The Inkwell and the Writer

a vignette  DSCN0742

Laurel moved into a two-bedroom apartment on Joy St. with her children.  The divorce meant selling the house and saying goodbye to the neighborhood where her kids played and where their skittish sheltie nervously barked at passers-by.

Now living in an apartment with young kids and no support money– Laurel’s ex could not work – Laurel composed her resume.  She began to seek out work wherever she could.  But the economy was hobbling along.  The positions she could fill were limited and usually far from home.  When an employment agency finally found job openings Laurel was told that employers were afraid to hire long term employees.  So, Laurel became a temp.

Temping, as Laurel would find out, meant that she would likely hear on a Friday afternoon that the manager didn’t need her anymore. And so on Mondays, as had become her routine over several years, Laurel would call the temp agency and see what else they had for her.

Outside of work Laurel took care of her kids and paid the bills. And when there was a small amount of extra cash Laurel purchased cut flowers.  She would put them in vase for the center of the kitchen table.  And when there was extra time Laurel composed poems, short stories and articles.  The ones she liked she would post on her blog.  Her motivation for her writing came from what she took in.  She also read when time allowed.

As such, Laurel never called herself a writer.  That was unthinkable to her. Besides, her time reading and writing had become for her a home away from home that her former church friends used to provide when she was married.  Since the divorce, though, those friends no longer came around. She felt being single kept her from being invited to the couple’s gatherings. But after the move new friends came along.

Laurel attended a different church after the divorce, a church closer to her apartment.   One friend, Margaret, helped Laurel when she needed to go in for a medical procedure.  The anesthesiologist required Laurel to have someone drive her home after the procedure.  Margaret was happy to do so. Once the procedure was completed and Laurel was awake, Margaret drove Laurel home and brought her lunch.  Laurel was grateful.  She wrote a thank you note to Margaret.

As was her habit, Laurel would bath and dress her kids and take them to church each Sunday.  And each Sunday morning, as was her habit, Laurel would write a check.  In the memo field she’d pen “of Thine own have we given Thee.” It was her way.  And she thought God had His. One time she heard the rector say that “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”  Laurel couldn’t argue with that.

It was only a few years before that Laurel had learned that her 18-year-old son had been killed in a freak car accident. His car had flipped over on a dry frontage road in Texas.  There would be no answer as to why. Laurel took in the crushing news.  And when she did she felt as if the ground she had been standing on all her life also collapsed. But her grief did not give way. Sorrow was added onto sorrow.

Years before Laurel’s college roommate had died in a car accident on the way to her roommate’s wedding rehearsal dinner.  Laurel was shaken by the news. The loss of her close friend and roommate was devastating.  Nothing before had so affected Laurel.  As such, Laurel wrote a note of consolation to her roommate’s parents, recalling her roommate’s friendship and kindness. But the loss of her son would affect her like nothing before.

It wasn’t long after Laurel’s son’s death that her marriage fell apart.  Their son’s death was more than each could handle. The loss compounded the problems in the marriage.  The marriage gave way to divorce. Laurel had to take this in and move on.

 

One day in her new life something happened.  Laurel would hear about that day later from her rector.

As her rector recounted, Laurel had been in a car accident.  She had been stopped at red light when a large truck plowed into the rear of her car. Laurel went unconscious after her head hit the steering wheel and then whipped back to the headrest.

Laurel could recall little of that day.  As ER nurses pumped fluids into Laurel she would go in and out of consciousness: “my kids? …how…? … there is so much pressure inside my head! … I feel sick to my stomach… my neck hurts so bad …How am I paying for this? …Death? …Ohhh…I just want to sleep forever.”

After that day and months of excruciating pain that Laurel could never begin to describe to her doctors, Laurel would receive several steroid shots.  She wanted to stop the stabbing nerve pain that shot down from her neck and down her right arm and created tingling in her index finger.  And when the shots didn’t relieve the acute pain she chose surgery.  It would take two surgeries to fuse vertebra in her neck.  Then finally the severe nerve pain had been stopped.  But, chronic neck pain and relentless headaches continued. And when someone she loved declared himself, at that time, to be an atheist she thought the stabbing pain had now reached her soul.  “Life, you’re killing me!” she would say to herself.

