Reading is Like Eating

flowers musing cs lewis

I am always chewing words and rolling them around in my mouth. All the time, I am reading. Until a few minutes ago it has bothered me for about 16 years that I don’t remember a tenth of what I read. A tenth of a tenth, if I’m being completely honest.

But then I had this thought: I don’t remember many individual meals I’ve eaten, either. And yet I keep eating. All the time, I am eating. The food nourishes me until the next meal. I don’t have to remember all these meals. I eat them and enjoy the taste and texture of them in my mouth — even the broccoli — and then I walk on the earth and put my hands to world and work and play while the food’s nutrients distribute throughout my body, until the next meal.

This morning I read about Tim and his morning routine. Tim runs in the morning, and a delightful task he’s added to his morning routine the past couple years is to find a flower to photograph every time he runs. “It’s amazing how many different blossoms there are, and when you look for a new one every day, you see the change of seasons, the immense beauty of nature, and the beauty of things that you might otherwise pass by.”

Years ago Tim read a C.S. Lewis parable about a man who, after death, is walking along a road and realizes that the flowers simply appear like colored blobs to him. He is met by a spirit guide who explains that this is because he’d never really looked at them when he was alive. “I don’t want to make that mistake,” Tim said. Reading poems and philosophy can infuse the ordinary work of the day and the world we live in with meaning and are an important part of his everyday life.

Everybody eats. And if you can read, you read. And the words you eat nourish you while they’re in your mind and then you probably forget them until you have to eat again. You don’t have to remember every meal, you don’t even have to remember any meal, you just taste and enjoy and delight and consider what’s in your mouth and eyes right here at this moment, and you work and play and then you do it again, and if you don’t have a flower to photograph then you pay attention to something else near your body, and your paying attention infuses the ordinary world with meaning, and you give thanks until your next meal.

God is Silent and He is There

There were some weeks when I was not a Christian because I felt so intimate with God.  There were weeks when I was a Christian because our tradition invites us to remember that sometimes God is hidden.  And even though God is hidden, God is still present.  
–Lauren Winner

silence

“That’s not why I believe in God, Jamie – for that reason.  That’s not why I believe in him,” Jordan said, sitting on a tree stump and looking straight ahead.“Then why, Jordan?” Jamie said, raising his voice a little but still within a conversational tone.  “I don’t understand you.  I try to but I just don’t.  We’ve known each other since we were little.  We’ve done everything together.  Now here were are all grown up, able to make big decisions on our own.  And you still believe that Sunday School stuff.  I don’t get you, man.” 

Jordan smiled.  “A lot of times I don’t get me, either, Jamie.”  He thought for a few moments.  “You talked about God’s silence, how he’s never there when you try to talk to him…”

“Yeah.”

“And there doesn’t seem to be scientific proof that he exists.”

“Right.”

“But that’s not why I believe in him – those reasons.  I’m totally with you on a lot of what you’re saying.  Do you know how many times I’ve asked God to speak to me and he hasn’t?” Jamie gave a slight shake of the head as if he was interested in the answer but not too interested.

“Thousands,” Jordan said confidently.  “Thousands.  Do you know how many times I’ve actually heard God?”

“God talks to you?”

No,” Jordan responded immediately, “That’s just it – he doesn’t.  I’ve never heard God speak to me in my life.  I used to convince myself I did, because that’s what a good Christian does.  There have been times in my life when I tried so hard to hear him speak, but guess what?  Nothing.”

“That’s ridiculous.  You’re crazy.  Stupid, actually,” Jamie said matter-of-factly.  “And you still believe he’s out there.  He doesn’t speak, there’s no evidence of him, and you still think he’s there.  It’s literally unbelievable to me, Jordan.”

“I hear ya, man.  I really do.  And I think I might depart from what a lot of the pastors and scientists would tell you, but I honestly don’t give a rat’s excrement instrument.  I decided a short while ago that I’m not going to give the formulaic answer that I thought I was supposed to give all these years.  I’m just going to tell you what’s actually been happening to me, and you can take it for what it is.”

Jamie’s interest was piqued.  He hadn’t heard Jordan talk this seriously in a long time.

“I don’t hear God.  I don’t see God.  All the Evidence that Demands a Verdict-type books that scholars can write don’t do much for me.  I’ve read them.  Frankly I don’t care if you can or can’t prove God’s existence with a philosophical argument or with scientific data or a steady diet of positive music for the whole family.  As time goes on, Jamie, the reality of God being there – just being there – gets thicker and thicker.  His silence is deafening to me.  In a crazy, possibly sick sort of way, the longer God is silent, the louder he becomes.  Have you ever been around someone that doesn’t talk a whole lot, but when they do it’s pretty profound?”

