Waiting, waiting, waiting…

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The North Sea at the edge of dawn…

The Coming
By: R.S. Thomas
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
                 On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed 
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
***

So much of this old life is waiting.

Waiting for dinner at a restaurant.

Waiting for books to arrive in the mail from Amazon.

Waiting for Christmas break.

We all have our own waiting identities.

The expecting mother, filled up with life, waiting to hold her baby in her arms.

The patient dreamer, with all the bittersweetness of a vision of what life could be, waiting for the open door, or window, to a full life.

The sufferer, waiting for the day when breathing will not be such a burden, and when wrong shall not be called right.

We wait to receive good things…

A lover that sees and knows who you are at the deep down, barrel scratching bottom, and still says “yes. It’s you I want.”

The job where what your great love meets the world’s great need.

The adventure you’ve always longed for.

We wait for the bad things to end…

You wait for the day that breathing doesn’t seem like a difficult task, when every moment isn’t coloured by the sorrow you bear.

We wait for injustice to end, for violent men to be struck down, for the poor and helpless to be vindicated.

We wait for healing, for the day sickness and cancer will no longer rule the roost, when sickness doesn’t steal from us anymore.

We wait and wait and wait and wait. 

And we long for all these things.

Sometimes all of life feels like waiting.

Advent is all about waiting. 

Advent is the time of year set aside by the church for longing. It is when we reflect on all that we wish were true and good in the world. Echoing the words of the prophets, we articulate our desperate desire for God to intervene in the seeming chaos, to make it right and to make us right. We tremble a little when we think of what it might mean for us to be made right. Advent is a time when it is right to say “the world isn’t as it should be, and I long for God to make it right.”

I need advent this year. 

It’s been such a full year. So much good. So many waited for things have happened. And yet there’s still aches. And the world is still not right. Sometimes I am washed with a sense that the world is more full of weeping, and yet of generous jubilation, than we can ever understand. All of it, the good and the bad, fills me with a longing for the final goodness, for all that is wrong to be made right, for all that is good to be made full. St Paul said it well…

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:22).

We are told, in this season, to sit with our longings, to look at them, and to offer them to God. When we do this, we find at the bottom of all our longings and desires for things to be put right a source. And our faith tells us that this source came, miraculously, absurdly, to our little world to make full all these longings inside us. The God of the stars and the sea and of DNA came wailing out as a baby, wrapping himself in this funny skin of ours. He assumed all that he could heal all. What a strange miracle it is.

And so I need advent.

The church needs advent.

The world needs advent.

I pray for you, as I pray for myself, that this season will be one in which God meets you in your longings. And I pray that our hearts will be prepared for Christ’s coming, that great fulfilment of all the good aches in our hearts.

Peace.

Joyness.

PS: If you’re looking for advent devotionals, I highly recommend Biola’s Advent Project. Each day they upload a new reading, reflection, piece of art and music. It will fill your soul. It surely does mine.

First Frost and Creature Comforts

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I thrust my un-mittened hands deep in the pockets of my wool coat.

An abiding chill has settled in Saint Andrews. Though I can hear water crashing on the rocks bellow, the moisture in the air has settled itself in a million minute crystals of frost on the ground. Each blade of grass is sheathed in a delicate white jacket. The veins of each fallen leaf are intricately etched, a pile of masterpieces beneath every shivering tree.

The pavement is best of all.

The cobbles and concrete look as though they are the subject of snowfall, being covered, as they are, by a translucent blanket of white. This is not, however, the garment of snow but of misty winds blown off the North sea and shattered into a great host of frozen diamonds.

Shimmering. Sparkling. Dazzling.

How could one begin to describe them?

With each slight movement of the head, one catches a wave of many coloured reflections shining from the untrodden frost. The beauty is decadent. Never was any hollywood diva garbed so extravagantly as this path behind the cathedral at night.

It’s not too late, but the sky is a deep navy, barely lit by a waning moon. Very few are out to walk this evening. None watch the tide come in but the resolute cathedral tower. I spy a couple walk by, mittened hand in mittened hand, quietly laughing, pausing to hear the waves crash and to whisper things into each other’s ears. It’s funny they whisper, for there’s no one hear them except me and I’m a far way off. But, I think whispering is an especially satisfying way to communicate; it makes everything feel special and like a secret. Perhaps I should whisper more often.

