Friday, November 23, 2012

Poetry and Ritual

A man should stir himself with poetry
Stand firm in ritual
Complete himself in music. 
                      Lun Yu (Confucius)

I'm still writing everyday, mostly poetry. I'm thankful for the hour of my I have to detach from the world and remember what's really important. Sometimes I'm scared to stop, I'm scared to really think about my own life. I feel important when I'm busy. Life seems to have a degree of purposefulness, unlike when I'm not busy. I need to remind myself this is not how I intend to live my life. At college I seem to have no choice, it is the way of this lifestyle. After graduation, however, I am determined to shift my focus. Busy does not equal useful. Writing in solitude, even if it's just half of a page, takes me away from that lifestyle, it also teaches me the importance of practicing a ritual and sticking with it.  

I like to write poetry. What is it about poetry that stirs us? Or does it stir us? Why is the subject of poetry not as popular these days? Who actually pays attention to poetry besides those weird English majors (like me)? Is the soul even able to be stirred anymore? Do people still have souls? It seems poetry is connected in some way to reflection of the self as it relates to every-day life. Good poetry speaks from an exclusively unique and personal point of view, yet this perspective also vibrantly resonates within the spirit of each of us. Perhaps it is an ancient spirit, the spirit of humanity, which we can all relate and connect to in our own way. While poetry is a useful venue, I believe the shared spirit of humankind can best be discovered and understood by withdrawing away from everything and entering into a place of stillness...alone. 

In The Sacred Way, author Tony Jones talks about silence and solitude. He retells a story of a little girl who, when asked to describe silence, answered: 

Silence reminds me to take my soul with me wherever I go.

Yes, a little girl said that. Silence isn't just a good option in life, it is meant to canonize our soul. Or in other words, to refine our spirit. If you're anything like me, however, stillness doesn't just happen. We must be intentional. I've been learning a lot about discipline recently. I've discovered that discipline is choosing to get over that initial feeling of resistance toward doing something we might not always want to do...on a regular basis. Henri Nouwen described the art of discipline in better words: 

In the spiritual life, the word "discipline" means "the effort to create some space in which God can act. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on.

Creating space for silence in a culture run by time is like making a cat swallow a pill. Is this a poor analogy? Maybe. Still, if you've ever tried to force a pill down a cat's throat you know exactly what I mean. Just when you think you've succeeded, up comes the stupid small round mass again. Over and over you force the pill in, clamp the cat's mouth shut, slowly count to ten, and let go--only to watch the cat unapologetically spit the thing out on the ground again. So. Frustrating. 

Anyway, I'll try not to ramble. My point is this: It is not easy (nearly impossible) to make cats swallow pills because of the nature of cats--you know their reputation. Think of yourself as the willing participant offering the pill and the cat as the culture (lifestyle) you live in, spiting out your good intentions without a second thought. The cat will hold the pill in its mouth for as long as your hands are there, but as soon as you let go the pill goes out. I think it's inevitable that our good intensions will be spat out until we accept the nature of this culture and look to discover an alternative; perhaps a culture outside this one. We need to recreate our own way of life, a lifestyle in which poetry can actually speak to us, self-discipline free us, and silence truly awaken us. 

As for music? Well...that can wait for another time. ;)


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Patterns of Fear







Friday, November 16, 2012

Because We’re All Strange

Living on a college campus means living in a community. I attend a rather small university; while there are many faces I recognize walking from class to class, there are also many I don’t. This is true everywhere I go: my dorm, the library, the dining commons, or the parking lot. In or out of a community setting, I will always live among strangers. Strangers are a baffling aspect of life, they affect us so profoundly, yet we hardly notice their presence.

Who are strangers? How do they relate to us and the way we perceive the world? As I was sitting in my racial and ethnic relations class at college, learning about the different groups people organize themselves in, categorizing others in terms of gender, race, age, social class, and so many other terms, I began to realize that people need a sense of identity. We cannot truly understand who we are until we are able to identify ourselves as a part of something greater. It is what sociologists would term as the “in-group,” people sharing similar interests and attitudes, producing feelings of solidarity, community, and exclusivity. Every individual has her own group, everyone else who is not considered a part of the group is placed beyond it, into the “out-group,” which is generally considered inferior or alien; a group perceived as other than one's own. This is where in-group bias comes from. 