Now the thought of her death had never occurred to Laurel until those wavering sentient moments in the ER. She later told the rector what had gone through her mind that day. And she also told him, “there is such a deep well of pain inside me that if I ever were to draw from that well I may not make it.” The rector winced and nodded and remained silent. Then Laurel laughed, “At least with pain, I know I am alive. And I can’t write when I am dead. Oh life, you are killing me!”

 

 

 

 

© Cindy Wity, 2016, All Rights Reserved

“Imagine” Juxtaposed

Previous posts attempted to expose the Epicurean influence on modernity: the exclusion of God from the garden of good and evil and replaced with Darwinian materialism under the influence of man-made reasoning: “cogito ergo sum”.

The posts also revealed the inclusion of ‘reasoned’ or ‘rational’ people into the high-horse club of scientism. This exclusive club is governed by those who have the power, perhaps the raison d’état, to control the inputs and outputs of desired ‘truth’. “What is truth?” Pilate asked (when he thought he had the force of the whole Roman empire to define it.)

As I wryly mentioned in my previous posts the above either/or, God/science dichotomy came, at first, philosophically, from what I call Epicurus’ “High-Horse” Mal-ware. This mal-ware has since been downloaded over the centuries into each century’s modern man’s psyche. The devastating effect of the Mal-ware was to disable the AND gate of your truth tables. It was not to be used in queries.

Now, like the historically recorded scene of two thieves each hanging on cross with Jesus hanging between them, I offer a similar juxtaposition of two end results, two disparate “Imagines”.

One “Imagine” is Epicurean, God dismissed, materialistic, nihilistic and personified in the likes of former atheist Christopher Hitchens, materialist Barack Obama and fatalist Beatle John Lennon:

 The other “Imagine” is God-inclusive. Here, God is the nucleus, the epicenter of being and meaning. Here, God and science coexist as Lion and lamb, creation being the sublime work of His hands, His signature found in the molded clay.

God’s Kingdom, now begun on earth, has become a dwelling place for all who see His light and follow it. True reality is made known to His followers by the Holy Spirit. The earthly spectrum of sodium street lights, of tungsten lights, of neon lights, of mercury lights, of halogen lights, of xenon lights, lights all of which enable us to see our way on earth are sourced from the Prism of Eternal Light.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis

At His appearance we will then know Him as He knows us. That Eternal Light you see is Love, not short-lived Epicurean fireworks and party favors. 

 

Footnote: The above song by MercyMe was played during my son’s funeral service, about fourteen years ago. Justin was eighteen when the Lord took him home in a freak car accident. The police reported that it was a clear, sunny and dry day in Texas as Justin drove down a frontage road and lost control of the car. No other cars were involved. No drugs or alcohol were involved according to the Police report.

 Justin had recently graduated from high school. The afternoon of his death he was driving back from his girlfriend’s house. We don’t know why this happened. We just know that we will see him again and this is not final. The Joy that only God’s True Love can give replaced the deepest loss I have ever experienced.  Physics caused the physical death. But, Justin lives on.

 Sure there is pain, loss and evil in the world. But God is greater than any of these, if you let Him be God in your life.

Unlawful Entry (Adam Lanza, Dec. 14th, 2012)

Unlawful Entry (Adam Lanza, Dec. 14th, 2012)

The Unthinkable:

20 children dead.

First Man Adam chose unlawful entry into the things of God,

Sin followed him in.

First man Adam expelled from the Garden,

Sin followed him out.

First Man Adam returned to the garden

 ~ unlawful entry ~ with vengeance

And self-hate loaded with evil’s murderous projectiles.

The Unthinkable:

20 children dead within a sharp picosecond of eternity where angels wait,

20 unopened gifts are carried to heaven.

…..

The Unthinkable:

God becomes man ~ Second Man Adam,

Born during the time of Herod and

The Slaughter of Innocents!

Later crucified, One Innocent Man atoning for all First Adams,

Second Man Adam endured the Unthinkable as one of us.

 

By this evil is kept outside the door in outer darkness,

But access is granted to all who hear His resurrected Voice,

To all those who choose lawful entry:

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

 

Under the wings of the Almighty ~

They overshadow you –

The terror by night or by day cannot enter.

 

Just ask the 20 children when you see them again.

