“The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognizing the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good, and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; but for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition.'”
-How the senior devil explains things to his nephew, in The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
“I wish you many years — but not for them to be too happy, because happiness in the world isn’t really so healthy. When a man is too happy inthis world, he forgets God and forgets death.”
— Elder Paisios
It is customary in the Orthodox Church to wish people “Many years!” or to sing the whole hymn, “God grant you many years…” (x3 of course) on any happy occasion such as an anniversary or birthday. Three birthdays of my children and grandchildren are coming up this week and next, so the quote is timely.
In the last ten days Soldier’s family and I did not think much about death, we were so happy together. Still, we didn’t forget God for long periods, because we know to Whom to be thankful. The children and their liveliness was the focus of our attention. When fear grips our hearts over what deathliness they will have to encounter in the future, we try to pray….
They departed yesterday, and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Kate and Tom are in Panama, very securely quarantined there for their jobs, I’m afraid. I see their family on FaceTime. I don’t plan to visit Pearl in Wisconsin in the next months, because I already went there in fall and winter, and would like to experience that part of the country in a different season next time.
Pathfinder is in the middle of smoke; no one would want to go there unnecessarily. It’s kinda smoky where Pippin is, too, but I hope to go next week anyway, to be with Ivy for her birthday; I missed it last year.
Pippin brought her three down last weekend to see their cousins.
The kids gathered around the Lego bin right away.
We went to the beach again,
a different one with lots of marine plants to identify.
The sky was not orange that time.
One of those nights at bedtime Ivy asked me to fasten her nightgown in the back — the one I originally made for Aunt Kate decades ago — but only one of the three buttons could reach its buttonhole. Next morning we agreed that I would sew her a new nightgown, and we sat browsing flannel prints at my desktop; she started with the idea of a pink flowered nightie, but when she saw the cats, she changed her mind. I ordered the cat fabric.
“The Socialist saw plainly the rights of the Society; the Anarchist saw the rights of the Individual. How therefore were these to be reconciled? The Church stepped in at that crucial point and answered, By the Family—whether domestic or Religious. For in the Family you have both claims recognized: there is authority and yet there is liberty. For the union of the Family lies in Love; and Love is the only reconciliation of authority and liberty.” — Robert Hugh Benson
Liam found a California Sister butterfly (some might know it as “Arizona Sister”!) and when Ivy said, “Can I have it?” he let it crawl onto her hand.
“One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the marketplace. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happytoo, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.”
— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Also while six grandchildren were on the premises, four of them helped Soldier to stack a cord of oak firewood. I had on hand children’s gloves for such a time as this. Even four-year-old Brodie was a willing worker who did not tire easily; he lugged logs for quite a while before he even interrupted his flow to put shoes on.
My son shopped all over town with me, considering which wood stove I should buy to replace my current one that is dying. It was so helpful to have help in choosing such a big item. It’s scheduled to be installed before winter.
“The family is the test of freedom;
because the family is the only thing that the free man makes
for himself and by himself.”
— G.K. Chesterton
Recently I got the bright idea to do as my grandfather had done when I was in my teens: Once when we were visiting him he told us four children, of whom I was the oldest, that we might take home and keep any four books from his vast shelves. I still own my four books. My own shelves are loaded with titles that I know my grandchildren of various ages would enjoy, but they aren’t ever around long enough to think of perusing the shelves.
So I told them the same this week, Please take as many as four books home with you. Two immediately wanted Socks for Supper.
The younger children who aren’t fluent readers needed some help to choose books that they didn’t already have at home, but in the end everyone took at least one. No one took four, which was interesting; maybe they aren’t developing their grandmother’s book gluttony. Does it surprise you that I just ordered replacements for two of the books they took?
Scout carried off dog stories by Albert Payson Terhune, and a cookbook. Liam took Finn Family Moomintroll, Rockinghorse Secret, and The Five Sisters, which I recently bought but hadn’t read. Laddie settled on The Pig in the Spigot, even though the illustrations are weird, we all agree.
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” -C.S. Lewis
One of the last jobs we worked on together was dehydrating a few of the apples that we’d bought at the farm. I cored them, two boys sliced, and one arranged the slices on the trays. The fruit dried all through the night and the rings were packed into bags to take on their journey home. Good-bye! Good-bye! and Godspeed!
“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye
and put miles between you,
but at the same time you carry them with you
in your heart, your mind, your stomach,
because you do not just live in a world
but a world lives in you.”
