Bring on the Psalms!

In Kathleen Norris’s latest memoir/essay collection, I discovered repeated attempts to bring the Psalms back to the forefront of Christian worship.

It’s very similar to what our local reformed congregation has been pushing for a while, though from a different angle. Every year I warm up to the idea more.

The psalms are available to me when I worship in any Christian church, but they are likely to be snippets chosen for their suitability as Sunday-morning praise. They tend to disappear in the service, a little dose of poetry to be rushed through and soon forgotten. One can attend church for years and never perceive the psalms as both a primary inheritance form Judaism and the core of Christian prayer.

-Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me, p.276

The Kingdom of God from grace, not wit and skill

The “noble power” of a free will partakes of something even greater than hope, and that is grace. The kingdom of God within us in not something we gain through training, wit, or skill. It comes to use as pure gift, and we are free now, as in Dante’s time, to nourish it, curb it,or ignore it. Given the power and resilience of this grace, it is a terrible irony that the despairing so often feel rejected by a distant and uncaring God. When we are convinced that we are beyond the reach of grace, acedia has done its work.

John Climacus speaks of it as “a voice claiming that God has no mercy and no love for [us].”

-Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me, p.205

Faith does not traffic with success or failure

This is good for me to remember. I often wish to write a book, at least one before I grow old. But I always think there are so many other people who could do a better job than me, and in fact have already done a better job than anything I could piece together. Not only is their writing better, but the lives seem (from a distance) for in order as well. But there is only one kind of person who writes books, even spiritual ones: really screwed up people. That’s all of us. We are untwisted by God’s grace alone. Don’t buy the myth of “spiritual celebrity”.

Although I felt like a big nothing, I realized that the thoughtful letters I continued to receive from readers did mean something, and that my work could be considered fraudulent only if I bought into the myth of spiritual celebrity.

By that I mean the notion that people who write books on spirituality do so because they’ve got it all figured out, and have somehow “succeeded” at the spiritual life. Jesus reminds us, however, that it is not proficiency that heals us, but faith, and faith does not traffic with success or failure.

-Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me, p.229

The foundation of joy

Sound familiar?

Such enjoyment would need a good foundation, and I hoped to build it on the significant transformations I had undergone on my life’s journey.

What does it mean to have learned how to love, rejecting the fleeting pleasures of infatuation for the deeper satisfactions of commitment?

Read that line again. How often do we ask THAT question nowadays, eh?

Or to have apprenticed myself to the discipline of writing, so that I now crave the desert journey of revision as much as the initial burst of creativity and flow of words?

Or to have undergone a religious conversion, replete with fervor and gladness in this early stages, and now marked by aridity and pain?

If I find myself starved for the merest hint of spiritual ardor, I know I have arrived in a place where many others have been.

The monks and mystics of my faith all teach that persevering in a spiritual discipline, especially when it seems futile, is the key to growth.

-Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me, p.261

No such thing as writer’s block

This quote was mentioned in Kathleen Norris’s Acedia & Me. It is also perhaps my creed for blogging, and quite possibly many other things as well.

There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.”

-William Stafford

Theology not easy, but worth it

Childlike faith and and coming to faith as a child are both good things. But to communicate to others about it… like anything else, why should it be easy? This later becomes a barrier to coming to faith as an adult.

Religious vocabulary is demanding, and words such as sin and repentance carry so much baggage that even many Christians are reluctant to employ them. In a culture marked by theological illiteracy it is tempting to censor terms that are so often misconstrued and misused. Many people who would not dream of relying on the understanding of literature or the sciences they acquired as children are content to leave their juvenile theological convictions largely unexamined. If they resented religion when they were young, as adults they are perplexed and dismayed by its stubborn persistence in the human race. But religions endure because they concern themselves with our deepest questions about good and evil, about the suffering that life brings to each of us, and about what it means to be fully human in the face of death.

-Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me, p.114

The opposite of depression

When [Andrew Solomon] asserts that “the opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality,’ he is echoing the existential monastic view that the opposite of acedia is an energetic devotion.

-Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me, p.99

Sincerity versus truth

This heralds back to Chesterton’s notion that the man who is most “true to himself” is the worst sort of person.