There are now seven billion people in the world. With such an overpowering number of human beings, how could we not classify them? It helps us sort through the overwhelming unknown. While I understand the necessity of sorting through the masses, developing an identity for ourselves and determining what group we belong, I also know there are severe drawbacks. History shows how we often forget we are all members of the same human race. Despite our differences, we are more similar than we realize. 

Yet, even within groups there is an apparent need to distinguish ourselves from what is known and what is unknown, beginning with the people closely in contact with us. The other students in my classes, the workers in the DC, the professor I’ve never taken a course from, and most of my 767 friends on Facebook, are what journalist Melinda Bau and Purdue University professor Karen L. Fingerman would label as “consequential strangers.” The term describes people who do not belong in the mass of unknown faces we define as strangers, and yet who cannot be distinguished as friends. Time did an interview with Bau, asking her what was so significant of these consequential strangers that surround our lives. She explains how we tend to see our intimates as the people who are most important to us. Yet, it is apparent in both the workforce and our personal lives that the newest, most profound ways we understand the world, the most innovative circumstances we find ourselves, are due to the “people on the periphery.” There is no doubt that the people who are outside the center of our relationship circles are very different from ourselves, yet they are the ones who inspire us the most, influence our new ideas, and push us outside of our comfort zones. However, because of these differences, these are also people we would put into a separate category than ourselves, they are not like us, they are strangers, they are the “other.”

A few questions begin to form in my mind: what determines the boundary of groups? Where is the line between a consequential stranger, a friend, and an intimate relationship? Maybe the obvious answer is how we interact with them. Strangers become less strange the more we learn about their identity, and how it relates to our own. At some point in time, everyone outside our family was considered strange to us. 

I used to think that how I interact with a person is based a lot on what I know about them. However, there are things that factor in as well, such as the location. A featured article in the American Scientist, written by Robert Levine, explains how, after extensive social experiments and applied research, it was apparent that people from New York City are more willing to offer help when they know there will not be any further contact in the future. They will meet their social obligation in the moment, but nothing more. Yet, in other cities such as Rio, Levine states that, “It often seemed to us that human contact is the very motive for helping.” The article goes on to explain how investigators have discovered that, “seemingly minor changes in situation can drastically affect helping—above and beyond the personalities or moral beliefs of the people involved.” According to these studies, it is also important to note that the place we grew up in does not influence our actions toward strangers as much as the location we currently live. In other words, Levine explains, “Brazilians and New Yorkers are both more likely to offer help in Ipanema than they are in Manhattan.” Apparently, it is not so much our moral character or upbringing that determines whether or not we are willing to help a stranger, it depends more fully on the location we are in. How then can we apply this to what we know (or do not know) about strangers? Even our attitude toward them changes from place to place.

Our actions toward strangers are unpredictable, and yet our lives are completely dependent on them. A new report from the National Institute for Safety Management claims that, on any given day, the average American's life is entrusted to more than 2,000 different people who are complete strangers. The report interviewed Jacob Drummond, a spokesman for NISM, who explains, "Of course, the 2,000 people responsible for your daily survival are themselves counting on another 2,000...all members of your city, state, and national government, and all the individuals they don't know personally, it's more like 4 million people wielding enormous power over your continued existence." That’s a lot of people we have never met, all of which we owe our life to. I have experienced a taste of this at my university. All of the positions filled by the faculty, staff, and students that culminate the community make life on my campus possible. From the janitors, to the donors, to the builders and contractors, to the admission representatives, all the way to businessmen, web designers, and the copy girl; hundreds, if not thousands of people influence my life at college every day. Yet, for all the influence strangers have on my life, I still find myself closed off to them. I tend to be resistant in seeing them as anything but the out-group, the unknown, those to be avoided.    

