Dr. Anthony Esolen wrote of how the Christian imagination (the faith-driven thoughts that see God in the day-to-day) may be killed in busy, city-life:
"You can deny the existence of God, and of any meaning in the universe. You may take out the democratic steamroller and flatten all heroes in sight, or, perhaps more wisely, raise every ordinary selfish fool to the status of a hero. You may laugh at manhood and womanhood, and deprive boys and girls of ways to express longings natural to their sex. You may douse the flames of love of country, and convict your forefathers of wickedness, for not doing everything as you do. You may see all the world through the lens of politics. You may schedule a child into submission. You may keep him from witnessing honest and ingenious labor. You may muffle him up indoors."
Is there a solution? Yes, requiring the cell phone to be left on the coffee table.”All it might take for the imagination to breathe again is some time in solitude and silence.” (Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, 202)
(Photo credit: Me! Berries from outside my door.)
The internet is a tool. I get that. Tweets are seen world-round and there’s really no such thing as a “closed country” as long as the people have internet access. That’s amazing. It’s a new world.
But I belong to this new world, and can say it has mutated new kinds of blindness. Everyone seems worried about the lack of community, the lack of real relationships, caused by technology’s advances. But there are more subtle changes, too:
I read recently: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) Then I flipped to Romans 8 where it says that “Creation groans.”
The earth is not quiet.
Glory rings loud in tree branches. Mountain haze illuminate His permanency. When it comes to God, nature talks about Him to the point of redundancy.
But on my cell phone, I can’t hear it. And descending to the metro station via gum-encrusted escalators, I can’t see it. Stillness is drowned out by the city, by busy, and by brick and mortar.
In a now-viral Ted talk, a guerrilla gardener from Los Angeles said,
"You just couldn’t imagine how amazing a sunflower is and how it affects people…I have witnessed my garden become…a tool for the transformation of my neighborhood... Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”(See the rest here//Caveat: some language)
This man, who doesn’t seem to perceive the glory of God in nature, recognizes that something incredible happens when people appreciate it. Standing still in the cricket-chirping universe, (for some moments) apart from things made by human hands, can have tremendous value.
The guerrilla gardener pulpit-thumped: “I see kids of color and they’re just on this track…that leads them to nowhere. So with gardening, I see an opportunity where we can train these kids to take over their communities, to have a sustainable life.” He said that kids need to be taken off the streets and shown “the honor in growing your own food.”
Doesn’t that ring of Genesis? Of cultivating the land and having dominion? In valuing the earth as a good gift, we catch glimmers of the created order. And revisiting the created order encourages flourishing.
When we forever walk among monuments to human commerce that crowd out the sky, is it any wonder we think the world is about us? Beside billboards and dry concrete, too much screams of our glory.
Of course, nature doesn’t solve everything. It cannot. I grew up in the country, and there were more sex offenders in our population-poor county than in the concrete jungle nearby. Nature cannot redeem men’s souls. But it can echo of a long-ago lost created order, and point souls to the Creator who redeems.
I wish they could have that one shattering moment of confession to dramatic failure of years past and present…I want that moment for them, when they walk under a night sky and look at the stars with the new and numbing knowledge that nothing stands between them and their Creator.~ - Elise (the sister of a good friend, writing on legalism)
It seems every time I log in to Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr these days, there is a new scandal. The commentary on scandals follow like this: Christians are perplexed. Former Christians are outraged. Those Who Keep a Respectful Distance are usually confused. Everyone tries to offer a solution, which is simple, but always controversial.
The internet lights up, and my Facebook feed becomes a hall of podiums.
I shut my laptop and shut the blinds. Occasionally, I’ll try to diagram the arguments in my head, but they soon run in circles. Because “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy…” and anger rarely makes a logical case.
I want to shut these people out. I have enough troubles to deal with— I could give you a list. (And in my head, I have a separate list of the dangers of ranting online, and how the internet incentivizes skepticism and outrage.)
But shutting out is what the debaters do; a mind closed to reason is not one of the fruits of the “wisdom from above.” I pull back open the blinds.
A quick review of our context pulls the scene back into perspective. We are all victims and instigators in a cracked universe. Annie Dillard called herself a “frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world” who has “eaten and have done my share of eating too.”
Disappointment, heartbreak, betrayal, divorce. Disrespect, mutilation, violence, verbal lashings. We live in a world where these things are not surprising, watching what we love burn before our eyes. Isn’t that victimhood enough for us all?
There is a central hunger. The world throbs as one. Only when seen in this context does arguing begin to sound like the mourning that it is.