Self-consciousness feeds on sincerity, and both have attained cult status in America. But as Henri de Lubac reminds us, “It is not sincerity, it is Truth which frees us, because it transforms us. It tears us away from out inmost slavery. To seek sincerity above all things is perhaps, at bottom, not to want to be transformed.”

-Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me, p.142

Random notes on Portland

Well I took my wife and 3 kids (all >6 years old) to Portland Oregon the whole last week. It was fun but exhausting!

We got a hotel right across the street from the Stumptown Ace Hotel location. Excellent coffee the whole week. No hint of bitterness.

The guy behind the counter had the fullest giant mustache I’ve ever seen. Another barista was a fedora-wearing doppelganger of a guy I know back home.

Their behind-the-counter system was interesting. They had three folks – two on espresso machines, the middle on on the register and… pouring milk. They burned through tons of milk steamer pitches, one per drink, each portioned ahead of time. Perfectly consistent though.

I met a guy in line who asked if I was a Christian (I holding a copy of a Kathleen Norris book) and we chatted for a while. He was visiting from California and was thinking about moving up here because of the “Christian art scene”. I said, yeah, that’s what I hear, but I’m not sure what that means!

Speaking of coffee, I also went to a cupping (tasting) at newly remodeled place called Public Domain. Very nice. the shop was pretty interesting. They had pour-over funnels for making single cups from specialty batches as well as multiple espresso blends available. Black and white minimalist decor.

While I was there, a crazy looking old guy with a painted blue face and a dyed blue beard walked by and looked in. The baristas commented, “Oh yeah. He’s a down-towner. He loves us. What’s his name? I don’t know, Osama A-blue-bin. No no no. He doesn’t have a name. I think is name is Markis. He’s a real down-towner.”

Visited Powell’s multiple times. The haul:

  • Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me (have wanted to read this ever since reading the review in The Rabbit Room. Her earlier memoir Dakota was surprisingly good.)
  • George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie (The sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, which I recently read my daughter. I’ll probably wait to read her this one though. The plot has some political intrigue in it that is way over her head right now.)
  • James Alison, Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-In. (This book, without question, wins the award for confusing titles. It’s actually a collection of theological essays. It’s turning out to be (as expected) rather hit and miss. When he’s good though, he’s dynamite.)
  • Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island (Probably my favorite of the ten or so Merton books I’ve read. I’ve checked it out from the local library about 4 times. I figured it was time to add it to the shelf. Read the essay on vocation.)
  • A bunch of early reading stuff for my daughter and a several books for my wife, most of which she’s already finished!

I read an interview with Glen Hansard in an edition of Fretboard magazine. In it he talked about his very beat up guitar (seen in the movie Once), and how he learned to sing and play. The part I found the most interesting was where he talked about how he came to sing loud. He practiced projecting his voice and adjusting the timbre so it would reverberate back off the walls of the buildings across the street. In this way, he would make more money busking. It’s hard to describe right now, but I feel there is an important lesson about shyness and breaking out of your shell in this.

I stopped by the Living Room Theatre one night to catch some jazz. I was curious how the band would stack up compared to the local and student ones I see in Moscow. Piano player: OK. Drummer: Very stylish clothes, but completely boring performance. Yawn. Bass player: Way above average. Cool.

Voodoo Doughnuts is the epitome of the phrase “hole in the wall”. It was in a seedy part of town next to a strip club and XXX shop. There was a line out the door (of the donut shop).

There are tons of places to eat down town, all competing for your business. You can tell where the really good places are though by how busy they are. At several friend’s recommendations, we tried to go to a Mexican restaurant called Cha Cha Cha. It was super busy so we had to go somewhere else.

In the restaurant guide and everywhere I looked I saw ads for this fancy joint called Ten 01. I visited it one night and it was only mildly busy. Maybe 20 people in there. About 20% full. They had a huge scotch list though, most of it very steeply priced. On the other hand, down the street a ways, next to our hotel, was a place of similar caliber called Clyde Common. THIS place was absolutely packed out every time I walked by it all week. I never even bothered stopping in – there were no seats. Also, I never once saw an ad for this place anywhere. Apparently word-of-mouth is always the best.