Eucatastrophe

Today marks 4 weeks until I am in South Korea. This time next month- I hope, I’ll be arriving and unpacking and training for my teaching job. Pinch me…

The emotions of leaving my home for a year and planting myself in a foreign country waned at first, and were weak, but now as the departure approaches I find my emotions very raw, often painful, but deeply mingled with a sense of hope and rightness. Since the day I found out I had the job, I felt numb- that “this isn’t real” phase. Now, each time I laugh with my family, hold Andrew’s hand, or even walk the floors of this home I love so much, I find I am walking in this tension of soaring excitement and a tightening dread. Anxious and so excited- this paradox, I am finding out is the best place to be because it shows me a deeper glimpse of a fulfilling life, which is this paradox on an even deeper level: earthly pain — eternal joy. earthly sorrow — eternal hope. 

I was reading a blog by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Andrew Peterson today. He wrote about a term coined by J.R.R. Tolkien: eucatastrophe, “the sudden joyous turn.” To quote Peterson, “It’s that moment when all seems lost, when evil seems to have finally overcome every good thing, when the hero can go no further. Then light prevails against the darkness.” *

When I process the emotions that now swell in my heart, I always find I am in this joyous turn:
I hug Andrew in the driveway and by the time I’m on the highway headed home I am sobbing hopeful and sorrowful tears, each goodbye brings us closer to the last goodbye. eucatastrophe: I let myself think about being without him for a year+ and it is far too painful- until I rest in the hope that this pain is refining and beautiful in its own way, this journey in all its unknowns may be the greatest adventure yet. I glance around the table and soak in the memory of my mom’s face and my sister’s face and the richness of our conversation and warm coffee in my hand as the sun sinks behind us. eucatastrophe: I ache with the thought of not having these moments for a year, but I rest in the hope that they are my home and they love me no matter where I go, or where my sister goes, or where my family lives. 

When my mind becomes filled with fears of loneliness, anxious mental pictures of me sitting alone in my apartment, without a friend, not finding a church, hating my job, being too afraid to go around the city, having nothing to eat because I can’t cook, friends in the states losing touch because it’s too hard to coordinate talking around the time difference, aching with homesickness…. I think- even if that IS what my year looks like, the light prevails. It always does. Eventually, I will return home. Eventually, I will hold Andrew’s hand again. Eventually, I will drink coffee with my sister and my mom and laugh and have dinner with my family once again. The metaphor is small in comparison to the real and True eucatastrophe, but I wrap myself in the comfort that the loneliness and homesickness and ache and pain I might face in Korea only mirrors the groaning of all creation, our eternal homesickness. Hope always lies deep and sometimes silent, but I cling to it still. The only finality I know is not any of the pain or sadness or longing or loneliness this side of eternity. Peterson also said, “ Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate eucatastrophe. When Jesus, the perfect man, God made flesh, cries out and exhales his dying breath, the sky is black and roiling, the ground shakes, the dead emerge from their tombs and haunt Jerusalem, and the sheep scatter. But Sunday morning, more than just the sun rises. Everything changes. It’s not just a story, it’s the story. A sudden joyous turn, indeed.”

Light always prevails. 

Pippin: I don’t think it would end this way. 

Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take. The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it.

Pippin: What, Gandalf? See what?

Gandalf: White shores…and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.


 “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.”  I John 1:5

 

*{The Rabbit Room – A Sudden Joyous Turn

Gifts for gifts

In my town there is an old building that once was a post office and courtroom. It all still looks as it did when it was used for those purposes; tall pillars hold up the outside frame, granite tile covers the floors, the individual numbered mail boxes all still intact. While maintaining the same look on the inside and outside, the beautiful building has since been transformed into an art center on the first floor, and on the second floor, a church. After a lunch at the cafe across the street, me + my mom + a visiting friend stepped inside to browse around the pottery studio.

I fingered some hand-thrown mugs and the artist who made them came over to me and we struck up a conversation. It’s not every day you get to talk to the artisans who create the treasures we love, but when you do- enjoy it and talk as long as you can. I was inspired by this man’s passion for slinging clay and using his hands. I was inspired by his desire to create beauty and seek fulfillment in life through cooking, gardening, beekeeping, and pottery instead of computer science (his words). We talked about the creative life and how much more enriching it is to the essence of who you are to create beauty instead of settling in the rut of a career you hate.