And of course, as my Facebook feed refreshes for new scandals, I remember: this pain is ours to keep, but not always, and not forever. Samwise was right—the sad things will come untrue. One day, all of mournings’ forms—shrieking arguments and cowed silences—will empty out. He who took our pain as His own will fill us. Finally.
Child, child, do you not see? For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are.~ Lloyd Alexander
(Our kitschy lil’ elephant salt shakers.)
It is an exhausting but good season, sprinkled with just enough chai lattes to keep my eyelids peeled back. (If I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent on the phone with customer service over our wedding registries…)
Then, there are thoughts that whirl in my head like this:
Questions about covenants.
The meaning of marriage as a picture of the Gospel.
How to glorify God when we’ve both been secretly inundated with the message "Your Spouse Will Make You Always Happy Happy."
Then—what is my responsibility as a wise wife-to-be? Is there value in frugality? (Or better, is there virtue in it?)
Then work calls. I have to design something and send it out, quickly, quickly, and try to find where I left off in my head.
But burrowed in covers at the end of the day, all I can think is how grateful I should be—how grateful I am—underneath it all.
(Less than 45 days…)
"I do not like viewing animals like that," he said. "They’re not just machines that exist to produce my food."
I imagined chickens enclosed in cages too tight to move, and although I’m no animal rights activist, I believe he’s right. He mentioned how Lewis wrote in the space trilogy of animals serving humans as humans serve God; we may have the power to do what we want to them, but it is not kind to view them as simple instruments.
This makes me think: God does not view us exclusively as instruments.
Today, I didn’t have the strength to do what I needed to do. Class was starting soon, but I skipped. And I went to bed. The doctor had told me about this—that my veins are tired.
If I were only an instrument, I’d be a terrible one. If I were a hammer, I’d be broken. If I were one of those pitiful caged birds I’d be the one with feathers shedding in clumps on the ground.
Matthew Henry wrote that men are “but instruments in the hand of Providence,” and he was correct in a sense. We were created for God, and He may do with us what He wants. But we are not merely means by which He accomplishes great things. We are also the great things He accomplishes. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) Here is the mystery: We are created as instruments, but amazingly, we are part of the end goal.
Created souls in relationship with God are not the neatly diagrammed subjects the psychiatrists would like us to be. We can be understood in terms of charts and data, as animals may be known as poultry or pork, but we cannot be truly known as we are.
I cannot accomplish much today in terms of God’s calling on my life: But in me, Christ may yet accomplish something, as He brings me to know Him as I am fully known.
I’ve never looked at Facebook before and felt small. Bored, annoyed, intrigued—yes. Never small. But as a couple hundred diverse lives updated their statuses on my feed, I suddenly felt, working from my couch, that my life was very unimportant.
Businessmen in Korea are signing deals in right now. Children in Saudi Arabia are scurrying to school, as some hikers are probably lost in the woods somewhere in Wyoming, and some boat is probably taking on too much water while tuna-fishing in the Bering Sea.
The world is like one gigantic beehive, with all our lives crammed together, humming away. I sit here, simply breathing, as lights flicker on And I am very, very small.
It’s not so bad. I don’t mind being small. The whole spinning universe looks all the more magnificent when you know you’re an unnecessary part.
But there’s the catch. Knowing we’re unnecessary doesn’t exactly give the warm fuzzies.
I was told the other day that the reason the Harry Potter books were such bestsellers was because every highschool and middle school kid could identify with Harry’s struggles. He was a perfectly ordinary, bullied little boy. He was also secretly, in his own way, magnificent.
In the pit of our stomachs, we know we’re perfectly ordinary; but we live with the hope that, like Harry, we’ll be proven wrong.
This started me wondering how many things we do to prove our own magnificence. Every contest-driven reality TV show (Cupcake Wars or Elite Models) is fueled by this urge to stand out. The winner is eventually the one who does. But maybe the whole racket is designed so the viewer at home can critique the winner the entire time, bolstering their own sense of superiority, and knowing that if that person on the screen is magnificent, they are even better.
Jane Austen asked, “What are men to rocks and mountains?” and Shakespeare said through Hamlet that even kings are never really more than the dust that will one day get caught on a traveler’s shoe. This could lead to nihilism; reaching out, Gatsby-like, for a still unattainable significance.
This recognition of smallness is like finding childhood again. Stars are more dazzling this way, sleep feels more peaceful, and the breezes are sweeter. I am small; yes, small enough to see that my continued humming along in this vast expanse is a miracle.
I am not needed, but I am loved.
While the world tilts and wobbles on its axis, and there are explosions and hurricanes and snowstorms, I am still here and He knows my name.