“We do not want merely to see beauty… We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
Mr. Kierkegaard was very hard to take in the last two discourses of The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air. I was happy for the non-hearers of his non-sermons — you may remember, he was not ordained so he didn’t consider it appropriate to call them sermons — that they did not have to listen to him audibly, on and on repeating himself, and stretching the bird and lily metaphor into nonsense.
Or so it seemed to my small brain. I finished the book last evening, when my patience was already tried by my eyes that had been burning for two days, and for what reason? No one knows. By the late afternoon on Sunday I’d followed a doctor’s advice and used some very expensive eye drops that changed the burning to a sticky-scratchy feeling. The burning had made me want to keep my eyes shut, but with the latter condition open or shut didn’t matter, so I was able to distract myself with reading. (Today they are fine!)
I sat in the garden, because it is so delicious, I want to be there as much as possible, with the bees humming and sparrows singing and flying back and forth, eating the sunflower seeds I give them. It is true, what Kierkegaard says, echoing our Savior, that we must learn from nature. And in some way we need to be like the birds and the lilies if we are going to fulfill our humanity. But we can’t learn about thinking from them. Thinking is something we humans specialize in, to such a degree that our minds dominate our fragmented selves. And that mind tells us, among other irrational things, to worry.
Our mind is what we use to accomplish our daily lives, to plan and execute our work. But it’s also where swirl the same unproductive thoughts over and over again, thoughts of regret over the past, or anxiety over the future. Complaining and blaming and angry thoughts. How can we plan without worrying at the same time? How can we bring every thought captive to Christ? Lord, have mercy!
Kierkegaard says in the second discourse that the bird and the lily are unconditionally compliant with God’s will: “In nature everything is obedience, unconditional obedience.” Maybe he is trying to get at what I have heard from fathers of the Church, about how creatures other than humans act according to their God-given natures. Humans were made in the image of God, which means that our nature is to be of love, and unity. But we are typically at odds with ourselves, and with our Creator.
I haven’t been too successful myself of late, in thanking God for everything. For ten years now, I’ve found it helpful to use my writing to steer my mind in the right direction, but lately the load is too heavy to steer. Writing does not accomplish the task of “bringing the mind into the heart,” which is what Saint Theophan tells us we need to do. When my mind is burdened I can’t make sentences that would substitute for prayer, or other more receptive activities, say, watching a bee.
C.S. Lewis’s feeling, “Actually it seems to me that one can hardly say anything either bad enough or good enough about life,” comes to mind, but only weakly applies to my difficulty conveying a simple experience like picking peas this evening.
That Big Friendly Giant pea patch I’ve got is a wonder of my garden world. It just keeps growing and being green and lush, producing new baby pea pods every day. I wander around the edges of its kingdom and peer into the jungle of vines, trying not to miss any of the ripe ones, wondering if I should let this or that one grow one more day. I’m pretty sure that one day this week there are going to be about a hundred of the sugar snap peas all ready at once. Each pea pod is lovely and tender-crisp, and begs to be eaten the moment after being picked.
The day is filled with this kind of incomprehensibly good thing, which I would like to share. I think those are joys flowing out of my heart, so they are easier to express than sad things, though of course I can’t say anything “good enough.” I’ve tried taking pictures of the pea mass, but this is a case where you have to have your nose following your arm into the dim and cool interior, all the while the sun warms your hair. Pictures are worthless.
As to the other side of Lewis’s quote, saying anything “bad enough” about life — that’s not my calling. I think that line might have been from a personal letter that he wrote, expressing empathy with someone who was suffering. I know I have had experiences that seemed very bad. And my cry amounted to, “This is not what I want!” But at this time in my life, if I ever manage to “take them captive,” I try to put those thoughts in quarantine.
Kierkegaard finally admits that we do have difficulties that the bird and the lily escape, when he writes of an “…enormous danger — a danger in which a human being is indeed situated by virtue of being a human being, a danger that the lily and the bird are spared in their unconditional obedience, which is happy innocence, for neither God and the world nor good and evil are fighting over them…”
That makes me think that if the author were writing blog posts today, he might remind us that we do not war against flesh and blood, viruses, stupid humans, wicked empires, etc, but against “principalities and powers” in the spiritual realm. Every time I get distracted it’s a waste of time and a missed opportunity to use my mind to better purposes. The pandemic is showing me how prone I am to this.
I did have three more friends in my garden last week after my godmother’s visit. Everyone wore masks. They were on two different errands. My goddaughter Sophia had found some plum wood for my wood stove, which she and her new husband delivered. And my goddaughter Mary’s father and brother came to finish my garden icon project that I began five years ago. But you know what? — it’s past my bedtime, and this post is too long already. I’ll explain tomorrow about the elegant completion of my garden. ❤