Unarmed Battle: Insights on Ephesians 6:10-18

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. (NKJV)

I have read this passage (Ephesians 6:10-18) probably over 50 times in the past couple of months and numerous more throughout my life (sword drill and memory verse, anyone?). However, this time I felt as if the Sword of the Spirit had hit me with the flat of the blade. Hard.

Reading these verses this morning, I realized with sorrow and fear that many Christians in my generation- myself included- are entering a battle unarmed.

Every morning when I check the news, another tragedy has erupted. Another disaster has left devastation in its wake. Another evil person has taken the lives of innocents. More leaders have turned to threats instead of negotiation.

And switching to social media leaves no relief. Where once I saw memes and birthday wishes, I overwhelmingly see more and more cries for help. 

This network of anxiety, insecurity, and frustration is what the world has become. Our world was created with so much beauty and remains overflowing with blessings, but sin left its mark and we are living in the fallout (no pun intended…)

This is a world at war: physical war as well as spiritual…indeed, physical war because of spiritual warfare.

This brings me to my point.

Christians, especially those of my young generation, we are in the midst of the greatest war ever fought and, although our victory is sure in Christ, we cannot enter this conflict unarmed. My goal now is to provide insight (humble as it may be) into how we may live out the strengthening command of Ephesians: to put on the full armor of God.

How do we arm ourselves spiritually? 

  1. “Know thine enemy”– Our ultimate enemy is not our neighbor with opposing views, nor the man whose words strike like daggers, nor the one who inflicts physical wounds. Certainly these are fleshly enemies, but our principle enemy is “not flesh and blood, but the…spiritual forces of evil.”  When we recognize that our enemy is much more terrible than any single human being and is the force behind the evil we experience, we are better able to love our earthly enemies in prayer and deed, as well as to prepare ourselves to defend all against the evil powers at work in this world and in the hearts of mankind.
  2. Know Who holds the Power- We must “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” indicating that we must don our armor and face our battles with confidence, knowing that they are “a light, momentary affliction…preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our King has already won the battle and our End is sure; bearing this constantly in mind will give us the strength to withstand any attack of the enemy.
  3. Tighten Truth- It is no coincidence that Paul describes Biblical truth as a belt, for it is what holds us together as individuals and as the body of the church. We are bound by this truth as we might be bound by a well-made belt. However, we must not allow ourselves to feed on the lies of the world, growing so full on deceptions that we loosen the belt of truth in favor of comfort. Rather, Christians, we must fasten it still tighter, binding our hearts to the Word of the Lord and committing ourselves to discernment in all things.
  4. Perform Spiritual Cardio-  A breastplate protects the heart, thus the “breastplate of righteousness” is a safeguard for Believer’s hearts. In practicing righteousness in a world that has abandoned definitive morality, we exercise and strengthen our hearts; imitating Christ in unwavering righteousness is the greatest heart exercise, for it teaches us to sacrifice our own desires for the love of God and others, as well as prepares us to shine as lights unto the world and to stand before the throne of our Lord.  None of us will do this perfectly, but as honorable soldiers we must continue to “press on toward the goal…for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
  5. Come in Peace- We are instructed to fit our feet to bring the Gospel of Peace. Perhaps this means listening to others with the intention of understanding rather than replying. Or maybe this means voicing our convictions with firmness but gentleness. The cliche “What Would Jesus Do/ WWJD” saying applies quite nicely here, for Jesus used strong speech when necessary and was never hesitant to proclaim the truth, even when it made people uncomfortable. However, we must also be winsome and kind. Finding this balance is difficult, but it is the key to fighting a spiritual battle while preaching peace to others.
  6. Take Refuge- Ducking behind a shield in the midst of battle is not retreat, but reasonable refuge. In the same way, amidst the turmoil of this spiritual war and the conflicts on earth, we must seek refuge in our faith. There are two sides to this shield of faith. The first is that we have a certain hope for future victory, that is, we have faith. The second is that we must live faithfully (loyally, earnestly) in light of this hope. We uphold faith as we look toward our End, but we also must maintain integrity and perseverance through the present struggles, thus living faithfully. This twofold faith hems us before and behind, protecting us against the enemy’s onslaught of doubts and despair.
  7. Keep your Head- A mind set upon God is a helmet of salvation. Christians, our salvation is assured, but we must keep our minds focused on it, rejoicing yet always striving forward. A clear-headed soldier is a more courageous warrior and a focused fighter will win. However, just as a soldier must put on his helmet again each day, we must continually remind ourselves of our salvation and hope in Christ, ceaselessly renewing our focus and resolve.
  8. Draw your Sword- Time in the Word and in spiritual development is not optional. The enemy loves to persuade us that we do not have time to pray or study scripture and is strongest when he convinces us that the Holy Spirit is no longer active. But these are the very lies we combat when we choose to focus on spiritual growth. Throughout my personal battle, I have found that any time I give to the Lord in studying His Word and praying or praising, He redeems in some other way. After all, He who made time surely can make enough for us to spend with Him. Our time in study and meditation on God and His precepts is as crucial as sword training for a knight. Without it, what pitiful tin soldiers we will turn out to be.

