And Yet…

Blessed be the artist,
For to him is given the dream of creation.

Whilst others scramble in mud,
He may dream that it is liquid silver.

While others scream over a bent fender,
He may imagine them in chivalric fashion,
A pair of armored sea lions at the tilt.

When a fish flies from the sea,
Trailing a shimmering blade of water,
He is blessed to see more than mere water;
To him is given sight to see and ears to hear
The music of all creation,
Played in between the patter of rain
The roar of the windy surf
In the booming voice of the thunder
In the scintillating fingers of lightning
Which split the sky like rivers of fire.

Blessed be the artist,
For God has opened the door
To the artists’ studio,
And given him brushes and paints,
Pens and inks and eyes to see
The beauty which lie beneath the substance.

Beauty is only skin deep,
Unless you have the eyes of God.

Marvel you artists! Marvel all,
At God’s glorious artistry!
Every gleaming drop of water,
Every flowing electron,
Every quivering proton,
Every gallant sunbeam,
Every furious thunderclap,
Howling wind, rattling rain
Roaring fire and trembling Earth
Pounding hooves and beating wings
The choir of the crickets
The harmony of human voice
And dove’s purring warble and
Ten thousand thousand songs and sights,
Made by the greatest artist of all!

The only artist whose sculptures breathe.

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Overtake

I’m tired of my condition.
Always inattentive.
Driven to stray.
Made to fail.

The inferior man.
No excuses.
No escape.

Every mistake.
Every heartache.
My life they take.
My soul, forsake.

I don’t know where to go.
I am lost, Elohim.

Please.
Help.
Me.

I feel you, o Father of Love.
I hear you, o Spirit of Justice.
I see you, o Savior of Souls.

May the cracks in my skin
Shine with the light of Your Law.
That I and all my earthly kin
May kneel in awe.

Every mistake.
Every heartache.
My body breaks,
That Your Glory may Overtake.

The Epistolary Character

There is something curious about the art of letter writing. A letter is not quite a tall tale, as its contents are as real as ink can ever get, yet neither is it an essay, for it tells its own sort of story, and not merely another’s. A letter is neither a missive though one might take it for that by the definition in the thesaurus. A missive seeks only to relay a message, which, though a letter does as well, it does so incidental to its prime purpose (or as I see it – feel free to disagree, and I’ll put on my best hat and tie to answer the argument.)

A letter is an accidental autobiography. It is not quite a testimony as one might give in court, and it certainly isn’t a memoir (I’ve long thought that word rank with self-absorption), yet the story is very much your own – but also someone else’s. In the case of the now ubiquitous and somewhat oxymoronic ‘open-letter’ that can be the story of a great many individuals. I stretch my definition here, as I have always believed a letter in its truest nature is always a private affair, meaningful only to those whom it concerns.

A letter is the story not only of its author, but also of its recipient. In how someone conducts themselves in a letter, you see not only the paths of their logic and feelings, but also of their perceptions of their partner. In the lines of a letter you can see a cerebral and calculating mind at once madly in love with the subject of his affections, or a passionate spirit cooled by heartbreak and loneliness, or the supreme disconnection of one so consumed with the craft of his message that he has left out its heart, and quite accidentally put something else in its place.

The heart of a letter is a hard thing to nail down, much like a certain physicist’s cat – yet when it is found, the soul of a thoughtfully written letter is so much more evocative and descriptive of a relationship than any number of adjectives and prose. And while you might put this to use in your own letters (though in this digital age we are rarely given to such extravagances as personalized, emotive communication), my concern with this subject is in fiction.

You have your brilliant band of misfits for your novel, whether it be an adventure through the forests of Moravia or a harrowing journey to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, or just an exceptionally interesting walk to the Circle-K (though this article is written with the longer form and epic scale in mind, you may have opportunity to apply it to the short and mundane as well). You have written out their relationships, you know how the little rascals should behave towards one another, think of one another, treat one another – and yet something doesn’t click. You struggle, as I have, to make the changes in their relationship seem realistic. You find it difficult to engineer the situations which lead to them demonstrating their feelings so that you don’t have to narrate them.