I pass by the fork in the path. Both lead down to the sea, one past the fisherman’s boats, and one past the “Auld Hoose” where many students live. I follow neither, marching straight down the middle instead, leaving footprints in the crunchy, frosted, grass carpet.

I find myself at last at the crest of the hill, next to the ruins of an old watch tower. I like it there because it overlooks East and West sands, as well as the port. And there are no lampposts here, so the stars are not obscured by light pollution.

In the darkness, I gaze up and out. A great expanse of darkness meets my eyes… and a great cloud of starry hosts.

I am thankful for these spots without artificial light. They are rare.

Living life in the technological age is like living beneath the penetrating light of one of those lamps they use when interrogating people in detective films. Screens, lightbulbs, speakers scream and shine at us, asking questions we have no answers to.

I long for silence. And darkness. And stars.

I draw a deep breath.

I suddenly feel astonishly awake. Aware of the darkness, and all that I cannot see, I am alert for foreign noises. A feeling like fear and exhilaration ceases my stomach. As my eyes adjust, I gaze upon an ocean of stars swimming to the edge of the horizon of the North sea. I am amazed that all this beauty lays hidden beneath each blue skied day, and we walk under the mystery unaware. I shiver, from a mixture of cold and excitement. It aids the numinous effect.

There is a comfort as I gaze into this lovely lonely sky: the glory and orderliness of creation has gone before me for untold days, and whatever joys, sorrows, and catastrophes come to me and this old world, the stars will go on being glorious.

For all this, nature is never spent.

There lives the dearest freshness, deep down things.

Gerard Manley Hopkins said that over a century ago, and it is as true now as it was then.

Thank goodness for poets.

I begin to amble back to my warm room, following my feathered footprints in the sparkling carpet.

I think fleetingly of how much I miss my dog.

The world and all its absurd and sad news feels far less catastrophic with an animal in your lap.

In a moment of startling serendipity, I hear a faint jingle headed in my direction. Out of the shadows of the shoreline wall, a fluffy form saunters out: a cat. I squat to pet it, and to my great surprise, it hops into my lap. I pet it for a moment, but transgress its feline ways, accidentally patting its belly. It hops off my knees, and casts a reproach glance over its shoulder, shifting weight on its elegant haunches. Gathering my coat beneath me, I sit in the frost. In this humble position, the cat glances back at me, hesitating momentarily before crawling once again into my lap. It kneads my coat with its paws, and then situates itself in compact repose, its tail wrapped neatly around its front paws.

We sit together like this for a while. I pet the cat, and it purrs with extreme satisfaction. As I run my chilled fingers over its warm fur, I am filled with something like sheer delight and comfort.

The cat departs as swiftly as it arrived. Detecting a new faint jingling, my fickle feline friend leaps from my lap, running to the cathedral wall, disappearing into a chink in the stone.

The new jingler comes bounding around the corner, this time accompanied by a human.

It is a poodle, and it wastes no time in bounding up to me, pressing its warm, wet nose between my knees. I bend to pet its tight curls. It preens, and deigns to endure my affection.

“Her name is Sunshine. Isn’t she a lovely animal?” Says the accompanying human, a woman of at least seven decades, effervescent curls hidden beneath a wool scarf.

“She’s beautiful!” I reply.

“She’s not mine, but I watch her.” replies the lady.

We exchange a few more words, and then at last I find myself homeward bound again.

I laugh to myself. How funny to meet a dog called “sunshine” in the navy dark of this wintery evening.

I am back from my walk now, my knees tucked against my chest, with the cosiest of blankets around my shoulders. I find that the world makes more sense to me than it did before. And I make more sense in it.

To say my hour long encounter with the natural world was “therapeutic” seems incorrect. Encountering the wildness of a Scottish winter night isn’t good because it makes me feel better, but because there is something about coming into contact with nature that is good, right, ordered. It’s not about my feelings, but about the essential richness of my relation to the world in that state. Something in encountering the wild, untamed and creaturely that draws me back into a deeper reality than the anxious world of screens can offer me.