 

Beloved Reader, I am writing this for myself as much as for you. I confess that I neglect my armor, allowing it to rust in patches and loosening my grip on the Sword. But I beseech you and am dedicating myself to continue training for this ongoing war. Our victory is won in Christ, but we have a duty to fulfill in this fallen world, which is the battleground. We must be faithful soldiers, living in love but firm in conviction, prepared to withstand the fiercest attacks of the enemy and strengthened by our secure future as redeemed Believers.

 

In Christ,

Ryanne

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T.G.I.M.- Some thoughts on Rest

Okay real talk. I hate Fridays.

A lot.

And, to be even more honest, I am not a huge fan of Saturdays either.

But I do LOVE Mondays! Fresh start, strict schedule, etc. I often possess more of a “Thank Goodness It’s Monday” (hence the title of this post) mentality than the more normal “TGIF.”

You see, I love to be constantly working; being busy holds me together. Too much down time and I become frustrated. Relaxing is not restful for me because I literally feel guilt when I am not being productive. It is a problem and I know this is not healthy.

A year or so ago I published an article titled “Rest and Laziness: They are Different!” (https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/rest-and-laziness-they-are-different/) Well I am guilty of, as they might have said a decade ago, “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.”

I am quick to encourage others to take breaks, but I do not easily take them myself. I work so hard and constantly throughout the week that by the time the weekend comes around, I am physically unable to keep up with my pace. I still try and work, but because I am so exhausted I end up not accomplishing what I wanted to and becoming angry at myself.

This is unhealthy and I know it. This messed up workaholic mentality  has been my biggest struggle for a long time and I am finally having to confront it.

My ever-wise dad, who has long fought with the same tendency as me, offered these words:

“Sis, you are me. We are the same in this. And you are learning the hard way that you need to take down time. You have to introvert. You need to say no to doing more and just schedule rest time into your day. Find Bible verses on rest and dwell on them; God rested on the seventh day as an example for people like us. Now let me pray for you.”

As always, Dad was right. My hands feel weird not practicing piano right now and my mind is fretting as I write this blog post instead of a homework assignment. But I need to follow the steps my dad suggested.