Write a letter between them. Take on the eyes and pen of one of your characters, and compose their thoughts to the other. There are few means more intimate of seeing your story’s world through your character’s eyes – and seeing your other characters. It is as close one can step into a relationship without being in one (or stalking them in the night, which I do not advise.) Even without integrating it into your finished work, this is a useful exercise for character development, particularly when it would seem odd to conduct an interview – while it may be quite easy to interview your average young hero or heroine, brimming with optimism and good-will, it’s quite the challenge to interview a power-hungry, kinslaying baroness without seeing her personality entirely out of its natural environment.

The mechanism of the letter, delivered and undelivered, can be a powerful way to speak your character’s thoughts aloud – but itself can be taken for just another form of thought-narration, if presented merely as the character is writing them. Recall that letters are not the story of the individual alone, but of the relationship between individuals. If you intend to use the epistle within your story, it must be presented through the eyes of its recipient (intended or not! A third party reading a letter meant for another is an ancient plot device as old as intrigue.) If you present a letter as seen by its writer, it is no different than a diary entry – which can be precisely what you intend. Diaries, although not covered here, can fill a similar function when presented as read by another character in the story – advancing and changing a relationship through the revelation of intimate secrets. Interviews can again do the same, though the value there is less in what is said and more in what is not said. Both worthy subjects for a further treatise.

To summarize, the letter is an ancient form, and not merely one reserved for the practical conveyance of information. The Apostles great letters contain not only the explicit wisdom of the Holy Spirit speaking through them, nor merely a historical record of the churches then, but a priceless look at how the leaders of the early church felt towards and cared for the congregations under their care, and how those congregations responded. The letters of leaders both great and terrible speak volumes to their official and their personal relations – Hitler the Fuhrer is very different from Hitler the Starving Artist. In just the same way, your characters will conduct themselves very differently in public and in private, in the spoken word and in the written word, and in that difference you can capture the essence of how that individual views himself and everyone else.

Letters to my Son: Letter 3

Dear Son,

I write to you again because I love you. You already know this, I hope, yet I can’t help but remind you. It is truly a gift of God, that I can love you as this, not even knowing whose nose you’ll have, whether you’ll have my wide, flat feet or your mother’s beautiful ankles, or my family’s weird tooth gap or her side’s perfect teeth. I can love you because you are my son, infinitely precious in the eyes of the God who breathed new life to my rotting bones and restored them from their decay.

Hard times come upon us all the time. It is rare the season of life that is without trouble. My prayer is that God will bless you and I and your mother, that your childhood at least should be happy and innocent. But I know that when you become a man yourself, you too will have to shoulder the burdens of life, and this fallen world being as it is, you are likely to have to bear that yoke earlier rather than later.

Sometimes those hard times may not even be ‘that bad.’ There are people starving in Africa, after all. Terror in Afghanistan, Siege in Syria, Oppression in China, Spiritual Desolation in Japan, Nuclear Threat from North Korea, Cartels in Colombia – suffering abounds wherever you look. Here in America, we have it as easy as anyone ever has. We have so much food that our number one disease is over-eating. Everyone who has somewhere to live has a phone, electricity, TV or Netflix (TV may not exist by the time you’re born), and likely at least one personal computer in the house.

And with as much as we have materially, we have a poverty of the spirit. Our neighbors often as not know nothing of God, and live their lives as though all there were to it was their paycheck and their bills, the concrete all about and the toys they distract their aching hearts with in the few hours of free time they have. Though we’re well kept, we live as slaves to our toil. We may not have a Pharaoh and his taskmasters to whip us, but nowadays we’re more than capable of doing the job ourselves. We’ll lash ourselves into a frenzy to get the newest gadgets, shame ourselves into toiling the long hours for the approval of others, and crush our hopes until we can push through our labors with dull, glassy eyes.

