How I’m discovering that eternity is not a long time

Longing for the eternal

I tried in vain to find my journal entry for the day I first had this revelation. It must have been about four years ago. But I can still remember the moment. I was walking down the street in my Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, DC, heading to Sidamo Coffee and Tea for an afternoon of remote work, when I stopped to admire a flower growing in a neighboring yard. I don’t know what kind of flower it was, only that it was white and it was beautiful. I could have sat there for minutes admiring it, enjoying its glory, marveling in the simple fact of its existence. After that I could have moved on to the next flower—one of the yellow ones just a few feet away—and on and on from petal to leaf to bud for hours, all within this modest plot of land no larger than my wingspan. 

But I did not have that luxury. I could not give myself that freedom because I had things to do. I had a job to get to, articles to read, phone calls to make, op-eds and Facebook posts to write. Time constrained me. I left the flower, along with my sense of wonder, so that I could attend to my adult responsbilities.

While I walked the remaining two blocks to the coffee shop I pondered what had just happened. It was not merely time, but ultimately the fact of my own mortality that constrained me. I was limited by my lifespan, however long it may end up being, and I could not give boundlessly of my time and leisure to as small and simple a thing as a single flower, beautiful though it may be. I had other priorities—most of them good and legitimate—but it still grieved me to leave the flower. I longed to remain with it for as long as my wonder and joy over it lasted. 

Suddenly it ocurred to me: I was longing for the eternal; I was longing for heaven. Would this not, after all, be the great freedom, the great life-giving joy, of eternal life? Growing up I always imagined the eternal in light of how much there would be to look forward to, but now it occurred to me that this empahsis might be misplaced. The great glory of the Kingdom of God is that I am freed to enjoy the present moment to its fullest because I have plenty of time for everything else later. In eternity I would have all the time in the world to marvel at this flower. The coffee shop could wait, or rather I could wait for the coffee shop, because I was no longer bound the pressures and limitations of linear time. 

Heaven, I realized as I walked down the sidewalk, is being utterly, wholly present. It is experiencing the fullness of life that’s within me and about me right now. How could it be otherwise?

Chronos and kairos

Unlike modern English, the ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. While I’m sure this distinction exists in many faith and wisdom traditions, I happened across it through the Eastern Orthodox Church. It offers helpful language for my new understanding of eternity.

Chronos refers to time on the move, time as quanitifiable in days, hours, and minutes. It’s where we get words like chronology, chronic, and chronicle. 

The thing about this kind of time is that it is devilishly close to non-existence. We cannot hear it, taste it, or smell it. We can’t stand outside of it, hold up an hour, and study it as an individual entity. Put another way, the past and future do not exist in any conventional sense. As the Orthodox Priest Fr. Patrick Reardon points out, we can only measure the “dead time” of the past:

“(C)hronos is, in this respect, rather ghoulish,” Reardon writes. “Even dead, it continues to feed on us. We may speak of ‘killing time,’ but it invariably ends up killing us. Chronos is, therefore, an image of everlasting death, what the Bible calls the ‘bottomless pit,’ or hell. What is hell but the reign of death in ongoing, unending sequence?” 

Kairos, on the other hand, does not exist in the past or future but is rather “time as a moment, time as occasion, time as qualitative rather than quantitative, time as significant rather than dimensional.” It’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5 when he urges the church to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” In English when we speak of the opportune moment, the time being ripe, or seizing the day, we are talking, in essence, about Kairos. We experience this kind of time in so many powerful ways: stopping to smell the roses, sleeping with someone we’re in love with, speaking truth to power at a pivotal moment of conflict, throwing up our hands when the beat drops on the dance floor. 

Kairos time, then, lies at the very heart of eternity. Reardon continues:

“Kairos, because it is present, is an icon of eternal life. To experience the now, after all, one must be alive. The dead know nothing of now. Therefore, the now, the kairos, is an icon of the life of heaven. Indeed, eternal life is an everlasting now, in which there is no sequence, no before and after. Eternity is not a long time. Strictly speaking, there is simply no length to it. Nothing elapses. The infinite is not measurable.”