  1. Introvert: I realized last night as I zipped out of my dorm for an event that I have not really had any time to myself this year. I love my friends, but I finally am at the point where I know that some time to myself is going to help me recharge. So I cancelled some plans and curled up with a book.
  2. Say No: I overcommitted myself this weekend, as usual. But another way of “saying no” is to say no to myself and my consuming perfectionism. This morning, I woke up later than I planned and was determined to go practice extra hard to make up for it…but then I said no. Instead, I called my mom and did some quiet time and feel much better for it.
  3. Schedule Rest Time: One of my friends schedules an hour into her day for chill time. I need to do this. I forget that doing honors institute reading is not down time, even though I enjoy it. As weird as it sounds, I think I might need to make Netflix more of a priority!
  4. Dwell on Truth: I love verses that encourage hearty work. I write them down in my notes and highlight them in my Bible. However, God mandates rest as well and I need to meditate on these passages in my heart. My faith encourages physical rest and, by pondering these truths, I will also find spiritual rest! I have found Psalm 116 to be especially comforting.
  5. Pray: Having my dad pray for me over the phone was wonderful; I was filled with such a peace. I often forget to pray, but this is a spiritual self-harm. Prayer leads me to lean on God rather than myself, granting rest to my soul and direction to my outer life; in short, I need to stop overlooking it.

“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” – Psalm 116:7

Before I conclude and have hot chocolate and introvert time with my amazing roommate, I am going to jot down two final thoughts:

  1. My favorite animal is a sloth. I could learn a few things from their chillness.

Image result for sloth
2. One of my favorite Bible stories is of Mary and Martha, but I have always sympathized more with Martha, who is always bustling about preparing her household. Jesus says to this hardworking woman:

“Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed…or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:41-42

Mary knew when to rest, taking a break to listen to truth with her whole heart. I am naturally a Martha, but I am committing now to following the steps above so that I may learn to be a Mary…

…and also a little bit of a sloth. I mean, come on, look how adorable they are!!!

Image result for sloth

Immediately: Eight Poems Based on the Gospel of Mark

In reading through Mark, I was struck by the recurring use of the word “immediately.” It is used to characterize many aspects of Christ’s ministry on Earth, but I was especially drawn to its use in relation to instances of healing. As I pondered this motif and these stories, I found myself understanding them with new clarity. In order to delve deeper into this idea of immediacy in Jesus’ miracles, I wrote a set of eight free verse poems exploring what the experiences of the individuals affected may have been like based on the details gleaned from the Gospel According to Mark.

Jesus Healing the Bleeding Woman, Roman Catacombs 300-350

Immediately

I. The Woman (Mark 5:21-34)

The crowd is throbbing

As my pain is

throbbing.

I have not come this far in years.

Twelve years.

Tears-

I cannot help them-

Begin to flow…

Flow as blood has

For twelve years.

I am so close.

But still feel so far and fears

Overcome me

As the people surround me.

They know.

They all know.

I see their glances:

Quick, horrified, averted.

I want to scream:

“Yes! See! See my shame!

Tell me, you proud, healthy,

Is it my fault?”

But instead I fall.

To my knees I am bent.

Beneath the weight of despair

I am kept.

But my eyes remain fixed

Before me, ahead.

I am fallen

And aching

But I am not yet dead.

My eyes catch

On a figure weaving

Through this throbbing, living sea.

As I rise to walk,

My vision fades.

I stretch my hand and fumble feebly forward…

A hem.

All I seek.

A hem to hem me behind and before

In healing safety.

My finger brushes

The rough cloth,

Not even for a breath,

But mine returns.

Immediately,

Blood dries and sight clears.

Love and hope and peace

Are all that flow

Not from, but over me.

Immediately,

I am again on my knees,

Not for lack of strength

But faith.

I tremble.

Yet this fear is new,

As I am made new

Immediately.

I cannot help

But want to sing,

“Oh, see! See! My shame undone!

See and know!

The saving One!”

Immediately.

.

II. The Man with the Withered Hand(3:1-6)

My bones lament

With hunger.

My eyes grow dim

From waiting.

Waiting for nothing,

Since who would help me today?

The sad irony of the Lord’s Day.

Synagogues and pockets full,

But hearts empty.

Even more empty than my hand.

At least I would to fill mine.

Another sad irony.

For I cannot.

I cannot even reach out

To work or to beg.

Why bother anyway?

You cannot pour from empty jars

And a broken pot like me-

A withered hand like mine-

Holds nothing.

Yet here I am,

Still waiting.

Waiting for someone

To heal and fill

And then,

“Come here.”

I lift my head.

