17 December, 2015

To Join the Story

When I was 4 years old a trailer began airing on TV for an upcoming Disney movie.  I didn’t catch what the story was actually about, but I was dazzled by an image of silver spoons diving into a bowl of punch in one beautiful fanning motion. It was the longing of my little heart to see that movie with the SPOONS. (Don’t you sometimes miss the tiny but true-hearted objectives and victories of childhood?)

One day a few months later Mom told us that she would have a surprise for us after all our schoolwork and chores were done.  We flew through our duties, ran to the living room, and sat down on the couch in an orderly line, looking as sweet and responsible and deserving as we possibly could.  

Mom walked into the living room holding something behind her.  She slowly drew it out for us to see, and it was...THE SPOONS MOVIE (otherwise known as Beauty and The Beast).  Oh, my heart!  What a sublime moment!  I hadn’t even told my parents of my interest in seeing the movie ...but mothers have a extra bit of magical intuition and so here it was, our very own copy to watch and memorize and sing along to.  As it turned out, there was a lot more to the story than dancing spoons.  There was some good stuff about sacrificial love turning hopeless creatures into their truest, best selves.

Dad brought home all kinds of movies, too.  VHS was still rather new technology for the home, and our parents’ generation was relishing the fun of rediscovering favorites from their childhood to introduce to their children.  My heart was so attuned to story and surrendered to it so gladly in every new adventure offered by those black plastic tapes.  My siblings grew to dread tv time when it was my turn to pick the movie, because they knew they’d be subjected to either Peter Pan starring Mary Martin, or Dumbo.  But I followed my heart and my siblings just had to deal with it as I snuggled up into the best spot on the couch, curling up with my knees against my chest and resting my chin on the couch arm.  

Watching Star Wars provoked my first experience of what I later knew, thanks to C.S. Lewis, to call sehnsucht.  I didn’t know how to explain or respond to the way my heart -- even at four or five years old -- ached with longing when the music soared as Luke gazed at the twin setting suns.  It utterly disarmed me, this encounter with something that was so beautiful and painful at the same time.  This was happy heartbreak, an experience beckoning my soul to something faintly familiar and just out of reach.  It tapped the well of longing I had - have - to find and know and prove and preserve beauty.  You might laugh that this credit goes to “Star Wars” - it’s ok, I do too - but there it is.

Here is why I love movies and why I have no shame being excited about the event that The Force Awakens already is.  Many more prominent and eloquent people before me have written about the importance of story, so I won’t attempt to add much more to that conversation.  But I will say that I see in the faces of fantasy fans - and in myself as a moviegoer, history lover, one-time aspiring actress - the intrinsic desire to know that we are part of a bigger story, an epic drama with goodness and truth and the possibility that “nobodys” could matter, a reality in which skeptics become believers and what was splintered is made whole.  

Could it be that we could learn from the ones who dress up for movie premieres, who invest in cosplay, who go to ComicCon?  I am humbled by their uninhibited imaging of something we all have in our hearts: the desire to join the story, even if at its fringes, and for God (or purpose, or beauty, or belonging, or whatever you call it) to draw near to us.  To reference C.S. Lewis again, “We do not want to merely ‘see’ beauty - though, God knows, even that is bounty enough.  We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

This is the childlike wonder we’re all advised to reclaim.  It is truest awe, amazement that is, in a way, relief -- a ready fall into the arms of something that is beautifully, simultaneously beyond us yet almost in hand.

Sure, it’s just a movie.  But it’s a movie that will fill theaters with countless hearts bursting with gladness over a long-anticipated day. There will be some who have waited decades, questioning whether the wonder they experienced once before could actually be real to them again. The trailer even gave them this permission, with one character hinting at legends, question marks in history - and another (formerly a confirmed skeptic) asserting that all of it was true.  Sound familiar?

09 December, 2015

Even the Stones

For You, O Lord, our souls in stillness wait
Truly, our hope is in You


I’ve been singing this song a lot lately, but with a sorry lack of conviction.  These days my soul feels anything but still. In this month that is all about waiting, receiving, and rejoicing, I am running on fumes and doing more striving, more burdening myself with impossible standards, more “Why is my calendar so full?” than anything else.  I haven’t just reached my limits; I seem to have set up camp there. I would send you a postcard, but the view is a little bleak.

Every day I take the Metro to work. The station platform is always filled with unhappy, impatient, tired commuters. So tired - tired of winter, of disappointed expectations, of thankless jobs, of lives that demand more hours in the day to get everything done while the unbending laws of time refuse to oblige. It’s cold and grey and we wonder why we go through all of this. Do those squeaky voices hurling Christmas tunes at us over the radio actually inhabit the same reality we do? Where is all this supposed cozy warmth and glistening romance and relational wholeness? It’s not on this Metro platform, that’s for sure. The view from here is dry and dusty, a hardened shell of hopelessness.