I have remembered, for a time, who I, and we all, are meant to be: gardeners. We are meant to be at home resting in the grace of given things, cultivating the willing earth, marvelling at the celestial hosts as they dance over us each day. Tasting, touching, smelling the love of the Great Gardener.

In this weary world, it seems we will never experience the fullness of this calling. But in the midst of our struggling world, let us not take for granted these creature comforts, the beauty of a midnight walk, the satisfied purr of a rested kitten, the smile of a stranger. It is my naive and persistent belief that such comforts drawn us back to the givenness of our being, and cause us to live humbler, holier lives.

They remind us that we are small and creaturely.

Perhaps that is the best place to start.

I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry, “Peace of Wild Things.”

Time, Faith and Deathless Legacies

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Our days on earth are like grass;

 like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

The wind blows, and we are gone—

  as though we had never been here.

(Psalm 103:15-16)

I think about time and legacies a lot lately.

St. Andrews has a way of marking the passage of time. Lately the sun goes down at around 4:00 PM, heralding the shift towards winter. All the leaves on my favourite tree in the cathedral ground have fallen, its naked twigs stretch towards heaven waiting to be clothed by spring. The great ruined cathedral itself stands as a relic of ancient life haunting our frantic modernity.

And then there are the more practical reminders of time. I have one year here in Scotland. One month before I fly home for Christmas. I’ve got a paper due in exactly one week. Eek.

I’m constantly reminded of how quickly time is passing. It fills me with a sort of vague urgency. To live well? To make the most of my time? To enjoy every sea side walk?

As I walk by the crumbling cathedral, I wonder what my short days in St. Andrews will make of me, and what I’ll make of them.

And I think about my short days on earth.

And I wonder how in the world to live them well.

Last week felt like it would last forever. 

I wonder how the next four years will feel.

I wonder what they will make of my country, and what my country will make of them.

I wonder how in the world to live them well.

A comforting thing about witnessing this year’s election cycle in St. Andrews is that it reminds me of the fleetingness of time.  Being so constantly reminded of  the on and on-ness of history is both comforting and alarming; our little lives on this earth are but blips on the radar… and yet, the enormous impact of one generation can hardly be calculated. I am reminded of the great paradoxical truths: our lives are fleeting, but our lives mean something.

I think legacies are baptised by death.

I mean by this that the true legacy of a person, a generation, or a nation is revealed when its time has passed. What remains of a legacy when the legacy maker no longer remains? I think of Martin Luther King Junior, whose life was cut short, but whose legacy lives on far beyond death because his vision reached beyond the immediate confines of his years on this planet. He made decisions according to his convictions that ultimately cost him his life, because he had a dream that was worth more than immediate comfort.

I think that to live well, to live wisely, and to live righteously is to live with a vision aware of and beyond your own mortality. 

This means to make ethical decisions though it may seem to destroy your chances at an easy or pleasant life in the present, because a future made by unethical decisions is worse than a current discomfort. It means to live with a wild hope, investing your life, work, and words in a vision you may not see come to fruition in your lifetime.

Wendell Berry put it well:

Ask the questions that have no answers.

Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.

Say that your main crop is the forest

that you did not plant,

that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested

when they have rotted into the mold.

Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

(Manifesto: The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front).

A good legacy is a prophetic legacy: one that looks to the future.

All decisions are eschatological. All ways of living declare what they believe to be true about the future: if your goal is only to survive as long as possible you will not live a life of courageous courage like Martin Luther King Junior. If you believe there is something beyond your life, whether that is future generations or the life of the world to come, you will live differently.

I think our greatest mistakes are when we live short sightedly: when we sacrifice what we know is good, for what is presently expedient, comforting, pleasant, or safe. I certainly know this to be true in my own life. The decisions I most regret are ones I made out of short sightedness for the future; out of fear for survival, of boredom with the present, of impatience with pain.

