time to kill (as in waste)

So here I am again. Looking for something to write about, just sitting in the university and waiting for class. I imagine that there is work I could be doing... research for papers or reading for classes or writing emails. There isn't a whole lot that will get accomplished here, but I think that's why it's good and necessary (in some way).

This past weekend Danny and Erin, friends from Regina, came to visit me. And it was a very busy and very social weekend, and it felt complete afterwards. Not like we necessarily accomplished anything (actually, I cleared my life as much as I could for their visit, specifically so there wasn't any need to accomplish anything). And just so we could hang out and be together. I think that this is the most basic element of friendship, well, any relationship, really -- being present.

So, I spent the weekend being present with those around me. But the problem with being present is that sometimes you forget what being absent is. Maybe "problem" is the wrong word. It would likely make more sense to say that being absent, being able to be alone, is necessary. It is a good thing to be able to sit, without any agenda or pressure or entertainment, and let life happen. Like a day of rest, but I'd just as soon call it a period of rest. There are times in life when being active seems to be the only way to get through the day. But at other times, resting, just being quiet and practicing solitude is a source of strength and healing. And I don't think I'm just speaking as an introvert (although that's undoubtedly part of it).

Sleep seems like this to me. I think regardless of the type of person or the way in which you relate to other people, sleep is rest (obviously). But I think it brings a person the quiet that they crave. It's an entirely passive activity. It just kind of happens. All a person has to do is decide that, yes, it is time to sleep. And sometimes people don't even make that decision. Like falling asleep in a movie theatre or after supper on the couch. The body brings you to the point where there's no denying it, you need sleep.

Occasionally I think about how I'd love to not have to sleep. I wouldn't even feel tired. I would simply be free from that need. And I would be able to do all the reading I want to and I'd learn to ice-skate. I'd probably start reading the newspaper and get a second job. I would find time to exercise and always be the last guy at the party. I'd volunteer somewhere I was passionate about. I would get a dog, just because dogs are great. Yes, such great plans... And even though I'd probably just end up getting satellite and watch a ridiculous amount of television, there's a problem (and yes, this time "problem" is the right word); my presence would be worn out. Sleep is necessary because the body needs rest, but it seems that the mind and the spirit need it too.

So, I guess what I'm getting at would be something like this: the need for activity, the need to accomplish and be productive is misleading. Every day, a person has an average of, say, 16 hours to work with. (I probably have a little less because sleep is one of those habits that's hard to break.) And at the end of each day, I'm pretty hard-pressed to say how I spent all that time. But I no longer think that's something to be sad or pissed off about. In a sense, time is meant to be wasted, but the way it's wasted makes a difference.

Here's a song by Bright Eyes that I think seems especially relevant. Don't let it make you sad, because I don't think it is sad. Just try to see it as a statement of "wasted time" and your presence in the world...

Bright Eyes - "Bowl Of Oranges"

The rain, it started tapping on the window near my bed. There was a loophole in my dreaming, so I got out of it. And to my surprise my eyes were wide and already open. Just my nightstand and my dresser where those nightmares had just been. So I dressed myself and left then, out into the gray streets. But everything seemed different and completely new to me. The sky, the trees, houses, buildings, even my own body. And each person I encountered, I couldn't wait to meet. I came up a doctor who appeared in quite poor health. I said "(I am terribly sorry but) there is nothing I can do for you (that) you can't do for yourself." He said "Oh yes you can. Just hold my hand. I think that would help." So I sat with him a while and then I asked him how he felt. He said, "I think I'm cured. No, in fact, I'm sure of it. Thank you Stranger, for your therapeutic smile."

So that is how I learned the lesson that everyone is alone. And your eyes must do some raining if you are ever going to grow. But when crying don't help and you can't compose yourself. It is best to compose a poem, an honest verse of longing or simple song of hope. That is why I'm singing... Baby don't worry cause now I got your back. And every time you feel like crying, I'm gonna try and make you laugh. And if I can't, if it just hurts too bad, then we will wait for it to pass and I will keep you company through those days so long and black. And we'll just keep working on the problem we know we'll never solve of Love's uneven remainder, our lives are fractions of a whole. But if the world could remain in a frame like a painting on a wall. Then I think we would see the beauty. Then we would stand staring in awe at our still lives posed like a bowl of oranges, like a story told by the fault lines and the soil.


i've been thinking a lot lately

So I've been thinking that my posts have all been pretty heavy so far. I don't mean that it's necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it's nice to think about snow and my favourite pair of socks and chocolate bars and that peculiar sensation of touching frosted glass. Or maybe the way that the stained glass looked the other night while walking thru the exchange district, a magnificent window set two stories above, lit by street lamps. Or how badly i have to pee because i drank too much coffee and water at the Ellice Cafe today, where an old man came sidling up to my table and kind of embarassedly asked if my name was Cornelius. Or the way the sky looks today, kind of a glowing gray, sending down a few snowflakes, but holding so much more...

