Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: June 2008 (page 1 of 2)

Why Do I Like Welsh Poetry?

I can’t even read Welsh, so I end up reading poetry written in Welsh and translated into English. (Hopefully, I will eventually read it in Welsh.) So why does it strike me and move me so deeply? As I meander back through Bobi Jones Selected Poems (translated by Joseph P. Clancy), I ask myself, “Why?”

My family has Welsh roots and a second cousin has actually met with distant relatives who still live in Wales. But in al truth, I am an American. I don’t know any other reality. Despite my Celtic dreams, I am an American through and through. This is the only world I’ve ever known.

As an American, I read poems originally written in Welsh about Welsh places and Welsh people and Welsh struggles. I these poems through the eyes of a translator (a great Welsh translator and poet in his own right). In spite of the disconnect, these poems move me. They vibrate through the inner recesses of my soul.

As I think about their struggle to preserve a language, a memory, a particular history and a particular people, I connect with their rugged persistence in the face of (seemingly) unstoppable winds of change. They won’t let go. When the fight to keep speaking and writing in Welsh borders on futility, they keep holding on.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear losing a language. I don’t know what it’s like to fight to preserve a nation. But I do know the dark seas of hopeless chaos that sometimes tower when God seems to hide the grace of His presence. In smothering black nights of hopelessness, something deeper than my intellect continued to hold out for hope.

Something deeper than sheer willpower seemed to persistently grip the glimmers of fading rays when all effort seemed futile. Something deeper than me kept holding on. The very one who seems to elude me, who seems to hide from me, who seems to have abandoned me, continues to hold me, to draw me, to sustain me.

Even though dark waters have pounded my soul and the undercurrent of chaos has pulled me down to an airless pit, the Spirit never stopped hovering, blowing, creating and recreating me.

And I think this is why I love the Welsh poets.

Somehow in their relentless struggle to hold onto hope, I’ve come to find a home among fellow travelers who’ve tasted the sweet light of grace in the midst of the night.

In Praise of School Teachers

Bobi Jones lifts up an anthem of praises to school teachers. Drawing from a rich reserve of past Welsh icons, he compares them to the ploughman, the soldier, a preacher, and Orpheus.

As warrior people, the ancient Celts wrote warrior poems in praise of battles, great fighters, kings and triumphs. In the middle ages, a Welsh poet used to the warrior epic to write a poem of praise the ploughman. The ploughman is worthy of praise for his faithful tilling of the land that produces food for a nation and provides the very stuff of the Eucharist. So the ploughman ultimately unites the people together under God by his faithful labor.

Bobi draws from both images to write a warrior poem in praise of the exploits of teachers:

Ploughman of the daily children! Solider of a nation!
I will praise the chalk of your hair while I have breath.

The image of ploughman, soldier and preacher combine in the teacher as one who tills the soil of the young hearts, wars with ignorance and the threat of losing the Welsh language and identity, and the preacher who connects the student of the present with the great communion of saints in the Welsh past. By telling the stories, by remembering, the teacher keeps alive a people who survive as distinctly Welsh against the onslaught of the surrounding culture.

…The clichés of education
Are charmed into adventure by your modest cherishing,
Our country’s past turned into the following day.

In this beautiful poem of praise, I encounter the exalted role of the teacher who fights daily in the rich battle of the Welsh people to preserve their story, their language, their life-blood from generation to generation. The teacher’s words create the future through the children. Creating the future may mean change but it also means connecting the generations.

The teacher is connecting the students to the soil of their being that will inspire them to move forward with the vision of their people in new challenges and contexts:

A land’s in a man; and through it he opens out lands
Like dawn reaching a pageant of fingers toward them.
You’re the river across their ears as well; the waterfall that carries them,
Sparks for a sun, earth and water of their searchings.

In a world where the pressure of homogeneity constantly threaten the identity of the faithful, the poem resounds as a clarion call to keep the vital life of memory alive in our stories, in our classrooms, in our children. It reminds me of Eugen Rosenstock Huessy’s exclamation that our present action is created by looking back to the past and forward to the future.