Then the conversation turned to other gifts of creativity, such as singing- and, long story short, me + my mom + a friend sang one verse of a hymn in three part harmony for him, and in exchange he handed me one of his favorite mugs. A gift for a gift.

Stepping out of the studio I pondered how good it is to give your gifts away. This momentary glimpse into this artist’s work inspired me enough to actually sing in his studio; three voices raised, mingled as one around the room, our voices filling the spaces around the pots and vases and sculptures and mugs and jars and bowls. The craft of our song meeting the craft of hands, exchanging the two for the furthering of beauty in these small corners of our life.

I say to myself to pursue beauty and seek extraordinary moments out of the ordinary, but I don’t always walk into pottery studios expecting to exchange a creative gift for another. When it happens, however, it is more than inspiring.

Share & give. Make & create, and give it away. The world, maybe only 4 people at a time, will be more beautiful for it.

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds? –Andrew Peterson

p.s. i purchased another mug from the gallery, because if an individual has the courage & vivacity to pursue creativity as his livelihood, you bet I’m going to support that endeavor. now i have a gift to pass on from this gift-giving!

and the promise remains

Image

A heaviness sits around us today. a friend passed away yesterday, a friend’s days are passing quickly, and the grief is dense, like the humidity after the rains that just poured. but the rain stopped, the clouds parted, the sun shone again. i was thinking a lot about what we term “grief” and “joy” today… how often i equate “joy” with what i think is only mere happiness, but joy and grief often go hand in hand. eternal joy is different than momentary happiness. c. s. Lewis calls this ache a “stabbing joy.” and grief hurts us because it’s foreign to us- we were made for joy in eternity. the world is broken, friends die, but we have joy because all sadness will become untrue and our joy will be realized, the mourning completely unknown. 

these words are a comfort as the promise to make the sadness untrue rings hopeful in mourning hearts. 

**

Sitting on porches since Friday while the sky
tilts like a watery glass

We wait for downpours, a drenching joy, 
a carnival sky
But what I don’t say, what I can’t say 
is that with this joy comes a mourning. 

Something left behind
blue lined, teary, mingled
I move on

All things will change. 
We wait for the rain, 
and the promise remains. 

Live life fully, peeking through fingers
slung in our hammocks, cocooned. 
skimming the water, trapezed over time
we glide like slingshot angels. 
Belly up and floating
we see the promise in the sky. 

Up to Orion’s ribs we climb this tree
and listen for our pulse. 

All things will change. 
We wait for the rain,
and the promise remains. 

I flung loosely into that world,
I stayed heavenly. 
I’ll be a Jacaranda Tree in Indiana, 
I say greenhoused and sung to. 

I pray light will leak from out pockets,
we’ll all be drenched, overcome. 
At night the fireflies, 
streamers at our sides, 
silent flaming arcs of hope. 

All things will change. 
We wait for the rain, 
and the promise remains. 

Jacaranda tree. –Josh Garrels

 

The Commencement Speech I Never Heard

Kurt Vonnegut’s Commencement Address to Butler University, 1999

My Uncle Alex Vonnegut, an insurance salesman who lived at 5033 North Pennsylvania, taught me something very important. He said that when things are going really well we should
be sure to notice it. He was talking about very simple occasions, not great victories. Maybe drinking lemonade under a shade tree, or smelling the aroma of a bakery, or fishing, or listening to music coming from a concert hall while standing in the dark outside, or, dare I say, after a kiss. He told me that it was important at such times to say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Uncle Alex [...] thought it was a terrible waste to be happy and not notice it. So do I.

You have been called “Generation X.” You’re as much Generation A as Adam and Eve were. As I read the book of Genesis, God didn’t give Adam and Eve the whole planet. He gave them a manageable piece of property, for the sake of discussion let’s say two acres. I suggest to you Adams and Eves that you set as your goals the putting of some small part of the planet into something like safe and sane and decent order. There’s a lot of cleaning up to do. There’s a lot of rebuilding to do, both spiritual and physical. And, again, there’s going to be a lot of happiness.

Don’t forget to notice!