The writer of Hebrews believed the life well lived was one lived in faith. A person who lives by faith is one who dedicates their life to what is true and good though the consequences may not be seen in their life time; they live in the faith that their faithfulness matters. Hebrews 11 paints a vivid picture of all the women and men in the Old Testament who lived with a vision beyond their own lives…

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

In the chapel of St. Salvators here in St Andrews, there is a strange and ominous piece of architecture. Surrounded by an otherwise light and lovely medieval chapel, there stands in the north east corner what can only be construed to be a 20 foot statue of a ruined city. Curious about this statue, one of my classmates researched it. Apparently, it was meant to be the burial place of one of the old church leaders. Years before his death, he set out to make the most glorious grave possible, so that after his death, people would always look upon it and remember what a great man he was. He paid an inordinate amount of money for its construction (upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars in present day currency). It was intricate, covered tiny figurines, guided in gold and gem stones.

And now, it is an eerie grey monument to a man no one remembers.

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The memorial in St. Salvators

Time can be cruel.

As I looked at it yesterday, I was reminded of Jesus’ words:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21).

I don’t anything about the man for which this monumented is raised other than that he wanted to be remembered. Now the monument stands as a mighty, ironic visual representation of Jesus’ words. In its decrepit, crumbling silence it reminds me that wealth, security, and fame will never leave a deathless legacy. Such treasures betray their seekers. The monument warns and challenges me.

These are strange and difficult times we live in. But I am thankful for St. Andrews making me attentive to time. When I am discouraged, I look to the old cathedral whose weathered stones have seen a thousand seasons come and go. They see will see these next four, eight, and one hundred years come and go. They remind me that legacies are baptised by death, they renew my conviction to live for a vision beyond my own life, to see my main crop as the harvest I don’t gather. They ask me daily: what do you treasure?

Oh, Lord. Teach me to number my days that I may present to you a heart of wisdom.

All Saints’ Day…

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I sit beneath a tree in the cathedral grounds and wait for lunch. 

The leaves of this long-planted tree droop dryly, soon to fall and wait, as I wait, for Spring.

Trees are not all that is planted here. People are planted here too.

The stones markers stand like tabs in a spring garden that say, “carrots” or “lettuce,” proclaiming remarkably that from the ash black soil, tender life will soon shoot up.

But people are planted here.

John. Mary. Peter. And a thousand others with Scottish names.

As I look on, I am conscious of many histories that lie sleeping in this church yard. Souls, stories, personalities. Undrinkable oceans of thoughts and choices and value. In quietness they speak to me…

Do not disturb these beds.

We’re waiting for the spring. 

And a church is planted here. Its monument pierced through, perhaps so the others can see the sea and the sunrise.

We’re all waiting.

This tree, this garden, this church, me.

For lunch, for Spring, for sunrise.

And some Easter day, the waiting will be filled.

The sun will rise over the old sea, warming the frozen ground.

And all the planted people will wake up, rise from their wintered beds, stretch their limbs and yawn. They will kiss and embrace their long lost beloveds. They will laugh because all their tears are spent.

And the old stone giant will gather together all her hewn stoneage and do what she has longed to do all these years: Dance.

And this  old tree above me will shake its spring green, shaggy head and sing…

“This is what I’ve been saying all these seasons!”

And the first planted of the souls will come laughing over the glittering waters, waking up all who were planted in Him.

Spring will come true at last. 

But today, the leaves still fall and the spring seeds still sleep in the freezing ground.

And I am still waiting for lunch.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)

Decide to live…

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Sometimes living is hard.

Decide to live today.

Decide to let a deep breath fill your lungs, and call it a good thing. To breath. To be alive.

Decide to eat. Notice how foods feel and taste. Notice the cracking in your ears when you swallow. Think about how often you have to eat, and what a strange thing eating is. Laugh at your own creatureliness.

Decide to speak to someone. Notice how their face changes as you talk. Think about what strange and wonderful things humans are. How bizarre speech is; these sound waves we make with our little pink mouths, meaning something to the people across from us. Perhaps even meaning something kind.

Decide to see something beautiful, and acknowledge it for its loveliness. Be thankful that for all the ugly in the world, this beautiful thing exists… and you get to see it!

Decide to work on something today. Clean a kitchen. Pull a weed. Make a pot of soup. Marvel at your own productivity; well done, you! Your work can make things happen. What a marvel! What a gift. Remind yourself that you are valuable and able to shape your world.

