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).

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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…

From my Scottish Window…

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The view from my room

There is a series of dramas I can witness out my window here at Saint Andrews.

There is the drama of the fishing seagulls. 

This one makes me laugh. As if framed by the rust coloured shed in the foreground and the stretch of pure and brown land in the far background, I have a very nice view of the sea. To my eyes, slightly blurred in their perception by reading one too many books on one too many late nights, I can mainly see an impressionistic conglomeration of colours and movement. I see the vast grey blue of the ocean, streaked with the darker moving lines of waves. And then there are the little white specks: seagulls! I noticed them first after sitting at my window with tea for a while. I saw the specks hovering and soaring low over the water, as if looking for something. And then… in they went! And in place of the little white speck emerged a little white wave where the gull had submerged. After a few moments, up pops the triumphant gull, who then rests on the water for a while, exulting in his spoils. For some reason, this discovery tickled me greatly; what a humorous thing nature can be at times.

 

And then there is the drama of the wayfarers.

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I call them the wayfarers, but I’m really referring to the the bobbing heads that appear over the roof of the rust shed, and the voices that carry (unbeknownst to the speakers) up to my window. My house is right near the ruins of the cathedral and the sea in town, so many people pass on the roads surrounding my little spot. Oh the things I overhear! Mostly, I’m too distracted (and bound by my ethical opposition to eavesdropping) to listen to actual conversations, but you get the gist from the tone and rhythm of bobbing of the groups of people. There’s the young loves, walking along hand and hand, trying to decide if they should look at the sea or each other, not talking much. There’s the couple arguing emphatically about who knows what. There’s the rowdy heard of Freshers (freshman), on the prowl in search of mischief. There’s the lone stroller, wandering an unset path, and stopping at the apple tree (oh wait! That’s me!).

And then there is the drama of the cathedral.

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It is grander than you can imagine. I can see it out my kitchen window. Towers reaching to the heavens, arched windows staring out at the sea. It makes me a little sad to look at it, laying in waste. A shell of its former glory. No longer able to hold souls in its walls, and to host worship. I think of all the history I don’t know, and all the stories these ruined walls could tell. I wonder what will last of my story, and what will become a weary, ruined, chipping wall. What am I building with this short year? With this life of mine?

There are so many little views out my window, and they are all true at once. And they all teach me something. We all sit at a window in life, seeing many dramas play out before us. Sometimes I find I focus too much on one, beginning to believe the sad drama is all there is, or becoming obsessed with the lives I watch from my window, instead of the life I live within. I want to learn to turn my eyes, to look for the bigger picture. Never to deny pain or sadness, but also to allow myself to laugh at the diving seagulls, to smile at the blushing new lovers, to think on the lasting legacy of the strong cold cathedral. And when I have thought long enough, I’ll close my window and join the view.

What views lay outside your window?

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Saint Andrews at Night…

ps: I’m sorry I missed last weeks posting. I’ll be back to schedule now, and will post more updates next week.