Tag Archives: Sorrow


Why do you kick against the goads?

You have suffered, long and bitterly.

You drank from the spring and shattered the bowl.

And you paid a very high price for it.

You have suffered.

They lie about you, when they say you only care about yourself, a careless hedonist. It isn’t true. You’ve wanted the tenderness of the morning stars and the wind on the river racing down. And you’ve paid for it in dry tears when you were alone, and in blood in the middle of the night. You are in so much pain.

And your sons and daughters are given to Molek, and your fresh blood runs over the crusted blood, mangling together. And inside you is a cry that you fasten deep down, never to come out.




On Real Faith

Faith isn’t about ‘believing what you know ain’t so.”

If you have to believe something to ‘make’ it true, then its all the Easter bunny and the Magic of Santa Claus and Carebears and the Power of Friendship.

Faith is actually a vulnerable, radical openness. But this ‘radical openness’ is not about believing it. It is more like going to a bridge and waiting through the long winter night, because of a letter just received, (purportedly) from someone you had loved and lost a long time ago, which asked you to wait here for them at this meeting place. You might catch pneumonia, and its a dangerous part of the city at night, they might not show up. Perhaps they really are dead, and its all a ruse. Perhaps your enemies are playing a cruel prank on you, perhaps you dreamed the whole thing (and the letter is now misplaced or missing). You aren’t pretending your beloved is already there, you aren’t having an imaginary conversation with them on the bridge. You are merely willing to gamble everything on this moment of vulnerability, to walk away from your normal life, and be willing to lose your health/life/mental-state/reputation in the process.

Here in affluent America, we Christians (of all stripes) do not truly have Him because we don’t truly seek Him–a seeking not of heroics of our own doing, but a seeking of honestly giving God total permission to really take everything else away. The fiery bloody God of Sinai and Golgotha is as real now as He was then, we only need to be willing to pay the cost of seeing His face.

Not all tears are evil

People talk. People judge. People laugh. and laugh. About disturbing things, sad things, very sad things.


We can talk about anything now. Broach any topic. Break all the taboos.


But we can’t cry. We can’t sorrow. To say, “that is sad. I am so sorry.”


Sometimes, in conversations, especially when you hear about the ways people have used sex…. we all have to laugh, look mildly shocked, say, “hey, if that is what they wanted…”   But no. All I really want to do is cry.


So, in our culture, we can laugh at them. But we can’t cry for them. This is a strange world. We need….Middle Earth.

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are evil.”

Rambling thoughts from a morning brain….

I’m trying to finish a paper on Pope Innocent III’s idea of the papacy. It has taken me 9 months, and while I shouldn’t compare it to the pain of giving birth….

OK. But seriously, it has taken a great deal of emotional processing–which for me, means hours of staring at a wall and feeling various unformed thoughts struggle inside me. Only at the very end do I have words.

This is it: Pope Innocent III was a good man. He defended prostitutes, gave indulgences to men who would marry one and get her out of that lifestyle, and (if legends be true) set up an anonymous infant donation center, so that they wouldn’t end up drowned in the river like kittens. He was an idealist and a romantic: and one of those ones who probably cried for those who had lost, especially their innocence. But….he trusted far too easily. And when his grand plans of heroism went terribly awry (e.g. when would-be crusaders lost control of their soldiers who then pillaged/raped/slaughtered)…he commanded, he complained, and when they did not listen, he gave up and compromised with them.

I suppose one can’t condemn someone for failing. But it is still sad.

Also…he corrupted the symbol. Oh, he had the best of intentions, but he innovated the symbol: of what the Pope was. In his teaching, he changed the symbol of the pope, from friend of the Bridegroom (Christ) to bridegroom himself (albeit temporarily and technically only for the city of Rome). That was a very dangerous thing to do. Because symbols are sacred, latent with terrible power (like a nuclear reactor), and generations will reap the fruit of it. And generations did reap the fruit.

Christian Joy qualitatively the same as Sorrow

This is from a 1944 letter to his son.  Tolkien has just heard a sermon on the healing of Jairus’ daughter and is reflecting on the healing of a young boy Tolkien had witnessed in 1927.

But at the story of the little boy (which is a fully attested fact of course) with its apparent sad ending and then its sudden unhoped-for happy ending, I was deeply moved and had that peculiar emotion we all have–though not often. It is quite unlike any other sensation.