I love that. Eternity is not a long time, because to conceive of it as a length of time is ultimately to despair. It is rather an everlasting now. It is being right where we are, with all of the present moment’s ecstatic joys…or piercing sorrows. 

We find a powerful example of living in kairos time, living in eternity through the here and now, in the life of Jesus. I like how Richard Rohr describes this in his book, The Naked Now:

Most of Jesus’ contemporaries missed the ‘Real Presence’ that was right in their midst… They were storing up treasures for the next world, and he was just living and talking about what was right in front of him—birds, lilies, tenants, and suffering. Eternity is going on all the time, and spiritual teachers gave us a way to dip into that stream now and therefore forever. Their assumption is invariably, ‘If you have it now, you will have it then.’ They see a perfect continuity between time and eternity.

I see this presence in the life of Jesus, this sense that there is indeed a perfect continuity between time and eternity. Yes, he spoke of storing up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, but he was also remarkably present and at peace with himself and his own limitations as a human being. As Rohr said, he talked about things that were right in front of him. He lived into kairos moments, taking the time to welcome children to his side, heeding the cry of a castaway blind man, and letting a paralytic drop in from the roof to interrupt his teaching. He withdrew for hours and days at a time to pray, taking the time to be present with himself and his heavenly Father even though there were surely more “urgent” matters at hand. 

Jesus lived out the purity of heart that Kierkegaard describes in his devotional work, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing:

The person, who in decisiveness wills to be and to remain loyal to the Good, can find time for all possible things. No, he cannot do that. But neither does he need to do that, for he wills only one thing. . . and so he finds ample time for the good.

Jesus did not find time for all possible things. What a remarkable thought. Raised in a small backwater town, he lived one life, and didn’t even really get started with it (at least not according to any of the success metrics we might be inclined to use) until he was thirty years old! Three years later the masses lynched him and his friends deserted him. It was finished. He was dead. 

Talk about a flash in the pan.

This, of course, was not the end of the story. Years, decades, centuries, and millennia have since passed since Jesus ascended to heaven. But here he is now, still alive in some mystical yet concrete way, still present with us in and through the Helper, still showing up in bread and wine, still with ample time for the good. Yes, my friend Jesus is alive, present in the eternal now, ever-ready to show up in kairos time because he holds eternity in his hands. He has time to delight in me, to show up at the foot of my bed in the morning ready to start the day with joy. He has time grieve with me, to hold me, weeping, through the lonely night when my heart is breaking and feels like I’ll never be happy again.

The shadow side of presence

This experience of the Christ’s presence in sorrow brings me to an important point. Our culture has become quite preoccupied with presence these days. We talk a big game about mindfulness and build a small economy around it. We light candles and meditate and give ourselves yoga retreats and relaxing getaways. I opened this essay with an anecdote about admiring a flower. Clearly it is easy to make presence into this romantic notion because, well, it is romantic. 

But it is also not romantic. Sometimes it is agony—it must be agony—and feels like death itself.

“I am not well right now,” I told my therapist the other day. “Most of the time I’m not doing well these days. I feel disconnected from others and my own emotions. I feel my desires deadened and split.” 

He encouraged me to sit with this moment, this act of naming my unwellness, and asked me what it felt like. 

“I feel like I can breath a little,” I said. “I can relax; I can rest. I feel more present with myself.” 

My eyes began to well with tears, a mingling of grief and sweet release.

The simple act of naming this, of sitting with my own unwellness during a painful, traumatic time, took an act of vulnerability that hurt me. It didn’t take me into nirvanna. It took me into pain, into a place I wish I wasn’t in amid a world were things aren’t as they should be, a place I would never wish on anyone. 

