Tuesday, March 29, 2011

awaiting, part 3 : looking on

“Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me now and evermore...

Pan yn troedio glan Iorddonen,
Par i'm hofnau suddo i gyd;
Dwg fi drwy y tonnau geirwon
Draw i Ganaan -- gartref clyd:
Mawl diderfyn. Mawl diderfyn
Fydd i'th enw byth am hyn."

~ William Williams, Cwm Rhondda.

Through recent weeks, I’ve made many notes on the topic of looking forward. While negotiating dark valleys and clambering the barricaded roads of this season, it’s been a transformative experience. But it is a season of undetermined duration. Consistent with this aspect, there are no tidy and packaged conclusions. The whole of life as pilgrimage voyage, composed of travels and experiences, presents innumerable unknowns. All the more reason to be conscientiously grounded and sure-footed. Still, despite persistent adversities, hope must persevere. Looking ahead and motioning forward become all the more essential. Reaching forth demonstrates an outworking of hopefulness; it is the manifestation of trust. A writing exercise about the theme of awaiting has paralleled a portion of trying times. As always, the worthiness of articulating of thoughts matches that of the act of trust itself. Journeying without journaling is unimaginable.

Amidst grim landscape, hopelessness and pessimism must be uprooted; these objectives cannot take up space with essential personal effects. Experienced hikers and long-haul travellers can attest to the critical factors of bulk and capacity. Pilgrims (and vacationers alike) share the motivation of their circumstances in common. For me, to look ahead and to hope for better are longings fueled by past and present. While writing journal entries, I thought of many good people teaching me many good things through the years. As well and as it happens, the journal turned into a journalistic tool, and I asked friends about the value of looking forward. One said, “you have to. That’s what hope is.” Then my thoughts returned to awaiting, and whether it is healthful to live in a state of anticipation. I’ve met many whose faiths are fixated on an awaiting. Missing the present, it’s something of an “over yonder” brand of anticipation. By contrast, there is the sort of awaiting that impatiently looks at timepieces. What do you await? Trying at answering this myself began with hopes for blessings Divine and human. How about a goal, an object, for one’s hopes? Reaching forward through a murky immediate future, ends and means are as difficult to see as reasons for doing so. But the desire to look forward and proceed with one’s whole self is surely necessary; maybe even more so than to have a carrot at the end of a proverbial stick. Indeed, we are naturally oriented toward moving ahead. Consider how we are formed, facing forward. We are built to stride in a straight-ahead direction. (One person told me that turning around and going backward is too much work!) Consider how motion is tied to continuity and advancement.

Stilling my thoughts between tasks and blocks of time at work, I continued chipping away at answering the question about looking forward. At times, I chided myself for being so self-conscious, and at other times I wondered why I could not specify more than temporal task lists. Essentially, with an instinctive general wish for improvement all around, I’m drawn forward. Should forward movement always have specifics spelled out? There are more attainable objectives we tend to eagerly await, such as weekends, a special meal, visits, or making an acquisition. But do we anticipate continuity? Maybe so; it’s good to look forward to more journeys- even in these times. Even at such morning crossroads that cause one to ask whether the new day is another loss to futility, or is it a gainful opening for potentiality. Perhaps the plain, bare desire to look forward is sufficient. Daily in my prayers are the many imperiled people of Japan, who will be rebuilding portions of their country for a very long time. But they do so because they look forward, and they will continue to invest their energies into their lives and hopes. A great testament about looking ahead.

Determined that looking ahead is both worthwhile and clearly preferable, I’ll conclude these notes with a few thoughts. Journal pages, meant to be refuge from wearisome fragmentation, became laden themselves repeating themes. The best momentary thing to do was to write in a colorful venue, different enough to affect perspective. Unable to be exact, the deadlock seemed to be around specifically what to look forward to, not really why- or why it’s necessary. Often, my little stray notes would begin with: “what do you look forward to?” From there, I started to reason that I needn’t name an exact thing, but it was enough to eagerly look ahead to being, recognizing the corresponding motion as transcendent of circumstance, material, and frustration. Looking ahead, itself an action responding to grace, inclines the soul to embrace Divine providence. Words and concepts out of my grasp indicate hopes that- as yet- elude specificity. With the ancient Apostle Paul, who knew only to reach forward, we can reflect the vitality of prayer- even without detailed specifics. Perseverance aches for meaning, for communion, for an advent.

Very simply, I look forward to more learning and meaningfully-lived days. I’ll have to do more than persevere. It will take an indefatigable spirit of trust that can see above the appearances of circumstances and situations. It would all be feeble theory and idle talk, without practice and active application. To begin by looking ahead to increased grace launches from one consolation to another. Immediate and before me are proving-grounds for uncertainty to find the wellspring of certitude. A simple, open, and earnest willingness to living prayer is significant enough to be useful in the cause of bringing goodness to pass. Indeed, there is reassurance in the reminder that grace does not emanate from me, but is purposed to work through me as light through glass prisms.

So, once more, before I call it a night: What do I look forward to?
I look forward to better things, still, to more purpose to my steps and my days.
I look forward, because I am not compelled either to consider what I see now to be all there will ever be, and surely don’t think what is past is all that will ever be worthwhile.
I await and reach forward to better days.
I await and reach forward to better.
I await and reach forward.
I await and reach.
I await.