And yet my son, the answer is not to run away. Sin has covered the world all the same, that all men and women live unfree, born to toil with the sweat of their brow. The freedom the world promises you will leave you broken, enslaved to chasing the next pleasure and grinding down your bones for grist to buy a precious second of fleeting amusement.

The answer is to find the right master. The master of the Earth will take everything away from you, whether you saw that in the contract or not. But the Master of the Heavens, the Lord of the Universe, the One Who Is – there is nothing you can give Him that He does not own. He will never ask of you more than you can give, for everything you have He gave to you first.

My son, your work here on Earth is not for a paycheck. It is not to feed yourself. It is not for joy, for glory, for achievement nor pride nor satisfaction of a basic sense of manliness. I have worked for all these reasons, and I have seen how hollow they become when the going gets tough.

The only reason that can keep you satisfied as you sweat your life into the dust is the Promise. The Promise that when this transient life is through, all that which the World promised but could never fulfill will be given to us in its most perfect and holy, original and just form. The Promise that though this life is filled with strife and aching labor, the life which God promises is one where we shall never sleep, because our rest will be in the Lord. We will never need eat, for God shall satisfy our hunger. We will never lust, for God’s love will be enough. There across that far sea, there shall be no need of tears, for in the final days, God Himself shall descend to us as Christ come again to wipe away our tears.

We labor because God has placed us in labor to reach those whom He desires be saved. And before you worry about being worthy of fulfilling God’s purpose – trust in Him. He made you, and He knows you. And if it seems that you cannot do what He asks you to do – have faith. Pray. Our God does not make mistakes. Your seeming failure now may become later the seeds of faith in another, or shall be the cement which strengthens your faith in His Providence.

He is God, the Three in One and One and Only. To know His Will, read His Word, heed its wisdom, and obey His commands.

I love you, my Son.

Love,

Dad

Letter to My Son: Letter II

Dear Beloved Son,

Father’s Day was yesterday, and quite by accident, I happened to write a letter to you on that day. The coincidence amused me as I went to bed a few hours ago, and now I’m awake again, and I have another letter to write to you.

I thought I’d remind you that I love you. I want to admonish you to remember that, even when it seems to you like I don’t. I want to tell you that when you are thinking this, tell me. The case should never be that I don’t love you – I don’t know how it can ever be true. I love you, even now, when I have not yet beheld your face, nor even placed the ring on the finger of your mother.

When it seems as if my face is turned away from you, it is not because my love has dried up. It is because I am an imperfect father, and like my father before me, I’m not always good at showing my love. I know this will be the case even if I do become worthy of being called your father and your mother’s husband.

I want to warn you son, that we all go through rough times. Even now, the woman whom I think will be your mother is in Japan, having just survived an earthquake, with an even worse one waiting to happen. She is now asleep, trusting in the Lord to keep her safe – and her worry is not for her safety, but for social isolation from her missionary team.

Loneliness can kill you son. Even if you’re like me, and you shun human company, preferring to immerse yourself in your own thoughts and musings, the loneliness will gnaw away at the fabric of your being until there’s nothing left but bone. Irregardless of our inclinations, God did not make us to be alone. He made us to have a partner, He made us to assemble before Him, and He made us to be with Him in the garden, until we turned our faces away from Him who loved us.

You will meet people you don’t like. You may end up like me and mostly meet people that, though probably nice as can be, you don’t want to give the time of day to spend with. The thing to remember is not your standards, what you want, your desires, what you need, but what they need. It is those who seem to have it the most together who are often dying on the inside, stricken by loneliness, besieged by sin, suffering under spiritual assault, or languishing in the thirst of their soul in a barren world.

The secret to being content in your friends is not necessarily to find the ones whose interests and hobbies you share, for while those friends may be amusing to distract yourself with, if you have nothing deeper in common you will be ever thirsty for something that you can’t name.