We are a forgetful people. We forget our names, our landmarks, our stories, our heritage. Without the stories of our past, we face a storyless future or a future filled with stories that submit to the demands of the trends that drive our culture from moment to moment. We need the bards to come forth and sing us awake into the memory of our heritage and our call forward:

A wraith’s in a river; you are Orpheus, rippling
Before each little life, bubbling up
Towards a free world of men, leading them from the dark
Without once looking back to their empty well-spring.

Chocolate Genome? Sign Me Up!

I guess my swearing off chocolate after the the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory incident was a bit premature. Turns out Mars is teaming up with IBM to develop a better, stronger chocolate: sort of like the Six Million Dollar Chocolate Man. Go Steve Austin!

I guess if Kenneth Collins can figure out the human genome and Tim Westergren can come up with the music genome, then Mars and IBM should be able to figure out the cocoa genome.

Customer Service Disaster at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

If you’re passing through the Bellaterra/Huntington Beach area in California, you might want to watch out for the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. The Consumerist hits them with a downright horror show story in customer service denial.

Not sure if I can bear to even eat chocolate after that story.

Update: The COO of Rocky Mtn Chocolate Factory called and apologized to the lady. Rock on! And hand me another chocolate bar.

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain

She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes,
She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes,
She’ll be comin round the mountain,
She’ll be comin round the mountain,
She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes.

I’ve heard that song over and over and over through my life. Seems like a silly song but there’s something in the repetition and rhythm that makes is stick out in my mind. At different times in my life, the song has brought to mind different images.

This morning it makes me think of the person who caught in a particular trial. In the midst of their frustration they exclaim, “I’ve gone around this mountain several times. I wish I could learn my lesson and move on.” I know that person because I’ve been that person more than once.

Whether in the areas of finances or job or friendships, I’ve often felt like I was circling, re-circling and circling the mountain yet again. Driving up the side of a mountain on a swtichback road has a similar feel. I see the same sights again and again, but each time I see them from a higher altitude.

It might just be that when we feel like we circling round the mountain again and again that we could be repeating a pattern but at a higher altitude each time. So we’re not really in the same place, we’re actually moving higher and higher.

Sometimes I’ve drawn two diagrams on a board to demonstrate the way many Christians perceive the spiritual life. Some might think of it as a gradual incline leading higher and higher and higher to a peak, which is the place of glorification. Depending on their tradition, this promise of glorification may happen before or after death.

Other Christians might think of their life more like a line pointing up breaking through a barrier to reach a plateau where the life of faith is lived in fullness. A key event marks this breakthrough—usually either their initial salvation experience or a secondary experience of the Spirit’s infilling. Their “testimony” normally will consist of discussing the events prior to the moment of breakthrough and the dramatic impact the breakthrough had on their life.

I think both of these pictures are helpful in thinking about different aspects of a spiritual journey but I might also suggest that, “She’ll be comin round the mountain” offers a third and valuable image as well.

The image of a circling a mountain with a gradual incline captures the image of repeated patterns in our life. I would suggest that one aspect of growth in our lives can be characterized by a series of repeated patterns.

One way to explain this understanding is to consider the seasons of the year. Each year we pass through spring, summer, fall and winter. Then the seasons are repeated. And again. And again. And again throughout our lives.

If we don’t move every year, this repeated pattern of seasons in our region will be layered into our memories. Certain smells, sights and experiences of the different seasons will bring back memories of past seasons. Driving with my window down in late spring often takes me instantly back to 1982 and my senior year in high school.

We may associate certain activities with certain seasons. For example, we may connect vacations with summer; football with fall; hot chocolate with winter; and flower gardens with spring. But we don’t have to do the same thing every season.

Some years, I may chose to follow the birds and fly south in the winter. Other years, I may head north to a snowy mountain and ski slopes for the winter. In other words, I experience the repeated pattern of the season, but I am free to improvise my response much like a jazz musician might do with a standard.