But somehow this was where I needed to go, choosing to be right where I was, and in doing so I experienced a taste of the kingdom of the heavens, of eternity itself. Rather than escaping from my present condition into a place of timeless bliss, I found a way of being and moving right here in the world, one where the path to resurrection life leads through a cross and a tomb. Here the deep, mystical knowledge of eternity takes me into the here and now, the kairos, the day of salvation, where in the present moment I possess all things and find ample time for the Good.

Advent in a Land of Darkness

 

Note: I wrote this essay a year ago. A lot has happened since then. This year the season of Advent feels darker in many ways than it did last year, but the core sentiment of what I wrote then remains the same, so I’m sharing it now.

 

December 2018

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

Winters in the north are not easy. 

I discovered this shortly after moving to Seattle. As a native Californian and a newlywed, that December was a dark month. The sun came out less and less. The world grew cold and damp. I was four months into marriage and experiencing the agony of early growing pains. Hope dwindled to a thread.

We got a tree and decorated it. I queued up all my favorite Christmas songs. But the good ol’ holiday spirit was hard to come by. I remember walking through my neighborhood at night during those weeks, wondering what familial abuses and wounds were being inflicted behind all those dark windows and closed doors.

I didn’t have clear language for it at the time, but this year, as liturgical churches begin to walk through the church calendar, I now know what I was experiencing: Advent.

Growing up in a nondenominational church, I used to think of Advent and the contemporary American Christmas season as almost interchangeable. The former just sounded a little more spiritual, baby in a manger and all that. This year, however, I’m finding that Advent comes with a radically different felt sense—a much darker experience of the season that seeps into my bones and threatens to overwhelm me. 

Advent is not the time for the “Christmas spirit,” skipping through city streets singing cheerful songs and feeling nostalgic for good times with friends and family. And it runs deeper than the evangelical cliches reminding us that Jesus is the true “reason for the season” or “the greatest gift of all.”

It’s the difference between Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and the somber, minor chords of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” It’s the difference between “all is merry and bright” and “the light shines in the darkness.” It’s the difference between an Advent candle flickering in the basement where my little Anglican church meets and the glitzy corridors of the Northgate shopping mall up the road.

For we dwell in a land of deep darkness. I’m reminded of this as I take my daily walk around my North Seattle neighborhood. The clock indicates that it is late afternoon, but outside it might as well be the midnight—the sun’s been down for an hour. I see people bustling about, wrapping up their work days, and the so-called “Seattle freeze” begins to make a lot of sense. How can one not be deeply tempted to despair when their daily commute begins and ends in darkness?

How, then, does one cope? I begin to find a path out the despair by looking to Christmas lights, one of those vestiges of the sacred that remain in our secularizing culture (though admittedly sentimentalized and commercialized). It makes me think of what Marilynne Robinson says when she suggests that Christmas really does remind everyone of the joy of giving:

Families tend to provide, but Christmas reminds everyone that there is joy in it. A small gift to or from an acquaintance is expressive, a kind of courteous language. If we wanted to, we could find a considerable liveliness in all this, but that is prohibited by the conventions of social critique. We would rather think darkly about those materialists who have emptied the shelves of things we had on our lists, who stand with their carts full of loot between ourselves and the cash register.

I’d say the same about Christmas lights—social critiques be damned. In a season of dreary, shrinking days, these gaudy displays around the neighborhood remind me what light does: it defies the darkness. Against all odds, against the wide, encroaching power of night, each one of the glowing light bulbs that I pass walking down the street casts its small glow up to the cloudy sky, bringing a glimmer of hope. 

It’s a small gesture to be sure, and frankly there’s an absurdity to it. What can one little lightbulb do against the vast, shadowy expanse of the earth? I mean, what are the festive little displays in our front yards really accomplishing anyway? Who do we think we are? Why do we imagine the little lights of our lives, doomed to flame out within the century, could mean anything against the decaying sands of time, enmeshed and overwhelmed as they are by the evils that afflict our age?