Decide to think today. Chew on an imponderable idea in your little mind. Chase its syllogisms, muse on its images. Stand back and applaud your intellect, because its your gift. Acknowledge it as a mystery, and know its limits. Thank God you have a mind.

Decide to pray today. Embrace your finitude. Lift your eyes and your heart to that, and whom, you don’t understand. Be quiet. Ramble. Take off your shoes. Bow your head. Lift your eyes. Say, “not my will, but yours,” and release all that you have, the good and the bad, into hands more capable than yours.

Decide to love today. Pick one person. Be glad they exist. Think about what is good and lovely in them; tell them. Wish the best for them. Bless them.

Living this old life can be hard. But good. And beautiful. And above all, meaningful.

But it is our gift.

So, decide to live.

Today and every day.

Peace from Bonnie ole’ Scotland,
Joyness

 

Little thoughts on integrity and fear

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The real grief of this election will be people compromising their integrity out of fear.

The world sometimes feels wild and out of our control.

And the truth of the matter is that most of the world is out of our control. Much to my chagrin I cannot control the world, the weather, the election, or my next door neighbour. And sometimes it is very frightening. When I don’t turn my face away, I can see the unfolding future of a world I can’t control, no matter who we elect. And fear bubbles up.

We fear what we cannot control.   

But I am in control of my integrity, my choices, my love. The choices I make will shape my world, as small as it may be. And they will shape me. And your choices will shape you. Each individual’s choices shape their world, creating ripples that will become waves that will become culture that will become history.

So I will guard my integrity fiercely because it is the one thing I can control. It is one thing a candidate can neither give nor take away from me.

My admonition to you, as to myself is this: do not live (or vote!) out of the fear of what you can’t control, but out of the integrity of your heart that you can.

So, there are my little thoughts.

Peace,
Joy

The Stories We Tell…

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St. Andrews Cathedral graveyard just outside my front door… So many stories are represented here.

I went to a seminar last week on the long lost memoir of Warnie Lewis (C.S. Lewis’ brother).

It was very informative

The lecturer rifled through a fat book of their personal letters, coming to well reasoned conclusions about the life and legacy of the brothers. She reminds us that Warnie was an author in his own right. She told us the story of Warnie’s conversion.

The questions began. What was Jack’s personal devotional life like? Warnie’s? What were theological beliefs the Lewises held but didn’t express publicly? The fellow in the green shirt in the corner questions the nature of Jack’s relationship with Mrs. Moore…was Warnie jealous? There is conjecture about whether their crazy school master was nicer to Warnie or Jack. It was Jack. Definitely Jack.

And then there was Warnie’s alcoholism. What was the cause? Was it the war? His mother’s early death? His natural temperament? Mrs. Moore? His relationship with his father? Wearily, we piece through the unearthed tapestry of their story, trying to follow faded threads.

But there were lovely bits too. The cheerful letter Jack sent to one of his Goddaughters on the day of her confirmation, and the playful jab at sending her the only kind of magic he seemed able to wield… a five pound note.

I walked home alone after that seminar. As the wind with its new autumn chill numbed my nose and tossed my hair, I wondered what the brother’s Lewis would have thought of all of us, sitting around with scholarly faces, engaging in the dialectic method about every detail of their bachelor lives. Did Jack ever feel, in the living of it, the weight his own life story would carry?

What a strange and wonderful thing to see a life laid out like a story at its end. 

And then it struck me, like the blast of wind from the north sea I walked along:

My story has already begun. 

Some of the ink on the pages of my life is already dry.

My story won’t begin someday in the future. 

It won’t begin tomorrow.

It didn’t begin yesterday.

It began in a day I can’t remember, and stretches out before me till days I can’t see.

What story am I telling with one life of mine?

I wonder, in a hundred years, what a room of scholars bent over my journals, letters, and Facebook messages would come to think of me. If I’m honest, that’s actually a sort of horrifying thought. But I do not feel tethered by the opinions of such hypothetical people, and it is unlikely that not one will study my life like that. But, I think of the children I hope to have some day.  I think of being old with my siblings, and looking back on life. I think of meeting God. And I wonder… what story will I have told with these few earthly days of mine?

