fond goodbyes, in the modern sense

It’s the morning of my last class at Biola. Or maybe I should say “with Biola,” as Downing College at Cambridge University is literal and metaphorical worlds away from the evangelical Bible college of Southern California. Contemplating the past over a celebratory breakfast of coffee and avocado toast,  I am struck by the distance I’ve come since first enrolling in the University.

When I first graduated from YWAM’s Discipleship Training School in 2013, I was in danger of losing myself and my religion if I ever stopped engaging with the charismatic Christianity they taught me. This is not a criticism, but rather a reflection on weaknesses in my own faith.  Through the (often rough) ministrations of my Torrey and music professors, God put me through a metaphorical furnace that taught me to trust “even when … led into dark and wild places.” The further I get into this affair, the more I realize that to do the “Christian” thing well is going to require a lifetime of attention – and even then I’ll still be a rank amateur.

We’ve been reading Ephesians daily these last three weeks, and I think that 4:1 has adopted me as a sort of thesis statement for the upcoming year. I want to walk in humility and gentleness, in patience and love, attempting to live in peace and unity with my fellow Christians. Let’s be honest, I’ve probably failed already. But that’s the thing: I know this project is worth doing, even when I do it poorly.

The year ahead is one I have not planned for. It’s a great Unknown, a time without order or plan; a monkey-wrench in my 25 year plan. But I think that I can honestly say that I do laugh without fear of the future. Biola has not been kind to me, but it has been good; and for that, I give it my thanks.

I am reminded of TS Elliot: “Time present and time past//Are both perhaps present in time future. ” And so I trudge on into the unknown, carrying weight of time on my shoulders, tracing and transcribing the ancient patterns.

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Culture Clash

I’ve been in the U.K. for exactly a week now, and must confess that my head is packed full with thoughts. They are rather like a handful of necklaces, tangled up and so intertwined that the untangling seems almost impossible. So instead, I will choose an arbitrary beginning and work from there.

A new friend told me about her surprise that here in the U.K., “whiteness” does not mean what it means in the States. Unlike in the US, the uniformity of skin color does not imply uniformity of culture – whiteness says nothing about country of origin. One might see 15 white people in a room, but one family could be British, another French, and another Swedish and they will all act differently.

Similarly, it seems that any assumptions about nationality are either non-existent or much more subtle than they are in the US. Someone that, were we in the States, we might call “African-American” or “Indian-American” or “Mexican-American,” people here just call “American” (or “French,” “Swedish,” etc.). There’s no “Pakistani-French” or “Algerian-English.”

I’m absolutely certain that prejudice does still exist here, but it doesn’t seem to be nearly as obvious or overt as it is in the US. Granted, this is the observation of a white bystander, but the friend who pointed this out has experienced such things firsthand.

The parts of the U.K. I’ve had the opportunity to experience has been much gentler than what I’m used to back home. The catcalls have better vocabulary (last night I was told that I was causing a man to be “positively lascivious”), people generally leave each other alone, and, provided you are not too loud, are quite willing to help when asked.

No wonder they consider Americans to be uncouth and uncultured. I visited the first English monastery yesterday: established in 598 AD, it was demolished and rebuilt by the Norman conquerors after they deemed the Saxon building too primitive for the saints interred there. That was in the early 1100s. That means that the Saxon monastery existed for twice as long as the USA has been a nation before it was destroyed. That means the destruction of the first monastery occurred almost four times the years my country has existed.

No wonder we seem brash and tacky to the rest of the world. We have the Declaration of Independence from the 1700s: they have the Magna Carta. We have the Jefferson Bible: they have the Codex Sinaiticus and the earliest known scraps of the Epistle of John. Granted, they were essentially stolen as part of the English Empire, but nevertheless. How egocentric is it for the US to boast of being the first among equals, when we quite literally did not exist for the majority of those “equals'” history? Our nation is the result of the Empire, stolen from the indigenous nations and formed in the image of Britain. We’re nothing more than the four-year-old insisting that “I’m not a child: I’m all grown up.”

Don’t take this to mean that I’ve converted to the cult of Anglophilia: I am not obscuring the complicated and sometimes vicious history of these islands. However, even if I get nothing else from this trip (which is an unlikely turn of events), the perspective itself is highly valuable. Without going too far into the details of how this statement is misinformed, I believe every American with the means and ability ought to be required to visit Europe.

I’ll have more thoughts later.

A Whirlwind Tour

Tomorrow, I leave for Cambridge. I’ll be gone for the entire month of July, and when I get home, I will have completed the final four units of my degree. The month of June has been a gracious liminal space, a time to transition from full-time student to almost-done student, with the growing expectation of being a student no longer. Well, that’s not entirely true. I will always be a student, but I will no longer be an undergraduate student.

