What we may have left undone

Forgiveness is the perfume the trampled flower casts back upon the foot that crushed it.

-Attributed to Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and a variety of clueless blog writers

For many years this quote, several poems, an oil-pastel portrait of our Scottish terrier, and a string of daisies adorned our upstairs bathroom.  These gems, the first of which appeared circa 1986, were drawn directly onto the original 1963 yellow-and-white wallpaper by my sister and myself as a protest against the paper’s perceived ugliness.  The bathroom has long since been updated and stripped of its character-filled wall adornments but this particular quote–provided, I believe, by my friend Jill–is one of the few that remains for me, to this day, a source of humility and something worthy of my consideration.

We have all done selfish things, naughty things, things we wish we hadn’t done and hope will disappear, but few of us have learned the solidarity of forgiveness that must needs follow these behaviors.  We have all lost our tempers, we have lied and stretched the truth to fit our needs, we have ‘left things undone’, so to speak, and we have very often shirked what little responsibility we have truly been given on this earth.

Most of us, if not each of us, barring the psychopath or the deranged, have felt remorse, sudden and uncomfortable, creep up on us as we shoulder the guilt of an unwise action. That sense of righteousness or pride that led us to our un-right action is, if we are fortunate, followed quickly by a flash of despair over what we have done.  We wish it were not so and, instead of begging forgiveness, often we follow the lie or the theft or unkindness with yet another round of the same.  We long to ask forgiveness but our pride prevents us: we do not know where to begin because we think we are still the flower when really, we are the foot.

And because we have deceived others, we know what it is to sit at the receiving end of such unpleasantness and even cruelty.  We have been stood up, we have been dumped, we have been lied to or stolen from or hurt by someone–likely many someones.  We have been broken into, in one way or another, and we have not always acted in accord.  That is, we have indeed acted in accord–but not like the flower.  For when a foot, shod or bare, tramples a flower, breaks its stalk, and removes its petals the flower does not and cannot trample back.  The wild exception is the blackberry cane, but even then the fruit it bears is sweet, purple and forgiving.  No, the flower bends and is sometimes broken, but it often will, when carefully and curiously examined, cast upon us a fragrance.  This is what is meant by in accord.

So often the inclination of our heart is not to release anything akin to perfume when the boot comes down upon us.  Instead our first response is to weep angry thoughts and sharpen hardened words and to be, in a sense, the blackberry vine sans fruits.  We dagger our feelings into each other and into ourselves because we have been wounded and we want to wound in return.  When hurt by someone’s selfishness, unkindness, lack of thought, or lack of understanding we weep, and we also harden.  Soon we are behaving unkindly ourselves and crushing the beautiful blooms around us, simply because we reacted like a blackberry vine and not a flower.  If forgiveness is the perfume then peace must be the fruit.  And it is for these fruits that we work and are known, as the disciples of the Christ who called us be in the tiresome, troubling world, but not of it; to be, as it were, the flower and not the foot.

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Days 4 & 5, meandering falls the day

Ugh. So lazy today.  And yesterday.  So in tribute, here is a previously-penned bit of advice.  It isn’t even mine.  I swiped it from a manual on how to write your PhD thesis. Psht.  I’m not going to justify any of this, just going to paste it here along with a link to one of my favorite websites, The Newton Papers. 

Write on.

Advice from Dr. Jeffrey S. Brooks, University of Missouri

Every time you sit down to work, every time—whether you are reading an article or working on your methodology section—you should have something you can hold in your hand to show for that time.

If you haven’t produced something—a paragraph, three pages, a set of notes that correspond to the article you just read, a rough draft, some free writing, and so on— then you wasted your time.

(If you find you spend your time in an unproductive manner, change your routine, get new friends, write longhand instead of typing—you are in a rut! Do something to get out of it.)

You must make time to read throughout the dissertation-writing phase and approach that reading with a critical eye. This must be critical reading both of new literature and your own work. Pay attention to content and the way other authors construct their arguments, support their claims, and make their recommendations. You will learn something and be able to put it to good use!

Write! Use an outline, write a topic sentence and support it with evidence, write something in several ways, use synonyms and antonyms, vary your sentence structure, set deadlines to complete parts of the work and hit them.

In part, a scholar’s life is a writer’s life, and there’s no better way to improve as a writer than by writing.

 

Allegory, the second day

With both the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ a man has, I take it, only one concern–to avoid them and hold the Main Road. We must not ‘hearken to the over-wise or to the over-foolish giant’. We were made to be neither cerebral men nor visceral men, but Men. Not beasts nor angels but Men–things at once rational and animal.
-C.S. Lewis, Preface to the Third Edition of ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress’

It had been my habit, as I scrolled the mindlessness of the newsfeed, to also scour it for the few (and sometimes many more than few) worthwhile articles or readings that my contacts are known to post. They were, I admit, primarily of the literary or theological persuasion but there would creep in–rather too often–the odd disgruntled political post.  It is these that I am striving to avoid, for they brought no joy and rendered no new insights or truths, reinforced only the banal or the tired and led me into nothing but numbness or irritation.  The literary and theological never seem to bring me down, make me angry, or cause me to walk the tightrope of compromise, and so those remain in my pursuits, and I will rely on more esteemed sources for their access and procurement.

One of these sources is the site Church Life Journal, the literary weblog for Notre Dame University. I became acquainted with this site through FB friend, Artur Rosman, its director, and whose former blog Cosmos the in Lost provided many a perplexing and enlightening read.  While it and Church Life are both Catholic publications they provide me the high-quality, intellectually rigorous theological reads that many corresponding Protestant sites lack.  I did recently re-discover, however, that I had subscribed to a site called the JHIBlog|The blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas. It is comprised of curated blog posts, some of which are theological, others literary, but all intellectually rigorous and meaningful.  The site is fantastic, and has restored my faith in humanity (somewhat).

One of the posts for this week was called Paradoxes of Incarnation: Medieval Allegory Revisited by John Farrell. It was a review of Jason Crawford’s Allegory and Enchantment: An Early Modern Poetics and I loved it. In fact, it prompted today’s quote from C.S. Lewis’ allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress, his last work of fiction and, incidentally, the first piece of writing completed after he became a Christian.  As an aside: this book is strangely little-known, even in C.S. Lewis/Christian circles, but remains a powerful piece of both literature and Christian apology. But Farrell’s piece rekindled my interest in allegory and reminded me that I am not a tool of the state but a Woman of God.  It also substantiates Alison Milbank’s inspiring claim that ‘literature can do theological work’, work that Farrell shows done so well in his brief history of allegory (which, I presume, is a truncated version of that in Crawford).

I would love to read more and, as these pieces remind me, I can!  I need not be distracted, need not be led to the extremes of North or South but remain with God, treading the Main Road with confidence and faith.