Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Learning about God's view of relationship

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” -Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

I recently finished The Meaning of Marriage, which was such a good book which challenged me in so many ways, in how I view my relationship with J and with God. Some of the main things I learnt were ---

Relationships need the Holy Spirit:

-The Holy Spirit's task is to unfold the meaning of Jesus's person and work to believers in such as way that the glory of it is brought home to the mind and heart
-This lets us love a life of joy and gratitude
-That attitude of gratitude is fundamental to relationships of love, where we live not for ourselves but for the other person in that relationship
-We understand the gospel message that we are self-centred sinners and yet saved. Therefore we don't need to earn extra self worth , and we also don't need to be bitter and resentful when we are deprived of compliment/reward, we don't hold grudges. We freely give and freely receive.

Covenant Relationships:

-A relationship is made more intimate because it is legal - the legal bond creates a space of security where we can open up and reveal our true selves
-Promises are important because feelings are fleeting, 'without being bound to the fulfillment of our promises we would never be able to keep our identities, we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each person's lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocalities'
-Promising means freedom because 'when i make a promise to anyone, I rise above all the conditioning that limits me[...]only a person can make a promise. And when he does, he is most free.'

Love takes effort:

-'In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.'

Love is based on deep and meaningful friendship:

-'Friendship is a deep oneness that develops when two people, speaking the truth in love to one another, journey together to the same horizon. [...] Within this Christian vision of marriage, here's what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, "I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, 'I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!''

A relationship is strengthened and sustained by God-given truth, love and grace:

- Honesty in a relationship means confronting (but not judging) the whole truth of another person, and all their flaws. It also means being vulnerable and truthful with your own flaws, realising that you aren't perfect but you are loved. And part of the loving is the other person helping you with your flaws. 
-Love needs to be expressed in a way the other person can understand (love languages!). Love affirms and builds up and transforms.
-Grace reconciles truth and love - it means we can use truthfulness to love the other person without hurting them, and that we can love the other person without ruining them with affection.

Sex is a beautiful and important part of a committed, covenant relationship:

-“Indeed, sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being.  Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.”  You must not use sex to say anything less.”

Read/Reading/To Read

And in the house there rest, piled shelf on shelf, 
The accumulations that compose the self— 
Poem and history: for if we use
Words to maintain the actions that we choose, 
Our words, with slow defining influence, 
Stay to mark out our chosen lineaments.
- To Yvor Winters (Thom Gunn)

On Sunday Jacob and I listed the books we'd have on a shelf of books that were, in whatever ways books can be, our books. We shared obvious classics like the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare (although since I haven't actually read all of Shakespeare perhaps this was a pretentious falsehood), and still-classics-but-not-as-classic books like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Bleak House.

Since then I've tried to fill my mind's eye shelf with the books that have somehow composed me through the years (which I suppose I could call in a clunky-way my 'favourite' books, but I use the word 'favourite' so lavishly that I sometimes fear I've rubbed away it's meaning):

Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea by Michael Morpugo
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Everything is Illuminated and  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I think it's strange that most (if not all) of these books are books I've read before my degree. Doing English doesn't take away the joy of reading (I think it adds to it) but the type of reading you do for a weekly essay doesn't lend itself very well to transcendental experience (although when writing an essay at 3.30am anything can feel like a transcendental experience, until you wake up the next day...)

I also think it's interesting that all of these are novels/series of novels. There are so many poems that I love and that I'd say have composed me but - they usually stand alone and not in a book, sometimes it's even just a few lines of a specific poem (I'm looking at you Mr J. Alfred. Prufrock) 

Books I'd love to read in future (and by future I mean this summer) - which might compose me, who knows?

Upstream by Mary Oliver
The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla
Autumn, and after that Winter, by Ali Smith
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (this was on Jacob's list)
Les Grandes Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
Weight and The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Death and the King's Horsemen by Wole Soyinka (as recommended by Ying Ying)
Some of (or perhaps eventually all of?) Jane Austen
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Packages big and small

Big Package

Today I received a slip in my pigeonhole saying there was a big box waiting for me at the plodge. It was a big brown box, with WASABI CRACKERS printed on the side of it. I carried it back to my house and cut through the brown tape on the top, sifted through the packaging and extricated some sundried tomatoes, some almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and a mere nine kilograms of oats.

(I know.)

I did what any sensible person would do and made granola. As I stirred together the ingredients on the kitchen counter, I spoke to Carla and Natalia and read bits of Sarah Beckwith's brilliant book Christ's Body. (At one point I got so distracted by the book that after I took the granola out of the oven and gave it a stir, I returned it to the oven with my spoon still on the tray)

I wafted over to College Group with the smell of chocolate still in my hair.

Small Package

'I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.' - 10 resolutions for mental health

That reminded me of what I read in Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love (an ongoing read):

God 'showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus, 'It is all that is made.' I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.'

That the love of God, higher than the mountains and deeper than the seas, can be kept under the brown skin of a hazelnut is, I think, one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. I suppose it is only a little less wonderful than the realisation that the entire person of God, who spoke the mountains into being and parted the seas, could be born in the skin of a human being, Jesus Christ. 

Big Package

I poured the granola after it had cooled into 2 biscuit tins and a glass jar (there was quite a lot of it - was? I mean is. Although perhaps that was my subconscious speaking because I have already snacked on quite a bit of it in the course of watching 42nd Street for a lecture tomorrow.) I smiled when I thought of giving some to J, to refill his jar from the Bridgemas Granola  I made him (which to be fair was better than this batch, but granola is granola...) Some time back I would ask myself, when I saw him, why (/how) he could love me. It's a question that does sometimes still come into my mind. But it's better when I heed the words of Clyde Kilby and stop asking why, instead being glad that he does.