The Breaking of Waves


 

There are times when the feebleness of prose fails; when clarity of language and reasoned arguments cannot do justice to the cries of the heart. In the depths of our souls there are emotions, experiences, pain, joy which defy the pathetic limitations of mere words; whose depths and complexities, whose heights and depths, defeat the poor tools of the spoken or written word. It is at such times, perhaps, that the poets take over; where language becomes a tool of another part of the soul, of the spirit. It is a time when the sound and the image of language — for language is the only tool our soul possesses to reach outward — comes to the fore, where images and emotions trump simple structure, where sentences fail but evocative words must bear the unspeakable pain or unsurpassable joy which the soul knows, but the mind cannot grasp.

It was at such a moment that I wrote a poem — where images formed and fleeting could not be expressed by any other means, where deep pain and lifelong experience, where emptiness and hope, joy and agony, swirled together in a violent whirlpool seeking voice which could be found no other way. Such was the purpose, I now understand, for ancient icons painted in gold and the faded red of blood spilled and eyes swollen by tears, of hope and heartache hand in hand, which line the ancient walls of Eastern churches and the fading art of ages past.

Someone very dear to me — my own flesh and blood — is going through a very dark valley. No words can express the joy and satisfaction which a child brings into your life. It is a deep thing of the heart — inexpressible through words, better expressed through the countless deeds of shepherding them through their early years; investing your life, often inadequately, often distracted by false priorities and our foul selfishness so profoundly shortsighted. There comes a time, after years of joy and agony, frustration and fear, when you finally set them free — like some young child learning to ride a bike, watching them swerve and struggle for balance, wandering left and right, falling and getting up again, fearing for their safety and flinching at their pain, knowing and praying that the balance will be found and their road thereby made straight.

Yet once on their road, a large part of your soul rides with them. Lost is the ability to easily check and correct their wrong turns — to even know if every turn which seems wrong may instead be a new road toward greater purpose and joy, or a downward path to pain and destruction. To lose such control over something so dear — a control we truly never have had, but which in our delusions of parental power we had believed — can be an unbearable agony, for it shows us the fragility of life and how foolish are our pretensions of manipulating our own journeys, much less those of another.

The veneer of life may be smooth or turbulent, rolling or roiled, and our eye sees only its very surface, placid or violent. Yet forces far vaster drive its movement, tides and tempests, currents and continents. The very violence of a hard wave breaking upon jagged rocks, transforming its placid swells into a fine and fleeting misting foam which arcs high and falls again to the sea, is but a the final act of a unimaginably complex play, whose actors and plots are unseen and unknown. Yet the culmination of these forces transform while they transfix: the wave is shaped by the rocks as the rocks are sculpted by the wave.

It is a small thing to speak of grace, of prayer, of transcendent power transformational, of wisdom and foolishness, in the words smooth and rhythmic belying the power of the forces thus described. It is in the violence of the wave crashing on the rocks that such deep forces rise to the surface, testing the mettle of the soul, bringing forth fear and apprehension from the depths of our being which belie and challenge the trust in something greater and higher than ourselves. We may at such times turn in many directions, as the surf and mist may fall slowly back to sea or lie stagnant in pools of desiccated brine. Such times demand wisdom which we do not possess; such times demand strength which we utterly lack; such times demand peace when only fear and confusion seem possible.

Such times are, for this poor fool, seasons of much prayer — as if every moment of our life should not be — but a merciful God still listens and touches the heart though his treasured child has wandered afar. It is at such times that one sees how frail is faith, how cheap are words, how empty are our souls though our lives be filled with hollow riches unimaginable.

If you are among those who pray, and are given a few moments’ grace to do so, your prayers will be cherished and valued beyond measure by myself and my family. I cannot say at this time how the events of the next few days will play out — as if we ever know such a thing — but I have come, through many years of foolishness and failure, to a point where trust trumps knowledge, for He whom I trust has never let me down — though my eyes have often seen Him but dimly.

Interior Designs


 
WARNING: YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A SITE BANNED BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT.

Seriously, this is cool: this humble blog has been blocked by web filtering software at the Department of the Interior.

How awesome is that!!

Man, the place just ain’t been the same since Jimmy Watt left it, ya know?

Of course, one might hope for censorship from a somewhat bigger player than the Department of the Interior–the bureaucracy whose job in life is to watch trees grow, prevent mining and drilling only in areas where these natural resources exist, and to periodically burn down Los Alamos.

But, hey! You gotta start somewhere.

And from the looks of the other sites blocked–some big hitters, these–maybe my ship has finally arrived…

UPDATE: Here’s the latest scoop on what’s going on with the blocking of sites at the Department of the Interior, over at PoliticsCentral.

