I really liked that Advent blogging thing where I had to wrassle a text or two every day. As numerous creativity experts have noted, nothing spurs a horse to run like … spurs. Constraints. Limits. Impositions. So, I think I’ll get me some.
I have three in mind. One is to keep doing the Bible thing; it’s good for me. I’ll try to wring something out of the weekly lectionary of interest not only to my Jesus-y friends but also to my post-Christian and SBNR* buds.
* spiritual but not religious … but then you knew that.
Another is to finally dive into a book I snagged last summer, after hearing a snippet of it read in a workshop. It’s called Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe. It’s a riff on the bazillion books of affirmations out there, that give a pithy title, a paragraph of insight, captured in an affirmation to be repeated throughout the day, as needed. A riff … from a slightly different point of view.
When I got my own copy, I played the “open the book randomly and see what universal wisdom leaps out at me” game. The book opened to a page with this on it:
FAILING AT WHAT MATTERS
We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in the light of what they suffer. — DIETRICH BONHOEFFER
As you watch TV or gaze up the corporate ladder, everyone but you seems accomplished and successful. How sweet it is, then, to realize that failure is what life is all about; failure is why you’re here. Isn’t there more nobility in your failed attempt to conquer your self, or to relieve the solitude of the one you love, or to just continue living this difficult life in the face of oncoming death than there is in the greatest success of any banker, brain surgeon, or late-night aerobics instructor? You can ultimately succeed only at unimportant things. The loftiest things in life always end in failure. So the next time you’re suffering from low self-esteem, remember this: every beautiful, rich, successful person you see on TV will, like you, fail at what matters to them most. If you seek something worthwhile, seek failure.
I fail at the most important things.
Well. I realize that doesn’t do much for those of you who are beautiful, rich and successful, but for me? Hip-deep in rewriting a book for the third time in hopes it might see the light of day in the hands of someone who wanted to learn about white people undoing racism? And otherwise fairly unwillingly unemployed? Let’s just say it struck a chord. I promptly laid the book aside, knowing there’d be a perfect time to indulge the rest of it. And in the meantime, no need to wallow … as failures go, I was/am having a pretty good life.
And now, I realize, is that perfect time. I can indulge an affliction a week for the rest of the year. And improvise. Under the constraint of the assigned affliction. I am giddy at the prospect.
So, that’s two. Something Jesus-y, and then some affliction to disturb my complacency.
For number three, well, I have developed this affection for Joanna Macy and Anita Barrow’s translations of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Last fall I acquired and enjoyed their translation of Rilke’s Book of Hours, and also stashed away a copy of their A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, to peruse when the new year rolled around. You can see where this is going. More constraints. It’s kind of … Germanic. Something from the daily Rilkes will strike a chord, and out something will come.
And then, of course, there’s going to be the random bits that can’t help but get written when you are in love (or annoyed) with so much of what’s around you. (And yes, sometimes those two categories overlap, profoundly.)
I could be quite organized and label these things, for those of you who want to be warned off Jesus-y stuff or afflictions. Or German poets. We’ll see. On the other hand, I might be quite random.
But enough resolutions. Let’s get to it. Since there are not actually 52 afflictions (how inconvenient), I will start with the killer quotes Mr. Boyd thrusts upon us to get us in the right frame of mind.
We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. — Franz Kafka
If you are going to tell people the truth, you had better make them laugh or they will kill you. — Oscar Wilde
Nice combination. So, I’m wondering, has there been an axe for the frozen sea inside of you? Comments welcome ….
My beloved M will tell you that I do not have a favorite anything — I can’t even pick a favorite color — so I cannot and will not be reduced to one axe. But I can give you my top five or so.
Also a Mother: Work and Family as Theological Dilemma by Bonnie Miller McLemore was a book I picked up when I was in my first year of working motherhood. I saw an ad for it in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, which I was reading on a transatlantic flight, coming home from a business trip to London, which I had abandoned my 9-month-old daughter to go on, this despite the fact that she had the chicken pox.
Needless to say, I definitely had the work/family dilemma going on. The theological part … meh, I thought. Not so much. I just wanted to learn to be a working mom. (Those of you who know about the nine years of theological education that have transpired between then and now can stop snickering. It’s really not polite.)
Beware, friends. God is shameless, and will do anything to sneak in.
The next book — recommended by a friend who saw me plunging headlong toward seminary and thought he might temper my enthusiasms a bit — was Karen Armstrong’s A History of God. Great stuff on all three monotheistic religions. I’d always been a tempted-toward-Judaism kind of Southern Baptist, and the Islam stuff was fascinating. Onward.
Getting in bed with the Mennonites meant things took a slightly more serious turn: Donald Kraybill’s Upside Down Kingdom made every point that needed making, right around the turn of the century, and a lot more clearly than anything by St. John Howard Yoder.
And then, my favorite, Ada María Isasi-Díaz and her writings in Mujerista Theology on solidarity. I’ll be the rest of my life living into what I learned from her. If I get another community to work it out in.
But the axe of all time? The one all the others pointed to? Jon Sobrino’s Where is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope. If perchance you wanted a primer on being the kind of Christian Gandhi was always looking for, read page 85. It’s all you really need.
(And note, what’s on that page totally connects to the Bonhoeffer quote above. [Seriously. God is shameless in the coincidence department.])
Which leads us to laughter. (In Andrew Boyd’s terms, anyway.)
When you have had an axe laid upside your head, and you think you have learned a truth, and you need some other folks to live into it with you, laughter is essential. Which I think is part of my problem. I can’t tell you how many times a conversation gets going and then people get that look on their faces that says — in the words of my apt teenagers — “you killed it.”
I’m still breathing, so there’s hope for me. I resolved for gratitude in my last blog post. In this one, I will resolve for humor. Lord, let me laugh more often … and maybe give someone else something to smile about, too. A phrase comes to mind …
“It’s only life, after all …” — Indigo Girls.
Yeah. But then there’s this: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” — Jesus.
And how does that happen? Maybe something you’ll see out of the corner of your eye will give you a clue ….