A hand, not mine, reaches

As I cannot.

An order next:

“Stretch out your hand.”

Will the cruelty ever end?

Why does he mock me?

But then,

Immediately.

I watch fingers uncurl, lengthen.

Nails harden.

Palm fattens.

Muscles strengthen.

And it is my hand,

Yet not my hand

That is,

Immediately,

Opened and held out

For me.

The skin is softened,

Like my heart.

Immediately,

As limb is healed,

I am no longer empty.

Hardened hearts are whole jars,

Yet easily shattered.

Mine bends as my knuckles,

To take in life.

Immediately,

Hand restored, hope fulfilled.

I am sustained

And can sustain.

Oh, happy day!

Oh, sad irony cured

Immediately.

.

III. Jairus’s Daughter(5:35-43)

“Daughter, your faith has made you well,”

I hear the man say

To a woman kneeling.

Dealing with these commoners

Must be tiresome.

Some are calling him Teacher, after all.

He could be as me,

Lofty, a ruler.

I turn away,

But hear it again,

The word I hold dear.

“Daughter.”

Someone clutches my arm;

I am clutched by fear.

Dead.

In her bed.

Not sleeping?

No, nor breathing.

I stagger.

A gasp as one struck

Escapes my throat.

A wordless cry,

Yet I know he will hear.

Common or not,

I have to try.

My girl cannot just…die.

A man holds me back.

“Why trouble the Teacher?”

But I cannot just leave her.

And He heard,

And He knew

What had happened

And what I felt.

And He came.

“Do not fear.

Only believe.”

But can words alone dry

A father’s tears?

I know it is not sleep.

But then,

He spoke again.

His voice a lullaby.

“Talitha cumi,”

Commanding gently to rise.

Immediately,

Quicker even than on holiday mornings,

She did.

Eyes bright, arms outstretched

To wrap in embrace around

My once-stiff neck.

Immediately,

My daughter

Is born to me a second time

Of the water I wept.

Immediately,

She stands and,

Laughing and crying of joy,

We dance.

Immediately,

The Teacher, True Ruler,

Awakes daughter and father both

from death

And mourning dawns as morning

Immediately.

.

IV. The Leper(1:40-45)

Unclean,

I hide myself.

Lest I am seen

And sent away,

Purged from the city

While dogs and rats are allowed

To stay.

But they say

I am unclean.

I do not argue;

I am one of the unlucky ones

Who cannot hide his sins

Beneath a cloak of

Smooth, clear skin.

I am as unclean

Outside as others are within.

So I conceal my body,

But my spirit I’ll bear

An offering.

The sacrifice of Psalmist’s praise

Is not made up of lovely face

But a contrite heart,

Such a heart as mine.

Perhaps the only organ spared

But even it is broken.

Its pieces cry out

With my failing limbs.

Unclean,

But yearning.

I step out-

Painfully, timidly,

From where I’ve been

Hiding, waiting, dying…

Decaying though still living.

To my knees

I sink before You

To present my pitiful lot

Before You.

Its package fails, unclean.

But if you will…

You will?

Can it be?

At your word,

At your touch-

Ah, how long since I’ve been touched!

Oh fearful joy!

Immediately,

I am clean.

From that gentle press of the fingertips,

Life springs.

Immediately,

I feel it.

I feel it in nerves revived.

Shivering, pulsing,

Skin reforms before my eyes.

But even more,

Immediately,

My mangled heart

Laid at Your feet

Is touched too,

Molded and cradled

By hands invisible.

Immediately,

I stand humbled without shame,

Purified shell, Sanctified soul.

I am wonderfully remade

And run to present my whole self

Immediately.

.

V. The Paralytic (2:1-12)

People just keep going

Around, across, any way they can.

Stepping over me even.

But what can I do?

Nothing but what I am doing.

Lying here.

Still, in one piece

Yet shattered,

Feeling the full weight of despair

And at the same time

Feeling nothing.

Lying here, I can recall
When lying was pleasant

If it was with words to fool

Or women to love

In secrecy.