 

 

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

The Tree of Life Envisioned

Recently I viewed Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. It would be difficult for me to adequately describe the effect this movie had on me, the emotion and reflection evoked from me as a Christian parent who has lost a child.  This movie operates, more than any I have ever seen, on an intimate meaning-of-life level while the breadth of its vision enables us to direct our eyes away from ourselves and out into the vast cosmos. And in doing so, synchronicity with creation is summoned.

 Life’s deepest and most pressing questions, the universal “whys” behind all of life are posed using the simple narrative of the lives of the O’Brien family of five. Underlying the film’s basic premises of wonder and questioning is the ancient wisdom book of Job, for me the touchstone of the film.  I believe that each viewer’s prior contemplation of life’s deepest questions would certainly individualize the film’s impression on the viewer.  Without individuation, though, the movie is just an amalgam of exceptional pictures and music – a mood piece. I see The Tree of Life as being a spiritual movie and not a religious documentary and therefore I believe it will affect each viewer differently.

 Without going into too much of the narrative detail, detail which may deprive you of the movie’s impact, here is my initial impression of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life:

 Though I was ready for the usual exceptional visual imagery – Stanley Kubrick’s movies come to mind – that is part and parcel of Malick’s cinematic talent (see also his Days of Heaven) I was blown away by the large scope of the movie:  creation, the meaning of life, the existence of suffering, nature and grace and the Creator. 

One of the visual and emotional pleasures of this movie is that the images are offered to us in prolonged time frames – there are no frenetic montages matched to every blink of the eye. The absence of the modern movie restlessness allows us to contemplate the force of those images. We are then able to react with deeply held authentic feelings and at the same time not feel the need to immediately dispose of those feelings so as to be ready for the next emotional roller coaster ride of images. In this way the movie parallels life:  creation and real life takes place over time.  I believe the movie honors the fact that God takes time to accomplish His purposes – in the universe and in the saga of our lives. And, as the movie depicts, we do not understand God’s ways but, as I have seen, God, who is outside of time, uses time to reveal His Nature and His Grace to us.

 Malick rolls out before us a grand sweeping chromatic scroll of the universe. The visual imagery, often shown in natural lighting is enhanced with beautifully evocative musical selections including works by Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Smetana’s The Moldau River, Preisner’s Lacrimosa, Cassidy’s The Funeral March and Górecki’s Sorrowful Songs Symphony. Such music invokes us to come present to the spiritual within our souls.

 The awe-inspiring and overwhelming dynamic universe centers around and is grounded by a tree in the backyard of a family’s home in Waco Texas, circa 1950s. Using a minimalist script this family of five provides creation’s human narrative: father (emblematic of nature), mother (emblematic of grace) and their three young sons.  The father, the mother and Jack O’brien, the eldest son and main character give us our viewpoints. Later on in the movie Jack’s character is played as an adult by Sean Penn. The adult Jack becomes an architect who creates buildings derivative of his own hard-edged “nature”.

 Within this family life narrative we see birth, growth, maturation, anger, relational distance, death, sorrow, loss, envy, survival, strife and sin. Along the way the ever pressing questions of life are whispered to our ears using voiceovers.

 As I mentioned the display of the immensity and dynamism of the created universe provides the backdrop for these most important issues of life, questions that this family of five and certainly any sane person on earth ponders at some point in their life:  Where is God?; Does God see what is happening?; Does God care? Are we left on our own? What about evil? What about the loss of a child? Why is there suffering?

 After the death of her son Mrs. O’Brien asks, “He was in God’s hands the whole time, wasn’t he?” “If God is good and cares about us, why does he make us suffer?”  Throughout the movie we are engaged to ponder these hard questions and to once again look through a glass darkly for the answers.

 Watching this film I was also reminded of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and the philosophical lessons Smerdyakov learned from Ivan, regarding the impossibility of evil in a world without a God.

 In depicting some of the range of God’s creation we see vast spatial distances which hold myriad galaxies and we also see, looking through other end of the telescope, intricate microcosmic details.  We are reminded that the Creator God is ever beyond our finite comprehension. For this reason I am thankful that Malick chose to countenance theism and not a Woody Allen-type nihilism that turns its back on God and mocks Him every time.

