Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ring out 2009

As 2009 comes to a close, I pause and write here realizing this marks exactly one year of weekly posting. I am a bit sad that my last post has ended up being so tardy (I was away for Christmas), but perhaps it is most fitting that I write today.

As I write I feel inadequate to the task of writing something on this day which is given significance only by a small change in the numbers by which we mark our days. I look over the posts and back over the year that has passed. In some ways these posts seem distant from the 'facts' of my life - a year full of change and uncertainty, of trials and joys. The interludes of rest seemed nearly as intense as the times of business. Yet I like to think that there is not so great a disparity between my life and my musings here as first might appear. For my thoughts cannot be separated from the life I am living. I note also that except when shear exhaustion prevented me from thinking clearly, the times of greatest stress often force the deepest or most relevant thoughts.

I have learned much, but I have also forgotten much, and am glad for the record of thought that this blog leaves. I hope you have found some encouragement or food for thought here.

I will close with a poem by Tennyson which is probably familiar to you, but which I only discovered relatively recently. I am struck today as I read it how futile, now naive even, the hopeful tone of the poem seems - until the last line. I give thanks for this year. I give thanks for our hope.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife,
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweet manners, purer laws.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Sun

Hoorah! I have just finished my first semester of grad school! Here is a poem I wrote this week, which I'm afraid is very much in the rough. I didn't have time to improve it. Perhaps I will someday soon.

Winter Sun

A pale white gleaming circle
glowing through a crisscross of branches
the presence of that burning orb
made known to this world of cold grays.

Watery light penetrates
cold dry air
a last dead leaf trembles on a branch
which ever leans upwards to that light

Snow is in the air
the white disc fades to a glow
and then vanishes
yet still through the gray sky that unseen light filters down

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Week of Advent, Second Week of Exams

"What material do I have to work with this week?", I ask myself as I consider what to write here. As usual, I have ordinary life. This week, life was dominated by exams.

Exams. A student's life is not so bad until evaluation comes. Exam, term paper, whatever it is, it looms larger than life. It is then that we students taste fear: fear of failure, fear of a blow to our pride, fear even of feelings of inadequacy, fear of the unknown.

Is there even fear of death? Perhaps not directly, but subtly so. Perhaps, I realized today, we feel its shadow. Why else would we cling so tightly to such a finite thing as academic success? In our short lives, one little test can take on significant proportions. Does it really matter? If we are really just dust to dust, ashes to ashes, trying to make a difference in a suffering world, then maybe we do have reason to stress out about such things. Or maybe that is reason to give up in despair.

The season of advent, concurrent with this time of intense pressure in the lives of a student, helps us in this respect. In the story of the incarnation, we hear of hope, of a light glimmering in darkness, of God intervening in the ordinary and often dark lives of human beings.

That is part of the wonder we hear in Mary's voice as she breaks into the song we call the Magnificat:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant." (Luke 1:46-48)
And in the incredible prophecy of Isaiah, fulfilled in the coming of Christ:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, [b] Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
May we have eyes to see that light which dawns on us.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"comprehended by what it cannot comprehend."

So it has happened. I forgot to post on Sunday evening. The thought crossed my mind once, but it then kept going and didn't come back until Monday night, well after my electricity and magnetism exam was over.

This week I have come to this conclusion about advent: it is celebrated in community, and not isolation. The people of Israel waited together for hundreds of years. We, the church local and global, wait together.

I started reading Wendell Berry this week (thanks to my writer-sister for lending me the book!) , and thought I'd share one of his Sabbath Poems. The second to last stanza really struck me.

Another Sunday morning comes
And I resume the standing Sabbath
Of the woods, where the finest blooms
Of time return, and where no path

Is worn but wears its makers out
At last, and disappears in leaves
Of fallen seasons. The tracked rut
Fills and levels; here nothing grieves

In the risen season. Past life
Lives in the living. Resurrection
Is in the way each maple leaf
Commemorates its kind, by connection

Outreaching understanding. What rises
Rises into comprehension
And beyond. Even falling raises
In praise of light. What is begun

Is unfinished. And so the mind
That comes to rest among the bluebells
Comes to rest in motion, refined
By alteration. The bud swells,

Opens, makes seed, falls, is well,
Being becoming what it is:
Miracle and parable
Exceeding thought, because it is

Immeasurable; the understander
Encloses understanding, thus
Darkens the light. We can stand under
No ray that is not dimmed y us.

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.