In addition to the repeated patterns, we impose a calendar upon our year with repeated celebration or patterns. Many Americans might celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July regardless of their religion.

Add to the big four a series of lesser holidays and we have a repeated holiday in most months of the year. Add to those celebrations the personal celebrations in the lives of our friends and families like birthdays and anniversaries. Then add the weekly worship services, yearly VBS, graduations, weddings and more.

Soon we discover that our life is filled with repeated patterns.

I would suggest that we learn through repeated patterns. Just as our calendar reflects this rhythm, our personal lives reflect seasons of learning. There are times when we may actively learn and other times when we may actively create and other times when we may focus on serving or relationships or prayer or mission’s work.

These seasons of intensity and focus may repeat again and again. But each time, we may remember our previous experiences and lessons from the past to play upon our experience now.

We may also pass through repeated seasons of joy and sorrow, struggle and victory, grief and comfort, conflict and forgiveness and so on. But just like the jazz standard or the repeating seasons, we don’t have to respond to the same rhythms in the same way.

One year during lent, I meditated upon the joy of the Lord. This taught me the pattern of joy in suffering. When I find myself in the midst of a repeated trial, I am free to choose a different way to respond. Jack Taylor once told the story of his son growing through grave financial difficult. In response, the family had a celebration.

This decision to alter their response to something depressing and discouraging could then give them fresh eyes and perspective to the struggle and possibly see new opportunities ahead.

So today, I think I’ll rejoice that, “She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes.” I may think I’m coming back round the mountain, but I know I’m moving upward to a place of glory. So I can improvise respond in new ways, bring new expectations to this similar season.

And even in the midst of my current circumstances, whether good or bad, I can rejoice and know that my faithful Savior is leading on the path. And in the end, he present me as blameless before the Father.

Patterns, Progress, and Lifespans

I’ve written before about the idea of how each of our lives represents a span of time that we called a Lifetime or Lifespan. In one sense, each of us live within a particular time because we have particular memories and particular visions. We move in time between memory and vision. This particular movement between memory and vision unfolds in our language, our responses, our actions in the world around us.

If I remember being bit by dogs in the past and I expect that encounters with dogs in the future could result in being bit, then I will have specific responses to the dog in front of me right now that will be different from someone with a differnt timespan of memory and vision in relation to dogs.

But our lifetime is not determined in this sense because surprises can happen. One friend told me that she had a fear of dogs her whole life. While visiting family, she was sitting a bed when the family dog slipped and started to fall from the bed. She instantly responded by catching the dog to break the fall. This act changed her response to dogs. In a single action, she changed and became someone else.

We live within one time, but some-times we can step out of time and change, entering a new time (new memory and vision).

With that said, I do think that there are patterns common to all lifetimes (or most lifetimes). James Jordan suggests that we move in patterns between faith, hope and love. This is a pattern that also appears in Scripture as the movement between Priest, King and Prophet. While I will touch of some of his ideas in the posts about this theme, I will not attempt to develop his idea completely, but will explore some aspects. If you want to see his full thoughts, read From Bread to Wine (see the catalog on Biblical Horizons).

Now to consider patterns think of childhood. There are phases of dependence and trust, growth and exploration, and times of expressing self and defining relation. These phases may not be as clear cut as I lay out here but they do happen and there is a bit of repitition at different ages.

The newborn is totally dependent for clothing, food, care and so on. This is a phase of absolute dependence; an initial phase of trust or faith. While a child is dependent through adulthood, there are some points of particular dependence such as when their first born. Another time of intense dependence is when they first do away to school.

They leave home and now must trust a figure outside the home to function as a surrogate parent. Just of their dependence on the parent helped shaped their identity, this dependence on the surrogate (such as Kindergarten teacher) will also impact their identity. Rules of the classroom and rules in grammar, math and so on become foundational for them to make sense of this new world.

Newborns grow into a toddler phase characterized by growth and exploration. They discover their fingers and toes. They move from sitting/rocking to crawling to walking. They grow from making noises to forming initial words. Some early development is taking place in their body and mind. They are learning and a very early form of reasoning is displayed.

