Will You Sweep Away the Righteous with the Wicked?

by Bill Mauldin, via Wikipedia

When I was in college, I thought America was pretty wonderful. As I got older, I was bombarded with the many ways she has fallen from her ideals, and I felt obligated to pretend that there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong, or at least nothing that we couldn’t overcome. To acknowledge America’s faults felt like a betrayal of my love for her. These days I’m working on detachment–loving what’s good about America, but not pinning my hopes on her when they should be elsewhere. I am reminding myself that America is just a country–a country with a lot of God’s truth at her core, and a country I’m lucky to live in–but still just a country: a country that comes and goes in the blink of God’s eye like any other.

For all who have felt my disillusionment, remember that detachment doesn’t mean that you don’t care about something; it just means caring about it only as much as is proper to its intrinsic worth. You can love America without being crushed by the idea that someday she will be gone. But whatever you may think about America today, it’s at least worth praying for. If God was willing to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of only ten righteous men, don’t you think He could find ten righteous things left in America worth saving, if we remind Him?

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This and That: Self-Help Books, William Blake, and Landscapes

Seagulls, Sky, Bird, Flight, Flying, Escape, Clouds

Here’s a little poem by William Blake, which my father sent me in response to my piece on detachment, that says it all:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

I think that’s exactly what I was groping my way towards.  Of course, it still doesn’t answer the question of what it means to bind yourself to a joy, or how exactly to kiss it as it flies!  I hope to write a few more thoughts on this later.

Speaking of that post, I feel bad using Metcalf’s painting, The White Veil, as a quick illustration.  It really deserves a post of its own.  Take a look:

File:Willard Leroy Metcalf - The White Veil (1909).jpg

I don’t know enough about art to understand how this can be so beautiful while being so realistic (isn’t that exactly the way the world looks through a veil of snow?).  I never get tired of looking at this, even in the middle of a New England winter.  I’ve always loved landscapes, even the more boring, extra-realistic ones.  I’d rather look at a landscape than a portrait any day.  I could look at this one all day:

File:Claude Monet - Branch of the Seine near Giverny.JPG

Branch of the Seine near Giverny, Claude Monet

I guess it’s the composition that’s so pleasing in both of these paintings.  Gauguin’s wonderful at this, too:

L’Aven en contre bas de la Montagne Sainte-Marguerite

Les Alyscamps

In the next week or so I hope to be posting reviews of a few books, including a fascinating new theological fantasy, some thoughtful and clever historical science fiction, and the first of a small series on self-help books that I’ve found to be truly helpful.  In the past I had a dismissive attitude toward self-help books, but I’ve come to realize that even the silliest books have a core of truth, if you’re willing to see it.  They’re like cliches; if you can get past the corniness, you’ll realize that they’ve become cliche for a reason: they’re true.

LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU, GOD!

Not my house.

 

In an effort to keep my 4 year old son from freaking out when one of his toys breaks, we’ve started saying things like “that’s too bad, honey, but good thing you have lots of other toys!” or “that’s too bad, but it’s just a toy.”  He learned his lesson so well that now, when he breaks something of mine, he will cheerfully say, “That’s okay, Mama!  Good thing you have plenty of other stuff” or “remember, Mama, flowers don’t last forever.”  Aargh.

For the last month or so I’ve been thinking a lot about detachment–detachment from unrealistic ideals, from expectations for the future, from the way I want things to be.  As petty as it sounds, my problem with detachment from worldly things probably surfaces the most when it comes to the kids breaking my possessions.  I’ve always considered myself fairly detached from material things already; it’s not like I cry when they chip my special china or something, and most of our stuff is from thrift stores anyway.  But when the very few things I do care about get broken too–my only nice artwork, a gift from my father, that the kids poked holes in with a pen, and my special icon triptych from my mother, which they ripped off its hinges–I lose it.  I discovered both these precious gifts while I was cleaning last week, and started ranting about how I was just fine at being detached from MOST things, but couldn’t I just have one thing that was clean and new and stylish and unbroken and modern and the right size and in the right place?  Just ONE?  Just how detached does God expect me to be?

File:Willard Leroy Metcalf - The White Veil (1909).jpg

The White Veil, by Willard Metcalf.

 

As soon as I said that, of course, God responded by sending me lots and lots of readings about detachment.  Every book I picked up, every meditation or quote in my daily Magnificat reading, was telling me how I would never get closer to God unless I learned detachment.  And I really, really didn’t want to hear this.  I have no idea what this means in my own state of life.  I think part of my problem is that I think detachment means not caring about anything but God, but that’s not true.  I’m starting to realize that what we’re really called to do (I think) is to love and enjoy the things of this world, without getting too attached.  It’s more of a balancing act than I realized.  After all, I need to appreciate the things that God has given me–material things, gifts, relationships, talents, and so on–and not despise them.  It’s not a black-and-white choice between (a) giving everything away and sitting in a cell praying all day and (b) caring about the things I have.  Instead, I think it’s a choice between appreciating the things I have as they are, broken or unbroken, and being attached to the things I have as I want them to be.  If I appreciate my house only when everything’s clean and unbroken, and lose my peace when things get messed up, I’m too attached to my house.  If I appreciate only the parts of my body that are to my liking, rather than appreciating the marvel that my body is right now, I’m too attached to my body.  God doesn’t want me to obsess over how awful my stretch marks are, but I don’t think he wants me to say “who cares about bodies?” either.  To have the proper distance from the gift that is my body, I can’t be too close (either by loving its perfections or loving its imaginary ideal) or too far (“a body is just a tool for living; who cares how it’s made or how it works or how it looks?”).  (I actually did know someone like that once; he thought it was unfortunate that we had to eat.  All this time we spend shoveling food into our bodies, we could be devoting to higher things, like philosophy!  He was a not a healthy person.)

Thanks for listening to me think out loud.  I’m obviously not sure about any of this; what do you think?  All I know is that God seems to be telling me to do something that I’m terribly uncomfortable with.  For the most part, I’m at peace with my stretch marks; but I’ve always been annoyed when people tell me to “embrace” them.  Why can’t I just tolerate them, or ignore them?  But I’m starting to get the feeling that God wants me to embrace quite a bit more.


 

image of monk’s cell