Thoughts on the Long War


 
My recent post on the importance of clear-sighted understanding of Islam in the turbulence of our present world provided an opportunity to contemplate a number of issues regarding our current long war against those driven by this ideology. It is one thing to say that this is a war of ideas more than military might, or a war of absolutes; it is quite another to create clear understanding and strategy for fighting and winning such war. So I hope here–and perhaps in some subsequent posts–to provide a few thoughts about the current progress of our struggle and some ways which we as a culture must begin to address it.
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Warren Peace

coexist bumper sticker
 
David Warren, in my opinion, is one of the better writers and commentators on the web. His pieces are well-written, concise, and always thought-provoking. His latest piece, called Comparative Religion, nevertheless misses the mark, in my opinion.

The essay begins with an analogy of anger in the blind, using it as a metaphorical segue into a discussion of comparative religion, especially as it relates to Islam. He closes his essay with the following statement:

Today, a great deal of nonsense is spoken about Islam–as ever, especially by its apologists. There is a similar blindness towards a cultural tradition that includes much more than crazed jihadis. It is particularly the religious, the spiritual dimension of Islam that is incomprehensible, not only to observers who have not lived in Muslim lands, but to many “postmodern” Muslims themselves, who \'ve become as blind to “Allah, the merciful, the compassionate,” as Western postmoderns have become to the Christian understanding of He who is Love.

I am not saying there aren \'t many hard, violent passages in the Koran, and Hadiths; nor am I saying these are no better or worse than similar passages in the New Testament, or Dharmapada. For to say this is to ignore fact. But before we stare, at what may seem alien and frightening, and before we let anger make us blind, we must realize that the sincere Muslim, in his humility, is doing what we are, when we are seeking God. He is in prayer.

It seems to me that this, “we’re all praying to the same God” mentality–this brushing aside of those pesky jihadists, and searching instead for the deep, peaceful spirituality which is true Islam–is naive at best, and quite dangerous at worst. A scholarly dissection of the theology of Islam, Christianity, or any other major religion is not really the point here–although logic would dictate that the vastly disparate nature of the deity in each of these religions is fundamentally incompatible with any contention that same transcendent being is worshiped by all. One cannot doubt that the devotion of a sincere adherent of any major religion takes place in an environment of sincerity in seeking the God of their understanding. But much can be gleaned from the manifestations of religion in culture and history, and as such these fruits–the outworking of religious convictions in societies and cultures–may tell us far more than erudite discussions of theology and the relative teachings and merits of the sacred scriptures of each religion.
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Moving the Ancient Boundaries – I

Do not move the ancient boundary stone set up
    by your forefathers.
        — Proverbs 22:28 —

 
old houseAncient wisdom: a sage injunction uttered in a time when simple shepherds and farmers parsed out land for grazing and grain, speaking to the prudence of respecting contracts, negotiated agreements with those with whom we live, to abide in a measure of peace. Be honest; respect the property and possessions of those with whom you must abide; do not trade peaceful relations for parcels of land.

Yet like so much of this ancient book of Proverbs, its well runs far deeper than it appears, with ageless wisdom waiting for the discerning, those open to its application in different days and other ages. And so it seems that we, as a culture, have been hard at work for decades, if not longer, moving the boundary stones set up by our forefathers. These markers today are not simple rocks in fields or walls on hills to mark water rights or restrain wandering sheep, but are rather the cultural and moral underpinnings of that which we call Western civilization. We are busy cutting wood from the pilings to add garlands to the gables, and wondering why the house leans so far off vertical.
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The Path – III:
The Triumph of Failure

A journal of one fool’s journey, and the faith which found him.

 
crossThe day was a warm one–stifling, more precisely, as only an early summer day in D.C. can be, the thick moist air hanging heavy like velvet draperies in the close confines of our brick apartment. Shorts and tee shirt clung to clammy skin as rare breezes through casement windows proved scant relief for a sweat-drenched brow. Yet the heat went unnoticed, my eyes transfixed on words which caressed like gentle breezes through windows unseen yet freshly opened.

The words like wind whistled through fractured spirit, at once cool and soothing, yet firing embers long dormant like some blacksmith’s bellows: faith and forgiveness; peace and purpose; grace and guidance. A child rejected, adopted and treasured; a boy broken in spirit, made whole and at peace; a man worth nothing, repurchased at great price.
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The Triumph of Failure”

The Path – II:
Exodus

A journal of one fool’s journey, and the faith which found him.

 
It happened by accident.

Really.