This season of growth and exploration will happen again around 9-14. This is when they shift from being a boy to being a young man and from a girl to a young lady. They become aware of differences and constrasts between family, the sexes, the neighbors and us, the kids at school and our family. Using their developing reasoning skills, they are more willing to argue with other kids (and with parents).

Another phase can be seen in the 3-4 year old as they tell mommy again and again how much they love her. They may become clingy to one or both parents. They start asking “why” hundreds of times a day (which prepares them for the rules phase).

When a child moves into teenage years, the “why” question becomes more pronounced. Their asking harder questions and getting ready to do more reasoning, but their also extremely emotional. They may begin flirt with the opposite sex. They move between highs and lows with sudden emotional outburts. They’ve experienced similar passions at a younger age but these were directed to parents. Now their emotions are directed outwards to friends and potential loves (as well as enemies).

While the phases may not be so clear cut, there repeated seasons where children are totally dependent, form identities in relation to authority figures (and eventually in relation to peers), experience dramatic growth and development, ask questions, shift from thinking to feeling, learn new rules, apply old rules in new ways, break rules. And so on.

The child is growing and repeating patterns again and again–developing their lifetime (memory and vision) which will shape their ongoing formation in adult years. At the same time, there are always possiblities along the way for dramatic invasions from outside their memory and vision that will shape their lifetime for both good and bad.

These pattern of rules, relationships, reason, emotions, growth and so on occur over and over throughout our lives. So in one sense, our lifetime is similar to the circular motion on a clock. Repeating hour after hour. At the same time, unexpected events can alter the cycle or challenge us to step outside one cycle and enter a new rhthym. An retired widower may suddenly decide to learn the the blues and travel around the world.

We are free to change within our lifetime. This freedom to step out of one cycle and into another is part of what makes us human. And yet, even as we step between cycles, we will still face internal and external periods focused on identity, relationships, rules, growth, questioning, stories, and so on.

The Gift of the Poets

In his poems praising various people, Bobi Jones writes a poem to the poet. The Celtic poets use the discipline of constant praise to offer thanks, challenge status quo, offer social commentary and more.

Such a praising of the harvesting of the keeping–the baby’s life,
The lad’s life, the old man’s life behind your door.*

Bobi realizes that the poet connects the generations. And for a people crushed either personally or as a nation, the poet transforms that pain:

And you turned the blows as well into a praise of living.

These Welsh poets have personally gifted me with the habit of praise, of sight to praise and as Bobi says, of learning to transform the struggles and blows in this world into a “praise of living.”

The poet offers everything–the very essence of his life–in service to the gift.

From your immense Preselau** you raised teh walls of your belonging
And in the presence of its sun’s rafters you consecrated your laughter’s values:
You made your people one in a mystery sea.
You included us in your family. You sang
The white guts of your praise and your being, and you planted
Your leaves in our back-garden in proper robes like a choir.

* – Bobi Jones writes poetry exclusively in Welsh, so when I quote him, I am quoting Joseph Clancy’s translations.

** – Preselau or Presely Hills, a place in Wales (whose location is in question). I think this poem is using it as a way of identifying the land of the poet (which like the ancient Hebrew is connected with his salvation).

Firefox 3 Field Guide

I love it. Firefox 3 is to Firefox what Firefox was to IE. It’s faster, easier, and seems to run lighter. You might find it helpful to look at the Firefox 3 Field Guide posted by dria.

Modern Sickness, Disintegration and Nostalgia

While searching for articles and books on Giambattista Vico yesterday, I ran across a great 1997 interview with Lois Dupre from Christian Century on “Seeking Christian Interiority.” Dupre laments the loss of a metanarrative in this late modern world: “We experience culture as fragmented; we live on bits of meaning and lack the overall vision that holds them together in a whole.”

This “absence of a defining unity” cause us to feel “lost in a disconnected universe.” While some “postmodern” writers rejoice in the loss of an overall narrative, most of us struggle with the need for some meaning that brings coherence to our lives. Christendom offered such a coherence, but that integrated world died with the middle ages and the modern world has moved farther and farther from looking to Christianity as a source of integration.

