The Fairy Tale Realist

the old stories say it better

How to Thrive III: Build a Beautiful Life

Photo by Ijaz Rafi on Unsplash

It has been a few months since I last posted. I’ll be totally honest, despite being in the middle of a four-part series on how to thrive, I went through a small season of Not Thriving. There was something about the congruence of the election, the ensuing verbal- and eventually physical- brawls surrounding the election results, and maybe most of all, the response and reactions of Christians on both sides of the political spectrum, that just about did me in. I’m not going to spend a lot of time unpacking that, because I want you, dear reader, to be able to get something out of this post regardless of your political or religious stance. I’m not in the mood to alienate anyone, especially in this season of profound alienation. But suffice it to say that I found myself pretty overwhelmed with how things played out in our culture, as well as working through some personal matters that were rather heavy around the same time.

The good news is that, despite being a season of intensity both nationally and personally, I have a nice little assemblage of tools for thriving that I would like to share with you. This is a very simple post, in which I praise the effectiveness of simple, old-fashioned practices that will help you build a beautiful life.

  1. Humility. Make it a mental discipline to stop thinking you can Figure It Out. Re-read Ecclesiastes. Nothing that is happening is really new, except that we might not have experienced it in our lifetime. Reading political and religious commentary can be helpful sometimes, until it gives us the illusion that we have any idea what’s going on. Corrupt people keep being corrupt; innocent people keep being crushed; our hope is God’s restoration of all things, not any particular party or person being in control.
  2. Read Scripture out loud. I find that there is a huge difference in the impact on me to read out loud and for an extended period of time- 10 or 15 Psalms, for example, or an entire epistle in one sitting. The Bible would largely have been read out loud to (or by) its original audience, and if the Old and New Testament original authors and readers could see us sitting quietly alone with a cup of coffee, reading 1 or 2 chapters and underlining something that makes us feel good, they would see it as being strange and foreign. I’m not knocking the traditional Bible time, but let’s not pretend it’s the normal way Christianity has been practiced for any length of time, or that it can give us everything we need. Our faith needs to be “out there,” not just “in here.” Think about all the sounds drifting through your home- the TV, phones beeping and chirping, kids’ singing toys (the horror!), people coming and going, arguing, laughing, music, the news. These are the things that form our reality, for better or for worse. Make Scripture part of this sonar reality. Make it “out there.” Read it with your family or friends; read it by yourself. But read more than one or two chapters at a time, read it out loud, and read it like you mean it.
  3. Pursue the analog life. This week I wrote a long letter to a friend, wrestled with my sewing machine until I figured out how to complete a couple sewing projects, deep cleaned my room, and explored new places in the city. This is far from an original idea, but it seems to elude us for some reason. I have become convinced that analog activities need to be the bulk of our life, and the digital needs to slide into the corners. I realize this is impossible if your livelihood is online, and many of us right now, that’s precisely the case. But that makes it all the more important to muster up some energy for analog activities after work. It is so easy to spend your day working online, checking social media here and there, and then when the work day is over, to slip into a comfortable Netflix or Youtube binge until bed. Your whole day was mediated to you by screens. For me it makes a very big difference to start the day with high quality off-screen activities, and then end the day in the same way. I try to always stretch and warm up my body first thing, read my Bible and journal, have a good breakfast, and do something creative before getting onto any screen. At night I do many of the same things. Regardless how many hours I have to spend online, there’s something about beginning and ending my day in the real world that helps keep me grounded.
  4. Laugh every day. There have been plenty of articles and blog posts comparing how much children laugh compared with adults. This comes home to me often because, having made it a spiritual discipline, I find myself laughing a lot more than the people around me and I often feel quite out of place. Laughing is incredibly good for you on a physical level, but also on a spiritual level. When you laugh, for a moment, you are making a declaration about life: life is good, you are not in control. You can’t laugh when you are full of anxiety, or scorn, or hopelessness. At least for that one moment, your body and spirit are buoyed above one reality to touch a new reality: that we are not in control, life here is often full of absurdities, and everything will be good in the end.
  5. Do “pointless” projects. In our productivity and bottom-line obsessed culture, the most rebellious thing you can do is anything, for the pure joy of it. As everything becomes increasingly designed to make our lives efficient and productive, we have to push back with moments of inefficiency and enjoyable pointlessness. Knit half a scarf, just because you like going through the motions. Finger-paint and then hang it up, not because it looks good but because you enjoyed smooshing the paint. Listen to a Beethoven piano concerto while dancing around the living room. Lie with your head off the bed and imagine that the ceiling is the floor (something I did often as a child). Write a bad poem. Draw some scribbles. Completing something that you’re proud of is a wonderful feeling that we should all have sometimes. But we also desperately need to enjoy things for their own sake. If everything is purposeful all the time, we have become robots; it means we have given in to a consumerist culture that values our times and actions in terms of what we produced. Rebel!