I fight the urge to laugh,

Bitterly.

Is it not funny how desires

So frequently

Turn to damnation

In a single, fateful

Instant?

The crowd is thick.
I watch as someone trips

Over the legs I no longer

Think of as my own.

As I am carried to the roof,

Still in my bed,

The thought crosses my mind

That maybe falling would not be so bad.

Yet even that end

Is not in my power.

They lower

Me down.

A face comes into view

Looking down but not in pride.

His eyes are sad

As if he sees

The past I wish to hide.

“Son,” he says,

Claiming me.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Immediately,

Though my body remains still,

My heart leaps

And my soul is moved.

Immediately,

Outrage erupts around,

But I hear only one voice:

The Authority

Who speaks again.

Immediately,

I obey.

Could I ignore

The One who says,

“Rise and walk”?

Immediately,

I stand and take my bed.

No more lying for me.

Walking even

Is not enough

If it is not with Thee.

In your movements

I will follow

Immediately.

.

VI. The Deaf Man(7:31-37)

I cannot tell

What these gestures mean.

Why do you all wave

Your hands at me?

I can only guess at

The words on your lips.

And can only make

Vain attempts

To do as you do,

To speak as you speak.

By your wrinkled brows

And worried looks,

I know I am failing.

Where are you taking me?

Who is this man?

Oh, do not leave me!

I cannot understand

Your mute tongues,

But do not forsake me!

Where is he taking me?

I try to shout

But fall into silence,

Not that I am ever not

In that painful, ringing

Silence.

We stop.

The crowd is out of sight.

The man reaches out.

I flinch,

Expecting a blow

As from the cruel youths

Who saw me as a game,

An object of fun for them,

Confused torment for me.

But no blow comes,

Just a soft warmth

As He covers the sides of my head

And the tip of my tongue

With His hands.

Eyes wide, bewildered,

I watch.

He sighs.

I feel His breath on my face

And see Him mouth a word.

No- more!

More than see!

Immediately,

before the word

Has flown from His lips,

I hear.

I heart it!

Immediately,

As He speaks,

“Ephphatha”

“Be opened,”

I hear!

And realize the crowd

Is out of earshot

As well as sight.

Immediately,

My newborn ears

Are tuned to one voice,

The voice of my Healer

And Master.

Immediately,

I do what is now natural,

Though moments ago,

Impossible.

I shout and proclaim

Of hearing and healing

Immediately.

.

VII. The Blind Man (8:22-26)

“Touch me, someone!

So I might know you are there!”

Greet me, anyone!

So I am not alone,

Isolated in my own darkness.

I’m begging,

Begging for more than food

Or loose coins you can spare.

It is light that I am starving for-

A light to show me out,

Out of this eternal, internal,

Personal night.

My heart yearns

Morning and evening,

Though both are to me

The same.

Oh, I shudder.

The chill of winter

And aches of hunger

Are nothing

To this ceaseless imprisonment

Within myself.

I cry out again…

Perhaps someone will reply.

“Oh, stranger friend,

Whoever among you, passersby,

Has any pity,

I entreat you

To touch me,

Hear me,

See me.

But what’s this?

I start suddenly

As a hand descends

And makes to guide me.

My pleading fades.

I follow in silence,

Trusting,

Though I know not

Who leads me.

Then a pressure

Against my eyes,

Those shutter windows

To my lonely soul.

Next a voice asks,

“Do you see?”

Immediately,

I am blinded

No longer by darkness,

But by light,

Dazzling and radiant.

Immediately,

I answer,

“I see, people?

Or are those trees?”

I blink and try again.

Immediately,

The man’s hands

Descend once more,

Unfogging the glass,

This time completely.

Immediately,

I see and am seen.

I am freed,

Released from my prison

Where I grieved

In midnight black.

The Son is shining and I see,

Immediately.

.

VIII. The Demon-Possessed Boy (9:14-29)

Horrors.

