Sunday, April 26, 2009

a definition of insanity

This week (feeling perhaps a bit dry for inspiration) I decided to share some insight garnered out of Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton.*

His main point in chapter two focuses on the idea that the insane person is the one who is purely rational, and who "believes in himself". He argues against the popularly held belief that those who are confident in themselves and are able to think in a rational manner are the ones who will be successful. These are the people who will become madmen. He suggests instead that the healthy person is one who has an imagination, who is able to hold contradictions, and who can do things without them always having a direct purpose. For example, in contrasting the healthy person to the insane one, who must do everything with a cause, he says,
If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heals or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle.
He also speaks of the limits of reasoning, reminding us that "A man cannot think himself out of mental evil". In addition to understanding the world through reason, there must be a certain element of mystery, he argues.

At another point, he suggests what a paranoid person needs to hear:
How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure...
This week, with studies pressing in and with graduation, a celebration of academic achievement, ahead, it has been helpful for me to pause and consider these ideas. Perhaps it is not just the madman who must take care to expand his horizons beyond pure reasoning and beyond self.

*It will be clear that my material is drawn only from the beginning of the book, for that is as far as I have gotten this week. Any of you who have read this book probably wonder why it has taken me so long to get around to reading it ... I don't really have an excuse, but I would love to talk about the book when I get further along!

Monday, April 20, 2009


I just finished waiting for my soup to heat up (and am eating it as I write this). While I stood there in front of the stove, I tried to think of what I could be doing with those few minutes (besides just standing there). Surely there was something more useful! I realized that I find it incredibly difficult to just wait. I get restless, and if my body is constrained, my mind darts around, trying to find something useful to think about! This semester, as I have waited to hear back from graduate schools, had been a bit draining. Why is it that I find waiting so difficult? Perhaps it is that waiting makes me feel useless. Perhaps I measure my worth too much by what I accomplish.

I don't think I am alone in feeling this way. Much of technological marketing seems to rely on the assumption that faster is better: the less time one has to spend waiting for a process to run on a computer, the better. If I can do my email on my iphone while waiting for the bus, my life will be enhanced. You can probably think of more examples. Or simply consider how annoyed or frustrated we tend to get when we have to wait in a long line for anything.

I do not want to suggest that we should all become lazy and spend our days waiting around for something to happen. I do want to suggest that we need to learn how to wait well. I know I do.

Consider how much of our spiritual life depends on waiting on the Lord. Isn't that what prayer is all about? The liturgical calendar also emphasizes this: over half of the year is "Ordinary Time", a time between the major celebrations. Other major seasons are also focused on preparation and waiting, such as Advent and Lent. Of course all these point to the ongoing waiting of the church. James speaks of the patience of the farmer as he waits for the land to yield its harvest (James 5:7). I'm sure there are things in my own life that I can seize as opportunities to learn how to wait, as a sort of training.

As Paul writes:
we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25)
Looking at the world around me, and at my own life, I know that there is a long ways to the true fulfillment of our hope. I pray that I might learn grace in my waiting, and that we all might live patiently and expectantly "while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Waiting (Preview)

This week I am reflecting on waiting. I will write a better post, however, when I am more awake. This gives you, a reader of this blog, a chance to practice waiting! I plan to post by tomorrow night.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

don't [just] smile at the daisies

I was going to call this post "the Power of Praise", but it sounded like the title of a cliche book, so I didn't. I've been reflecting recently on the role of praise in my life and why it makes such a difference.

Beautiful things are all around us, and I am usually one of those people who walks around noticing that and smiling inwardly to myself or painting about it or writing in blogs about it. This is all well and good and tends to enrich my life, but most of the beauty around us is fragile and transient. And there is a whole lot of pain and ugliness also present in our world. Remembering a beautiful sunrise or the first daisy of the year, perfectly white against grass just new green, is not going to lift my soul when I sit in a dark room or when I listen to the troubles of a friend. The colors of that sunrise have long vanished and the daisy probably got stepped on or wilted when it snowed.

In times like these, I find that my prayers, though they may be desperate pleas, inevitably turn to praise. The psalms declaring who God is weave their way ever more strongly into my prayers until I find myself not just calling out to God, but praising that God because of who he is.

While my rejoicing in good things around me may have helped train me to do this, praising God is ever so much different than just loving good things alone. For God does not change. He is not far away. He is faithfully merciful in the midst of our unfaithfulness. He embraced death because he loves us that much. He is risen!
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for I call to you all day long.

Bring joy to your servant,
for to you, O Lord,
I lift up my soul.

You are forgiving and good, O Lord,
abounding in love to all who call to you...

For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
you alone are God..., O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

(Ps. 86v3-5,10,15)

Monday, April 06, 2009


I completely forgot to write something last night, and then haven't been back to my computer since 8 this morning, so I decided to simply post a poem that I wrote earlier this week in my journal.
Strong Lingerings

It is when tiredness had disarmed me, in silence,
that the memories come
rushing towards me
with such force.

The vivid colours,
the strange but familiar smells,
the well known cool roughness of a wall,
the sounds of song or a distant call to prayer.

They come upon me with such poignant certainty
that even joyous memories become sharply painful
for they are simply that -

On most days I am glad for memories.
They are the lingering wisps
of transient experience,
wound around in my head to treasure or forget or suddenly remember.

In a flash I can see
the light reflecting off the smooth concrete floor
after Zorah has cleaned them,
as I lightly leap from one square tile to the next.

I can smell steaming vegetables and spices in the green kitchen
and sun on the hibiscus hedge.
Or Dad's leather change purse
or the distinctive smell of an artisan's shop.

Yet other days memories seem almost cruel
such vividness
such surprising strength
nearly obscuring the present moment.

It is when tiredness had disarmed me, in silence,
that the memories come
rushing towards me
with such force.