Little Elegy

Walking through Cambridge, inspiration is difficult to avoid. My apologies to those on the sidewalk who had to go around me as I stopped to give this poor bird a proper elegy.

“His eye is on the sparrow,” so ’tis sung
But ‘neath some foot or wheel its feathers flung-
Poor claws curled up in pain all that remain
Of this, the least of these, abandoned-slain.

The serpent struck, his head then doomed to crush,
Yet somehow just this little life- this thrush-
Drops down, his sun-stripe yellow turned to grey,
And he who flew now falls into decay.

Though sorrowful surrender stills his wings,
Another takes his tune and still he sings.

*(Poetic disclaimer: I’m not a huge fan of AABBCC… but this the rhyme scheme that happened and it somehow seems fitting.)

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Method…Writing?

Method acting is a key point in my novel. One of the characters is an actor who has become “stuck” in the role that he last performed. He has lost himself into the character he was contracted to play. There are obviously a MANY problems that arise from this (many dark moments for this poor guy), but there is one lesson to learn for our benefit:

Method Creating.

First of all, to create art, you cannot always consider yourself an “aspiring artist.” If I had stayed in the mindset of “I’ll someday be a pianist” I would not have gone far as a musician. Instead, I learned, over many years of self-doubt that if you want to achieve something, you have to live into that dream now as if it is already reality. In much better words:

You have to live as if you already are what/who you want to be. If you want to be a great pianist, you have to live as if you already are one by practicing hard, humbly listening to both praise and criticism, and making original (even if not at first brilliant) artistic decisions. For too many years I worked my tail off and studied like mad, but was crippled by the thought that I had not yet achieved, that I was not yet the musician I wanted to be. In one sense this is true. I had and still do have far to go and we should NEVER stop pushing ourselves to be better or else our art (and, worse, our very selves as human beings) will stagnate.

However, you have to live and press forward with the conviction that you already are that musician (or artist) that you want to be, letting this motivate you to live up to your future vocation/goal in the present practice.

Oddly enough, I have never had a problem claiming to be a writer. To be fair, I probably should have more qualms about my claims to being a writer, for I am soooooooooo far from where I want to be. I don’t have a doctorate, haven’t published a novel, have not been invited to give guest lectures, etc.

But I am confident that one day I can reach these levels because I have already adopted “writer” as my current role. By living as a “writer” in the present, I am more motivated to actually pursue this goal than I would be had I remained an “aspiring writer” or “someday writer.”

So, I have adopted a sort of role even if it is not brought to total fruition yet, and my approach to my art is made the better for it.

What else can my poor method acting character teach us?

Surround yourself with relics.

My novel includes, to name a few, a Venetian mask, a violin, a huge volume of Sherlock Holmes, Italian postcards, red wine, a portrait, and about a million cappuccinos.

And I have all but the wine sitting beside me as I write. I can feel the characters speaking to me from their favorite curios. I hold in my hand the mask that the actor dons in a pivotal scene. I sniff the pages of the book another character read as a child. I drink the espresso one character conjures.

Through the little souvenirs I have gathered since the conception of this novel idea, I am able to enter into the realm of my story. I have adopted the role of writer, of creator, and, using tokens I have gathered from this world, am able to enter into another of my own making.

Give it a shot, maybe. What title/role would help you pursue excellence and dreams? And what little things can you surround yourself with to foster creativity and insight? Comment and let me know! I’d love to hear how your artistic life, dear reader, is thriving.

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Slight disclaimer: When I say to live into the role of what you want to be, I do not mean to adopt this as your identity. The character I used as the original example suffers this exact downfall and, let me tell you, it does not go well. Our full identity cannot be found in any temporal or merely-human characteristic and any “roles” must be held subject and united to the enduring identity promised in faith. (Indeed, though, this identity too is already given and, at the same time, yet to come, informing our lives in the present by assuring us of the future!)

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Final note: The novel featured in the photo at the top is AMAZING. Yet another reason to be excited about being a writer. 😉

Pride and Conviction

Well, it’s that time of year again… We find ourselves nearly in the middle of June and, as such, thoroughly entrenched in National Dairy Month, Adopt-a-Cat Month, Safety Awareness Month, and Accordion Awareness Month. We also are (supposedly) to rally together in June to promote camping, candy, roses, and vegetables (https://nationaldaycalendar.com/june-monthly-observations/). However, while I bet very few of us are out marching in celebration of accordions and roses, I am sure everybody is aware that June is also LGBTQIA awareness month. Namely, June has become Pride Month and the rainbow flags are flying thick.