There is no other name

For the things I have seen,

And sat helplessly by…

Useless.

My son, ripped from my arms

By a force I could not fight.

I am his father!
Guilt stabs like a knife.
But how can I defend when

The enemy, invader

Makes war from within?
My own flesh and blood,

My beloved,

My son,

Cast into the flames

I was too slow to quench,

Then plunged into the water

Kept for the fire.

I am but man

And as such but dust.

How could I conquer a spirit

When my own is worn and weary

And losing hope?

Alas! Why do you come,
you crowd
, seeking spectacle?
You do not want to see

What daily seeks-

Through my son-

To destroy me:

Demon Doubt

Grapples for my soul

As the other strangles my son’s life

With his own fingers.

His demon casts him down,

Frothing, convulsing.

Mine pulls on me too,

But before it succeeds,

I cast myself down

In desperation

At Your feet.

Before the growing crowd,

Before You, my Lord.

“I believe, but oh!
Help my unbelief!”

Immediately,

Stillness falls.

Has death come?
Merciful relief?
Dare I hope for better?
It seems beyond belief and yet…

Immediately,

Quiet reigns

Where screams once were

And peace floods my soul,

Burning away fear

As two evils are expelled,

Far, far from here.

Immediately,

Your hand raises him.

The Son returns my son

Back to the arms

From which he was torn.

And in that moment,

Two faiths are born

Immediately.

#WriterGoals by Homer, Odysseus, and Ryanne

Yes, my title is a hashtag. Sometimes I like to break the trend of ordinary prose. Sorry not sorry. Ironically, however, this post is based on writing standards set waaaaaaaay back in the days of Homer. In reading through The Odyssey for my university’s honors institute, I realized two things: First, listening to Chopin’s nocturnes whilst reading makes even the most boring of passages intensely moving. For real, I felt tears coming when Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs. Thanks, Chopin. Secondly, although Homer (whether of not you believe in him or think he was a group of poets or whatever new conspiracy is floating around in the literary community) does tend to be a bit- well- wordy in his accounts of first the Trojan War and then the homecoming journey of Odysseus, he is a master at his craft and the fact that philosophers and students alike have been studying his epics for thousands of years ought to be proof of that. Further evidence for this mastery is in his recognition of the key components of good writing/story-telling: truth, reason, and beauty.

He says in Book XI lines 363-369:

“‘Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine

that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth

breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up

lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have

a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them,

and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story

of the dismal sorrows befallen yourself and all of the Argives.'”

In this instance, a king is praising the eloquence and clarity of Odysseus’ account of his journey, but more significantly, Homer is, through this character, identifying the essential components of writing worthy of enduring esteem. Such writing, first of all, must feature truth. When Odysseus concludes his tale, the first remark that the king makes is regarding the verity of Odysseus’ words; they are not fantasy, at least in the context of this epic, and thus deserving of serious consideration. But does all writing need to be true then in order to be great? The Harry Potter geek within me screams “NO!” in answer to this and, actually, the fangirl part of me is correct. C.S. Lewis believed strongly in fiction because of its seemingly paradoxical ability to convey truth. Take his most famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. In any given library, these would be shelved with other works of fiction and probably even among children’s fiction. However, it is impossible to read these wonderful books without coming away having learned from them lessons of sacrifice, morality, family, forgiveness, and, consequently, truth. Good fiction always centers on truth.  Whether this truth is found in the form of a universal theme such as what it means to be a man or even a real event such as the an ancient war, if you dig deep enough as a reader or write well enough as an author, some aspect of truth will always be found at the core of a truly great piece of literature.

Continuing on, the king praises the sensible nature of Odysseus’ words; he does not use more than necessary. Bored readers might argue that Homer is not exactly concise, but when one considers the vast amount of mythology, culture, character descriptions, interactions, geographical courses, and rituals that are woven together to create the intricate tapestry of this epic, it becomes a wonder that such a magnificent story could be consolidated into a mere twenty-four book poem. This often unappreciated conciseness is vital to truly great writing. Of course, as the saying goes, “even Homer nods”, and some passages, such as the listings of over 600 Achaian ships in The Iliad are arguably a bit much, but considering the wealth of information and the overall complexity, this is certainly excusable.