The secret to friendship is to love your friend more than yourself. To give up your time and your affections for another person without demanding likewise in return is to imitate Christ, the Christ to whom I pledge my life, the Christ who laid down His life for we who killed him, the Christ who came to preach forgiveness to sinful Man, knowing that we would ridicule Him for it.

Do not merely treat others as you would treat yourself. Serve others with your heart and soul, and you will find that not only are they happy, your own cup of joy shall overflow, welling up into a spring of eternal life, if you do this in the name of Christ.

You are not alone, my son. For if one part of the body of Christ suffers, so do we all. If one cries, all mourn. If one laughs, all cheer with her, and if one prays, so all shall we join in, being of one Spirit and one Brother and one Father. I have more to say on this, so I’ll write again soon, but know this:

I love you. Your mother loves you. And most importantly,

God loves you. To the stars and planets and seas and animals He spoke and they came into being, but for you, He took clay and molded you in His hands, in His image, and gave you His own breath of life. He did not merely command of you to be – He made you with care and love, before even the foundation of the world.

Love,

Dad

That Light Might Shine

For a good while now, the god of the West has not been He who spoke the world from the raw firmament of His own being, but a concept. Human thought on the supernatural is ever in flux, but not so much progress is made as our academicians would like to suppose. For though we no longer strip off our clothes to dance before demonic idols and slake their thirst with the blood of our infants, criminals and bitter enemies as the Aztecs or the Celts of classical Europe once did, we have no less the same degree of fanaticism in the consecration of our mentally abstracted idols.

To wit, we worship liberty as Baal once was among the Canaanite peoples of the Levant. Our freedom to do as we please is as inviolable a divine mandate as the Law handed down to Moses – or so our actions say.

For even in many houses of God, we might hear so simple and easy a command as “Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And yet in our American way, we strive, worry, bite and gnaw (yes, I remain guilty of this too) about what we shall eat, how our bills shall  be paid, what soil be predestined for our hands to cultivate, and in our fervor to labor for our own bread mistrust the providence of the God who formed the very soil that we till. Is God’s strength not greater than that of our flabby biceps, fat from the convenience and ease of our modern life? But perhaps we do not doubt God’s strength, but His willingness to condescend to our mundane needs and provide such little things such as money and good grades, or relief from an irritating case of the flu. His unwillingness to aid in those (or so it may be said) is not of Him. It is of our predisposition to credit our victories to ourselves, and not to Him who sustains us through the continual outpouring of His Word, without which would not exist a speck of the reality which we know now.

Some modern philosophers propose that we are all but figments of imagination. Truly, being unable to know the world except through our own perceptions, we could well live in a construct, for by Man’s means we can never escape the hard casing of our skulls to explore a world beyond the limits of the flesh. They, of all pagans unknowing the majestic truth of the Living God, may be closest of all to the reality, that we live in the mind of God, who was and is and still is to come, all that breathes and thinks and orbits, and yet above and separate from all that can be seen with the eye and grasped with the hand – immortal God.

We live at the Lord’s command, whether we follow Him or not. Rebel and disciple both, live at the grace of a merciful God, a God who as He lives, burns with righteous anger at a rebellious creation which defies the very nature of its origin, spitting on the good works and the good name of Him who breathed life into humble clay. If one will say, “Who is God to declare what is right and wrong? Who is God to choose who shall be punished?” – I say to thee, “Count what makes you right to discipline even your dog. What gives you authority over your children? Are they not living, thinking equals of you? What gives your children the right to eat at your table freely? Do they earn their keep? What is it that keeps them clothed and dry in a warm house, but your unwarranted love for them – in spite of and irregardless of their behavior? When they throw their tantrums and scream and cry, do you not discipline them? And when they have come to you for forgiveness, do you not forgive and forget, and embrace them even more warmly than if they had done nothing wrong in the first place?”