There are many more tools that are worth mentioning, and perhaps you have some ideas as well (please share if you do!). The underlining principle is that in order for us to stay sane and full of joy during this time of turbulence, we have to be proactive. If you have a passive posture in your life, you are going to end up tired, defeated, stressed, and in a losing battle for your humanity. Thriving takes action. But the actions you take will bring you life. Turn off the news, and read some poetry. Go for a long walk, maybe hang out in a botanical garden or arboretum. Explore a new museum, read a new book, and make the book of Ecclesiastes your friend (it’s not as depressing as its reputation makes it out to be). And read Scripture out loud every day. Start tracking how much time you spend doing analog, life-giving activities, and how much time you spend in the Word, and then compare these numbers to your screen time. Be aware, and push back against the gravity that is pulling you into a passive and depressive state. You can’t help anyone, and you can’t solve any problems if you are passive, sad, and in a posture of helplessness. This will be a gift not just to yourself, but to those around you to stand up straight and live a beautiful life.

How to Thrive II: Plug Yourself In

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

Every now and then I read through past journals, to find out what I was like “back then,” and to see what my priorities and values, dreams and disappointments were. Looking back, there were plenty of immediate circumstances that produced strong emotions that now I think are silly or unimportant. But to my surprise, I almost always find that very little has changed by way of what I find really important. Friends come and go, but I still value the same basic traits in a friend (and it’s taken me way to long to actually name to myself what those traits are!). I have had dozens of different jobs and volunteer positions, and looking back I realize that the same things have energized me and the same things have drained me. 

Journaling is really, really important for me. I don’t know how I would have stayed connected to myself if I hadn’t kept up this habit since I was – no joke- around three years old (I dictated to my mom, which made for some pretty hilarious early journal entries). Although it can be painful to look back on a less mature version of myself, it also gives me great perspective. Many events and confusions that seemed life or death at the time hardly register as trauma now. And reading about the things that were a big deal prompts me to look back and see what God was doing through my life, the things I learned, and how much stronger I am now because of what I went through. I have many important spiritual practices, but journaling is definitely near the top of the list. 

I believe that we live in a time and culture where everyone is doing everything in their power to disconnect us from ourselves and God, in order to connect us to their brand or message.

I realize that journaling isn’t for everyone, but everyone has something they can do that will reconnect them with themselves and God. And I believe that it is more vital than ever that we find what will reconnect us. For my sister, it’s driving. For one good friend, it’s exploring new cities. For my mom, it’s spending time in and around running water. What you do to reconnect will depend entirely on your personality, on how God made you. 

Our concept of Spiritual Disciplines is far to anemic to really serve us well. I don’t think we should ditch the obvious ones- prayer, Scripture reading, fasting, etc. But I think it’s hard for many people to connect to God through these means, simply because they were not wired for sitting still or being quiet. I seem to be able to “get” Scripture while sitting and being quiet, but if I really want to do some deep thinking or connecting with God, I have to get moving.  My friends know that I am pretty much incapable of talking on the phone unless I’m walking. And the longer I walk, the more likely I am to launch into an epic rant. God simply made me to be moving, and if I really want to fire on all cylinders, I can’t be trapped at a desk. 

I have so many friends who tell me that they feel disconnected from God, and that when they read the Bible, they don’t feel like they get anything out of it. I don’t pretend to know all the reasons for this, and I certainly have times where I feel the same way. But I don’t think we should just assume that if we don’t “feel” anything when you read the Bible, that that’s just the way it is! You might need to play around with different places, methods, and practices before you find your sweet spot. 