Now – aside from the obvious injustice that accordions are not receiving their proper attention – Pride Month poses as a particular challenge to many, myself included. I am faced with this enormous question: How am I, as a follower of Christ, to interact with Pride Month 2018? 

So many will be quick to speak for biblical – and, I believe – moral, truth. They will declaim any sexual relationships and attractions other than those commended in scripture. However, often these comments are hurtful, unhelpful, or hypocritical.

The other tendency is to lean toward affirmation. However, to praise a lifestyle that we believe to be immoral is to lie to ourselves and others. We cannot tell people celebrating Pride that we are happy for them if we believe they are on a path toward destruction. And, if we genuinely believe this, it does them no kindness to affirm them on their path.

It is better to say nothing than to be wrongfully affirming and better to say nothing than to be purposefully abrasive. My proposal for those who, like myself, are unsure of how to interact with Pride is that we neither falsely affirm nor seek to attack. Rather, we as Believers ought to use Pride Month to be convicted of our own struggles and then to engage in honest conversation with each other.

“What struggles?” you might ask, although I hope you don’t. If you are the type of person who can honestly be baffled as to whether or not you are battling sin, then I fear you have already lost the war. Whether straight or LGBT or questioning, we are all living in a fallen world and our hearts desire that which is not good. The difference is that Christ has overcome these struggles and, in Him, we too might be conquerors, putting to death the flesh and living by the Spirit (Romans 8:12-13).

Ironically, the main problem for all of us is, I believe, pride. This makes June a perfect month to reflect on our struggles. Everywhere we look, rainbows and catchy slogans and personal testimonies are demanding that we celebrate Pride. However, pride is the very problem.

Pride by definition is the state of deriving pleasure or satisfaction from a possession, quality, achievement, or relationship. The dilemma is that this pride becomes a self-focused and temporal source of identity. Possessions are lost or used up. We change our minds, loves, and habits. Someone will always achieve more than us. Even the best relationships will inevitably let us down. Pride Month reminds us that we are, as humans, prone to find our worth – our very identities – in what we are proud of and this becomes dangerous. Rather than immediately celebrating or condemning, though, we ought to find this convicting.

Paul warns of this in Galatians 6:11-14, telling Christians that our physical characteristics and/or our heritage (circumcision or lack thereof) do not have any bearing on our true identity as Christians. Rather, the only worthwhile boast is in Christ, for, as Lord and Savior, He is the perfection of the qualities, accomplishments, and relationships that we seek so desperately. 

Furthermore, this passage reveals that not only are we not to take pride in earthly circumstances, but that they are to be dead to us. We are crucified with Christ and the world crucified to us, therefore, any earthbound identity must be forsaken. Any relationship, quality, goal, etc. (i.e. any source of pride) that is not in accordance with the “new creation” of Christ’s death and resurrection must be abandoned, and, any of these that are permitted by scripture must be pursued within the context of a Christian walk (Galatians 6:15).

In short, pride is focused on the self; it is placing one’s sense of identity and worth in a temporal relationship, role, accomplishment, or characteristic. It is not lasting and it cannot save. As Christians, we are to exchange pride in self for boast in Christ. 

Christians, I fear that during Pride Month, we may find ourselves succumbing to a worse pride than a wayward heart, that of self-righteousness. We might look on those celebrating and feel somehow as if we are smarter or better because of our “traditional” morality. Beloved reader, this we cannot do! We must fight to the last of our strength to resist the allure of self-righteousness, which is simply pride gilded in religion. We cannot honestly scorn those exalting their personal attractions if we are so absorbed in our own righteousness as though it were something we had earned.

The answer, again, is to view pride with a heart of conviction. We are also Pride. We might not be dancing in celebration or changing our Twitter handles to include rainbow flags, but we too demand affirmation. We too cling to what feels right even in the face of what we claim as moral truth. We too seek to justify ourselves and find ways to feel satisfaction in who we are as individuals.

Dear reader, we must recognize that we are all characterized by pride, not that we might all celebrate, but that we might all be convicted.

June is a month where daily we must ask ourselves: Where does my identity come from? Is there an aspect of myself without which I would not know who I am? What is it that I desire and how am I pursuing it?

 

I know these questions are enough to send just about anyone into an existential crisis and honestly I have been feeling that lately. What would I be if I were not a musician? Not a writer? Not a runner or a reader or a quirky blonde with a knack for puns? Even with all these things, am I more than the sum of my parts?