Dupre suggests that as the awareness of what the modern project has realized, people struggle with a yearning for something from yesterday.

“They feel the fragments present to us must somehow be united in a manner that modern culture fails to accomplish. Hence they turn to models from the past. Some join ultraconservative religious or political movements, or they lose themselves in mystics of earlier times as if no cultural distance separated us from the past. Such complete reversals that attempt to abolish modern life are, I think, inauthentic ways for trying to achieve the integration our time needs.”

While we may have some nostalgia for the Christian past, Dupre warns against trying to “reinvent a Christian ‘tradition’ (mostly intended for the masses) for social or political purposes.” So how do we respond to the crying need for an integrated vision of the world?

In this world between worlds, Dupre finds inspiration from another time between times: the age of Augustine. The Classical world was ending and the Medieval world was beginning. Augustine finds personal integration through faith in Christ rooted in the Christian Community. This integration works outward and finds ways to synthesize the pieces of his fragmented world such as Roman civic morality and Neoplatonic philosophy.

Dupre sees this integration as working outward from personal to local to cultural. This is a slow process and in one sense comes to define the new world. I think we see a similar attempt in integration in the shift between the Medieval world and the Modern world in the Reformation and Renaissance.

As we find ourselves in a world between worlds again, Dupre offers humbled approach to transformation. Instead of triumphalist declarations of restoring Christendom, he suggests our best steps forward in for true personal integration based on faith rooted in the Christian community. We must begin with a deep and profound personal integration. This is simply an individualistic interpretation of Christian faith, but a an experiential Christian faith that springs from the Scripture and community of believers. It is deeply relational.

Working outward, we must learn and cultivate an inner integration of the pieces of the modern world. Instead of reaching backward, we trust the Providence of God and work from our current estate forward. Only then, can we begin to think about community and cultural transformation. More on that later.

Stories upon Stories upon Stories

The Bible is not simply one story but many stories. And these stories form patterns that are repeated again and again. For example, the creation story appears in Gen 1 and Gen, but then variations of the creation story reapper throughout the scripture in places like Job, Proverbs 8, John 1 and Romans 1. Each story reflects a different aspect of the pattern.

Some of the many stories appearing in the Scriptures include:

The story of the Law

The story of Sojourn

The story of Slavery and Exodus

The love story between a Groom and Bride

The story of Father’s and Sons

The story of rebellion and redemption.

These are just some of the many stories that appear, reappear and reappear again. All these stories might and probably would have seem disconnected. But Jesus comes and fulfills/embodies every story. All the stories are flowing in and out from Him.

These stories might also be thought of as bardic songs. The ancient Celtic bards would sing songs of adventure and love and nature and war to the people. Their songs not only entertained but also helped forge a common memory of the tribe.

As we read the story (and sometimes realize we are acting in some of the story patterns), we also discover that we are being forged into a common memory of a family that spans time from beginning to end.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar speaks of the complexity of interwoven stories. He calls this a “symphony,” ” a dance fo sound.” Here are few of his thoughts on symphony from the classic treasure, Truth is Symphonic – Aspects of Christian Pluralism.

In his revelation, God performs a symphony, and it is impossible to say which is richer: the seamless genius of his compositions or the polyphonous orchestra of Creation that he has prepared to play it. Before teh Word of God became man, the world orchestra was “fiddling” about without any plan: world views, religions, different concepts of the state, each one playin gto itself. Somehow there is the feeling that this cacophonous jumble is only a “tuning up”: the A can be heard through everything, like a kind of promise. “In and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets…” (Heb 1:1). Then came the Son, the “heir of all things,” for whose sake the whole orchestra had been put together. As it performs God’s symphony under the Son’s direction, the meaning of its variety becomes clear….Initially, (the musicians) stand or sit next to one another as strangers, in mutual contradiction, as it were. Suddenyl the music begins, they realize how there are integrated. Not in unison, but what is far more beautiful–in sym-phony.

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