my family. Continue reading

Lucifer Lamentatione (Lightbringer’s Lament): A Christmas Poem

He whispered fiat lux, and I appeared

To split the darkness with my brilliant light.

He sat upon the clouds and stroked his beard,

As lesser angels praised him day and night.

 

His vision too naive to comprehend—

Non serviam! I swore with righteous pride.

For how can one so perfect condescend

To serve a muddy meatling and his bride?

 

And now a virgin ripens with his seed,

And should the elders fail to have her stoned,

The girl will whelp a son of earthly breed

Who nonetheless will mount a heavenly throne.

 

And all the fires I’ve kindled for man’s doom

Are shadows to that spark within her womb.

* * * * *

Blogger’s Note: The featured illustration is Gustave Dore’s famous depiction of Dante’s Satan, frozen in ice for eternity in the deepest circle of Hell.

Peace in God’s Hands

A week ago Friday, Emma and I went for a drive. The purpose was to get her on the freeway for the first time—on Saturday, we were heading to Bismarck to visit friends, and that long drive straight west is a great opportunity to get practice hours behind the wheel. We had planned to take the Suburban, but Emma had less experience and comfort with the Blue Beast, so we opted to take the minivan. It is getting older, but it’s my daily driver and a little easier for a new driver to manage.

Emma has been doing well in her driving thus far. She is focused and attentive and rarely gets rattled. She has driven 55 to 60 miles per hour on regular roads and has experience in town traffic, but this was to be her first time on the freeway. I drove us westward on I-94, away from the Cities and end-of-the-workday traffic, reminding her as we went of what she had learned in class: merging, moving over for entering traffic, blind spots, etc. She admitted she was nervous, but no more so than trying any other new thing behind the wheel. I offered that we should get off at the Hasty exit, and that she could drive toward Maple Lake on regular roads a bit before we looped back and got on the freeway. And so we did.

The sun was setting as we approached the freeway and turned right onto the eastbound ramp. Westbound traffic was still heavy; eastbound, not so much. So far so good. I talked her through the merge as we headed down the ramp, and she responded: Get up to speed. Signal. Check your blind spot…

A vehicle was in the near lane, closing on us. We both saw it; it was difficult to tell if they were letting us in, and Emma said so.  We looked forward at roughly the same time and saw we were coming off the ramp and onto the shoulder, which was covered with a thin layer of slushy snow. The van began to fishtail.

Continue reading

Book Break: The Ladies of Grace Adieu

LadiesGraceAdieuMany years ago—based upon a radio interview, I think—I read Susanna Clark’s massive debut novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. As I recall, the book combines historical fiction and fantasy to tell the tale of two somewhat friendly, rival magicians rediscovering actual, practical magic in 19th-century England. The book calls to mind the Harry Potter series in the sense that this is our world as we know it, but with wizarding world just beneath the surface that breaks through into the open. It recalls Tolkien in the depth and detail of its footnoted backstories.

More than a decade later, I see I did not blog about it, and today I remember little about the plot, other than it involved a young woman tormented by a fairy who drew her, night after night, into his realm to do his bidding. What I recall most was the atmosphere of the book: Clarke’s descriptions of “the man with the thistledown hair” and the world of Faery are terrible and otherworldly—you feel every bit as transported and disoriented as the characters; their thoughts and fears become your own.

I remember thinking highly enough of the book that when I ran across Clarke’s collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, I snapped it up despite the pink flowers on the front. And now, a decade later, I’ve finally read them. Continue reading

All Is Gift

ChestertonThanks

I wanted to tell you yesterday all the things I’m grateful for this year. I rose at 4 a.m. to stretch, pray, and write—but the Bearded Wonder (my eldest son Brendan) is home from college and rose at 4:30. We sat in flickering candlelight and visited for a couple hours, until Jodi got up to start the turkey. Then I left her and her boy alone and greeted the dawn with Bruno. Our walk was unusually peaceful: silent except for the whine of the distant freeway; we saw a total of four cars, a jogger, and a neighbor with the same idea: walking his dog in the quiet of the new day.

The rest of the household was stirring when we returned home, and the rest of the morning was spent going to Mass (the Feast before the feast) and preparing for dinner. We cooked, we ate, we watched the Lions get trounced by the Vikings. (Sorry, fellow Lions fans: to me, the game didn’t feel close.) My folks were supposed to be here, but Mom got sick and they returned home—we arranged for a friend to bring them Thanksgiving dinner, and enjoyed a beautiful, grateful phone call with them in the early afternoon.  We laughed and listened to music; we napped, walked Bruno again, and ate pie.

And yet, when evening fell, I felt unsettled. The one thing I hadn’t done was write. So while the family played games in the dining room, I attempted to journal. Instead I listened to Jodi and the kids joking, arguing, and laughing together. After a while, Brendan stepped away from the games and took up the mandolin, picking and strumming snippets of songs we knew. I closed my journal and vowed to write this morning.

* * * * *

Today Brendan turns twenty. I rose again at four, acutely aware that I have now been a father for two decades—nearly half my life to date!—and unsure about what that means for me. I went downstairs to let Bruno out; stepped into the cold, black morning, and breathed in the clean air. I need to write, I thought.

About what? About all of this.

I brought Bruno back in and shuffled into the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror to see myself. At 4 a.m., I look lived in: a little worn and disheveled, sagging here and there, but comfortable and still functional. I leaned in closer to peer into my own eyes—windows to the soul, they say—and in an instant, they filled with unexpected tears.

Gifts. All of it—my bride in our bed, our beautiful offspring, the pup downstairs. Our aging suburban split-level. The still unfinished tree house out back. All gifts.

I am working harder these days for less money, and yet I feel better—freer—than I have in years. Gift. We have friends who never get sick of our company, family who love us, and a great God in Heaven who keeps the very rhythm of our hearts in time with His own. All gifts.

The tears brimmed but didn’t fall; my chest swelled but didn’t burst. Sure signs that I have not yet fully grasped the magnitude of my situation: the all-powerful and ever-present Creator of the universe is making room enough in me so He can dwell there. The One who is Love is carving a God-size hole in me, chipping away, flake by flake, at my stony heart.

* * * * *

With all the many gifts I enjoy in this life, perhaps the thing I am most grateful for this year is perspective. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Look around you. Have you seen this place?

Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? — Job 38:4-7

We are so very blessed and have done nothing to deserve it. Sure, we’re good people, as far as that goes. But lots of good people suffer, and a fair number of not-so-good people seem to thrive. I cannot earn these blessings or somehow make them happen—I cannot avoid illness, accident, or tragedy—any more than I can make Brendan’s beard grow. I can only look on with wonder and thanksgiving, and join my song to Mary’s: The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name!