Monday, October 1, 2012

Wise and foolish men

"Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game 'or else people won't take it seriously.' Apparently it's like that. Your bid -- for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity -- will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high, until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world. Nothing less will shake a man -- or at any rate a man like me -- out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself."

-- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

What seems like cruel, ceaseless punishment is the torture that makes me grasp the infancy of my faith and the flimsy foundation it rests on -- not of rock but quickly erodible sand. When I'm broken and weak, desperate for any sort of sign You haven't completely abandoned me, may my thirst not be subdued by self-pity but relieved by and made more desirous of Your incomprehensible grace.

In other words, it's time to grow up. Time to move on to the solid food of the Gospel and discard that Gerber Baby tasteless mush I've heretofore been subsisting on.

Bold. Bold. Bold. I must be bold. Trying to legitimize my weakness by dismissing it as reasonable is even worse than disobedience. It's willful denial. Please use me not just despite my inadequacies, but precisely because of them -- so glory will be returned only to Your name.

"This people honors me with their lips
But their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." Matthew 15:8-9

Friday, February 3, 2012

Frightening, foolish... and fantastic

Once, someone asked me what single quality I most wanted to pass on to my children. Without hesitation I replied, "Joie de vivre." Love of life. That sense of waking up in the morning and thinking that there may be good things ready to happen.

That fantastic feeling is easily lost in a frightening tide of bad tidings. Once, people drifted into unexamined marriages with illusions about a lifetime of romance, or torrid sex, or two hearts that beat as one. Today people plan weddings dogged by divorce and adultery statistics, hearing ubiquitous warnings that marriage is hard work and they might want to try couples counseling even before the ceremony. While once everything was unspoken, now it seems that everything is out there.

Or everything but this: that lots of marriages are happy or at least contented, and pulling in harness can be more satisfying than going it alone. That amid the guys who try to pin you down at a party, it is not so unusual to find one who lights you up and makes you laugh. That sometimes people do stupid things and take stupid chances and get away with it without ruining their lives. A life of unremitting caution, without the carefree--or even, occasionally, the careless--may turn out to be half a life, like the Bible with the Ten Commandments but no Song of Solomon or Sermon on the Mount.

So this is a plea for parents to remember to have That Talk with their kids. No, not the one about smoking cigarettes or driving under the influence. That's the one they will certainly get. What they need to hear occasionally is about the pleasures, not just the perils. Even when we talk about September 11, we can tell a tale of human goodness as well as evil, a tale of those who saved strangers as well as those who murdered them. For all the sleazebags who will try to lure a kid into a car, there are many Good Samaritans who are just concerned when they see a 12-year-old trudging along the road in the rain. I suppose we live at a time when we can't afford to let them accept the Samaritan's ride. But we also can't afford to have them think that Samaritans no longer exist. All these lectures, lessons and cautionary tales can't be to preserve a lifetime of looking over one shoulder. As Oscar Wilde wrote, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

-From the brilliant Anna Quindlen (full post here). I miss her writing.

This is what I still (perhaps naively) live by -- I'd say it's been worth it.