Bloom.

the highs and lows are not at war. and on the completion of each year at college this became truth to me. a truth I held on to to pull me from the lows to the heights, and a truth that steadied me in the tumult. 

you start new experiences with vigor and high hopes, sprinkled with fear. sometimes a lot of fear. i wrapped myself up in a blanket and slept for the rest of the day after my parents drove away from my freshman dorm. Ohio- even the state itself had high hopes, but my heart was broken and i didn’t feel strong enough to step over the edge, to let me faith lead me to a borderless horizon of hope. the valleys were deep. the ache throbbed, the lessons felt like stepping over gravel in your bare feet- sharp, cutting, and yet refining, renewing, the stabbing hurt was relinquishing the old to make room for the new. my heart of stone became a heart of flesh. quivering and weak, but whole. my mind was renewed right alongside my heart. i learned what degree i wanted, and a signed slip of paper landed me in the English program. I discovered capabilities I didn’t know i had, i learned how to avoid too many commas, learned how to lean closely into a text and pull out all the meaning you can. 

so i climbed to the heights. but soon the valleys were near. year second and all possibilities were dashed. no boy, no health, no team, no race, no money, no passing grades. but friends were near, prayers uttered, and soon bills were payed, fractures healed, and the hardest class was passed. professors said “thank you for your kindness” and I drove off in awe. 

with a heart always being rebuilt, now with a plethora of moments filling my soul to the brim, i was given twenty-six beautiful lives to live with and to quicken bright purpose with, each and every day. each moment leading to this moment of:now was taken, emptied, used, shared, and hearts were strengthened. unexpected, undeserved gifts appeared that swept my heart up when i wasn’t even looking, and after three years i could see the valleys were good, the pain is good, because it all just quickens the heart to the brightness of the sun on the peaks. 

but sometimes the valley seems too dark to believe that the sun can awaken. stress was riveting my days with sorrow and darkness. i had to slam my car into someone’s Honda on I-70 in Columbus in order to wake up. and the trauma of standing on the side of the highway alone and the throbbing whiplash in my neck opened my eyes to the truth that all things work for good. all things. all was well. 

I remember admiring the lilac bush in the front yard of 85 West Elm street. I remember waiting each month after the snow melted for the purple blooms to appear like they always do- quietly, sometimes unexpectedly, but quickly, and filling the air with their delicate scent. these days of these four years of these mountains and valleys are almost over. when i stepped off the porch one morning, i noticed small buds, dark red and cocooned still. i came back that afternoon and the blossoms were bursting in color and scent and beauty that only the spring can offer. each day more bloom, and they bloom bigger than the day before, almost covering the dome-shaped bush taller than me. tomorrow i will put on a black robe, a square cap, and a blue hood will drape my shoulders. it will be one final cocoon of these years before the blossoms grow. my footsteps across the stage will feel like the deer’s feet on the high hills. it could be a mountain peak, the highest of all. or it could feel like neither mountain or valley, light or dark, sunrise or sunset. 

all I know is, the lilac bush will bloom on that day, and the day after, and the day after that. and the air will chill and the bush will turn to branches. this chapter will close, but the heart will beat on. 

11,672.

0401141028My senior thesis was 11,672 words. These post-thesis days have me pretty emotional, and yet still full of words to share about the whole process. Know this: I write not to applaud myself, but because the thesis I finished yesterday taught me more about being human… so I must share why.

I could start by trying to capture my love for the writer/novelist/farmer Wendell Berry, recalling his first novel I read or telling the story of when I first read some of his poetry, but I won’t.

Because my love for Wendell Berry started when I first read his work, but the life-changing didn’t start until I was sitting in Lit. Theory class sometime in September or October. That was when I made a mental decision to write my senior thesis on his novel A Place on Earth. It was in the same course that I learned about the brilliant theorist/philosopher named Michel Foucault; a theory so remarkably dense that it’s taken me 6 months of studying it to even slightly comprehend a singular aspect. Another day in this class, after a lecture on the postmodern derogation of autonomy, I had a surge of inspiration. I frantically scribbled half a page of thoughts and all but ran to my professor after class and explained my idea: This novel I had chosen (pretty much at random and without reading the whole thing) was a perfect response to Foucault’s theory — the perfect marriage, every scholar’s dream.

20 books later I had a 23 page annotated bibliography, ready to write.