A lot of times I just set myself down at the table and keep trying to stand up triangles and I lose sight of the big one that's just outside my window.


Therefore, that divine element in you, whatever it may be – the element because of which you have always sought after what is fitting and worthwhile; because of which you have preferred to be generous rather than wealthy; as a result of which you have never wanted to be more powerful rather than to be more just; the reason you have never given in to adversities and improprieties – that element, I say, which has been lulled to sleep by the lethargy of this life, a hidden Providence has decided to awaken by the various hard reverses you have suffered.
-Augustine, in the dedication to Romanianus, Against the Academicians

In starting with a quote from Augustine, I’m trying to funnel my thoughts in a certain direction, though they will still meander. First, I freely admit that I am a bit of a pessimist and a cynic, though I enjoy neither of these things. But I hope that there’s some redemption possible in them.

A little while back I was wondering about the endemic cynicism that seems to pervade my generation. I came to a bit of a sloppy conclusion (which is a shameful thing for a philosophy major). Nevertheless, I can’t help but try it out. And I suppose the best way I can say it would be something along the lines of disillusionment: this generation is disillusioned over the state of the world and the human condition. In a sense, there’s little hope because we’re told there’s little to hope for. We see broken people all around us and we come to ignore them. We see broken relationships in our own lives and in the lives of those we care about and, subtly, we begin to think that this is just the way things are. We’re suspicious of any institution because we see that institutions fail on a personal level, the very place that where we live and interact. Idealism runs rampant, but is never pursued because of the fatalist notion that there’s nothing that can be done. The idea that the world is too complicated, and that change is too hard to effect, deadens our passions and restricts our actions. News reports inform us of corruption and murder and the declining state of our countries; they criticize competence and gossip about the celebrities that we’re told to admire. All the information that bombards our senses and all the responsibilities to which we must attend make us dizzy. Education rates us and determines our status in a “productive” society. We’re no longer taught about right and wrong, but immersed in a permissive culture that essentially lulls us to sleep.

And this is only the beginning, you see, because, after awhile, we start to think this way. We fall asleep to the good. We lose sight of what it means to buzz with life and to feel deeply, because, as we see all around us, feeling deeply opens us up not only to pleasure but also to pain. I suppose the thing that scares us is the vulnerability of it. Any hurting person aches because they feel deeply. We try to cover it up with activity and addictions and sex and superficial relationships and anything at all that we can grasp at, desperately trying to take the sting out of our pain and the possibility of feeling the pain of others. But I think we all, at some point, have a “hard reverse” and suddenly life seems to freeze and we realize that we do feel. Despite our best efforts, we’re still right where we were.

I read that quote from Augustine and I catch a little flash of all this. Strange as it seems, I find an enormous sense of hope in the “hard reverses” and difficult periods of life. Not when I’m in the middle of them necessarily, but inevitably afterwards. It is through the difficulties that the illusions of disillusionment are revealed, and an opportunity is created. I might call it a return to innocence, except that it comes (usually) in the midst of painful and sullied experience. Still, it is a refreshed perspective on life and a fresh chance to change things that you, suddenly, can see clearly again. Like a revelation, an unveiling of the mysteriously shrouded.

I’m never very comfortable with this revelation because it’s always a challenge, an affront to the way I conduct my life and relate to people. God whips the shroud away and shows us what we knew all along but forgot: you’re treating that person like an alien. It’s almost like a magic trick, a sleight-of-hand misdirection, and then we’re revealed, in all our cynical self-involvement. And even if I make the choice to drape the cloth back over the ugly, revealed wound, something is changed. It could be the choice to harden my heart, cover the wounds and pretend they’re just not there. Or it could be a fresh awareness, a soft spot that has been created in my soul that isn’t healed, but at least it knows it’s hurt. Either way, I come out changed. Hopefully, it’s for the better. And hopefully, I’m a little more awake... a little more willing to be vulnerable... a little further along the rambling journey of my soul...


finding home

Some days I feel like my heart is just lost. I suppose that everyone feels this way at some point, but then, we often don’t talk about it. I usually just cram it down inside and think that maybe it’ll get better on its own. I hope that whatever it is I’m troubling about will just solve itself and suddenly I won’t have to deal with it anymore. Lately I can’t seem to figure out what I’m doing with my life. One day I think, yeah, it’d be great to just travel around and find some ultra-transferable job skill that I can hop around with. And the next day I want to finish my Philosophy/English degree. Or maybe go back and finish my Bible college degree. But then I slip out and get a little tired of all the abstract learning that doesn’t seem to be worth a damn when it comes to actually loving people and living.

