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!)

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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. 

 

Sit

I might just sit here for a bit.

Here, where I am at once everyone

and no one.

Where I can hear men talking,

dog-walking.

Where I can watch mothers and children- ducks, squirrels, human.

Where I can trace the birds’ antiphony from tree to tree.

Where I am just another flower

refreshed by a sweet sunlight hour.

Yes, I might just-

I might just sit here for a bit.

A Thank-You Note to Public School

Aside from social studies, mathematics, English, sciences, fine arts, physical education, and leadership development, one huge thing I learned during my years of schooling is to write thank-you notes. It doesn’t matter if it was a small favor like lending a book or a huge favor like driving me to school every day, it deserves a thank-you note.

In light of the recent teacher walk-outs in my home state, I thought I should write a few  such notes.

First of all, thank you to my parents for putting me in public school and supporting me  through 13 years (K-12) of an education I would not trade for the world. My mom was involved in every parent council there was, making sure that while I was attending larger schools than – say – our living room or a private school, she was present and aware and serving. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for providing constant support to not only me, but the teachers and administrators at my school.

Secondly, thank you to my teachers:

Thank you, kindergarten teacher; I remember you teaching me to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I like to believe that my commitment to responsible citizenship began then.

Thank you to my first and second grade teachers. My memory is a bit fuzzy for those years as I was still little, but I remember you both supporting my love for reading and seeking to challenge me when you saw that I was determined to excel even back then.

Thank you to my third grade teacher, for supporting my desire to become a writer. I still remember that year as the year I made the most progress as a young writer and reader because of your constant encouragement (and your offer of McDonald’s if I broke the reading record.)

Thank you to my fourth and fifth grade teachers, for pushing me to learn study habits. I had never received a B before fifth grade, but that really made me realize that I needed to up my game! I owe my proactive studying to you both.

A special thank you to my sixth grade teacher, who continues to inspire me. Thank you for challenging me, for my knowledge of world history, for amazing memories of school traditions, and for continuing to encourage and challenge me to be a good citizen, caring person, and critical thinker even now.

Thank you to my junior high school teachers. Those were crazy years for all of us and we, your former students, are truly thankful for you tolerating our adolescence. Thank you for preparing us to succeed in high school and continuing to instill a deep sense of responsibility, empowerment, and community within us.

Thank you especially to my eighth grade math teacher. Math had never been my favorite class before, but you made me not only enjoy it, but excel in it.

Thank you to my high school performing arts teachers. My music classes were my refuge in high school. I met my best friends in orchestra and choir and arrived at my college conservatory several levels ahead due to the excellence of the training I received in your classes.

Thank you to my high school English and literature teachers. College papers are a breeze because you trained me to write with precision, organization, and imagination. You renewed my passion for literary analysis and your mentorship to me as a writer and reader were invaluable.

Thank you to my high school economics teacher for training us in financial wisdom and awareness (#TANSTAAFL), to my government teacher for unveiling the mystery of American government, my algebra and geometry teachers for working with me in a subject that does not come as naturally as others, and my history professors for making me aware of the past so that I might be prepared to positively impact the future.

Thank you to the administration of my schools:

Thank you, Mr. C, my elementary school principal. You knew every single student’s name and you always were around to sing us silly songs, ask about our recess games, and make even the loneliest kid feel valued.

Thank you to my junior high principal, who was always caring and supportive, as well as a wonderful neighbor. Thank you to my high school principals who were incredibly supportive of the arts and made every student feel as if they mattered and had the potential to do great things.

Thank you to the teachers’ aides, facilities workers, counselors, bus drivers, parent volunteers, and other administrative staff. I have many memories of your commitment to students and diligence in your work; schools would not be possible without you!

A final thank you to all of my teachers. As a Christian student, I was never discouraged from sharing my views. In fact, I was even commended for my respectful manner of disagreement. Other students from different beliefs and backgrounds were also allowed to speak, for we were taught that considerate dialogue is the best way to present and understand diversity. Through this, I was sharpened in my critical thinking, strengthened in my personal beliefs, and made empathetic to the ideas of others.

It breaks my heart to see Arizona schools empty and I want nothing more than to see teachers paid in proportion to their impact. You all were and are so passionate about your work and I want to just say one more enormous “thank you.” I would not be the person that I am today had I not first been your student.