In an article from Freakonomics, the columnist, Stephen Dubner, states we should actually be more afraid of the people we know rather than total strangers. Statistics suggest that there are more tragic events such as murder, abduction, and rape committed by people the victim knows rather than complete strangers. Yet the fact remains that we tend to fear strangers more. One reason for this, Dubner explains, is that our brains store memories that impact us most. Incidents that are big, rare “black swan” events are the memories that are retained in the mind. As a result, we are more afraid of things that seem absurd and unprecedented, like a terrorist attack or mad cow disease, rather than more common things that are less exciting but more likely to happen, such as a heart attack. For this reason, we fear strangers more. Yet, strangers do not deserve the fear and avoidance that most people impose on them. Strangers are most often poorly judged.

With all the influence strangers hold, it should not surprise us that they are in no way a new phenomenon. The conflicts in our world, both historical and present, are largely due to the misconstrued concept of the other. When we are absorbed by the differences in others, we have a need to set boundaries that give a sense of solidarity in groups. When someone does not meet this criteria, we not only become jealous of the differences, but deem these differences, in certain cases, as immoral or unacceptable. In other words, while strangers often have a positive impact on us in the way that they influence our thoughts and personal growth, there is a competition between us. We have an innate need to find a sense of self; we use others in order to base our identity and distinguish ourselves apart from the rest.

Psychologically, we classify our world into two categories that grow and shrink over time: what is known and what is unknown. Throughout life we are faced with choices, whether to embrace the unfamiliar in order to understand it and experience its strangeness, or reject it entirely and view it as completely separate and untouchable. The “other,” in the sense of a foreigner, is really only a different concept of self. We can only see the foreigner when we see something that cannot be connected to ourselves, and we cannot see them when we understand that we ourselves are foreign. In other words, we must accept the fact that we are strangers. Each of us are strange in relation to another group of people. Once we can finally admit to this concept, and understand that perhaps the stranger is not strange from another perspective, we become the stranger, and the stranger becomes a part of us. We will see people, not by our differences, but by our similarities. 

Strangers often make their way in and out of our lives without our notice; yet everything we do, down to what we wear and the meals we eat, are influenced by someone we have never met. Perhaps one day we will appreciate our dependence on each other. As I walk down the sidewalk of my college, throwing the hood of my coat over my head and stuffing my hands deep inside my pockets, bracing against the cold, it is easy to put my head down, avoiding eye contact with those passing by. They are most often people I do not know; they may not look like me or share any mutual interests. Yet, I have more in common with them than I realize. I depend on them, in some obscure way. Directly, or indirectly, the universal human race is connected. Although we compete against one another for land, resources, power, and so much more, although we have killed each other in the past, slaughtered entire people groups, abused one another, ignored, avoided and hated one another, we still are one unit, one common race. At the end of all the segregation and solidarity, the name-calling and classifying, despite my fears and apprehension, my sincere hope is that someday I will be able to truly see the stranger in myself and myself in every stranger.    

Bibliography: 2012. Web. 1 November, 2012. <>
Dubner, Stephen J. “The Cost of Fearing Strangers.” Freakonomics: The Hidden Side of
Everything. 2009. Web. 1 November, 2012. < 01/06/the -cost-of-fearing-strangers/>
Kearney, Richard. Strangers, Gods, and Monsters. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Strangers to Ourselves. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. Print.
Levine, Robert. “The Kindness of Strangers.” American Scientist. The Scientific Research
Society. 2003. Web. 24 October, 2012. <

“Report: Life Put In Hands Of 2,000 Complete Strangers Every Single Day.” The Onion:
America’s Finest News Source. 2011. Web. 6 October, 2012. < articles/report-life-put-in-hands-of-2000-complete-stranger,20640/>
Sachs, Andrea. “The Importance of Consequential Strangers.” Time: Health & Family. 2009. 20
October, 2012. <,8599,1925288,00.html>

Monday, November 12, 2012

Into the Wild

“...there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself.” ― Jon KrakauerInto the Wild

Perhaps the sincerest frustration in life is the inability to communicate anything real. I hate that. Many things hinder me on a regular basis; yet undoubtedly the most tragic is retreating within myself because words cannot communicate meaning, or at least, not in the ways I wish they could. 