Just off the lot, spanking new, a canary yellow convertible Beetle with black canvas top: her first car. She never saw the woman as she backed out of the parking stall. Fender-bender, to be sure–but deeply distressing, as only the first wound on new wheels can be. “Why?!” her muttered prayer, angry yet submissive by will, seeking to understand what could have no meaning beyond divine capriciousness. Her unintended target, an older women, gracious and composed, proved more merciful than mad–and by twists quite serpentine, two women met by accident that day, mangled fenders forging new friendship. The older woman’s daughter–a remarkable young lady who lost her sight in early adulthood–soon became Cynthia’s good friend as well. And before long she was introduced by this new friendship to another woman–who was a medical student.

Linda was funny, smart, sassy, and tough as nails. One of only ten women in a medical school class of 200, she could throw a punch as well as take one–a highly useful skill in the days before robust friendships between men and women were castrated by PC speech codes and university thought police. She excelled in the dark, sarcastic humor of the urban Northeast–a skill I too had learned in home and high school, a drop-forged survival shield guarding wounded spirit with sarcastic put-down humor.
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Exodus”

Goodbye, My Old Friend

Lucy
 
Today is a day filled with many tears and much heartache: a loved one has passed on.

The call came late in the day. Lucy, our 13 year old chow, had been showing her age, but still seemed in good health, generally happy and active. Over the past few weeks, however, she had had some days of pronounced lethargy, and had been eating very little and losing weight. Nevertheless, she seemed herself most days — until today. She refused to eat, was unable to stand, and was taken to the vet. The news was grim: she had widely metastatic cancer, and was in her last days. The choice was difficult, but we knew it was the best for her, and after saying our goodbyes, she was gently put to sleep in my wife’s arms.

I stayed late at work, doing nothing either urgent or important, but simply passing time, not wanting to go home. My family was together at my wife’s mother’s house, and I knew our home would be empty. I drove up to the house, dreading my destination. No raucus barking proclaiming my arrival. No smiling face at the back door, no gently wagging spitz-curl tail, no pinned back ears joyful at this reunion, no vocal squeals nor licks on legs.

There was only, silence.

I walked around the house, knowing she was gone, but still in some irrational hope thinking I might see her. Her spot by the window, where she spent endless hours watching the neighborhood, stood empty. Her food dish, barely touched, sat where final attempts to give her nourishment had failed. The fire in my heart burned hot, its acrid smoke tightening my throat, and tears flowed freely.

Lucy as puppy
 

She had been a fine dog, noble, reserved, deeply affectionate with her family, loyal to a fault. She was strong of will, and needed a firm hand at times, but always came around. You could always get her to lie down — even against her will — but you’d better expect some sassy backtalk when she hit the ground. She had her idiosyncrasies, as most pets do: a passionate love for Kleenex, cookie dough, marshmellows–and toilet paper. If you left the bathroom door open, you could always find Lucy: just follow the paper trail, carefully unraveled–and there she’d be at the end, happy as a clam, munching on her paper snack. Her sweet spot sat beneath her curled tail — an area which you simply could not scratch enough. We used to joke that you could go for days without seeing Lucy’s face: she would butt her hind end right up to you like a trucker at a loading dock, demanding that you scratch her back. “No” was not an acceptable answer, as she snapped her head around and sassed you until you complied. Give her a new bone, and she would trot in circles around the house, proudly parading the spoils of her most recent kill, until finally, in sheer exhaustion, she lay down to savor her repast. She was inconsolable when any one of her pack left the house: whimpering, crying, pacing from door to window, desperately hoping to see you. It mattered not one whit that everyone else in the family was still inside with her: she only wanted to be with the one who had just left.

There are some who will not own a pet, because they cannot bear the thought of losing it. The pain of loss can be so great as to overshadow the joy of their companionship. But the years of friendship, humor, affection, — and yes, maddening frustration — cannot be replaced at any price — even at the price of so great a loss. Our animals bring out the best, and sometimes the worst in us, drawing forth our love and affection in almost boundless measure, even while testing our sanity and patience — and always crushing our hearts and breaking our spirits when they leave us.

Lucy
 

The death of an animal is the death of its spirit: so say the philosophers and pundits. But they are wrong. Our animals are redeemed by the passion of love which we pour out upon them — a passion which enlivens their spirit throughout eternity, as they live in our hearts, and in our memories, and in the richness they have brought to our lives. I have no doubt that this fine animal is now at peace, and that our spirits will never be separated from her throughout eternity.

UPDATE: Thank each of you from the bottom of my heart for your thoughts and expressions of sympathy. Frank Porretto, of the always-excellent Eternity Road, has also written about his loss earlier this year of Bruno, his Newfie, in prose far more moving and powerful than my simple words. If you have ever lost a beloved pet, read this, for you will understand–and weep.