To Time’s Analysis

F. Scott Fitzgerald died on this day, December 21st in 1940. Scott and his wife Zelda personified the manic depressive world of The Roaring Twenties which saw a zenith of monetary excess concluding with The Crash of Wall Street.  His beautiful prose is among the best of the twentieth century.  His friend Ernest Hemingway said, “His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings.”

Fitzgerald’s life ended in the tragedy he seemed to foresee.  In Tales of the Jazz Age, he wrote

At any rate, let us love for a while, for a year or so, you and me. That’s a form of divine drunkenness that we can all try. There are only diamonds in the whole world, diamonds and perhaps the shabby gift of disillusion.

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Are You Too Deeply Occupied?

We have countless opportunities to nurture genius, but we must look in unexpected places.  Genius often hides behind the shy eyes of a child, too reclusive to leave her familiar surroundings.  In 1862 Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote a piece in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Letter to a Young Contributor”.  The response he received, written in a peculiar bird-scrawl began, “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?” It appeared to be unsigned until he discovered a small sub-envelope within that contained a card with the shyly penciled name “Emily Dickinson.” Enclosed also were four poems, and his curious and encouraging response led to a three-decade correspondence with Dickinson, she playing a coy “Scholar” and he bewildered and moved by the flights of her mind.

Emily Dickinson (born on this day, December 10th in 1830) could not have imagined the towering height of the fame which was to come.

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Man Of Sorrows

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways, and heard what all men said…
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live

G.K. Chesterton – The Convert


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Eternal Life Is Now

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The Triumph of the Church Peter Paul Rubens c.1625

WALDEN
Henry David Thoreau

For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished.  Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest.  My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.

Ephesians 5:15–19

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.


It’s only hard to imagine eternal life if you are enslaved by your calendar.  There are actually only two times – then and now, and then is just an illusion.  All of the past you carry like chains has come and gone and tomorrow, as they say, never comes.  Thoreau urged us to simplify and Emily Dickinson said it best with “Forever is composed of nows.”  The distance between now and then belongs to you and is entirely your accountability.  If now is squandered it is forever wasted and becomes regret with which another now is wasted.

In his book City of God St. Augustine wrote “There can be no doubt that the world was not created in time but with time” because “God, in whose eternity there is no change at all, is the creator and director of time.” Your now was the gift you received when God woke you this morning, and not everyone received it.  When scripture speaks of “redeeming the time” it simply means you have a choice.  Your life will be filled with joy if you invest your now in that which is eternal because joy is greater than happiness. Happiness comes and goes because it is dependent on happenings, and let’s face it – bad things happen. Here’s your power in Christ – you are more than your circumstances.

 

Forever Is Composed Of Nows

Basilica of the Annunciation

Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –
From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –
Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be

From Anno Dominies –

~Emily Dickinson


The liturgical year is approaching Lent and its days of introspection which proceed Easter.  Joan Chittister observed that liturgical time is the arc that affixes the layers of life. It binds heaven and earth into one and the same rhythm. Rather than give ourselves totally to life as we know it here and now, liturgical time raises our sights above the dailiness of life to the essence of life.

The liturgical year, with its great traversal from life to death to life again, carries us from one pole of time to the other with a sense of purpose and progress. It makes us aware of the presence of the kind of time that is not time, that is not our understanding of time, that is beyond time.

 

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Ecclesiastes 3:1–15

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace. What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. That which is has already been, And what is to be has already been; And God requires an account of what is past.

Dig Deeper

Art: This artistic motif in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth depicts the Trinity along with the apostles and all believers in Jesus gathering to spend eternity together.

Literature: Joan Chittister and Phyllis Tickle, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).<!–em

Dreading the Holidays

Today is Christmas Eve. For many, that represents a joyful celebration of family – but what if a family member recently died?  What if a family member recently rejected you and now there is bad blood between you?  Maybe you have just lost your job or maybe you are a single adult, feeling like everyone in the world has love except you.  If these storms have engulfed your life, the holidays might only worsen the pain.

Emily Dickinson expressed this loneliness and longing timelessly:

At least—to pray—is left—is left—
Oh Jesus—in the Air—
I know not which thy chamber is—
I’m knocking—everywhere—

Thou settest Earthquake in the South—
And Maelstrom, in the Sea—
Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth—
Hast thou no arm for Me

There is hope.