Sometimes I don’t feel like I have a good answer, just a glimmer of outlandish faith, a 50-count string of tiny lights held forth against against the long, dark winter of the north. All I know is that you could have asked the same questions about a baby that once showed up in a manger in a little backwater village called Bethlehem. 

The light shines in the darkness. It defies death, the great End of the encroaching darkness, against all worldly odds and appearances. And as the arrival of the Word Made Flesh dares me to believe, the darkness has not overcome it.

Journeying through a shattered landscape with White Boy Rick

White_Boy_RickTo see…life as a pilgrim and a stranger 

journeying through a landscape shattered, 

yet in which there remain these scattered evidences of a lost glory 

and these wild rumors of a fairytale redemption 

that has somehow already begun and is also yet to come.

 

I thought of these words that Douglas McKelvey shared over at Rabbit Room last year as I watched White Boy Rick, last year’s biopic about Richard Wershe Jr., the youngest FBI informant in history. 

The film is set in Detroit in the 1980s, when the city developed a national reputation as a hotbed for violence and drugs, and it takes us into a landscape that is indeed shattered. It’s a world where young women must choose between a motherless home and selling their bodies for attention and income. Where a teenager must decide between becoming a drug-dealing FBI informant or watching the feds haul his father to prison. Where a father uses his son to extort gun dealers. Where the FBI abuse their authority to pressure a 15-year-old to help them set up sting operations.

White Boy Rick presents this as it is. It does not sugarcoat evil and it does not glory in it. The air is thick with death, betrayal, and injustice, a cinematic expression of the lament of the prophets: “there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net…The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge.”

The characters of White Boy Rick rarely extend each other the dignity and love they are worthy of as image bearers. But the story itself dignifies them by its very telling, grappling with them in their full humanity. Yes, they betray and blackmail, but they also weep. They laugh together. They celebrate. They hope and dream.

(SPOILERS) Amid it all, acts of redemption pierce the veil of darkness, offering fleeting yet crystal-clear glimpses of the coming kingdom. In the most profound instance of this, Rick’s father goes into a brothel in search his runaway daughter. He finds her drugged and picks her up. As he walks out with her, she kicks and screams and curses his name and begs him to let her down and put her back. But he takes her home and locks her in her bedroom while she detoxes. He refuses to open the door even though she pounds and pounds. He brings her food and drink even though she dashes it against the wall. He even brings a TV into the room to help her pass the time.

I challenge anyone to watch that scene without weeping. You can see Jesus in her father’s face—grimacing in agony, crying with sorrow, bearing her shame. It’s as beautiful a microcosm of the gospel as I’ve ever seen. 

Rick’s sister gets clean. She rekindles a relationship with her father and her grandparents across the street. The first tender shoots of something like community, something like peace, begin to sprout in Detroit’s hard soil. The story finally seems like it’s on its way to a happy ending.

But it’s not. The peace and stability is built on drug money. The whole thing is a house of cards.

What! What kind of redemption is that? 

It’s far from complete, of course, and it’s not enough to prevent the story from coming to a tragic end. But this is how the kingdom shows up in the world: fleeting and elusive, yet unmistakably real all the same, flaring up in unlikely moments of raw grace. Here we find the tension that every good storyteller must grapple with: the coexistence of injustice and grace, realism and hope, indifference and love. 

I can’t help but contrast this with a popular Christian novel that swept the evangelical world in the 1980s. This story created a world where, in the words of a recent retrospective review in First Things, “behind every misdeed is a caricatural demonic puppeteer,” and “cheering on every act of righteousness is a seven-foot-tall, Thor-chested angel with blue eyes and golden hair.” 

Created to accommodate so-called Christian sensibilities, this world’s characters are marked by “absurdities like a hardboiled, not-yet-Christian reporter who doesn’t cuss, and incarcerated hookers who talk like Victorian schoolmarms.” It’s story as a spiritual manual, intended to make the reader “think right, feel right, and act right,” but it fails to bring us into contact with the true complexities and brokenness of the world that is.