 The movie begins by referencing the oldest piece of wisdom literature in the world, the book of Job. The stage is set with God responding to Job who had cursed the day he was born after being overwhelmed with trouble, suffering and loss.  From Job 38:4, 7:

 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation … while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

 Throughout the movie there are other paraphrased Scripture references including Job 13:15, “I will be true to you whatever comes.”

 I believe I also heard a paraphrased reference to Paul’s letter to the Roman church during a scene where Jack is praying: “I know what I want to do but I can’t do it.”  Also, there is an oblique reference to Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church regarding the character of love:

  “There are two ways through life:  the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.” Mrs. O’Brien, The Tree of Life

 Beyond the infusions of Scripture, I saw revealed man’s unconscious need to bump up against someone bigger and stronger than life itself. And though we are infinitesimally small compared to the enormous universe we matter to God.  In another wisdom book of the Bible, the Psalms, the shepherd boy David speaks in awe of God’s intimate knowledge of His creatures,

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

  The film doesn’t seek to answer the questions of life but only poses them offering up grace as the consummate reconciler. As a believer in Jesus Christ I am transformed daily by God’s grace.  Just as important, I am forgiven and reconciled with God because Jesus Christ was nailed to another tree – the cross. His resurrection now provides me access to the Tree of Eternal Life. I know the One Who is the Answer.

A tree of life was planted in the garden long ago…

  “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”…

 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

 

While we ask God “Where are You in all of this?”, God is asking us “Where are you?”

Held

The Boy in the Tent

Last night I found myself in a van, my ex driving us to a familiar campground in the next state.  We wanted to get there as fast as we could.  We urgently wanted to get to our seven year-old son.

 We drove through the darkness panting and leaning forward in our seats. Just before sunrise we entered the campground.  We drove over to the campsite where we had camped many times before. There in the middle of a grassy opening surrounded by oak trees was a lone pup tent.

 I jumped out of the van and ran over to the tent. Down on my knees I lifted the tent flap and looked into the dimly lit tent.  My son was sitting in the middle of the otherwise empty tent.  He was facing the other way.

 There was nothing in front of him. He sat dead still.

 I crawled over to him.  As I did so he turned his head to look at me. He then got up, jumped into my arms and hugged me tightly.

 After a while we released our hug and I put him down.  He returned to sit in the same place in the tent. He sat down facing away from me.

 I went out of the tent.  My ex had been yelling from the car that we had to leave.

 I called back to my son and told him that we were going, that he must come along. There was no reply.

 ****

 I opened my eyes and winced them shut again.  The pit of my stomach felt as if it had been carved out of me while I slept.  When the silent sobbing began I tried to cover the wound.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

Heaven’s Home

At 3:38 am this morning I awoke melancholy from a very sad dream. Without giving you the details, the dream replayed my grief and loss from a divorce, especially the fact that my children and my family are no longer with me everyday. As I write this I am still reeling from the effect of this dream.

The end of this dream is mystifying, as dreams tend to be. I saw myself enter a business meeting with a woman friend of mine. We both sat down at a conference table across from our clients. I whispered to my friend that I wanted to borrow her engagement ring for the meeting. She handed me her diamond under the table and I put it on my ring finger. Then I awoke almost crying.

****

If you have ever seen Terrence Malik’s movie Days Of Heaven and the scene of the singular house on the hill then you may have some idea of what I am about to describe.

Since childhood, my recurrent dream of heaven is a specific image: I see a small one room cottage sitting on the crest of a rolling hill. It is almost midday. Effusive 11:00 o’clock sunshine gilds the opulent scene. The light infuses everything including me. I am of it.

The cottage stands alone, nested in a bright sea of yellow flowers. I see the flowers move in waves as cool breezes wash my face with the freshest of air. The sun warms my cheeks. I face home. I know that this is my forever home. “Delight” is the only earthly word I can affix to my emotions.

The dream always has me looking at the cottage from a short distance. I have never been inside but I always sense that I will love living there. And though I am alone in the dream I do not feel alone. Rather, I know that Jesus comes to my home. My family comes and my parents come and those who have died come to this place. They are all bathed in the same golden light in this never-ending day.

There are imaginings of sumptuous feasts, of raucous laughter, of child’s play and of a complete collapse into the arms of the One Who’s hands are forever scarred.

What has been lost has now been regained seven-fold. Heaven.