And all of a sudden I realised what it was: the very thing that I have been trying to write about and explain–in that fairy-story essay that I so much wish you had read that I think I shall send it to you. For it I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce).

And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint has suddenly snapped back. It perceives–if the story has literary ‘truth’–that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story–and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.

Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. . . . So that in the Primary Miracle (the Resurrection) and the lesser Christian miracles too though less, you have not only that sudden glimpse of truth behind the apparent ananke of our world, but a glimpse that is actually a ray of light through the very chinks of the universe about us.

–Humphrey Carpenter, ed., The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), 100-101

(I reposted from this blog: http://dogmadoxa.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-greatest-fairy-story.html)

Journal entry from 2 years ago

Last Saturday during the family reunion, I skimmed/read my way through “Manning Up” by one of those neo-feminists who attack modern ‘manhood’ and the hooking up culture. It was quite convincing, but the chapter about love and darwinism gave me a lot of undefinite emotions/thought-feelings that I couldn’t explain when asked.


Anyway, that Saturday night after going to bed, I found myself sobbing for a few minutes. I realized I was crying about all that, all the miscarriages of what could have been love, all the cynical hookup and jockeying for elite partners kind of stuff that has to do with status/degrees/money/jobs/etc in a modern urban jungle of swinging singles in big cities….it hurt so much. Stripped of all its sanctity, history, everything…..it was so empty for them you just had to cry for them.


Miscarried children is a different pain than other people who die on you. It is supposedly quantitatively less because you didn’t “know” them…yeah right….it is true time-wise it is shorter (you don’t have a million anniversary/object/place reminders of a memory with them)….but the pain is of a qualitatively different anguish….much worse, a kind of pain BECAUSE the very thing you lost was so very immaterial, such a big potential that never was….hah, if the pain of an extinguished beloved light is bad, what about the light that didn’t even get lit, but was almost, and you dreamed of its light, and it was half-there and then not? Far far worse. The in between zone causes an intense kind of anguish precisely because it is in the ill-defined middle area. It was not just an immaterial dream to be forgotten, neither was it a concrete reality to be remembered. The child that was and wasn’t, and the mother cries and nobody understands.

That is how it is with these people with 100 hookups and a half-dozen failed semi-serious (e.g. shacking up, open relationship, friends with benefits, starter marriages) ‘relationships’. None of it was ever really love, all hormones and status/life/career calculations and varying levels of false dreams and projections and the hypnotism of romantic infatuation (the stuff genuine relationships start with, but then moves past to reality and the real thing). But for these people, there isn’t really even a true relationship to grieve. They have done Lucretius very very well, and “Venus’ troublesome sore is well-lacerated with promiscuous attachments”. But somebody has to grieve, grieve for all these griefs, grieve for the guys who were never men, cornered into their couch and videos and porn and lifestyle, girls who are never wives, but strained partners all calculation and career with the botox or the pancake to cover the wrinkles and are so liberated they submit bikini shots on internet dating sites for inspection; because we are all so modern we are all meat and worship/treasure nothing, not even ourselves.

So I cried. The tears kept coming. Someone has to grieve for these ‘miscarriages’, for these failures of potential that could have been and never were. I found myself talking out loud in the darkness, “they do not ‘just want sex or status, money, etc’….any more than an alcoholic ‘just wants liquor’”. I repeated that to myself three times crying, “they do want love, they just don’t know”.

The alcoholic doesn’t just want liquor…no, the alcoholic wants to forget, forget that he might’ve abused his daughter, that his ex-wife’s life is a mess, that his father died in the cancer ward without reconciling with the family…..that there is no certitude, no peace, no beauty, no help from pain, and we are on a darkling plain...

Freedom from shame, seeing Beauty/Ultimate Good in reality, eternal love, the Holy Ghost….that is what he really wants, though he may not even know it himself, because as a child sitting on the chipped porch steps alone no one ever taught him half the words, and the other half was forgotten/deaf/bleary by all the injuries to his being that Others and himself have done to him over the years.
Freedom. Dignity. Peace. Goodness. Love. The simplicity and sanity of it all. Our deepest cravings never change, all of us, all of us children.

But we have all violated ourselves and eachother, and nothing is clear, all higgledy-piggledy and scar tissue and upside down. So the girls run after Romance, and the boys after Carnality, and all is thrill…and all is consumption and disgust and compromise.