The writer Anne Lamott said her favorite prayer is “help me, help me, help me!”  She reminds me of Peter who quickly went from triumph to tragedy when one moment he was walking on water and the next was drowning beneath the waves.  We miss the most powerful part of that story.  When he and Jesus were back in the boat, Jesus gently chided him for his lack of faith.  We tend to believe He meant being distracted by the storm which caused him to sink.  I think it was for thinking that Jesus would actually let him drown.  After that experience, Peter never thought of the phrase “Jesus Saves” quite the same

Matthew 14:25–31

And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him,

and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Books Promiscuously Read: Day 3

Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —


Children are inquisitive and insatiable for knowledge.  This can be problematic, for it often tilts to trouble as any reader of Mark Twain will attest.  We all have childhood stories of ‘that time when’ our appetite for adventure over-exceed good judgement. Fortunately, lucky children also find companions in books with whom they can safely fight pirates and sail starships.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

I remember the titles, pictures, and the words of so many favorite books: the colorful chaos of Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World; the tale of Ralph, the rodent with the helmet made of half a pingpong ball in The Mouse and the Motorcycle; the adventures of the mutt every child wishes were her own, Clifford the Big Red Dog; Casey The Utterly Impossible Horse, that contradicts every girl’s horse fantasy; the story of the inimitable and enviable anti-hero Harriet the Spy; that tomboy of tomboys, Ramona the Brave; the smart and sassy Nancy Drew series; the delightful and whimsical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Where the Red Fern Grows, which left me weeping inconsolably the night I finished it, alone, lying in the top bunk of my bedroom; my favorite horse book ever, The Black Stallion; and Pippi Longstocking. I secretly liked that my dad’s special nickname for me was “Pippi” because of my own freckles and pigtails. I didn’t even point out to my father that my pigtails didn’t stick straight out like Pippi’s did. I remember The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Ever since, I have loved wardrobes so much that my own home is furnished with as many as I can reasonably fit.

Considering Emily Dickinson’s quote today, how did your childhood books help ‘Truth to dazzle gradually’?

John 18:37

Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”


D I G  D E E P E R


Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (born Dec. 10, 1830, Amherst, Mass., U.S.—died May 15, 1886, Amherst) American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th-century American poets.

Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself. She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts. She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.

 

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

John Milton and Areopagitica

(1608–74), poet and controversialist. The son of a scrivener, he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1625–32), where he won a high reputation for his scholarship and literary gifts; his famous Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629) belongs to this period. From 1632 to 1638 he lived on his father’s estate at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Having abandoned his original intention of taking orders because of the ‘tyranny’ that had invaded the Church under Abp. W. *Laud, he devoted himself entirely to scholarship and literature. Among his finest poems of this period are L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, which are sometimes taken as expressing the two sides of his nature, torn between the desire for pleasure and the love of meditation and silence. In ‘A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634’ [Comus] (pr. 1637), he sings the praises of chastity in a dramatic poem. In 1637 he wrote the monody Lycidas on the death of a friend, containing a sharp satiric allusion to the clergy, one of his main themes in later years. Next year he travelled in Italy, and after his return moved to London, where he spent many years in political and religious controversy. In 1641 he joined the *Presbyterians and took part in the famous ‘*Smectymnuus’ affair, and about the same time wrote The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy, a fierce attack on episcopacy in which he saw only an instrument of tyranny. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a member of a strongly royalist family. She left him shortly afterwards, and he returned once more to the question of the reform of the divorce laws, writing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he made a passionate appeal for the solubility of marriage on the grounds of incompatibility of character and declared the sanctity and sacramental character of marriage to be a clerical invention. The treatise, which roused a heated discussion, caused his break with the Presbyterians. Its publication without a licence from the censor led the case to be submitted to Parliament and drew from Milton his celebrated Areopagitica (1644) in defence of the freedom of the press.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1095–1096.
 

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England, pamphlet by John Milton, published in 1644 to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Four earlier pamphlets by the author concerning divorce had met with official disfavour and suppressive measures.

The title of the work derives from “Areopagus” (“Hill of Ares”), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. In a prose style that draws heavily on Greek models, Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth. While the immediate objective of the Areopagitica—repeal of licensing—was not obtained for another 50 years, the tract has earned a permanent place in the literature of human rights.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

 

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.