Perhaps this is why I write. 

Last night I watched Into the Wild for the first time. It is an inspiring yet tragic movie based on a true story of a young graduate from college, Christopher "Alex" McCandless, who destroys all ties to society, burning his social security card and all of his money, and takes off for the wilderness and the life of a traveler. 

Previously, I wrote a post about Fight Club. I found some very similar themes tied to Into the Wild, such as the struggle against constant security and materialism. I related to Alex, the protagonist, in so many ways. I think we can all relate to Alex, to his dreams of leaving the security and predictablility of this life behind and going on a great adventure. Yet, we often forget we want this. 

Do we really forget, or do we chose not to remember? 

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.   Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Of course, Alex was a young college graduate. Therefore, he had the option of throwing away his former way of life and chasing after the wind. Most of us do not. Most of us have responsibilities to our families. Yet, Alex's worldview is still inspiring. In an age where people are desperate for a sense of security, the assurance of success, and the comfort of financial and material access, I believe we are in danger of losing our humanness. I think we need to break free from the idea that our happiness lies in the things we have or what we accomplish. This theme was evident in Fight Club as well. However, Into the Wild goes even deeper. Alex also warns against finding solace in relationships. He says, 
You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living. -- Christopher "Alex" McCandless ― Jon KrakauerInto the Wild
It's not that human relationships aren't significant. At the end of the story, Alex admits that "...the only certain happiness in life is to live for others..." With that being said, it is important to see the difference between looking for personal joy in relationships and dedicating one's life to live for the sake of others. Seeing the difference can be life-changing. 

Perhaps we find the sincerest means of Joy not in what we do, or in who we are with, or in what we know, but in what is; what is seen and unseen, what is experienced, what is present all around us. I am firmly convinced that Joy can be found in all things, all circumstances. 

I want to communicate this idea to people. I want them to understand they can throw off their conditioned need for security. My friends, your knuckles are turning white, it's time to let go. You are more than your house, your debt, and your name-brand clothes. You're more than the car you drive or the food you eat. You are more than than the church building you go to or the way your husband or wife treats you (or doesn't treat you). 

What rich and profound lives we live, or can live, as humans! I believe we were created to reflect something beautiful, something much greater than a hoarding, rodent-like existence we are sometimes reduced to. It's okay if you don't know what will happen tomorrow. In fact, it's better that way. It is okay if you don't know where your money will come from, or even your next meal. This might sound terrifying, devastating. Yet, when we can embrace the unknown and uncontrolled, we learn to surrender, to live not out of self-preservation, but out of generous, over-flowing hearts that refuse to worry. 

Here I must ask a very difficult question of myself. Perhaps you should do the same:

Do I truly believe that God will provide for me needs? If I say I do, does my life reflect this?

Life is a great adventure, don't ruin it. 


Friday, November 9, 2012

Yourself + Forty Years

Forty years from now...'re sitting in your big comfy chair, alone in the solace of your living room, reflecting back on your life. Yes, you are sitting still. What a deviant concept.

You're wondering where the time has gone and what you have to show for the years you've put in. If you've made it this far, you're at least half way through your life, probably more. You're not in your prime anymore; you don't understand the new generation with its advancing technologies, evolving cultures, and disagreeable new ways of thinking.

You have a lingering sense of nostalgia for the way things used to be. Back when you were young, when you felt like you understood the world a little better, you thought you had so much of your life ahead of you, so much to offer that the world desperately needed.

Yet, you are now forty years older than that day long ago when you read this for the first time. In comparison, you're not the same person anymore. Thinking back, there are so many things you wish you could go back to tell yourself. You have learned so much, but at such tremendous cost.

What is it that you would like to tell yourself, forty years younger? You would say many things.

You shouldn't have been caught up in the monotony of everyday living, because that was not truly life. Life began when you realized the little things shaped you, recreated you, and determined your destiny.