Let me give you an example.

I am a runner and I often plan my entire day around squeezing in a run. A solid percentage of my Instagram is comprised of snapshots from cool trails. Before I  began running, I was an anxiety-ridden teenager battling an eating disorder and, after discovering running, I was happier, not only in the activity, but in the identity it brought with it; the running community is supportive and fun, I like how I feel after a good run, and it gives me a chance to explore new places.

However, this habit-turned-identity became a double-edged sword. I did not run this morning and my first thought was “Well, this day might as well be a lazy one.” Why?  Because I have stacked my identity on top of the pillar of being a runner and, more broadly, an achiever. Being an achiever is who I am: It is a part of me that I cannot escape. 

But this is not right. If skipping a single run (or failing to practice to my best standard or not writing something blog-worthy) can derail my whole day, something is wrong with the hierarchy of my identity. What if I were unable to do these things at all? Where would I find the pride of achievement? Who would I be without this pride? 

Reader, I am sure you have felt similar fears. And, if not, I am sorry if my post has inspired them in your dear heart. But, in facing our fears, we might find our true identity much better than in running to temporal roles and relationships. And, I am convinced, we will find a greater sense of satisfaction, patience, and joy in rightful temporal roles and relationships once we free ourselves to live fully into the enduring, lasting identity we are promised in Christ. 

Running is not immoral, but as soon as it becomes a point of pride, it no longer is an identity in communion with Christ. But, when I use it as an active reminder that I am running the race, pursuing the prize of the upward call, then it becomes subject to my identity as redeemed and beloved by Christ (Philippians 3:14). We must abandon those identities that cannot be reconciled to Christ and find those that can all the more precious for their roots in Him. 

Throughout this month, I want to challenge you to be convicted of your own idolized identities and grow in compassion for those who are seeking affirmation and love where it can only be found on earth. Dear heart, we are dead to the identities that will one day fade, but we are oh so alive in the resurrection of Christ. Look to the love and righteousness promised in Him and recall from whence you were saved. Pride does indeed go before the fall, but from the deepest of wells, the light of the stars can best be seen, and we find our enduring and truest boast when we are most humbled (paraphrase from “The Valley of Vision”).  

One more thought: rainbows. In Genesis 8-9, after the worldwide flood, God places a bow in the sky to be a sign of His promise to Noah (and mankind). My heart aches to see this symbol of divine mercy turned into a banner for desires and relationships contrary to His design. However, it gives me hope to remember that when God sealed His covenant, He promised faithfulness despite the wayward heart of man. As we find ourselves facing countless rainbow emojis, we might reflect on God’s grace in the face of our fallenness; a symbol of God’s used wrongly by man is yet God’s to use for good (Genesis 50:20). Man will fail, desires disappoint, but God is faithful. Let us find our identity in our Savior and glorify our God even and especially during this month of pride. 

We boast in no other love than that of Christ our Lord, born and crucified and raised to life that we might be saved to an enduring relationship with and identity in Him. 

Toasty Summer

Ah, summer… when this Scottish gal turns a bit less pasty, nothing feels better than reading in the pool, and the beach hair makes its comeback…

But this summer has turned toasty in more ways than one! As a runner, I’ve been waking up early to beat the relentless Arizona heat. I love my morning runs, but am miserable if I don’t remember to refuel properly. Without a healthy balance of rich carbohydrates, my head feels all swimmy (and not a good kind of swimming!) and without protein and healthy fats I cannot power through a run or recover afterwards. And trust me, running during the Arizona summer- even in the wee hours- takes a lot out of you!

Honestly, even just existing in the Arizona summer can be draining. But a simple solution to the fatigue of toasty weather is to- well- make more toast!

Avocado toast is a huge hit nowadays, but unlike La Croix (which to me just tastes like the fizzling memory of lemonade), this is a fad I can get behind! Today, I got creative with this simple and versatile snack/meal, creating what might be the ideal avocado toast to power through whatever your summer might bring:

Ingredients: 

  • One avocado
  • Goat cheese
  • One tomato
  • Vinegar (I used a lime-flavored one)
  • Olive Oil (I opted for bacon-flavored, courtesy of the Olive Mill in Queen Creek, AZ)
  • Hearty bread (Dave’s Killer Bread is excellent)

Directions: 