The stories we tell with our lives matter. 

We need look no further than the news cycles of the past week to confirm that theory.

Decisions.

Habits.

Attitudes.

Secrets.

Sins.

Words.

They compound over the years, and give your story a colour, a shape, a taste. An aroma. A stench.

Choices have real impacts that cannot be wiped out with flippancy, forgetfulness, or bluster.

As my mentor often told me… God forgives, but wisdom doesn’t.

The repercussions of our decisions, good or bad, echo into our lives, and the lives we touch.

This election season has played out like a morbid, almost comic, depressing moral story. It’s really quite distressing to dwell on. It is a wreaking mess of poorly told stories, and people trying to shake or ignore the sin that has shaped the story of most of their adult life. Sin that chases you down even after 10 years.

As I’ve contemplated the sorry affair we find ourselves in, I’ve come to this: I alone can’t fix the government, the candidates, the country, the state of global affairs, this school, the Church. I am limited in my scope of influence, but this I can determine: the faithful telling of my own story.

The reform I see as necessary in my country, and indeed in my world, is a reformation of character. Policies, spin, social reform, none of it will make a difference if each individual is not living a well told story, doing what is right though it hurts, renouncing evil and perversion, celebrating kindness, goodness, and justice. Real change only comes through repentance; the turning away from the Bad, and towards the Good. The plot must shift, the characters must decide. The story must be told in years lived, not in hasty words said.

And so, with each decision I make, habit develop, attitude I allow, secret I keep, word I say, vote I cast, I hope to be telling a story of faithfulness and humility. One that I will be proud to tell my children, and reminisce about with my dearest friends. One I hope is honouring to the Jesus I follow.

It was strange and wonderful to see the Lewis brothers’ lives laid out like a story at its end.

But it was a good story they told. 

And, Lord have mercy, may I tell a good one too.

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

(Psalm 90:12)

 

 

Dating and Courtly Love : 5 Helpful Tips

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Romance. 

That desire and bond which ever culture seems to value.

Love, true love. 

That tricky, smoggy ideal we all awkwardly stumble around in pursuit of.

Dating. 

The unfortunate cultural fallout of a society without an agreed upon romance manual, comprised of unspoken social constructs developed mostly from Taylor Swift songs, the 60’s, Coca Cola ads, that one weird book you read in high school, and the fall of humanity.

And so we find ourselves in the social dance that no one knows the moves to, stepping on each others toes as often as we accidentally fall into each others arms. Stepping in love as often as we fall in it.

There must be another way!

And so I propose turning back to the old, the tried and true, the Manner of Courtly Love. 

After studying Courtly Love in my graduate course this week, I’ve decided that it has the best advice which I will now follow unquestioningly.

And so I present to you 6 ways that love may be acquired, as set out by the twelfth century love sage Andreas Capellanus.

1. Be extremely, very, very good looking. 

Capellanus’ first way to win love is simply to be, or look for someone who is, just golly old darnit attractive. Capellanus notes, “A beautiful figure wins love with very little effort.” And really, what could go wrong here? Could there be a more common sense way to find love than to base your affections solely upon physical attraction?  If you are wildly attractive, Cappellanus also particularly recommends finding a simple (read: stupid) lover, because they’re happy to settle for a relationship based on looks. I quoth, “A simple love thinks there is nothing to look for in a love besides a beautiful figure and face…I don’t blame such love.” In such happy cases, you can go on being attractive, your love can go on being simple, making you one happy, shallow couple.

And what more could one ask for, really?

2. Have a good character because that’s attractive… I guess. Sort of. 

It is, of course, impossible to be both of good character AND attractive. And so, if you feel unconfident about your looks, forget trying to find an inner sense of value and beauty, or developing in confidence, just be a good person. Afraid people won’t like you just for your “nice personality?” No fear. Capellanus reminds us that, “A well instructed lover does not reject… an ugly lover if the character within is good.” Isn’t that comforting? And also a great and totally not problematic reason to be virtuous?