Finally, Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) words are revered as beautiful. Being originally poetry sung by roaming bards, it is probably a no-brainer that The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered among the most beautiful pieces of literature. In this passage, great writing is described as having “a grace” and being crafted “expertly, as a singer would do.” Both poetry and prose must have a flow, a grace like the one here described. In music performed by a singer, every note, every inflection of the voice, every tiny breathe and consonant must be purposefully employed in order to convey the message of the song. In the same manner, a great writer must choose his or her words with purpose; not a “jot or tittle” is thrown in carelessly in attempt to meet a word count or appear more intelligent to the ignorant reader, but rather, each phrase is composed like a line of music, thus appealing to the reader’s deepest sense of beauty. Of course, one might debate that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but regardless of personal opinions of individual readers, by combining intentionality with artistry, a level of universal beauty, such as that achieved by the enduring works of literature, can be achieved.

To summarize: Many truths. Very clear. Much beauty. (Sorry, breaking the flow of my prose again. At least it was not a hashtag this time.) This passage in The Odyssey was one of those passages that make me gasp “Ah-ha!” aloud in the middle of the library. It made me race to the nearest computer to jot down my thoughts and publish them to my blog in the unlikely case that one of my readers may find inspiration in them as I did. This passage made me take a step back and reevaluate myself as a writer, but it also gave me a renewed passion as it guided me toward the path of truly great writing, that which is truth-centered, focused, and beautiful.

Rest and Laziness: They are Different!

I am a busy person, not necessarily because I have committed to a lot or because my parents expect a lot from me, but because I make everything I am passionate about into a serious commitment and expect a lot of myself. (Started piano lessons? Practice to be accepted as a piano major at a conservatory. Enjoyed macarons on vacation in Paris? Start a macaronery from my kitchen. Did well on one AP exam? Sign up for five and study daily for each.)

I love music and baking and even studying, as well as many other things, but after weeks of straight practicing and studying without breaks, it becomes exhausting and (this has happened numerous times) I suffer the inevitable breakdown. Every time, I try to logic my way out of these slumps, telling myself that I should not be tired since I am getting a solid five and a half hours of sleep each night, that I should be a better performer because I’ve been practicing relentlessly, that I should be relaxed because studying is just reading and reading is fun. I think to myself, “Don’t sit still, Ryanne. Don’t watch another episode on Netflix or read another chapter in your novel. Don’t be lazy.”

Nope.

That is the conclusion I have ultimately had to reach: N.O.P.E. Nope. No matter how hard I try, I cannot and never will be able to logic my way around the human need for rest. As much as I would like to imagine that I am a superhuman whose brainpower can overcome her body’s fatigue, I am not. Rest is vital and that is something that I wish I had come to terms with earlier. And, more importantly to a perfectionist such as myself, resting is NOT the same thing as being lazy.

three-toed-sloth_10965_600x450

I know laziness is not good, but look at his cute little face! Besides, he is only a sloth after all; not much to do.

“Laziness” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy.” It is a choice and, unless found in one of the world’s most adorable animals (in my opinion), the sloth, it is not generally considered an admirable quality. In fact, (sorry, sloths), throughout literature, laziness is presented as among sins. Take the classic tale of “The Little Red Hen”, for example. The only antagonizing force in the story is the laziness of the animals who were unwilling to help. And, for a stronger example, the Bible goes so far as to declare in Proverbs 18:9 that “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” Based on this definition, I am justified in trying to avoid laziness.

Because is it really a blog post without a "Keep Calm" meme?

Because is it really a blog post without a “Keep Calm” meme?