  1. Toast bread (Who’d have ever thought?!)
  2. Peel and pit avocado,
  3. Mash avocado in a small bowl with a drizzle of oil and vinegar (to taste- I probably used half a tablespoon of each), mash until mostly smooth with smaller chunks
  4. Spread avocado mash on toast (should have enough for four small slices of bread)
  5. Sprinkle toast with goat cheese
  6. Top each piece with a slice of tomato
  7. Sprinkle black seed on top (or salt/pepper) to add a little zing of flavor
  8. Enjoy and feel like a health-conscious millennial, ready to take on whatever the day may bring you (which might just be another helping of toast)

 

Re-re-re-reading

I just finished reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind for the fourth(?) time, though, honestly, I’ve probably read parts of that book three times, parts of it six. I just can’t seem to stay away from it and end up rereading at least half of it every late spring/early summer. Whatever the exact number, I can say with certainty that there is deep and personal value to rereading a book with this regularity.

Reading #1: I read it mostly for the story and to escape what still was the most stressful semester of my life (though by now I have handled far worse).  Click the link below for my original reaction (minus some of the crying). I actually credit this book with inspiring me to start this blog in the first place!

https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/gone-with-the-wind/

Reading #2: Also read mostly for the story, but after my first year of college and living away from home, it felt good to return to something familiar. As soon as I moved back home for the summer, I baked muffins and had to make up some of the ingredients, so I decided I could rebrand them as “Melanie’s Muffins.” (recipe/post at link below)

https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/melanies-lemon-berry-muffins/

Reading #3: I was lazy and wrote nothing, but I folded the corners of one in every ten pages because I had a paper idea and was gathering evidence. (Please don’t berate me for abusing my book like this…sometimes an idea strikes and sticky notes are too far away to save the poor top corners.) After now two years of the honors institute at my university, I was reading on a new level and beginning to make connections I still find fascinating to ponder.

Reading #4: Very little reading was done, but I skimmed some of my favorite parts and carried the now-worn paperback around with me for a couple weeks as a shield against end-of-term stress. I did bring it to a pool party, though, where a friend borrowed it and left me to grouchily wish I had not been so generous (below).

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Reading #4.5: I actually read all of it this time. I even caved and bought a Kindle copy so I could read it on the plane to Ireland, justifying the purchase by telling myself that the O’Haras were Irish so it was only fitting. This time, I could not stop thinking of paper ideas… Grad school, I’m coming for you!

Beyond the intriguing literary ideas I unearthed through several re-readings, though, I was interested to see my growth as both a reader and a person reflected in my reading. The first time I read for fun, the second for comfort, the third for insight, the fourth(ish) for development of these ideas. Similarly, as a person I have stepped out of my comfort zone, have found the joy of investigating new ideas and places, and now have the joy of looking back and seeing the development I underwent along the way.

I do not reread many novels, though I know in my literary heart that I should. However, having this one novel to return to over and over again has been wonderful and I know this will not be my last rereading. Just as Scarlet returns to Tara to reconnect with her past and plan for her future, I have been comforted and inspired by this fourth(ish) rereading.

To those of you out there who have never read this book, GO READ IT. And to those of you who have never reread a book, either choose one or find one worth reading once and then again. (Shoot me a message and I’d be happy to help you out!)

The Royal Wedding

The Royal Wedding was beautiful: the flowers, the music, the gown, and- of course- the fabulous array of hats. But this event was not just a stunning example of a wedding ceremony, but of a liturgy. It was set in a gorgeous chapel, featured traditional English hymns, and presented a rich theology in both the message and the order of service.

The dean of Windsor opened by invoking the Father, Son, and Spirit and then introducing the responsibility of the congregation (Note: not merely guests, but a congregation) to witness the marriage now and to support it in the future. In the brief discourse that followed, he made no effort to soften the truth of marriage as an image of a holy reality:

“Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body, and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.”

From this opening statement, all gathered (and the many millions watching worldwide) were confronted with the truth that marriage is at once something greater than we could ever imagine, but also something far less. In recognizing marriage as an image of the divine union, faithful husbands and wives will find their marriages elevated and edified. However, they also will find that there is something far greater which they must strive toward together: the ultimate marriage of the Church to Christ.

That the Royal Wedding followed a liturgical structure made this explicit. Why should a wedding parallel the order of an ordinary (though grandiose) church service? Because the marriage of a human man and woman is not the primary focus, despite the media thrill. A liturgical wedding reminds guests that they are in fact called to be the congregation and believers that they are to be the Bride.