We are children before a loving Father, one who is not stern alone, but consumed with compassion for his suffering, wayward children – who do far worse than merely scream at their father or mother. We murder with our hearts, wishing harm on those who mildly inconvenience us on the road or cut in line. We lust with our primal organs, ravenous predators stalking the streets in the deceptive guise of happy citizens – restrained not by good morals, but by animal fear of the consequences for acting out our brutish desires. We slake the thirst of our crying souls on money, conveniences, entertainments of all kinds from the lowest of brows to the heights of sophistication, to darker twisted pleasures provided paid and free, in person or through the vast internet. We joke at the expense of those unable to answer for themselves, delight in expressing our opinions in the most creative of vulgarities, distracting ourselves from the painful light of higher truths by targeting our quests for wisdom on practical tips and tricks to quiet a tremulous heart which knows that it was made for so much more than perusing a hundred blogs on green tea and Buddhist meditative practices as interpreted by a professional connoisseur of cultural commercialization.

And we haven’t even touched politics yet. The titles and means of succession may have changed, yet still we rally around presidents and chancellors – elected kings of empires ruled by a collective dream. My thoughts on this remain for another essay, but suffice it to say – is it not an affront to the true King that we will so readily latch onto the words and scuffles of these petty rulers who are in one cycle and out the next, naught but a short tract in an already outdated high school textbook – and thusly ignore the ageless, ever-growing chronicle of the deeds of the one Lord of all lords?

I have spoken long enough. I am sure by now that I have either sufficiently dissuaded you from continuing to read my prattling, or that somehow my words have been efficacious. If it is the former, that is what I can only expect from the weak efforts of my fleshly mind. If it is the latter, then it is because what was read was different than what I wrote, and I can only thank God if what I have written here has helped anyone.

My desire is only this – that you, him, her, me, every soul which dwells upon God’s Earth, would have their eyes opened up to the Heavens, and that God’s Light might shine on His starving children and show them the way to not merely survive this life – but live into the next – and chase after Him who is Life who loved them enough to die for their rescue while they pelted Him with curses and nailed him to a cross. For all that God is Justice unflinching, He is also Love unending, and Compassion unsurpassed.

The Life of Weariness

You’re born.

You take your first breath. It’s the hardest thing you’ve done in your life to date, but there will be harder hills still.

You drink from your mother’s breast. In every way she cares for you. Her words slowly sink into your mind with your father’s when he’s home, and gradually, those words shape you – or do you fashion those words around yourself?

You grow up. Now gifted with a voice to name the brilliant spectrum of life which around you winds, it blasts by in an instant, as the autumn leaves before winter’s gales, which in their own turn die down before the chirping growth of spring, which bakes beneath the coming of summer at its own conclusion before once again the ripeness of the months of warmth crackle and age into those same, hoary colors of fall.

Now you’re an adult. Adolescences was a speedbump, a maelstrom of emotions and dramas which, on reflection as one now so matured by the seemingly purely biological processes of pubescence – seem irrelevant. Petty. Insipid. Meaningless.

Or perhaps they are your golden years? A fond time of fun, games, loose clothes and looser morals, to treasure in your heart as time slowly makes his inroads into your chest?

You study. You work. Whether they benefit you or not is entirely in your hands. Perhaps for a while you’re content merely to sustain yourself. It’s possible that a another human of an opposite form decides to cast his or her lot in with you, and you get married, have two and a half children – and now your life belongs to them. Or maybe you don’t. Perhaps you chase your loves as you did in youth, though the game gets surely harder as time crinkles your skin and mars your complexion, and the yearly flu lasts longer and longer each time it visits. It’s unlikely, but perhaps you abstain entirely. For what reason do you do this?

And perhaps on some dark, lonely night, long after those of your hearth and kin have fallen asleep, you sit up in bed, in the gloomy, silent house, and you wonder – why? For what do I work?