We need to stop pretending that it is normal for us to go through life feeling disconnected. I don’t have all the answers to this problem, but I think there are some pretty easy first steps. 

If God made you a certain way, then you can connect with God just by being that way. What an incredible idea! If God made you verbal, then using your words can connect you to God. If you are kinesthetic, then you can connect by moving your body. It’s far past time that we think our life with God has to look like one specific, narrow thing. Think of the vast variety of spiritual expressions that we see in the Bible: God’s people shouted, danced, fell on their faces, sang, prayed in their upper room, ate meals together, celebrated together, composed poetry. It’s absolutely absurd for Christians to stick to quiet, somber, and still practices as if this is the holiest way to be, or the only way to please God (if you’re in a charismatic tradition I realize the opposite might be true!). To the extent that we can expand our repertoire of connecting with God, we can actually expand our expression of God into the world. The world needs us to connect with God. If we don’t connect with God, we are like a bunch of unplugged lamps. What good is that? If Christians were really “plugged in” all over the world, we would be the lights on the hill that Jesus spoke of.

I have attached a worksheet to help you think through how you connect with God, and what you can do to begin a practice of reconnecting in your life. I hope this blesses you with life and deep God-connection! 

How to Thrive in Chaos I: Building a Culture with Yourself

Note: This was originally published in my October Newsletter. Since this is an introduction to my new blog & video series, “How to Thrive in Chaos,” I decided to repost it here, to give readers some context.

The idea of building a culture with yourself might strike you as odd. We think of a culture as being made up of a group of people, and their values, art, history, institutions, and traditions. However for the purposes of this post, a culture occurs whenever disparate components come together to form something new and -hopefully- better than the individual parts. 

I have chosen to frame this topic in this way partly as an antidote to Self-Care Culture. On its surface, self-care is obvious and necessary. But self-care also provides a profoundly low standard for how to live your life. Caring for yourself in terms of basic needs- sleep, high quality food, rest, friendships, etc. used to be taken for granted. Today, it is a whole industry trying to fill a screaming need in our overworked society. 

Self-care is fine as far as it goes, but I think it barely scratches the surface of what we need to do in order to thrive as human beings.

When I say that we need to build culture with ourselves, I am using the word “culture” almost more in the food sense. Disparate high quality ingredients that come together to undergo a transformation and – voilà! – produce a delicious and satisfying end result. When cheese is made, there is a basic initial product (milk), and then all kinds of other necessary and almost magical components get added. Most importantly, a culture of bacteria is added to the milk that is specific to the kind of cheese you want to make. If you don’t have the culture, you don’t have the cheese. 

When I speak about an individual’s culture, I am referring to all the component parts that make up who you are: your history, values, strengths, failings, habits, preferences, etc. It includes how you respond to stress, how you unwind at night, how you conduct yourself in a conflict, and what kinds of foods you like to cook yourself (or order out).

The biggest obstacle to a strong self-culture is created when our society offers us physical comfort, constant entertainment, and a steady stream of information and content that relieves us of our need to exert ourselves intellectually.

If our society is going to survive, we must recover our ability to have a top-notch self-culture. If we are to thrive as individuals, we must take charge of our individual cultures and bring them into alignment with God’s design for humans. 

So what does this look like? First, we are going to look at a Biblical example of someone who had a strong self-culture and was able to navigate through extremely turbulent times. Second, I’m going to give you some practical steps to think through what you want your culture to look like. 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Daniel. The story begins when Jersualem was beseiged and taken by the Babylonian king. Many of Israel’s people, as well as the articles from the temple, were carried off to Babylon. Among the people who were taken captive were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

The captives were to be educated and assimilated into Babylonian culture so that they could serve in the King’s house. They were stripped of their Jewish identity, most likely castrated, and were given essentially a college education in the history, culture, and dark arts of Babylonia. The goal was complete assimilation. The Babylonian King wanted to benefit from his recent conquest’s cream of the crop, without the threat of any kind of uprising down the road. 

It is in this context that Daniel’s self-culture starts to shine.