“My dad, actually,” Jamie confessed.

“It’s almost like the wiser the person is, the less they speak.  It’s like he lets everybody’s words leave their mouths and even though he knows they’re just babbling about nothing and if they could actually hear themselves they would be embarrassed, but he doesn’t say anything.  He lets them keep talking.  And slowly some people start to realize, just because this wise person is in their presence, that their words are pretty insignificant.  The wise person’s silence becomes more and more evident.  I think it’s like that with God.  For me it is, anyway.  The longer I live in this world the louder his silence becomes.  I’m getting to the point where God’s silence is so much an evidence that he’s there, I forget that other people don’t think that same way.”

“You’re nuts, Jordan.”

“My point exactly.  But I told you I couldn’t give you the answer I’ve been trained to give you.  I can’t do it.  Mostly because I actually don’t believe it – the formula answers.  They’re not real to me.  What’s real to me is that God’s silence often overwhelms me.  The air around me is so thick with him that all these debates on whether or not he is or isn’t there seem like taking 10 steps back.  Wait, we’re still asking if he’s even there?  To me it’s like saying, ‘This tennis ball in my hand is a tennis ball,’ and a Ph.D guy says, ‘No it’s not.’  Uhhh…alright, you guys keep talking, I’m gonna go play with the dog or something.”

“You’re nuts but you’re funny.”

“Thanks for that, anyway.  You’re as stupid as I am, by the way,” Jordan joked.

“I know.  I know.”

A few hours later in his dark, quiet room, Jamie laid his head down on his pillow, and the silence was slightly louder than the night before.

Free Write (writing, winter, spring)

pad.jpg

Lottery balls, these thoughts, grabbed out of midair and transferred through fingers & ink, finding a home on this blue-lined, yellow legal pad.  A snapshot of my mind.

In college I was forced to take a class called Composition I, which I wasn’t hugely fond of, although my professor was an unusual man – not totally strange, though, just enough to make me think that he loved what he did – and he made bearable and even halfway enjoyable what would have otherwise been a painfully boring class.  I remember the classroom well because it was at the top of an ancient brick building called “Founder’s Hall,” so-named because it’s been around (I think?) since the college began in the late 1800’s.  It was Winter quarter, too, and the cold wind blew noisily not just around the building but also made its way through cracks and old window sills, finding an unwelcome abode in my thinly-protected bones.  Luckily for the females this was the one quarter they were permitted to wear pants.

Garbage is what he called them.  Pure garbage (a strange two-word combination, no?).  I didn’t like hearing it then and I don’t like thinking about it now, but I am finding it to be true.  Workable garbage, though, right?  Moldable garbage, if there was such a thing.  At least it’s a first step, but I suppose that’s all it is, which is why it is so-named.  Garbage, first drafts, pure garbage.

I want to do things that I actually don’t want to do, but since I would like it if someone else did it, I’ll do it.  Like wearing a Santa hat.  For some reason they’re usually itchy, more so than a normal head covering, but still I want to wear one to the grocery store in mid-to-late December because when I see a Santa hat on somebody else it usually makes me smile.  Why not give somebody – or several somebody’s – the chance to smile at the Santa hat on my own head?  I can deal with the itchiness for a while; it seems like a worthy trade in my book.  December is usually cold and dark anyway, so why not brighten things up a bit?

Cold and dark, cold and dark.  These two demons used to team up for a nasty one-two punch for a few months every year.  Even in high school they depressed me, these two evils.  I can handle the dark.  Dark and warm, no problem.  A slow walk through the soft grass underneath the stars on an early June night?  No problem.  Enjoyable, even.  But a frigid walk through dirty snow from the car to an empty house – or even worse, from the car to a parent-teacher meeting at school – at 8:00 PM on a dismal Tuesday in January?  Depressing.  Ugh, so depressing.

But then Spring marched in with signs of life.  December dealt death while March meant mirth.  When the snow began to melt and the sun hung around more and more every day, and the smell – oh the smell!  Yes, I could actually smell Springtime pushing its way in – I started to thaw with the ground.  She arrived slowly, slowly, like a train just commencing a long journey.  It was still dark by 6:00 in March, but it didn’t matter because the demons were dying.  It was only a matter of time before the angel of April swept in, clothed in bright mornings and warm evenings, to rescue us from the evil twins.  Begone, brother one!  Begone, brother two!  You’ve reigned long enough.  Go away and never come back.  At least not until November.