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  • And There Shall Be No More Curse
    May 25, 2017

    One morning recently, I awoke aware of two battles raging inside my body. Most likely they were inside my body. Or at least, in my opinion, that’s where things like these battles happen: in bodies. The first battle was a dramatization of the most immersive sort, played on stage at the Biochemical Electric Opera, which is located between my ears, in my opinion. I don’t remember all the particulars—forgetfulness is a technique the Biochemical Electric Opera uses to keep me coming back—but I do recall that it was a Star Wars themed battle, and I was a Jedi Knight wielding an orange light saber. Yes, even my subconscious was uncool in junior high. And amid the fray, I woke to an entirely different battle raging, this one also happening inside my body, most likely.

    Some of the greatest atrocities ever committed on earth were carried out with absolute conviction in their ultimate goodness. When Mao freed the peasants from the bonds of their material possessions and sent them into bondage on collective farms, it was because he believed in the power of common men to accomplish extraordinary things. When tens of millions of them began dying from starvation, he was still so confident in the power of common men that he refused to believe the stories. Common men, he thought, if they act with virtue, cannot but thrive, regardless of the obstacles. Faith in the Image of God, if you like, brandished and brought down with a crushing blow upon the Image of God.

    All the time and everywhere, Good Things Fight Each Other To Exist. Mao’s naivete is an epic instance of this theme. The second battle that I awoke to, raging—most likely—inside my body, was by comparison barely an anecdotal instance. I seem to have acquired a virus. Now, viruses are teeny tiny demons made of phosphates, sugars, proteins, and the invisible stuff that demons are normally made of, like deception. My body is equipped to fight tiny demons with the Wisdom of God. That can look like a lot of things (e.g., having the good sense to take medicine). In this case, the hagia sophia was revealed in a myriad myriad white blood cells that swarmed the last known whereabouts of tiny demon and unleashed a shock and awe campaign called inflammation. Casualties included the epithelial cells of my laryngopharynx. To summarize: white blood cells, designed by Wisdom, raining down fire upon the inside of my throat and shooting chemicals into my brain stem to give me a fever.

    And here, if I may lean in toward you and really tell you what’s what, is what I’m driving at with all this teeny tiny demon business. W. H. Auden wrote, “The slogan of Hell: Eat or be eaten. The slogan of Heaven: Eat and be eaten.” Somewhere, someheaven, there is a land that I cannot now hold in my mind. A land where life no longer comes from competition for life, but from the sacrifice of life in every living thing on behalf of every living thing, for Christ will fill all in all. A land where good things are free, for there is nothing left to pay with when we have spent even ourselves. How will we live? How will we receive good things if all that we have, we sacrifice? Everything filled by Christ, and everything to Christ. Good things not given first and then received, but at once given-and-received. Good things no longer fighting good things to exist as they do now in a zero-sum economy of being alive. Population without the population crisis. Cosmos. Shalom. Beauty. The perfect fitting of all good things alongside all other good things, with no cracks, no buckles. This is the land I dimly see into and cannot yet grasp. And in this land, nothing that sets good thing against good thing makes any sense. Eat or be eaten has the ring, there, of nonsense.

    Having seen that land, I am angry at the Powers that set good things against other good things, and I am armed with an imprecatory Psalm or two. I do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with powers that set the lives of people in the United States against the lives of people in Pakistan. With the authorities that set the safety of Jewish families in Israel against the human rights of Palestinian families there. With the principalities that set men against women. And, much less dramatically, I wrestle with the elements that set my own immune system against my own now very sore throat. I can’t explain how invisible things can be made of phosphates, sugars, and proteins, or for that matter, how they can be made of other invisible things like deception, legislature, or cultural inheritances. I also can’t explain how my own mind, full of my own personality, can be made up of neurons, chemicals, squishy grey material that sits behind my eyeballs, or for that matter, dreams, ideas, and memories. But it is at least made of those things, if not other things, too, most likely. In my opinion.

    But, oh, that other Land. In it, there shall be no more curse. And they shall see His face.

    Originally published on September 14, 2014.

    Trochilida Folds Her Wings
    October 6, 2014

    I was a twelve-year-old boy, moving in and out of adult conversations in the backyard of a pen-and-ink artist of Flagstaff, the evening’s colors fixed upon the milky sky like the smile of a young mother. Two decades gone, now, and I am still bemused. What life did my parents lead before children that brought them into the camaraderie of this patchoulied, silver-haired man who, as best I can tell, came tumbling out of a landslide in the San Francisco peaks, rolling at first like a boulder, but eventually, planting a foot and swinging another leg down in pace with the earth spilling all around him, walked out of the mountains just north of the city, and filled a studio with paperboard panels covered in inky aspen trees.

    “Just like this,” he says to me, and he holds his hand up to the hummingbird feeder, his index finger extended just beneath one of the spouts. “You have to stand completely still for a long time—five or ten minutes,” and that is all the instruction I need. He leaves and sits down again with my parents to continue their conversation.

    Nothing about the next moments that pass is empty. Every rise in my chest is measured and counterbalanced to keep my finger still. Every other impulse suppressed with the childish focus of intentionality which all humans learn first in play and only later come to associate with work. In this labor, while I am striving to be still, a tiny body, a hummingbird, zooms to a spout on the opposite side of the feeder, drinks, and leaves as quickly. Sometimes two at a time now, more tiny bodies come and go and still I work with all of mine to do nothing.

    I wonder if it will ever happen. I wonder this in whatever small mental space I have left open for tasks like wondering, while all the rest of my mind has descended into my chest, shoulders, legs. My mind flows down my arm, and the seat of my being is the first knuckle of my right index finger. Still, somewhere behind my eyes, I wonder. I realize that I will wait as long as it takes. I will outlast the milky mother-sky, and I will put the sun to bed, faithful in my vocation.

    And in that moment, a tiny bird puts its feet on my finger, and wings that beat the air are still like I am still. It drinks. I am filled. Two decades gone, now, and I am filled.

    July 2, 2012

    ‘Me, sir!’ cried Sam, springing up like a dog invited for a walk. ‘Me go and see Elves and all! Hooray!’ he shouted, and then burst into tears.

    The Impeded Stream
    November 30, 2011

    “It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have begun our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

    Wendell Berry, Standing by Words: Essays

    Not because I am ready.
    February 4, 2011

    I am pausing now.

    I am pausing from saying things like “is this simply an example of the human proclivity to textualize our streams of indiscrete experience?

    I am pausing to listen to the B string of a guitar. (I have always found it the most difficult.)

    I am pausing to enjoy the laughter of others.

    From the restless need for spring, I am pausing.

    I am pausing to hear the voice of God and be undone.

    I am pausing to notice colors against the snow.

    I am pausing for Egypt.

    I am pausing in anticipation of the redemption of all things.