It was all so simple in my head last Saturday night, and of course here it looks all melodramatic and me soapboxing. But it wasn’t like that that night. I didn’t really argue or reason, I just wept, and felt…I know this is going to sound weird….felt another breath within mine. God’s breath. It was there in my lungs too. Whether he was breathing into me, or sobbing with me, or both, I don’t really know. But this thought went through my head “Where human grief is, there is God’s breath also.”

It made sense at the time, though it’s a bit less coherent now.

Thoughts from rhetoric in the last election

The anti-abortion cause is not actually about condoning rape or about hating anyone.

I know it is a crazy dream….infanticide has been a fact of life for every truly civilized society from the Ancient Near East to Classical Rome to Progressive Sweden….

But that odd rabbi came and changed everything. He said we really could, that we really could make everything in our ordinary human lives into something sacred, as a breath of love, through pain and degradation, to the end. And he stuck to his word too—beaten and bloody and nailed to a stake of wood. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

We can live in a world where we treasure the little ones, the weak, the mentally retarded, and all those more dear and precious and sacred than ourselves. And yes, all the little ones, those hurt and hated and *shameful* and abused—so even those called ‘products of rape’.

In the ‘despised of the earth’ is the incarnation of Christ. They ARE Christ to us. It is an honor to carry the burden of these little ones. Of course this world is dark, and there are times of hellish pain. But let us live through it, for a different kind of world. A world where the little ones, especially the malformed and sick little ones, are treasured–not politely discarded onto the scrap heap of utilitarianism.

Where we hold them in our arms, and treasure them to their last breath.

Can’t we live in a world like that?


Ultimately, religion can either be

(1) used to ‘prove yourself’ (e.g. show you are a Holy/Nice/Correct/Authentic Person)


(2) to abandon yourself before the Face of Goodness (in God, in other people, etc).

Everything ends up being one of these two ways. Of course in this life, it is a constant struggle that goes on throughout our lives. But we will end up becoming more or less like one of these ways.

And religion that is a tool to use to prove yourself…eventually becomes a horribly ugly thing….it degenerates into legalism, or petty judgementalness, or self-righteousness (both the old-fashioned variety and the hip ‘meta’ kind…there’s no difference really).

In the end, we have a choice to take faith into our hands, as something to control and manipulate as we see fit, in order to justify ourselves or make ourselves look good. It ends with the studied ‘niceness’/or/’holiness’/or/’authenticity’ that is glancing at itself in the periphery vision, managing to mention to other people all the good they do….But all of it is a sham, revealed in the moment when they are annoyed at those who are better, just because; or when they delight in the painful failures of those who are worse, so that it can judge and feel righteous in comparison.

(e.g. the old-fashioned legalist getting smug satisfaction in insisting on reminding everyone of someone else’s out-of-wedlock  pregnancy AND the hip do-gooder that takes great satisfaction in talking about how much they nobly care for those pathetic wretches that other people always allegedly despise, with scant concern for the dignity/actual happiness of the aforementioned)

You know that jarring moment, when someone has petty malice (in some ways, the most ugly kind of hate–more so than ‘graver’ passionate rages)…and this petty malice is directed at some decent soul for no other reason than that they are good/holy/kind….because they are worried it will make themselves look shabby in comparison…

And so they are before the face of all that is good, decent, and beautiful…and they hate it! That is the most dreadful blindness of all. If that is not hell, I don’t know what is. And it is within all of us…there is only one way to escape it.

That other choice is to abandon ourselves to Goodness, both in ourselves and in other people and in the universe and beyond the universe (= God). Then we shall find ourselves at last, complete. Blissfully adoring Goodness in others–marvelling at their belovedness, so absorbed that we will forget ourselves in the moment of it. And catch ourselves, and laugh, and it doesn’t matter, and there is great joy.

Someday we will be purified, and then…of course you would suffer for them, and give up your own things, even give up your life, and sacrifice…and it isn’t because you are trying to ‘prove’ that you are a nice person….but because they are a thousand times worth it.  It would be a great honour.

In the end, there are only two choices:

Control religion—or abandon yourself to Goodness.

Construct yourself into the prison of your own peculiar  self-righteousness—or lose yourself, and be deified.