No thanks. Tell me the story of White Boy Rick. Take me into the shattered, fallen landscape of the world, where even through the suffocating atmosphere of despair the wind still whispers wild rumors of a fairytale redemption.

Autumn’s death and the whisper of resurrection

It’d be a damnable shame to dwell on morality, as in my previous post here, without a subsequent meditation on the prospect of immortality. Namely, the hope of resurrection.

Autumn is like dying. There’s a reason we use the seasons as metaphors for the trajectory of life. We have the glowing, invigorating spring of childhood, the glorious summer years of adulthood and family life, the ripening of autumn and decay of old age (not without its own beauty of peaceful, resigned contentment) and finally the cold death of winter, the lifeless chill from which the fauna retreats into hibernation and the flora goes dormant.

Here we are in the heart of autumn. October is over, but November and December feel full of promise. The holidays bring with them the prospect of rest – most of us aren’t farmers these days, but even those working in today’s information economy need rest from the digital harvest of their labors. And so winter seems to me to offer a gateway to restoration, through time to retreat and reflect, to spend long hours in reflection and conversation under blankets and around fires with hot mugs of tea and coffee. Winter is a time to take stock of my soul, to descend into dark places so as to correct the awry trajectories of my heart, and to refresh my zeal for another year of adventure in a world of stories.

What I’m getting at here is that whispers of restoration and resurrection run everywhere through the fibers of the natural world. “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime,” said Martin Luther. From the falling of the leaves to the eclipse of the moon, we live in and among these divinely orchestrated cycles, mighty and mysterious. The rain falls down, waters the land, fills the rivers, and runs to the sea. What brings it back? Evaporation, changing from liquid to gas… you can describe the scientific process, sure. We might as well call it a miracle.

Marilynne Robinson has some wonderful reflections on this question in her book “Housekeeping.” At one point the narrator, a young girl named Ruthie living in her deceased grandmother’s house, looks out and sees that two of the apple trees in her grandmother’s orchard have died:

“One spring there were no leaves, but they stood there as if expectantly, their limbs almost to the ground, miming their perished fruitfulness. Every winter the orchard is flooded with snow, and every spring the waters are parted, death is undone, and every Lazarus rises, except these two. They have lost their bark and blanched white, and a wind will snap their bones, but if ever a leaf does appear, it should be no great wonder. It would be a small change, as it would be, say, for the moon to begin turning on its axis. It seemed to me that what perished need not also be lost.” (emphasis mine)

shutterstock_343082936Things perish. That is their nature in a universe of entropy. And even though they have a tendency to come back in new incarnations, what about when those cycles cease, as surely someday they must? Will they perish forever at the end of all things? Robinson doesn’t think so, for it would contradict our nature, our great expectations, our pesky, tenacious human impulse to cling to hope in the most wretched circumstances – especially, in fact, in the most wretched circumstances.

Indeed, for Robinson, desire and longing are a type of prophecy. As C.S. Lewis might say, we have cravings only because something exists to satisfy them. Here’s Robinson again (emphasis once again mine):

“Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water—peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when does our sense know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing—the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.”

The darker life gets, the greater our craving for the light. Where evil and oppression proliferates, our cries and prayers for justice go up all the louder. Where the world is salt, there is greater need of slaking. In the valley of the shadow of death, the soul yearns for life abundant beyond the grave.

I’m at a loss to explain why, but the plain fact is that struggle, destruction, and lack are built in to the universe – often as a necessary precursors to some good end. Craftsmen labor for decades to hone their handiwork. Scholars study books without end in order to master a subject. The athlete trains with weights that make his motions more difficult and becomes strong. Salmon swim upstream against nature’s currents. Irritation turns grains of sand into pearls. Forest fires till fertile ground. Grapes are smashed, left to ferment, and become wine.