Throughout this book, we see Daniel doing a number of proactive, and potentially even dangerous things to preserve his self-culture in order to resist assimilation. It should be noted here that his self-culture was very much in alignment with the Hebrew culture of his faith. The idea of self-culture is not a replacement for your faith culture. Our faith culture informs and adorns our self-culture, and the quality of our self-culture feeds back into our faith community. It is a mutually life-giving relationship. 

Let’s look at Daniel’s self-culture. In Babylonia, he was no longer able to practice the fullness of his faith – going to the Temple, studying Torah with the Jewish scholars, celebrating the Sabbath with his family and friends. 

So what did Daniel do? He refused to eat the portions set aside for him from the King’s table (a practice that acted out the dependence of the courtiers and royal officials on the generosity of the king), and insisted on eating a separate, clean diet of his choosing.

He kept his prayer habit consistent, and when it became illegal to keep praying to God, his private prayer habit was so strong and solid that he was able to keep it up even in the face of possible death. 

And despite being forced to learn what was essentially the sorcery or witchcraft of the Babylonians, he was able to keep and cultivate his God-given ability to interpret dreams. 

Christians often feel out of place in the world, and that is a good thing. But Christians in the U.S. and most Western countries can’t even imagine what this must have been like for Daniel. Imagine being removed from your family and hometown, forbidden from ever attending Church again, and being forced to learn astrology and witchcraft in order to serve the powerful leader who killed or captured everyone you know! How would you stay close to God in such a setting? How would your faith hold up? Would you keep thriving or would you collapse? 

Daniel is an inspiration to us all: he shows us what it looks like to be proactive in keeping a self-culture consistent and strong in any circumstance. 

Thankfully, we (in the U.S.) are not facing anything so heinous and traumatic on a national scale as what Daniel faced. But we are facing turbulence and uncertainty. 

If you are struggling with maintaining peace and feel that you are not thriving, the place to start is your self-culture. What are your prayer habits? How do you “reset” when you have been thrown off by fearful headlines? Are you intentionally seeking out life-giving people or do you feel helpless? 

There is much more that needs to be said about what this looks like. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be doing a series of blog posts that will be a deeper dive into several facets of what it looks like to create a strong self-culture. We will look at the different major events in Daniel’s life as guiding principles, reflect on what Jesus promised to be for us, and look at some practical tools and habits you can implement right away to majorly upgrade your self-culture and get back on the road to thriving. 

For now, I invite you to meditate on the life of Daniel. Re-read the first the book of Daniel (or at least chapters 1-6) with an eye to learning from a true master of self-culture. Daniel knew who he was, and he knew who his God was. Daniel doubtlessly experienced unbelievable emotional turbulence as well as unthinkable trauma. Daniel faced the temptation be brainwashed by a pagan king, and to submit to a command to pray to the king instead of his God. It was his powerful self-culture that allowed him live in a culture so hostile to his faith, and yet to thrive.

In Which I Move to New York, and am Still Very Surprised

At various points in my life I have fallen on one side or the other of the predestination/free-will debate. Now don’t stop reading yet! I promise this won’t be that kind of post. In fact, by the time I was in college, I was already burnt out on the debate. High school Robin was dogmatically on the side of predestination. College Robin stopped caring, but didn’t have any reason to question this belief. But mid-to-late twenties Robin was fairly rattled and had became unsettled on the question.

It became less and less clear to me- both from Scripture and from experience- that God actually was planning out everything that would happen and directing our steps accordingly. Things happened that were simply unthinkable if you imagined God deciding in the abstract that they should happen. And more and more I discovered the very real and important distinction between the fruit you harvest when you have planted and the fruit you harvest when you haven’t.

The experience of reaping what you sow definitely gives you an impression that you are the one calling the shots. And there’s nothing like a decade and a half of post-college experience that tears down any illusion of life being orderly, tidy, or as it should be.

Today, I believe that predestination and free will are like two axes on a multi-dimensional chart. They are both true and important, but we really just can’t see how they synergize. (This will need to be its own blog post at some point!) But, regardless of our own perception of our experience, there’s no getting around the fact that the Bible puts forth human agency & responsibility, and equally God’s providential direction of all the events in history.

So what does this has to do with my moving to New York?

Simply this: that I have no good explanation for why I’m here, other than that God pulled some strings, arranged a supernatural series of events, caused me to be in the right place at the right time, and …. voila! I am here.