“To Leave” (and a snippet)

Let me premise this by saying that this is not intentionally about death and I am not dying (except to get out of school).

Once again, this was inspired by my favorite little running route and the feathered friends who live there. (Speaking of birds, there is a little snippet at the end of this dedicated to one of my favorites.)

To leave this bit of earth,
This valley dear
Is something all must do
And yet do fear.

To leave for homely hearth
This little place
Is to be fin’ly through
With oft-run race.

To leave the many birds
I’ve come to know
Makes all their soothing songs
A lost echo.

To leave- I have not words
That truly say!
Where my sore heart belongs
Beyond today.

I listen to the crow
Cawing goodbye
And cricket as he bows
His lullaby.
The bluebird I like best
Now takes to sky;
Returns he to his nest
And so must I.

 

As promised, here is the poetry snippet dedicated to the little bluebird:

Blue is the light
of his feathers and my eyes:
Deep and bright
With ancient youth
And oceans turned to skies.

Thank you to https://www.inaturalist.org/guide_taxa/304206 for the bird information/photo. I am incredibly comforted to know the blue bird was in fact a bluebird.

Daniel and the American Empire

Throughout the book of Daniel, we see the interactions of men of faith with an ungodly empire. Not only does this biblical account document their faithful lives and the sustenance of an even more faithful God, but it provides a practical example for how we as believers are to live in society under a human government. In short, the book of Daniel teaches us how we are practically to interact with the empire of America as people of faith.

The empire (culture, political climate, etc.) of America is no better than that of Babylon, except perhaps in our ability to disguise the reality of our degeneracy in more persuasive rhetoric:

We do not have human sacrifice, yet in defending the extermination of the most vulnerable as a right, are we not sacrificing human lives to ourselves? We do not have sacred prostitution, but we promote a culture of such complete sexual freedom that do we not we end up worshiping sex itself? We do not have a confusing pantheon of idols, but do we not find ourselves pulled constantly between the exaltation of wealth, reputation, health, and ambition?

Honestly, though, America alone is not Babylon; all human societies without the mercy of God are Babylon. Still, how are we, as Christians and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, to live in and interact with our current earthly nation and, more particularly, our government? The book of Daniel presents clear argument for involvement yet consecration; we are to influence while remaining set apart, living as dutiful citizens here because of our true citizenship beyond.

“The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king…But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.” (1:5-8, ESV)

When he is taken into captivity, Daniel rejects the food provided by the Babylonian king. This is likely to avoid eating food that is not acceptable by the Old Testament law. However, this also is a nonverbal declaration that Daniel and his companions are subject to God alone and, thus, look Him for sustenance. Similarly, we cannot expect provision from the government, but must look to God to provide. Also, we are not to become indebted to a human authority, especially at the risk of violating God’s commands.

We can be comforted to see in Daniel that God is faithful to provide beyond what we would expect; although Daniel and his friends did not eat of the king’s portion, they grew in strength and wisdom beyond all those who did. 

“God gave them learning and skill in all…and the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah…in every matter of wisdom and understanding…he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in his kingdom.” (1:17-21)

Continuing on, although he refused to violate the law of God in obedience to the offers of men, Daniel did not abandon a remarkable respect for these human authorities. Part of recognizing God’s supreme authority is to also recognize that leaders, even wicked or poor ones, have their power only by God’s permission. In light of this, even the seemingly worst rulers must be treated with respect, though not necessarily with agreement or endorsement.

“You, O king…to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given wherever they dwell, the children of man…” (2:37)

Daniel here addresses the king with the utmost ceremony,  but without abandoning clear adherence to his faith. Indeed, his faith and virtue shine even brighter in his dignified address of the king, for it reveals that he respects this king because he knows his power is granted by the King of Kings. If we are to honor our God who gives and takes away all authority, we must show respect to earthly leaders regardless of their personal merit. In acting with such graciousness, we might even direct the hearts of leaders to see who is the true Ruler: 

“Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his ace and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries…’ Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts” (2:46-48)

We are called to respect our authorities, even those we did not want. We cannot simply ignore them and mock them because they are “not our president,” but rather we ought to offer respect, even if it is respect in disagreement. The book of Daniel continues to show how just such disagreement can be used to change the government. When Daniel refuses to abandon his faith, despite the threat of the lions’ den, not only is he rescued, but the king’s heart is lifted toward the Lord. 

“Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: ‘Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel” (6:25)

Throughout the account, we see Daniel granted positions of great influence due to not only his respectful demeanor, but his ability to offer godly insight. In this, it is clear that we can have a massive impact on our government for not only our earthly nation, but the Kingdom of God. However, to do so, we must be involved. Daniel did not seek a personal policy of noninvolvement. Rather, he confronted and entered into the government which posed a threat to him and his people, speaking truth where deception once reigned.

“Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (6:3)

“The king…said to Daniel, ‘You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah… I have heard of you that the spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.” (5:13-14)

The manner in which he influenced the government is remarkable. Daniel did not demand to be heard, nor did he adapt himself to be more palatable. Rather, he simply lived in excellence, striving to be the most faithful and diligent man of God that he could be, leaving the promotions in God’s hands. Today, we can apply the same approach; if we genuinely are seeking to make a difference in our nation, we cannot do so by anger or avoidance, but through excellence and honesty.

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and please for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done  wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.'” (9:3-5)

Although wicked governments can be changed by excellent people of God, we must leave the ultimate judgement to Him. In the meantime, we must work hard and pray harder. We are not only called to be influencers, but intercessors, calling upon the Lord when our leaders do not. We, like Daniel, cannot forget the power of prayer and that we have constant court before the King of Kings. We are quick to protest, but slow to pray, and should learn from Daniel that our prayers are heard by the God who works in the hearts of men.

“Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.'” (6:5)

However, personal excellence and service to God do not guarantee that our governments will change to favor our faith. We have to remember that to be chosen for life in heaven is to be chosen for trials on earth. It cannot be surprising when human governments fail in their first purpose: protecting their citizens. In fact, we should not be surprised when we are persecuted. Daniel lived in a manner so that his only fault was his faith and yet he was punished for it. He obeyed the laws of the land until they conflicted with the law of God and there he took his stand. Today, we must defer to the government, but know where the line is and hold fast to truth.

“O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (9:19).

In these times of discontent with government and culture, we must ultimately recall this final lesson: even amidst persecution, the righteous will outlast many generations of wicked rulers. Unlike God’s reign, the tribulation of wicked governments will not endure. With this hope eternal, we can withstand the momentary affliction of imperfect kingdoms while we yet strive to improve them for the eternal kingdom which is and is yet to come. Following the example of Daniel, we are to be respectful and responsible citizens on earth because we are ambassadors of heaven.

Daniel was a captive of Babylon and yet he lived with dignity, diligence, and dedication; how much more so should we do the same as free citizens of America? We are to be servant-leaders of our earthly nations, at once dignified and humble as we remember that we are both servants and heirs of the King of Kings.

Mariners

We are mariners, mariners we,

made for the land, parted from sea

from that second day and still –

striving as on the earth to fill-

drawn by its alluring, billowy waves-

we drink down the depths

to find watery graves.

.

We hear the call, that age-old call,

a whisper first, a breeze enthralls,

that grows and storms, restless ocean

which floods within the hearts of men.

And from our own mouths, it ever rails:

“Depart, depart, and set you sails!”

.

And so headlong into the deep

we crash from quick-eroding beach.

Toeing the sand was never enough;

we ached to ride the riptides rough.

.

Water there upon land gives life

but here the salt-foam drains it dry.

But never we stop to ponder: why?

Why to the sea, which roars, “Stay back!”

Why tempt a beast, that is bound to attack?

But the sea is within us; we ate of its fruit

it drowns from inside ’til shore zephyrs fall mute.

.

We fashion our ships, believing them arks

to keep us safe from the ghostly white sharks.

But up on their decks as we voyage across

we all yet shoot down heaven’s albatross.

.

Best stay inland, best anchor your soul.

Our bodies might swim, but this old sailor knows:

there is no raft or vessel that might

bear us when the steady dock’s out of sight.

Cast out the life-sucking salt in your heart!

Rebuff its waves with its own cry: “Depart!”