Back to the question. Does the autumn of life, the waning years, represent the final descent into vanity and death, or is it the path to new life? That’s the rub. Like Robinson, I can’t bring myself to accept and end of nothingness, of trees that never return with spring leaves. If autumn were followed by a never-ending winter (a la “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”), it would be a depressing time indeed – the last gasp of life’s pleasantries and warmth and joy. The sentimentality we experience during this season – harvest festivals and joviality, pumpkins and spices, flannel and friendship, bronzed foliage and wood fires burning through the nights – would become impossible. It would be the season of deepest despair and futility.

For those with a limited view of reality, it is a season of despair. Death is the last enemy, the one fate that we cannot defeat. We all fall to winter’s chill in the end, completing the cycle from dust to dust, and we cannot see past it, at least not with our physical faculties.

“Is there someone buried beneath this skin?” sings Jon Foreman. “Is he free when I am locked in my coffin?” Foreman finds a grounded answer first by looking back to the Maker, the one from whom all births spring, who ordained the seasons, turns the rain back into clouds, tells the trees to put out new green leaves, and who has himself passed through the great death of winter. From that old story we look forward, with the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.

“Resurrection comes, but death comes first. All of our entitlements and rights drive the hearse. In the Maker’s death, death is unmade. And when I lose myself I’m saved – in my coffin.”

C.S. Lewis on the agony of coming to God

dragon dawn treader

Lately I’ve been stewing on what it means, as a Christian, to repent from sin and actually be transformed by God into His image. I have a heck of a time casting off certain vices, but I’ve found condolence in reading The Visionary Christian, a collection of excerpts from the more fantastical writings of C.S. Lewis. Three parallel scenes struck me for how they showcase what it is like to approach God as a flawed, finite creature. I’ve added italics for emphasis.

From The Silver Chair:

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answer this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion…
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion…and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted.”

From The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

Context: The boy Eustace has been turned into a dragon. The lion Aslan leads him to a pool that can help his injured leg, but first, the lion says, he must undress – take off his dragon skin. Eustace scratches off one layer of skin, but underneath it he is still a dragon. So he does it again, only to find another layer. After a third time, he is still a dragon.

“Then the Lion said—I don’t know if it spoke—You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…”
“Well, he peeled the beastly tuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeling switch and smaller than I had been.”

great divorce lizardFrom The Great Divorce:

Context: The ghost is a deceased soul somewhere in between heaven and hell in the afterlife. He has a lizard attached to him that acts much like a devil on his shoulder. An Angel approaches him and asks if he can kill it.

“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.
“I know it will kill me.”
“It won’t. But supposing it did?”
“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”
“Then I may?”
“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”
Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.
“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

The common thread in all of these stories is that any authentic approach to God is an utterly agonizing process. Casting off the sin that encumbers us (or rather, allowing God to cast it off) is the hardest, most painful thing that we can ever do. It will feel like a part of our essential self is being destroyed because our depravity is so ingrained in us that we cannot distinguish our actual self from it, much less separate ourselves from it.

But in the fact the opposite of death will happen – that is, death in any ultimately meaningful sense. The deep transformation that Lewis has in mind here purges the heart of evil and frees us to be our true selves as God intended us to be. And in the process – as the dragon scales are coming off or as the lizard is writhing in the throes of death or as we take those first tentative steps toward the Living Water that quenches all thirst – we experience even deeper within us a release, new breath, cleansing. And of course on the other side, once our thirst is quenched and the ugly skin is cast off and the reptile ripped off our backs, oh what joy await on the other side.

We see this idea echoed in the Bible. Jesus calls those who would follow him to deny themselves and take up their crosses – implements of torture and execution – and the writer of Hebrews notes that He suffered while being tempted. Paul describes a similar death-to-self experience in his letter to the Galatians, writing that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” And Peter connects suffering to the purging of evil when he writes that “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

If you would know your Maker in spirit and truth, you must be willing to suffer whatever it takes – any agony and any price. That means allowing God to carve out parts of you that seem integral to your identity, parts that may feel second-nature to you – those parts that you feel you can’t live without even though they keep you bogged down in a wretched mediocrity. There’s no other way to find true, unspoiled, unblemished life.