3. Talk a great deal and with many anecdotes which will inspire and enlighten your future love.

Being of “ready speech,” is in Capelanus’ mind meritorious of love. Ready speech, as far I can discover is the general proclivity to say nice and funny things, and to talk a lot. Sorry introverts. But this also applies to being a generally socially mature human. For instance, Capellanus recommends the following for men: “After the man has greeted the woman, he ought to let a little time elapse, so that she may, if she wises, speak.” This is good advice. It gives us women the momentary illusion that you care about what we think, which is very nice. So, being ready to always say witty things is good for winning love, but so is not saying things. It’s really a toss up.

4. Be wildly wealthy.

Mr. Darcy? Romeo? Cleopatra? Queen Victoria? Rochester? They all had one important thing in common: they were out of this world rich. Now, Capellanus notes that this is perhaps not the most advisable reason for falling in love. However, it’s worth noting that, “I know from personal experience that when poverty comes in, the things that nourished love begin to leave.” One might wonder if this perhaps says something about the nature of the commitment and quality of the relationship. Would a real love relationship not grow with each difficulty it encounters?

Nah.

It is a clear sign that wealth encourages love. Or at least, as my grandmother once said, it is no harder to marry a rich man than a poor one.

 

5. Be desperate:

What more needs to be said? Join the teeming masses. A great aid in obtaining love is a “readiness with which one grants what (love) is sought.” Basically, don’t be picky. Have in your mind the attitude which approaches each person you meet with this question: are you my boyfriend? How about you? No? Maybe you?

Again, one can hardly imagine where this might go wrong, or how it is indeed a way love might be acquired as it sometimes appears desperation is repelling. Well, I guess my advice is just to not ask too many questions and stay desperate.

And there you have it! The five ways to acquire love. If only E Harmony had told you it was so simple. 

It must be noted that Capellanus is doubtful of the last two ways of acquiring love, going so far as to say we should, “banish them from the court.” All things considered, I think this is an overreaction. I mean, what does Capellanus think those of us who are not extremely, very, very good looking are going to rely on? Our good character? Pfft!

And, so these are Capellanus’ ways to acquire love.

Do let me know how they improve your love life.

Tune in next week for more helpful Courtly Love tips like what kind of flowers to bring your beloved and how to woo a courtly lady from France.

Over and out…
Joyness 

Joyful Discontent

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Deësis mosaic in the Hagia Sophia.

I am not by nature a contented person.

I wish I was, sometimes. But more often than not, I wander around the world with an achey exuberance. I feel awakened by all the beauty and meaning in the world, called out by it, invited. And yet, I feel pierced through by the sadness, annoyed at the general lacklustre of ordinary life. I want more seriousness, I want more levity. I want harmony and resonance in my beliefs with my ways of living. I want to be still. I want to dance. I want to be rooted. I want to fly.

And so I hover in an existence of happy discontent, each experience of beauty and life making me at once more joyful and more full of longing.

Apparently I don’t respond to icons properly. 

This week in class we studied icons as a chapter along the development of religious art. While discussing a particular icon, I noted that they seem so charged with quiet emotion. According to my professor, this is not the intention of the icon writers; they are meant to draw you into a quiet mood of acceptance and contemplation. They are meant to sooth, to quiet, to subdue.

And here I am feeling things again.

The face turned full force towards the viewer. Eyes unflinching. The deep, jewelled colours. The sense of movement, and stillness. It makes me think of a line from  Malcolm Guite’s poem The Singing Bowl… Timelessness resounding into time. And something in me is awakened by the beauty, invited by the person and stories to which this written painting testifies. It makes me want to drink from the springs of life eternal, surging through the goodness and beauty that survives through every generation.

But, I am told, my emotions are in the way.

I used to feel guilty for wanting so much out of life. I felt it I were a little more mature, more Godly, I would ache a little bit less. Rejoice a little more quietly. I would be satisfied.

But, I’ve learned to listen to my longings. And in them, I find the echoes of a deeper reality, a richer faith, a fuller humanity. In the midst of one of my achey days, I read this..

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

I think one of the great faults of our present world is the inability to sit with emotions and longings. To listen to them, and let them be. To not try to medicate or philosophise or spiritualise or numb them away. I think sometimes we are frightened that if we give these old longings the time of day, they will swallow us whole, or that they won’t go away.