Monday, March 21, 2011

awaiting, part 2 : valley street

"nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey
nowhere in the suburbs
in the cold light of day
there in the midst of it so alive and alone
words support like bone

dreaming of mercy street.
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy”

~ Peter Gabriel, Mercy Street.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

awaiting, part 1 : expectations

“Hope for the best, expect the worst,
The world’s a stage, we’re unrehearsed,
Some reach the top, friends,
While others drop, friends,
Hope for the best, expect the worst.”

~ Mel Brooks, Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.

Your name has been mentioned. Someone authoritative wants a word with you. There is a note under your door from the landlord. Your auto mechanic is calling your voicemail. Your favorite team has clawed its way into the playoffs. Is this good? When the unknown poses a challenge, assumptions are cloaked in trepidation. If our forebodings are thwarted by something pleasant, the response is at once surprise and relief. Why is this? Those of us habitually affirming goodness and optimism must ask ourselves whether we really do expect good tidings. Or might it be instead a wary hoping for good, without readiness for fulfillment? Jaded aspirations combine with self-steeling for fruitions of fears. In the next few weeks, I want to explore the significance of looking forward. These times are rife with roadblocks, and they manifest economically, culturally, politically, and through ever-narrowing opportunities. Over and again, in my journals, my words have recently included the idea of awaiting. What is to be expected, and for what do I await? What is fair and sensible to anticipate (and for that matter, what is insensible and recklessly hopeful)? As Thomas Merton experienced his own spiritual surrender, noticing his will running up against the tides of providence, he identified with the biblical Jonah: “I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”Indeed, irony abounds in an amnesic society that also hankers for “good old days,” whose distance away from now seems to float on a sliding time-line. Surely there must be good new days. It cannot all be past, and so I continue working and anticipating.

When something is amiss, our self-preserving instincts drive toward casting blame. Emanating from deep within our foundations comes that conditional sense of justification which is tied to attributing faults to another. Any historian or self-aware individual can attest to this, as well as to the connection between duress and blame. It is visible among world conflicts, and known in our own, darkest, personal moments. And thus, still further, hopefulness is tested through the search for tangible signs of new promise as well as for solace. Anxiousness can consume carefully cultivated embers that keep our spirits lit. Our best navigational skills must be applied to prevent from focusing upon shoals of ills we find. In such times, it may be better to constructively act than to detrimentally over-think. Oh, but we surely can identify the many wrongs in our midst with great ease! And like dominos, identified shortcomings are chased by wagon-trains of all that should be happening, and what we wish we could see. I wonder at what I actually could do, and where to begin. In this struggle, anxiety and desire coexist. Ideals needn’t diminish, but wishes require context. It means implementing a relentless degree of patience- taking stock of the immediate positive that is, while resisting any fixating upon what isn’t. There must be plenty of margin for the not yet.

Within the essence of embarkation into the unknown is an inability to see the other side of the voyage. Often, it seems the engines are cutting out and there is no land in sight. Or, something more like gazing sullenly at a workday over a cold sandwich, tepid coffee, and a ticking wristwatch. And in a futureless holding-pattern mentality, that scenario repeats and repeats. Finding ways to survive- and thrive- comprise detaching from discontent. Do not lose traction in the slough of despond. If anything, convert demeaning situations into motivation. The other day, a comment made in the press by a professional hockey player made a lot of sense to me. He had been asked about being traded and having to play many years in no-frills minor leagues. “It’s not exactly an ego shot,” said the athlete, “but what you want to do is prove them wrong and always try to be resilient.” That tells me plenty about understanding one’s present condition without succumbing to futility. Detaching from discontent also means deflecting all that perpetuates bitterness. Time and energy spent in anxiousness is time and energy that can never be gotten back.

For the past two months, I’ve jotted many scattered notes about looking forward. In the process, I noticed how my strivings to reach forth began to resemble lists of resolutions. But these are not the same things. We may look forward to accomplishments, events, and travels. The resolve gets more into choosing the pursuits and how to make them happen. While trying to imagine what to look forward to, I also found myself making lists of what I do not look forward to. The latter was actually very easy! Inevitably, through these times, it is vital to be able to see the way to confidently looking forward. In so doing, I offer my burdensome uncertainties to The Certain, persevering in my search for signs of hope. Awaiting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

graphite et polyvalent

eaders of these pages may know of my respect for the author of the Pencil Revolution blog. I was very glad to be able to submit a review at the invitation of a blog I've admired for years.
The entry is found here: Review of General's Layout Pencil. It is always a pleasure to encourage writing friends everywhere. Writers, as well as craftspeople, understand the value of process en route to the creative work we do.

bookbinding and journaling.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

on a string

“Look at the crowds bleeding with laughter
over the way you entertain at beckon call.
They don’t see behind the lights
or the painted background.
They just like to see you fall.

But you really don’t mind,
‘Cause you’re just wasting time.
You can’t feel anything.
Just a boy on a string.”

~ Jars of Clay, Boy on a String