In the same way that we might consider a wedding liturgical, we must not forget that every gathering of the faithful in worship- that is to say, every Church service- is also to be a wedding. As the Dean of Windsor proclaimed, human couples are but imaging the divine mystery of Christ and His redeemed Bride. This marriage of the heavenly and earthly ought to be celebrated both in liturgies and weddings.

I am thankful for my nondenominational upbringing, but I do feel that something beautiful and significant is lost when traditional liturgy is abandoned completely. I recognize the dangers of becoming focused on ceremony instead of faith alone, but having never experienced the dignity of such a service, I had never considered what it meant to be the Bride of Christ until I began working as an organist for an Anglican church and then attended a mass in Assissi, Italy.

At first, I was inclined to view it all as spectacle; it felt posed and practiced, so unlike the “authentic” and casual services I had experienced. However, as we stood to the strains of a familiar hymn and the priests processed down the aisle with incense and sacraments, I realized that I was not at church as I knew it, but at a wedding.

The white robes, the organ processional, the congregational responses affirming the creeds… These were all things I had associated with weddings, not necessarily with church. However, the two quickly reconciled as I recalled that the Church is a Bride, indeed, the Bride.

I knew then that, should I marry, my wedding would have to be more liturgical, not just because I am a traditional soul with a soft spot for stained glass and organ music, but because I want my wedding and the marriage that follows to be an overt visible image of the union of Christ and the Church. To have a wedding that is conducted like a church service is to image the divine mystery and to remind those of the Church that it is they who are the Bride even if they are not yet gowned in white.

It is for this reason that I now yearn for liturgy and ceremony. I fear that many contemporary believers, like myself, have forgotten (or perhaps never considered) what it means to be the Bride of Christ. To participate weekly in the procession, recital of creeds, and celebratory singing is more than just a rote liturgy; it is a rehearsal for the realization of the true Marriage. 

To rehearse is, simply, to remind and to prepare. The idea of rehearsing for the marriage of the Lamb is beautiful in itself, but also practical. Beyond the joy of realizing ourselves to be a Bride with hope in our future union, to know ourselves as the Bride of our Savior is to change our entire outlook- the entirety of our conduct, relationships, and lives.

Since that moment in Assissi, I have been often been convicted by this. Would the Bride of Christ present herself as anything less than modest, caring, and thoughtful? Would the Bride of Christ fail to speak out for truth and discernment? Surely not! A virtuous woman would not cease to honor and defend her faithful husband.

And men, called to image Christ in their marriages, are yet members of the Bride of Christ. They are called to the same fidelity, focus, and fervor, loving their earthly spouses because they also are to live after the example of Christ and are themselves waiting upon him as the true Bridegroom. A godly husband on earth is yet a Bride of Christ in heaven.

“This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

                                     – Ephesians 5:32-33

Beyond conviction and correction, though, to be the Bride of Christ has been a source of immense encouragement. In recent years, I have watched friends and peers I’ve known since childhood fall in love and marry. While I recognize that marriage is a blessed relationship, I know that it is intended as an image of a greater reality. While this truth gives greater significance to a godly marriage, it also brings hope to those who have not found or cannot have this type of relationship; to be a single believer is not to be excluded from marriage, but to be able to live fully into the most blessed Betrothal.

Indeed, upon the consummation of this most holy and redemptive union, there will be no other marriage. This is not because marriage is not a good thing, but because it is an image; once the divine reality is realized, what need is there for a reflection?

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

– Matthew 22:30

Husbands and wives are called and enabled to love each other by realizing their identity as the Bride of Christ and their role as image bearers of this relationship. In the same way, single Christians are also to show the redeeming love of Christ and live in the faithfulness of His Bride. How comforting to know that earthly marriage is not a prerequisite to the heavenly union! And how edifying to find that an earthly marriage might sanctify toward this union!

If I never marry, I will yet be a Bride. By the blood of Christ, I have been redeemed to a union that has fully saved and will fully sanctify and fully satisfy forever. As one of my favorite hymns sings, what wondrous love is this?

In realizing this, we find a richer joy in weddings, for we look toward the reality that is promised us. We are also revived in our hope and love as we weekly participate in the various liturgies that represent more than a rote pattern of worship, but the Holiest Matrimony. Married or single, all members of the Church are exhorted to look to Christ with the joyful anticipation and diligent preparation of a Bride awaiting her Beloved.

“Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.”

                             – Revelation 19:7-10

Let us as Christians be reminded each week in our worship that we are the Bride and let us rejoice in marriages as they image the mystery of the divine union.

The most Royal Wedding is yet to come.