To play a little on the weekends? To keep this aging woman in my house? To raise up little ones after me to go through the same toils? To what end does Man labor?

For vanity.

For though you might have striven with great boldness and cunning, with even the noblest of hearts, to build up a palace for your kin and a throne in your place of work, when Sheol calls you into his embrace, to another you must hand your preciously crafted treasures. In time, your treasures will fade and depreciate, till all of your hoard which your children hold in their hands are crumbs of dust as they go out into the broken shell of a world to carve from the dust their daily bread, for who will feed them?

It is vanity.

For if the glory goes not to one who is eternal, the greatest that can be made of it is a footnote in a dust-gathering chronicle. The glories of the warrior-kings echo down the ages, reflecting off the hardened and bored ears of the teenagers subjected to a dully rendered retelling of the greatest struggles of men’s lives. The hardships endured by women and families – through siege, plague, famine, despair – all ring hollow in an age where bread is plenty, and yet the spirit starves for rest.

Ours is the life of weariness. Convenience cannot save the soul.

And so challenged in your heart of hears, what shall you do? Shall you strive to play it safe, extend your years until you can beat the game, and create something great to truly last down the ages? Shall you ignore the murmurs of your starving soul, and let your fleshly heart and all its lusty dukes rule your life while you eke out an existence of blissful subsistence?

Or would you cast all you had into fire, limbs and all to find that which will not only save you the ignominy of a meaningless, unremarkable existence among the seething mass of profane humanity from which all of us come – but secure you a place of joy and glory everlasting at the table of your Judge, Father, and Savior?

The price?

All glory be to Him who saves, for whose glory mercy was shown to the undeserving who would dare to slay his blameless messenger, the image of perfectified Man.

Humility before God. That is the price.

Desire’s War

I am still too long.
Again and again it comes,
like a war in the trench,
volley by volley,
an unceasing bombardment.

I fight, fight and die to myself,
Time and again and repeat,
chained to my rifle,
red from the fire,
rhe flesh minions,
soaking the ash-blackened soil.

Leave me be!
I will not stand
your presence-your
moaning wail
siren call
hellbound hail
I need none at all!
I need not your defeat;
There are no seats,
on the train of grace,
for your monstrous race.

Away with you, witch’s sprites,
temptresses and idols!
I do not want
your cheap trinkets,
half-minute pleasures,
short-stopped sensuality.
Your attentions are delicate
like the spider entombing her witless victim

God has set aside,
this one for greater glory;
He will not be had –
Neither Him nor His servant!

For His Excellence, Labor

Lord, I am tired.
I desire to labor
but my mind is short
of the perspicacity
which I demand

Lord to what do I labor
Your greater glory I
desire above all else
If not in heart then
in mind — in cold, cold mind.

Oh Lord why does not
my heart beat for You
as it does for her?
Oh Lord — why, oh why
why oh does not Your spirit
flood my heart to wash
all away which displease
Your Holy Excellence

Lord purge me –
purify the small man – the
weak man – the
pauper who thirsts for You
No more strife, warless days
Lord, quickly, come!

Consumptor

Purge me of hunger
Not for bread
But for flesh

It gnaws       turns
tears      the screws
bites      ever tighter
twists     and tighter still
I want it gone!
No more         the flesh
Nevermore        as ash
It fades                  the cursed parasite
throbs and pulses and swells
like an abscess of desire
The hunger grows, devours
engorged upon itself till
it bursts and drains its human pus
into the mouth of Hell.
To Sheol it beckons me
a king and his son battled this beast and came to dun;
his name was David, son of Jesse
and his son was Solomon, Bathsheba’s son.
But they cast themselves upon Your mercy
They were spared the fire, though not the pain
and ascended they on high to rest
in Your Maker’s Hands.
Make it tremble, make it burn
Reduce it to ash
Put the flesh to the sword
and from the Consumptor’s gory pyre
arise the spirit saved to light.