When I was a child I was fascinated by geodes. I didn’t particularly enjoy science but I loved art, and here was some strange product of the earth that had a secret explosion of beauty hidden inside of it, waiting for someone to find it under the grey crust. Perhaps the greater wonder is that the exuberant crystals would be there anyway, showing off, whether or not anyone uncovered them. “Even the stones will cry out…”

I thought of geodes the other day during my daily wait at the Metro station, wondering if there was anything beautiful underneath or behind or inside of this frosty, foggy striving.  Of course Advent tells us that there is. Advent happens when we are at our most dry and grey, daring us to believe that we’re not alone and that there is more beneath the surface.  The God who said “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden” first came to dwell among the imperfect and unlovely, packaging the whole glimmering reality of the divine inside a bent and broken form. Advent tells us that one night all heaven broke loose and earth was never the same, and that there are now fault lines running through our hopelessness. Underneath the shell subversive grace moved in and has been quietly building a whole new world in dazzling, gem-like Technicolor. It is there crying out, whether we see it or not as we wait on the platform.  

As you camp out at the bitter end of your own ability, and maybe of hope, look closely at the fault lines for the crystal lining breaking through the surface.  There grace is crying out a good news that blinds our fears and affirms the deepest hungers of our hearts.  It is a blood-red promise that in the end, what awaits us is a life in which activity is worship and rest is celebration.  This is our hope and expectation, an upside-down kingdom running under the grey crust of winter like a thousand blinding crystals singing to us, the unlikely witnesses.

Weary world, rejoice.

22 October, 2015

"I'm a spring person. I only like beginnings."

I was going to post a roundup of various articles, images, and miscellany I've encountered lately as a little kudos to those who are doing something to voice or repair the broken circles.

But instead of a list (after all, how many more lists does the internet need?), I decided to just share with you this one, beautiful little film called "Eleanor Ambos Interiors", which came on my radar via Design*Sponge.


© Sasha Arutyunova
"I get to see the beauty in different eyes, of different beholders, and it's always amazing...On the same canvas different creatures paint different paintings of their own vision, and I find that really wonderful."

"Invention. Invention is really the best."

Here is the sort of irony we love to encounter in removed, fictional settings for its dramatic power: A woman who has lived her life drunk on the pursuit of beauty, flying against the wind of convention -- now being slowly dragged down in subjection to her body which will eventual deny her the sense of sight, her main access to beauty. But this isn't fiction. This is the real-time experience of a real woman, and there is nothing romantic about the daily choices of attitude and action that she faces.

But here is also a simple and profound example of power as a generative thing. "Power" may not be the word that first comes to your mind when you look at Eleanor Ambos, but maybe this says more about our negative associations with the word than it does about Ambos. Andy Crouch has written and spoken extensively on power as servant leadership for the purpose of ensuring the flourishing of others. We are placed in the world and given creative ability so that all the possibilities of the world will unfold, will flourish, will be fully actualized. We are made to transform the raw material of the world in a way that elicits their "very goodness." As her body begins to limit her own ability to create, Ambos works to ensure that her eclectic empire of beautiful spaces and things will endure to provide other artists with the resources they need to create something new.

This is a sweet, sepia-toned snapshot of power as a generative thing that turns a functional space ("good") into a creative space ("very good"); as the feisty advocate of human creative potential; as humility that delights in the chance to make something possible for others rather than seeking personal gain. Enjoy this film, and then go make something!

16 June, 2015

"Trust me. It builds character."

A man and his noble hound
My father, with the silver hair and the voice that makes willing captives of any audience.  The mocha-rich, “they don’t make them like they used to” kind of voice that chooses words for their sonorous quality just as much as for their functionality.  An instinct for eloquence that enriches the conveyance of information.  

One of his knees is decorated with a long stuttering scar, a 4-inch white flag of surrender to the injury that ended his college football career and with it his days as a Virginia prep demi-god. Sometimes in my parents’ attic I look backwards on grainy 35mm Chuck with the blinding smile and a jersey for every sport.  Chuck before the knee held together by titanium and a spirit tamed by Aslan.  Chuck whose injuries built a training ground for life with a broken earthsuit.

God does not promise us easy but He promises reward, right standing, a good end.  This was the approach taken by my earthly father, too.  Through chore charts and sibling buddy systems and strict TV times he taught us that there are many things in life that are not easy but are worth doing because of their eventual sure reward.  You will pick all the ripe tomatoes before you can go play, and you will apologize and ask your brother’s forgiveness for hurting him, and you will only watch this much television per day.  And instead of scarcity you will find in these things a good life, a life of joy and service and hard work and pleasures more deeply enjoyed because you worked and waited for them.  

My father, the repudiator of the doctrine of instant gratification.  He taught his children to work and wait in faith, and he leads by example as he now endures an assignment whose end date is unknown.  I look at his shoes that will never again be creased from walking and I see a man learning to wait for the restoration of the body that is guaranteed by the deliverance of the soul. 

I am thankful for a father who teaches me to value the rewards of waiting -- the qualities of character formed by doing the best that you can and leaning on others when you can’t; the wisdom of perspective that says, “My life is one plot line of a bigger story written by an author I have learned to trust”; and the true rejoicing in victory that looks more like humility than ego.  Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.