Walking around downtown Winnipeg, I see these hurting people who are lost and homeless and asking for help, but I can’t see any kind of practical or enduring way to help. It could be as simple as just giving what you have—but then it seems I could be drained away to nothing. The Christian cliché comes back to me that God will fill you up; the “popular” idea that “running on empty” is simply a lack of trust in God. But that doesn’t really do all that much for me. I have enough trouble trusting God to talk with me, let alone sustain me. (It seems a little screwed up when I see it in writing.) This faith thing can be pretty tricky, but then the beauty is that we’re not on our own. And I don’t just mean God (although he’s pretty good too), but love and community. Strange mystery, that is. When you feel it, really actually experience community, you know exactly what I mean by “mystery.” It’s the sudden and overwhelming sense that, yes, I’ve found home.

Home is a funny thing. It’s usually the place where you grow up that you call home. For me, Mom and Dad’s house was home. And I think the reason home is home is because there’s love there. Some people may never have a place like that though, and I find that one of the most disturbing thoughts: the fact that “home” has been stripped of love and security, warmth and acceptance. In some sense, home is defined by who’s there, not by where it is. But still, one day, you leave it. I went to a wedding last year and the couple being married said that home would be wherever the other person was; home was where they were together. That’s a beautiful thing.

I think I left home in the Fall of 2000, when I went to England to Capernwray Bible College. I didn’t know it at the time, but eventually it just dawned on me that I had left home. And it’s not that I lost love. I think it might be that I lost the acute awareness of a safe place to be loved. I had moved on. Don Miller wrote in the dedication to Through Painted Deserts, “Mom, Here is the first book, rewritten a bit. I didn’t know, when I was living it, that it was about leaving home. I think you always knew. Thanks for letting me go.” Even though I left home and came back again, it wasn’t really the same. In some sense it will always be home, but something gets lost. One day you realize that you’re adrift in the world.

Frederick Buechner: “Yet we are homeless even so in the sense of having homes but not really being at home in them. To be really at home is to be really at peace, and there can be no real peace for any of us until there is some measure of real peace for all of us. When we close our eyes to the deep needs of other people whether they live on the streets or under our own roof—and when we close our eyes to our own deep need to reach out to them—we can never be fully at home anywhere.”

I guess I’m just saying that it’s far too easy to be selfish and to forget about love—both to be loved and to love others. I find it exceptionally easy to let people alone, some kind of emotional detachment maybe. But I also find it exceptionally hard not to become attached to people. You know the way, hanging all our hopes on a friend or confidant, on any relationship, and expecting it to make us whole and fill all the empty bits and unmet needs we have. No one person can do that. And I have to say that I find it endlessly frustrating that God doesn’t have skin on to touch and meet with and talk to and, ultimately, help out with all this. Then again, he kind of does in the church. It’s community that can truly embrace you with “human hands that hold you and show you God’s faithful love,” as Henri Nouwen puts it. That’s the mystery I mean: the fact that human touch has some kind of spiritual and divine aspect to it. You’re never so aware of a person as when you reach out and touch them, whether it be a handshake or a hug or a poke in the ribs. And stranger still, you can touch somebody without laying a finger on them. Call it the meeting of souls.


on rambling

There are times in life when everything seems to line up just right. I think that’s kind of how this blog has come about. A friend here (shout out to Phil and Philip) and a friend there (props to Tom) brought it up in a simple and serious way and the idea just didn’t leave me. That’s probably only part of it though; I can’t help but think there’s more to it. After all, life sometimes plops me down in funny places that put me in funny moods. I try to remember that it’s best to keep a sense of humour, though. Laughing has a way of taking the sting out of the cuts and scrapes of living. Even at the best of times, moments when my soul is singing along, sometimes I feel an emptiness, a hollow kind of loneliness that creeps in and puts me under its great shadow. Maybe that doesn’t make much sense, but I’m seeing more and more that living is a paradox: I feel that hollow feeling, where everything seems to be crumbling away, but at the same time, I feel so loved and so grateful for my brilliant friends and family. It comes down to something like you can’t conceive of loneliness unless you can conceive of love.

And so, I ramble on thru life. It’s a good name for the blog, I think. I looked “ramble” up in the dictionary—to ramble: wander around in a leisurely, aimless manner; talk or write in a discursive, random way; walk without a definite route, taken merely for pleasure; or (my favourite) grow in a random, unsystematic fashion. I think that last one refers to plants or vines, but it’s probably closest to what I’ll be rambling on about. Straying from one bit to another, just writing about whatever comes. But I should mention that I also have a tendency to ramble about (as in wander off). For instance, I just got back from Phoenix three days ago. Every once in awhile, I just seem to get that itch, and I go wandering off. Or rambling on...