(Above: what happens when a plantaholic decides to move five states north. Not pictured: the 20 or so large boxes of books my poor dad had to hoist into the truck)

I won’t go into the whole story here, but suffice it to say that it is truly a series of unlikely (but very fortunate!) events. And, despite being here for almost two weeks, I am still very surprised.

My belief in God’s active intervention in history is very much restored, because I can take absolutely no credit for this turn of events.

I can’t even say that it has been a life-long dream to live here. I thought vaguely about it, but at the end of the day, I didn’t even bother dreaming about it, because it seemed impossible.

This lovely rainbow showed up as I was waiting for my return flight after I flew up to see the house. There was no rain, and not a cloud in the sky- just the bow! It was very special.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a tidy lesson for you you here. It would be completely delusional of me to give you a step by step process for how to get your wildest dream to come true. I think there are many more variables to why things happen or don’t happen than we can even imagine. When we reduce things down to God either orchestrating things or not, we don’t fully see what is actually going on.

Here are the few things I do know: 1) God seems to want me in NYC for this season in life. 2) The only reasonable response is absolute unremitting gratitude and thanksgiving.

This post is part announcement, part reflection. I have been here almost two weeks and have been fairly quiet about this new development online. I have been preoccupied with unpacking, setting up my new space, and just walking around in awe.

So as of September 24th, I now live in the heart of Queens, in a lovely beautiful, safe, and walkable neighborhood. I love taking my daily walk and discovering whole new streets, neighborhoods, shops, and people. The beauty of New York is that it is impossible to exhaust its newness, its diversity, its vibrancy.

So with profound gratitude, and still in utter shock, here are a few pics of my new neighborhood!

My lovely new housemate, Susannah.
Forest Hills Station Square, a scant four-minute walk from my house.

The view of my street, lamppost and all. The closest Forest Hills intersection in all its sunset glory, and just for fun, a local apartment building named after my former city.

Monday Meditation

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Last week I posted an excerpt from Augustine’s Confessions

“In a thunderous voice he called us to return to him, at the secret place where he came forth to us. First he came into the Virgin’s womb where the human creation was married to him, so that mortal flesh should not for ever be mortal. Coming forth from thence ‘as a bridegroom from his marriage bed, he bounded like a giant to run his course.’ He did not delay, but ran crying out loud by his words, deeds, death, life, descent, and ascent- calling us to return to him.”

The words quoted from Psalm 19 are the Psalmist’s picture of the rising and setting sun. By itself, this is a lovely and vivid way of describing a natural phenomenon. But when Augustine reads those same verses, he sees not just the physical sun, but our Savior, bounding like a blinding and joy-filled giant, bursting from the Virgin’s womb and rushing through his life, unafraid and full of love, calling us to himself.

One of the tragic consequences of the modern period has been to de-mystify the world. Not that the world is actually demystified, but that we no longer naturally look around us and see God. This passage by Augustine might seem beautiful and quaint to us, but it’s also a call back to sanity. This is how we must see the world if we are to see reality.

Now more than ever, we can’t afford to see the way those around us see. Lord, give us your eyes to see the world the way you made it: charged with your glory, bursting with spirit and supernatural significance, and all pointing to Christ.

Monday Meditation: Christ’s Abundance of Life

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The past few weeks, I have been re-reading Augustine’s Confessions. This morning and found myself reading this sentence over and over:

“He who for us is life itself descended here and endured our death and slew it by the abundance of his life”. – Confessions IV. vii.(19)

I love the image of Jesus defeating death, not with death, but with the overabundance of his own life. Jesus is Life, and therefore Death has no power or sway over him. Satan could not defeat Jesus, because he had rejected God’s life, and the only weapon left available to him was death. Death is no match for life, as Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates. At the end of all things, there will only be life.

On an every-day level, we all have pockets of infection, corruption, and death in our lives. I think particularly while we are “stuck” at home with ourselves, our families, or roommates, it is easier than usual to despair about our internal state. While we’re out and about, running errands, going to movies, and going about our “normal” lives, it’s easy to be so busy that we don’t notice habits that are crippling our spiritual lives, speech patterns that bring down those around us, or as Augustine would say, “disordered loves.”