How time flies.

the long road home

IMG_2641

I graduated. Despite the odds, I graduated. And I promise, I will come back and write a better post about it than that, but for the time being, it is enough to know that I did it. When I first went to California for university, I called that first road trip “the long road to purgatory,” which is, I think, indicative of a general, permeating pessimism I carry with me. Having graduated, I’ve come to believe that life is both the long road to purgatory and the long road through purgatory. But I digress.

I’ve come home. Or rather, I’ve come to the shell of a home I once had. The room I once called mine is like the mausoleum for another person, one I never met. She liked her knick-knacks, and had a fondness for dried-up, dusty flowers. She kept things I have no use for. And so, for the last few weeks, I’ve been exorcising the ghost of who I once was. Sure, she still lingers in the corners and the closet, but she’s no longer hiding under the bed. There is no bed for her to hide under. This cleansing, purging, exorcising has made me ruthless, and yet it seems to be a ruthlessness driven by necessity. I’ve come to the shell of a home I once had, a shell that must be repurposed and recategorized for the time being. For you see, what once was my home must become my home again, and for that transformation to be completed, I must burn with fire.

Before I can venture into the next unknown, I must confront the unknown in my once-room, once-home. The stillness of deep ocean and the flotsam of a tropical storm collide in this space and in my head: the tempest and the tea-kettle both invade and demand space. The old skeletons stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the new bones of a new life, and they all sway in the meaningless dance of things. IMG_2641

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

In my beginning is my end. 

notes from tonight’s performance

I am suddenly aware of my physical existence. A fuzziness in my ears from listening intently all day, and a tickle on the arch of my right foot as I stretch it out on the ground in front of me. A mild cough that hasn’t gone away from that particularly bad cold a month ago. The sound outside of campus police patrolling the apartment complex after our drunken neighbors broke the wall last night. My reflection in the mirror to my left, and the taste of strong peppermint tea, cooling my mouth.

My thoughts are scattered tonight, but they’ve been scattered for a long time. My brain is on paper these days. There’s no room in my head to remember little details like, when is that term paper due? and, when is the exam again? I’ve been noticing a mental fog for the last while, when thinking feels like pushing play dough through a very, very small hole.

There’s something pleasant about just sitting here, drinking peppermint tea and doing nothing. There’s no music playing, and the silence is so sweet. You learn to appreciate silence when you’re a music major. I would say that the stillness is like music to my ears, but I don’t have to analysis tone sets and phrase structures when it is silent. At least not this silence. There’s something about concert halls and picture frames that have a way of creating expectations. Silence in a bedroom is bliss: silence in Walt Disney Hall is 4’33” by John Cage. Frames are magic. Frames contextualize happenstance, turning a nothing into a something, and a something into a Some Thing. Suddenly, where there was once something unremarkable, there is something that has been remarked. All because of a frame.

Framing this time of sitting as a Torrey project turns it into Some Thing, and every person who walks by enters into the performance, unknowingly.

Performative Nothing. I like the ring that phrase has to it.

The Personal Challenge

I have not been particularly good about blogging recently. I hesitate to check the actual statistics, but I think I’ve averaged about a post a year for the last two. In large part, this is because life has been happening and I haven’t had the time for introspection and private writing, but also because the speed with which my life has been changing has left me a little out of breath.

The scarcity of posts is going to change, at least for the next two months. This is not because my life has slowed down enough for me to catch up: on the contrary, I am facing an uphill battle just to graduate this semester. Long story. I’ll tell you about it some other time.

No, the reason I’m going to be writing more is because I have set myself something of a personal challenge for the final Torrey project of my career. Over the last four years, I’ve read an awfully large number of books, many of which (I’m looking at you Traherne, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky) dealing with the ties between enjoyment of and engagement with the world and the health of the soul. Being the most awkward combination of a type-A personality and a hopeless romantic at heart, I have adored these books and the thoughts they have inspired while also realizing that such a connection to the created order is entirely outside of my grasp.

You see, I am bad at doing Nothing well. Incidentally, I just realized that this ties into recent studies I’ve run across that link boredom with increased creativity levels. I just realized my project may have even more ramifications than I initially thought. But back to that statement. I am bad at doing Nothing well. I really hope you read that as it is intended and not as some sort of braggadociousness on my part. As my boyfriend is fond of pointing out, I have a hard time making space in my life during which nothing occurs. Every semester, I think to myself “Self, you have learned your lesson. No more overloading for you!” to which my Self says, “Indeed, but for my own good I must add 35 additional activities beyond the requirements for graduation to my plate.”

It’s a vicious cycle.

So for this semester’s Torrey project, inspired by great writers of the Western tradition, I am attempting to engage in five hours of Nothing per week. There’s obviously some structure involved in this great attempt, but a large amount of it comes from writing reflections on those periods of re-engagement with the world. I have a feeling that some of them may even be fit to publish.

Consider this a warning: there may actually be more than one post published in 2017.