“After-Birth” Abortion?

Like many people, I reacted with horror and disgust when I first read in The Weekly Standard about this recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. It is by two ethicists in Australia, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, and argues for the ethical legitimacy of what they call “after-birth abortion.” It’s a fascinating read, but it comes to a chilling conclusion: it is ethically permissible to kill an unwanted baby even right after it is born. The same reasons which justify abortion, they say, should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn. This is because a newborn baby is not yet a “person” in the proper sense of the word. It can take a few days or weeks for an infant to develop a sense of self, purpose, and aims. If the child is going to cause undue stress to the mother or her family, or if the child’s life will not be worth living because of some debilitating disease, the best thing to do is end its life.

I come from the pro-life camp, and I’ve no doubt that a lot of pro-lifers will probably jump on this article and claim that it is the inevitable result of the pro-choice position and that all abortion advocates implicitly promote infanticide. I don’t want to go that far (at least not quite yet), but I do think that it demands some hard questions of abortion proponents.

Given the assumptions that justify abortion, their reasoning that extends this to newborns sure seems pretty valid to me, but I’d be curious to hear it from any pro-abortion folks out there: what makes killing a newborn different from aborting a fetus? If there is no line before birth, why should birth itself be a line? And if we want to delve more into the philosophy of it, what gives us the right to decide when a fetus becomes a person?

For William Saletan, writing for Slate, the big question for pro-choicers is this:

How do they answer the argument, advanced by Giubilini and Minerva, that any maternal interest, such as the burden of raising a gravely defective newborn, trumps the value of that freshly delivered nonperson? What value does the newborn have? At what point did it acquire that value? And why should the law step in to protect that value against the judgment of a woman and her doctor?

Or to follow another line of thought: why shouldn’t the mother’s best interests, particularly her psychological and economic well-being, take precedence over the destruction of human life—even if that life is still potential? It is, after all, on an inevitable course to personhood, which brings us back to the basic abortion debate. I’m not asking these questions to back anyone into a corner. I’m genuinely curious.

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Does technology help you write?

I met an aspiring screenwriter a few weeks ago. Recent college grad–a bit like myself, I suppose, in that the world intrigued her and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to write about, though she definitely liked to write. She told me about how she had recently started using a typewriter. It was great, she said, something about the pounding of the keys and detachment from the rest of the world.

My first thought? Huh, that’s pretty cool. Next thought? Definitely not for me.

Our conversation brought to mind a worthwhile question. Does technology help you write? Does it help some of us? All of us? Yes, I know, typewriters are technically “technology,” but they’re outdated. They don’t count. I’m talking about the spirit of the question. Do modern-day advances in technology–Microsoft Word, blogs, the iPad–help us write better?

It’s a much more complicated question than you might think. I was quick to dismiss the possibility that a typewriter might help squeeze a few more bits of wisdom, insight, and creativity out of my head and onto a page. Yet my gut reaction to the question of technology is Yes, of course it helps! Where would I be without word processors that let me delete and add anything at will? Don’t like that sentence? Gone. Want it moved to the next paragraph? Done. Combine it with the next sentence? No problem.

I could write the first sentence of this blog post, then write the last paragraph, jot down a few thoughts in the middle, take a day off, and come back the next day and do it all over again. I can switch from one draft to another in two clicks–back and forth over and over again depending on time and inspiration. Sometimes it feels like I don’t even need a rough draft anymore because I can add polished pieces here and there whenever I want.

All of this, by the way, may or may not reflect the actual writing process of this post, but that’s for another time. . .

With the power of the word processor ever at my fingertips, of course technology does indeed help me write. And even if I can’t sell you on the idea that it inherently improves my writing, it at least makes writing much less frustrating and thereby more enjoyable. If writing is more enjoyable, then I’ll do it more. And if I do it more, then we can reasonably assume I’ll get better at it. Continue reading →