And you know what? They often don’t go away.

Sometimes the ache remains.

But in it, we find a testament to something true and deep. I find that, in my better moments, my discontent is often only a longing for the deeper, richer life for which I’m made. It protects me from apathy. I motivates me to press in and dig deeper in Jesus to find the true bread of life.

And sometimes, in my aching joy, I find I experience the “Joy as poignant as grief” (Tolkien, On Fairy Stories , 1947).

And so, I am satisfied in my discontentedness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

A few wee Scottish things…

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A casual driver around town… (spotted today)

A few wee things…

Hello, oh world! Oh occasional readers! How’s life? What are you thinking about these days? What’s your favourite hot beverage? What do you think of almond croissants?

Quite to my astonishment, I find myself already on the brink of my second week in grad school. It has been grand, surprising, fascinating, deep, exhilarating, and even a little bit exhausting. I’m sure that soon, it will yield the lovely fruit of thoughtful blog posts. But at the moment, my brain is too fried to access or articulate any lofty ideas. Instead, I thought I’d share with you a few things that I have discovered and delighted in here in Saint Andrews, and hope to take back with me to the States. In no particular order, here they are…

  1. Wee bit… (phrase):

How do I begin to express my affection for this phrase? I guess I could start with saying that I don’t think I realised how much people actually use this phrase, and how much you can use it. It is usually just a much more charming way of saying “small.” Why say you want a little bit of cake when you could say, “I’ll just have a wee bit.” Or why say “look at that kid,” when you could say, “look at the wee lamb.”  It just makes all adorable diminutives that much more adorable. I love it a lot.

2. Dogs:

Let me confess; I’m missing Darcy. How could one not miss such a cuddly, neurotic floof? But one great comfort has been the many furry friends that tromp around St. Andrews. They’re everywhere! Sidewalks, sea side, book shops. The floofs rule the Fife!

It seems more acceptable to take your dog everywhere you go here. For instance, yesterday I was in my favourite book shop in town, when I spied a mother, father, small child, and small dog, huddled in a corner, looking through a shelf of books. One of the employees walked by, stepping over the dog like it was nothing more than a pile of books. I don’t think this would ever happen in the States.

Or, the day before that, I encountered this sombre creature…

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He was sitting outside the door of a house with its door slightly cracked open. No leash, no collar, no intention of moving. I bent down to pet him. He deigned to endure my advances, but was aloof. I saw the owner peak from behind the door, unconcerned.

And so, dogs run free! A merry part of the warp and woof of life. They weave between legs, run whole heartedly into the sea, sit quietly by professors pouring deeply over tiny academic books.

I rather like it.

3. Kilts:

All I will say is this: Scottish men wear kilts a lot more than I was expecting, and I think it’s grand.

4. Fragile (phrase):

“I felt a bit… fragile!” she said, tittering over with a mournful grin. This was said by my lovely friend who cleans the dorms, upon recounting to me her slight sickness over the weekend, feeling unprepared to dive back into the rigours (and awkwardness) of undergraduate dorms.

I’ve heard this phrase several times, and it always tickles me. It can mean anything from having a head cold to suffering the consequences of consuming a “wee bit too much.” Either way, I feel it describes one’s condition when undisposed to be able to deal with the world and its numerous indignities. It is such a better phrase than “feeling sick” or “having a cold.” It’s so much more descriptive of how one actually feels when under the weather. Somehow its more dignifying… and it makes me laugh.

Definitely a phrase I’m taking home.

Friendliness:

I have truly experienced such kindness at the hands of my Scottish friends. Informed by the often misleading representation of movies, I had always seen stories of Scots as the opinionated warriors; powerful, prideful, cultured, and strong enough to eat Haggis. Hurrah, stereotypes!

But I was not prepared for the downright friendliness of the Scottish people. There is a warmth and a helpfulness that I have experienced at the hands of numerous people in all sorts of situations. The frankness and kindness of many I have encountered has made this little seaside spot feel like a home away from home.

So those are my Midnight Monday thoughts (Tuesday, actually!). I hope you are all thriving. What is something from another culture you appreciate or enjoy?

Till next week!

Joyness

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My current favourite study corner…