"Ponder" – "To think about (something) carefully, esp. before deciding or concluding."
My sincerest apologies to anyone who actually reads this blog. The following blog post is a rather disjointed collection of insights that have come to me over the past few weeks. In that time, a good friend of mine died. As a result, my thoughts are somewhat more melancholy than usual.
I think Man is the only creature that can feel totally alone while surrounded by eight million of his own kind.
Waking down the street in Brooklyn on a breezy fall day, I am struck by the subtle, understated beauty of Man’s flawed creations. Rows of century-old brownstone houses, with cracked concrete and dirty glass. Street lamps, crosswalks, subway grates – all designed by someone, made by someone, installed by someone, and seen by a thousand someones a day. These dirty streets and cracked sidewalks are beautiful, almost despite themselves. They try so hard to be ugly, and fail. Try fail because, at their essence, despite their utilitarian construction, their worn-out materials, and their humdrum purpose, they are created. Every faded crosswalk and chipped telephone pole is there because some one made it. We have left our mark on our surroundings, and it is both beautiful and flawed, like us. The creation bears the creator’s fingerprints. What does a Brooklyn street tell us about ourselves? Could God ever forget and disregard his own creations the way we ignore the beauty of our own creations?
I think of the way I see a termite mound, or an anthill; what would aliens think looking at New York City? Would they marvel that these upright-walking creatures have made such a large nest, or would they puzzle over the fact that so many of them spend their entire lives interacting with perhaps one percent of the people around them?
The truth is, we men and women have a need for each other’s love which is deeper and more fundamental than our need to breathe. And what’s worse, our body doesn’t force us to love. Often you don’t love enough until it’s too late. A million hearts in this city are dying in their sleep. What can I do to save them? Can I even save myself?
Rest in peace, Jon Scharf. I learned many things from you in life, and I have a feeling our relationship is still at its beginning. Death is not the end – it’s the intermission. But it’s teaching me to put my heart and soul into Act One. Because there are no rehearsals, no second chances – this is our shot. Do we love like it’s our only chance?
I just got out of confession at St. Thomas church in Montague, NJ. What a wonderful feeling it is to be absolved! I received an insight today, however, which really made me think. It seems obvious, but sometimes these things escape me :) Today, as in countless confessions past, I confessed the same sins – “the usual”, if you will – that I had confessed many times before. As I sat in the pew in the little church afterwards, feeling the grace of forgiveness wash over me, I prayed once more that God would free me from the temptations that plague me.
But then I stopped. It occurred to me, for the first time, that I was praying for the wrong thing. Everyone is subject to temptation, from the moment they are born to the moment they die. Adam was subject to it in the Perfect Garden. Jesus himself was tempted thrice. Who am I to seek to be excluded? I then realized that I was trying to desert. I was like a soldier, throwing down his weapon and begging to be released from the Service, when what I should be doing is fighting the battle before me. I was asking for a discharge when I should have been asking for more ammunition. God is not pleased by obedience without choice. There is no merit in doing the right thing when it is easy.
God is glorified – and we are sanctified – in the battle. God receives his highest praise not when we say “sure, whatever,” but when we say “take this cup from me, but not my will but Thine be done.” By asking to be freed from temptation, I was asking God to take from me my opportunity to truly glorify Him. God doesn’t want me to be a blissfully oblivious child, free from temptation. He wants me to be a valiant warrior, who perseveres in battle despite bleeding from a dozen wounds. We will never be free from temptation, and that’s okay. For it is only when we are tempted that we must sacrifice to do what is right, and Love finds its perfect form in Sacrifice. Every time we die to ourselves in the face of temptation, we imitate the Sacrifice made by Love Personified. Who am I do decline such an honor?
UPDATE: As usual, God has a wicked sense of humor, and there is nothing new under the sun. Today, the following popped up in my facebook news feed:
”No one ought to consider himself a true servant of God who is not tried by many temptations and trials. Temptations overcome are a sort of betrothal ring God gives the soul.” – St. Francis of Assisi
Touche, St. Francis. Touche.
I was reading a good book by Chesterton today, when I came across a short passage which seemed to me to be ahead of its time, and spoke to me as if the magnificent pipe-smoker somehow knew our world better than we ourselves do. I thought I would share it with you, and I hope you will share some of your thoughts and insights in the comments. It concerns the concept of “free love,” that ephemeral ideal which our modern culture from the 1960s on has chased after so hungrily. The term itself, “free love,” seemed to me an oxymoron, a term which defeated itself before it even left one’s lips, but I never could really express this thought in words. Enter Chesterton:
“The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words–’free-love’–as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.
Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-flavoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.“ – G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant, ”In Defense of Rash Vows.”
It seems to me that G.K. hit on something fundamental about love that we like to forget: that love is by its very definition not free. It is the antithesis of the “freedom” that we post-modernists so revere – the “freedom” to do whatever the hell we feel like at any moment. It seeks to bind us together, to inspire us to live not for ourselves, to swear to the heavens that we will do great things, and to do them. It takes from us the “freedom” to act alone and gives us the true freedom that comes only from denying oneself and sacrificing for another. But love is dangerous – it causes us to passionately defend, protect, and serve. It is as deadly as cyanide to a culture which seeks to control its citizens through self-absorbed apathy. And so this culture of selfishness seeks at all costs to prevent us from loving. It seeks to satisfy our deep and primal need for love by giving us a cheap imitation which is not love at all, but merely another, more dangerous, form of self-satisfaction. And we fall for it – and I am no exception. But I believe that the young mind, though easily fooled, is not so easily satisfied. And the young heart has a remarkable ability to sense lies and betrayal. I believe that the youth of the world can smell the stink of lies in the bill of goods that they have been sold, and are beginning to reject this false “love.” Am I right, my friends?