If you’re anything like me, you try to white-knuckle these problems into submission. You read books on growth and self-improvement, obsess over habit-building strategies, etc. There might be nothing wrong with looking for behavioral strategies, but they will not make you more like Christ.

What would it look like if, instead of kidding yourself that you can self-help your way into these changes, we instead meditated on the abundance of Christ’s life?

God made us mysteriously entangled creatures. In ways that we don’t yet understand, our physical lives and behaviors actually flow out of our spiritual health (out of the abundance of the heart…). I believe that when we meditate by yoking our hearts to the Lord and using our imagination as a tool to fill ourselves up with God’s truth, we will see life flowing out of us instead of death. (If you don’t believe me, just think for a minute about the spiritual significance of mirror neurons.)

The thousand little deaths we die when we participate in ungodly thoughts, speech, and behaviors are flooded and overwhelmed with the abundant life of Christ. When we are united to Christ, his death is our death, and his life is our life. What started with Jesus bursting from the tomb and will culminate in our perfection in the new heavens and earth, is still at work in this period in between. It is a river of life that we can either swim in or not. We might not see everything in our life transform all at once- that seems to be the nature of this in-between life. But I believe that as we continually turn the affections of our heart toward God, and unite our thoughts and imagination with his works and being, we will be transformed, and be on the path toward abundant life.

Where are the Church Mothers?

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Recently I went to a Saturday evening mass at the Roman Catholic cathedral in town. At the time, it was because I only had access to a car on Saturdays, and had to chose between that and the local hipster coffee shop Churches (which have their place, but I’ve been there done that). As I sat in the transcendent, colorful, and exquisitely designed sanctuary (which can seat more than 2,000 worshippers), and I saw the colorfully robed man moving to and fro at the front, kissing the Book, bowing before the Host, and, let’s face it, delivering a laughably mediocre homily, it struck me that I was completely comfortable with a male priesthood in this context, whereas in the Protestant Churches I’ve been in, I have found it off-putting to say the least.

As I wondered why this would be the case, I realized it was because this priest was the Church’s father, but the Church had a mother in Mary. A complete family picture was being presented for me as I watched the Catholic Church work in synergy with itself.

And then I wondered, where are the Protestant Church mothers?

One of my problems with the “traditional” complementarian model is that there is rarely, if ever, some positive role for women that corresponds with what we see women doing in Scripture. If we restricted the Pastorship to men, but had a cohort of official prophesiers, made up of men and women, that would make sense. Or even if we had some office of Church Mother, who could speak edification to the Church body, that would reflect the household of God as it should be. But we don’t. In the average complementarian Church, women have no way to use their voice to edify the Church as a whole. They might be able to teach children, and the older women might be encouraged to lead Bible studies and form relationships with younger women. But there is no sanctifying of the woman’s unique voice and Image-Bearing in corporate worship.

I believe that a Church should reflect a household as laid out in 1 Timothy 5. Given that a household should reflect the dignity and voice of all parties; and especially given the Biblical precedent for female prophets (Miriam, Huldah, Anna, Philip’s daughters), I simply can’t see that an all-male leadership model of the Church is Biblical. 

Practicing for a Sound Mind

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Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

I grew up the daughter of two professional musicians, which means I have had more off-hand nagging and commenting on my piano playing than anyone could wish for. Once I hit high school, official lessons were a no-go (then, as now, I had no patience for “boring stuff”), and launched into playing whatever I wanted, which happened to be a lot of Beethoven.

One of the practicing principles that my mom instilled in me, was that if you make a mistake, it’s not enough to go back and play it one more time correctly before moving on. The standard was, for every time you get it wrong, you had to play it at least ten times correctly before considering that hole in the passage mended. Make a mistake on your tenth try? Start over, and play the problem passage another ten times through.

For some reason I was thinking about that principle today as I lay on my bed, feeling yucky after the social media decisions I had made. Much like the feeling you get after downing an entire package of cookies or carton of ice cream, I regretted everything. It’s not that I had spent that much time on Twitter, or looked at anything particularly offensive. Sometimes, I find Twitter even to be fun and even intellectually stimulating. But today, my mini Twitter binge was nothing more than mental junk food. I scrolled through outrage and gossip, occasionally side-stepping into strangers’ timelines to marvel at their dumb opinions (don’t you love this time period?)- and now I very much wish I had not.