In contrast, “rest” is defined as “a ceasing of work in order to relax, refresh oneself, and recover strength.” Wow. I never realized just how unrelated laziness and rest truly are. Rest is not the result of a lack of the will to work, but of having worked and needing to “recover strength.” Rest is always portrayed as deserved, peaceful, and necessary. To continue using the Bible for examples, the Sabbath was a day set aside specifically for rest (“six days you shall labor” -Exodus 20:9), Jesus promised rest to those who follow Him to the end (“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28), and, perhaps most significantly of all, God Himself is described as resting for a full day after the creation of the world (“God had finished the work…so on the seventh day He rested” -Genesis 2:2). Rest is garnered after hard work and it is necessary and, most of all, it is good.

Rest is good. I only wish that I had learned this sooner. In the constant race for accomplishing more and working harder, it is easy to scorn rest as laziness. However, it is vital that I and others like me who often forget the importance of rest, learn that it is alright, even good, to sometimes watch another episode on Netflix, read another chapter, eat another cookie, meet another friend, or hit the snooze one more time because without this rest, we will find ourselves unable to return full-strength to the work about which we are passionate.

Before I click “publish”, I would like to add something that a friend of my mother’s once said that really impacted me: “Life is like music; without rests, it would not be as musical or as meaningful.”

Honestly Modesty

 (See definition #2)

Throughout literature, female modesty has been a defining characteristic of proper society- consider the women of Jane Austen’s time who dared not expose an ankle lest they ruin their reputation or, in contrast, the unfortunate Scarlett O’Hara and Anna Karenina who had no such reservations and suffered use and abuse by the men that they tempted. The classics make no doubt about it: modesty is essential to true female dignity, as well as keeping male minds focused on purity.

But what is modesty? Some might call it outdated, confining, un-feministic. I will not bother addressing these views at the moment. Instead, I would like to challenge those readers who nodded their heads throughout the first paragraph, those who think that they know what modesty truly is.

Most of the women that I know dress modestly and let me begin by saying thank you for taking this often-inconvenient step to protect our brothers and guy friends away from the sin of lust. However, I am concerned that there is a lack of true modesty beneath our layered camisoles and knee-length dresses; modesty is not all about what we are or are not wearing, how many layers we have on despite the heat, or even how much skin is showing.  Certainly a decency of dress is one way in which we manifest modesty, but it is only one tiny aspect of this virtue.

The Merrium-Webster dictionary defines “modesty” as a “regard for decency of behavior, speech, and dress.” Notice that this definition mentions dress as only a part of this “regard” and the last part at that! Before it even mentions dress, modesty is said to be a guideline for behavior and speech.

So what does this mean?  Does it mean that girls must never speak to boys? That we must always sit demure by our hearths with our eyes downcast and knitting in our laps? Certainly not! Modesty is respect, pure and simple. Just as the dictionary says, it is a regard for decency and thus a regard for others. I choose to dress modestly because I never want to be the object of a sinful thought; I do not want to distract and disrespect those around me. But as I said (well, as the dictionary said…) modesty goes beyond clothes. In the same way that I dress neatly to respect myself and others, I want to act modestly: properly, respectfully, and humbly. It baffles me that girls who cling so faithfully to their modest apparel often are the quickest to fall into flirtations. Granted, I am as guilty of this as anyone, for let’s face it, flirting and the attention it garners can be fun. However, I do not believe that this aggressive pursuit of boys (sorry, I will be blunt) is in line with complete modesty. To truly claim that I or you or any other woman out there (or man, but being a girl, I must address the females first) possess the virtue of modesty, we must strive to exhibit every aspect, not just the one most obvious to the observer.

Ultimately, I am just restating the age-old truth written in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control…with what is proper for women who profess godliness- good works.” This verse does not say “Thou shalt cover thy body and therefore be totally righteous.” Rather, it says that women should dress sensibly and decently and also practice self-control in work and word. For a woman or girl to effectively display the modesty she professes, she must demonstrate a modesty of speech and behavior in conjunction with dress; without these forgotten forms of modesty, which stem from a purity of heart and mind, all the sweaters and Capri pants in the word are no more than facades of faithfulness.