And now, I stand on the other side of a fully-completed 32 page thesis. Completely drained, but completely full at the same time.

Yesterday, one of my friends described this project as an “exhausting privilege,” and I think those words articulate it perfectly. Aside from being completely enamored with Wendell Berry, his vision, lifestyle, and writing, the process of writing and everything I learned about the world we live in was truly life-changing and really, a gift.

I learned about the beauty of conforming our bodies to the naturalness of creation.
I learned about the amnesia that comes when we sever that connection.
I learned about the ways in which postmodern constructs gave us false-expectations.
I learned that when those expectations were not met, the disparity it brought- most unknowingly.
I learned that theorists with completely different views than I can completely humble you when they are right.
I learned that I cannot listen to mainstream music after studying postmodernism all day.
I learned that I also cannot function with adequate social skills after studying postmodern theory all day…
I learned that adhering to a philosophy with no Grand Narrative, in denial of a Transcendent Signified leaves you in a void.
I learned that this void doesn’t have to be your permanent dwelling place, but neither do other voids (of distraction/consumerism/media/technology/etc)
I learned that human beings are not representations, and that power structures may frame you, but they don’t define you.
I learned that to be fully human, or a little more human requires firsthand experiences; touch things, work with your hands, do something outdoors, smell fresh-baked bread, listen listen listen and listen some more.
I learned about ecocriticism and hegemonic discourse and ontology and empirical knowledge and archaeological quests for knowledge.
I learned a lot about meaninglessness as a conclusion.
But I learned a lot about hope, centeredness, a Foundation, a Real, purpose for human existence, peace, and rest.
I learned that everything I’ve been shown adds to the brick-laying, to build upon the foundation that stands.
And I learned that this is a Truth that is a light.

And in the throws of it all, I learned everything that they’ll tell you you’re supposed to learn when you do hard things. Patience, perseverance, permitting yourself to have lots of breakdowns under your desk locked in your research carrel (maybe that was an extra?). I also learned how small acts of kindness can go a very, very long way — like notes and drawings dropped on your head (literally), the comfort of hearing your carrel-neighbor-friend typing away next to you, tutors who give fabulous advice, and tutors who let you go over your allotted time because you’re laughing too hard to be productive during your appointment, friends who spontaneously buy you coffee, professors who make you bags of snacks the day before the due date, professors who pray for you, professors who give you all the pep-talks you could ever need, I could go on and on. I believe stress can bring communities together, and I have been both thrilled and humbled at the burst of community that came around me as I wrote.

I think its best to end with some words that now have more power and depth after walking into the throws of despair, peering into meaningless, and uncovering a hopeful reality in spite of a plauged, dark reality (I of course am referring to the theory I studied and the literary analysis that helped me conjure a hopeful counter-argument). In short, I studied how Michel Foucault thinks we have “decentered selves,” and discussed through his novel how Wendell Berry articulates a foundation to find purpose and a “center.”

and, I learned that I KNOW that I have a strong Foundation amidst it all – stress, theories, meaninglessness. Not only that, I learned and continue to learn that knowledge is a weighty responsibility, but always teaches you more about a story to be shared that can point others to the Foundation, the hope we have. These are the words I have to say about writing so many words, and here are the words that spurred me to remember why I got to do what I did:

When the night comes, 
and you don’t know which way to go 
Through the shadowlands, 
and forgotten paths, 
you will find a road 

Like an owl you must fly by moonlight with an open eye, 
And use your instinct as a guide, to navigate the ways that lays before you, 
You were born to, take the greatest flight 
Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love 
To carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow 
Every hollow in the dark of night 
Waiting for the light 
Take the flame tonight 
Child the time has come for you to go 
You will never be alone 
Every dream that you have been shown 
Will be like living stone 
Building you into a home 
A shelter from the storm 
Like a messenger of peace, the beauty waits be released 
Upon the sacred path you keep, leading deeper into the unveiling 
As your sailing, across the great divide 
Like a wolf at midnight howls, you use your voice in darkest hours 
To break the silence and the power, holding back the others from their glory 
Every story will be written soon 
The blood is on the moon 
Morning will come soon 
Child the time has come for you to go 
You will never be alone 
Every dream that you have been shown 
Will be like living stone 
Building you into a home 

A shelter from the storm

–White Owl, Josh Garrels