This isn’t a post about digital minimalism or time management. What I had before my Twitter binge, what I lost, and what I am trying to regain, is a certain kind of inner stillness that I have been learning to cultivate. I find that when I’m in this place in my spirit, I have a constant flow of ideas, pictures, nudges from the Holy Spirit, etc. I see this flow as very much a gift from God; but it’s up to me to steward the flow.

Maybe this sounds a little “woo” to you, but I don’t think it’s much different from what Paul was talking about in 2 Timothy 1:7. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” The mark of God’s presence is this inner stillness and flow.

The problem is, nothing sells faster than fear. The current top headlines in the world- at the moment Impeachment, Brexit, Climate Change, and the Coronavirus- are not going to be discussed with the spirit of power, love, and of a sound mind by very many people. Why? Because that wouldn’t sell. Can you even imagine click-bait that’s positive? “Click here to find out all the ways our world is actually improving!” Wouldn’t happen.

That means if you drink from that well- let’s call it, The Well of Fear and Outrage, just to be melodramatic-, you have to do some damage control to sync back up.

So how does this connect with my mom’s ruthless piano practicing rules?

The way I would apply the principle is this: if you make the choice to indulge in some mental junk food, you have intentionally practice the opposite.  It’s not enough to mentally decide that that nonsense isn’t for you. You have to actively fill back up with the good stuff, disproportionately more than you think. You have to go back and fix the passage you just flubbed, so the next time you get to that place in the music, you confidently sail through it.

If I spend 15 minutes getting my inner cogs jammed up thinking about people I don’t know, and situations I can’t solve, how can I get back to a clear mind that is open to ideas and the Holy Spirit? Realistically, maybe an hour meditating on Scripture, reading Chesterton, listening to beautiful music, being quiet in nature, etc. (These examples reflect my life as a single person but this list could easily include quality time with family spent playing, talking about what we’re grateful for, etc.)

That might seem unrealistic in terms of the time trade-off, and honestly, that’s partly the point. If my end goal is a certain state of mind that is open to the Holy Spirit and conducive for creativity, I simply cannot get there by wasting time and bandwidth with mental trash. It might be unrealistic for me to course-correct for an hour. But then I should have thought of that before indulging in the junk food- what the time crunch shows me is that I didn’t have time for the mental trash in the first place.

I could probably spend many posts on strategies for course-correction, but at least for now, I have a useful image for what it looks like to practice in order to correct a problem in my internal life. It’s not enough to shrug it off- only by being proactive will we be able to steward our inner flow.

 

Seriousness is Not a Virtue

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Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

It is one of the hundred answers to the fugitive perversion of modern “force” that the promptest and boldest agencies are also the most fragile or full of sensibility. The swiftest things are the softest things. A bird is active, because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force. In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can maintain itself in the air. Modern investigators of the miraculous history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great saints is their power of “levitation.” They might go further; a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. This has been always the instinct of Christendom, and especially the instinct of Christian art. Remember how Fra Angelico represented all his angels, not only as birds, but almost as butterflies. Remember how the most earnest medieval art was full of light and fluttering draperies, of quick and capering feet. It was the one thing that the modern Pre-raphaelites could not imitate in the real Pre-raphaelites. In the old Christian pictures the sky over every figure is like a blue or gold parachute. Every figure seems ready to fly up and float about in the heavens. The tattered cloak of the beggar will bear him up like the rayed plumes of the angels. But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud in their robes of purple will all of their nature sink downwards, for pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down”  into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up to a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue.

-Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Longing for Fairy Land

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Photo by Will Fuller on Unsplash

In a sense a child does not long for fairy land as a boy longs to be the hero of the first eleven. Does anyone suppose that he really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale? – really wants dragons in contemporary England? It is not so. It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing. The boy reading the school story of the type I have in mind desires success and is unhappy (once the book is over) because he can’t get it: the boy reading the fairy tale desires and is happy in the very fact of desiring. For his mind has not been concentrated on himself, as it often is in the more realistic story. – C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children from On Stories