“When we despair of gaining inner transformation
through human powers of will and determination,
we are open to a wonderful new realization:
inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received.
The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours.
The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside.
We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God;
it is a grace that is given.”
~ Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline.
Looking for new encouragement, I’m remembering some old words. Times of seemingly endless struggle demand consolation. It does not suffice to simply keep going without good reason and purpose. Straining to see far ahead has a way of diverting from taking stock in the present. The here-and-now is a moving point along undefined timelines; thus it is fluid and ever-changing. When I find myself bewildered with crossroads and closed doors, I reach for words stored deep within that taught me. Perhaps this occurs to you, too. Be strengthened by the good things you’ve learned; they continue to teach.
In graduate school, the finest and most brilliant educator I’ve ever met imparted much more than technique and ability. By the time I graduated, he became a friend with whom to exchange insights and books, and offered advice I needed to face a perennially depressed job market. Last evening, I remembered Professor Anderson’s celebrated course in Reference Services (exceeded only by his inspiring courses in management theory). In our studies that trained us to unambiguously respond to research queries, we were taught about ways in which questions manifest. What is asked is a “wanted,” and what is already established is a “given.” If a question is unclear- and indeed, there is a skill at being able to ask a specific question- we were taught how to draw out what AJ called the real question. Our research assignments involved long lists of intensely complex and arcane reference questions, and we were all turned loose to solve them. But it was not enough to come up with the answers, we wrote detailed analyses of the sources we used, narratives of the hunt for the answers, including our “what-learneds.” The genius in this was that we each had to specifically describe how we proceeded- all the fits-and-starts- and what we learned in the process. All of this information was in addition to our having answered the reference questions. Clearly, the teaching rationale had deeper goals than to superficially train data-brokers. We were being taught to synthesize queries, sources, information formats, and facilitate guidance in ways that would be appropriate to those we serve.
One pointer from AJ that I’ve always cherished is, “read with an eye to application.” A marvelously affirming phrase that describes how I value my studies with respect to how they can be applied. Through implementation, we can find out how much we’ve really learned. Further, the prospect of becoming able to embody what is learned, my reading and listening are actually enhanced. There are things to comprehend and practice, hence there is much to be distilled and taken to heart. And still further, the learning need never cease. Through this, we’d all like to think we grow wiser with the passage of time. Age is generally thought to be equivalent to an increase in wisdom. But is this true? Perhaps adaptability is the best testament to cultivated wisdom. How attentive and consistent is that sense of application through transitions of living? Going for walks through and around places trimmed with remembrances causes me to notice changes, and reminds me that time never stops. The same trees are different now, the same buildings have new shops and paint colors, and this same person walks with this year’s shoes.
Equal parts of vigilance must be assigned to both constancy and innovation. This is to say perseverance to keep on going, alongside a watchfulness to make opportunities. Duly note while giving due diligence to possibilities for betterment. I can only hope for an improved level of perceptive alertness that empowers me to alter my own course when necessary. More things are changeable than we tend to realize. When I was very active in the field of commercial photography, I learned to customize every new piece of equipment to accommodate getting the job done. Those lenses, easels, tripods, and camera backs were merely raw materials when unpacked from their boxes. As we increase in our knowledge of the crafts we practice, our sense of refining our basics continues to heighten. In addition, experience gives us an ability to anticipate results to correspond with efforts, ingredients, and time allotted.
Here in northern New England, winter has cycled down into customary deep freeze. This is the flip side of summer’s “dog days,” in every way- from shortened days to dormant forests. Seasons notwithstanding, continuum rolls on. Motion is never fully stilled. And with such consideration in mind, embarked upon this new year, I hope the progress of my steps increases and does not stagnate. Applying principles as they are learned will counteract emptiness of word and action.
Several nights ago, I was awakened by remembrances from a job I once had which resembled a sports highlight video- except these were the low-lights. A barrage of my most regrettable moments, strung together, from an inconsequential number of years past. Gathering my wits, I reminded myself of the uselessness of replaying buried and otherwise nonexistent events. Thus, lying awake at 2 a.m., I lulled myself back to sleep by very deliberately giving thanks for what had been positive about that job, and for all I’ve learned through the years. When I woke, it occurred to me how recollections must be forged into constructive tools, rather than anchors.
Make the present what the past hadn’t been. History can indeed be used for changing patterns and taking forward action. We can all look back to our own historic intersections at which we chose higher roads. No doubt there will continue to be such crossroad experiences.
Rather than attempt at generating an inventory, I’ll simply recall my gratitude for the times I chose not to engage a goading, and for the better decisions I’ve made in realms of projects, travels, creative pursuits, and relationships. I once worked with a man who had burned his bridges to such a detriment that on the occasion in which he had to be hospitalized after a grisly traffic accident, I was his only visitor. Although he had stolen property from me, it was painful to hear people make fun of his condition. So I went to bring him cheer. It was the right thing to do. On another occasion, years ago, I might have easily nominated myself into a grant-funded project to follow an initial assignment at a certain workplace- but declined due to questionable ethics I’d witnessed. Completing my work and moving on to better affiliations, I did the right thing. As I comprehend the cultivation of diligence, I appreciate the skill of sizing up a situation. It is unwise to be drawn into settings that are counter-intuitive, but it is wise to notice the appropriate occasions to walk the extra mile. Part of that is knowing when and how to adapt with the present, dignifying and implementing the goodness that has been absorbed.
In this long and complex journey, the written chronicle serves as an indispensable witness. If resilience attests to the what-learneds of life’s pilgrimage, then faithful and honest journaling is the voyage’s testament. My writing continuum flexibly moves between description and exploration, the only guideline being that of candor. In so doing, the words are my own reportage- a unique form of journalism. After all, reporting the journey generates an investigative primary account. The documentation and its topics exist together in the same provisional dynamism. Reading back in time to past entries, much as those walks to familiar places, is its own time-lapse photography. With each carriage return, scroll, and margin-release of my typewriter, with each round of syphoned ink, and with each whittled-down pencil, the written record follows time’s perpetual motion. That which is seen and heard- the experiential (or, in 17th century parlance, the experimental)- registers in our inner reference tomes. When I was 16, an octogenarian neighbor taught me to end each substantial meal with something sweet-tasting; this way the appetite is properly sealed for the next repast. I still do this, following his effective advice with a morsel of chocolate or a cereal bar, while remembering my elderly friend’s marmalade toast.