You needed to take a Sabbath. Not just a Sunday ritual but at least one day set aside to be at peace with yourself and separate from the responsibilities of the world.

There are so many things you could've advised! You should've stopped and played more. You didn't need to measure your value by the things you were able to accomplish in a day, in a week, or in a year. No one cares what you did forty years ago. You realize now that life is not a destination. You should've repeated that, over and over. Life is not a destination. Life is not a destination. Life is not a destination. Life is...a journey. Never mind the cliche, it is truth. Why did you try to rush through it? You were not racing.

What if you had thought more of the small picture? When you were young you had big ideals and goals. You didn't see the small needs of others. You did not notice the wandering souls, floundering in their own insecurities, desperate for a confident mentor and friend. You could have been that person for them. Even if you could only change one life, that one life was eternal and infinitely precious. You couldn't see the small needs of love and the starving hearts for someone--anyone--to believe they could make it, that they were worth something, that they were truly appreciated and accepted. Why didn't you look for what others tried to hide?

You were chasing after dreams back then. Perhaps you needed to. You needed to discover that problems are problems, no matter where you live with them. Issues can't be resolved in new and different circumstances, you needed to be honest with yourself and accept that you cannot do everything and be anyone.

You shouldn't have tried to run away from the mediocracy of yourself. You feared you were forgettable, unmemorable. God forbid: you were average. Why were you concerned with whether you were an important person in life? Rather, you should have focused on whether you inspired people to remember, or rediscover who they were, who they could have become, and the beautiful reality that there is a greater Hope outside of themselves and the mundane. You were not memorable, but did your life reflect the One who is?

Fame, recognition, and prestige could not satisfy you, even if you did find them. Maintaining a busy lifestyle forever did not make the pain of loneliness go away. Facing your problems and dealing with them was not desirable, yet always necessary. When you came to terms with the things that hurt you deepest, and sought help in other people, you found healing for your soul. When you didn't try to block yourself off, and willed yourself to rely on others, you felt consolation. You found true companionship when you gave other people the power to hurt you.  

Forty years from now you will flip your calendar and see the date, November 9, 2052. You will not remember this. You will have completely forgotten what you read those many years ago. If you are alive, no matter where you end up, no matter what you've done, at the end of it all, may you say with deep satisfaction you still have a long way to go, thank God. Seeking the Kingdom begins on earth but certainly doesn't end here.


Monday, November 5, 2012


You dread the sleepless nights that awaken
you with the ringing of thoughts. There is no escape in your bed.
Who will help the sleep-forsaken.

The night wanes away. Adrift, your mind has not taken
the nightly leave of absence from your head,
You dread the sleepless nights that awaken

the haunting fears of mundaneness unshaken
by daydreams; you are desperate for night dreams instead.
Who will help the sleep-forsaken.  

O sleeper, have you mistaken

the bliss of night for a house of memories you cannot shed?
You dread the sleepless nights that awaken

you. Yet can you awaken one who has taken

life for a dream, neither alive nor dead?
Who will help the sleep-forsaken.

There cannot be sleep if the nights have shaken

the soul with waking. You are the dreamer, captive in your head;
in your dreams of waking, are you still sleeping? Will you reawaken?
Who will help the sleep-forsaken.  



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fully Known

A lot has been going on in my head recently. For those of you who know me, this isn't a real shocker. Thursday I felt like I was going to explode. Haven't we all been there? It is the near-breaking point.

By the grace of God, I did not actually explode. Instead, I had the opportunity to mediate and pray for 10 minutes; this was a time of uninterrupted solitude and intentional listening. I know I should do this more often.

I'm telling you all this because of the deep significance of these 10 minutes. What I experienced is perhaps not only meaningful for me, but perhaps for you as well.

In the course of these 10 minutes, I had a vision, or a dream, imagination. Let me tell you the story:

I was going to meet Jesus. I don't know why. I found myself walking down a dirt road. At the end of the road was a lake, I could see him standing by the water. The lake was perfect, calm as death. Its surface reflected the breathtaking blue of the sky and the vivid yellow, green, red display of leaves from the maples and oaks growing along the opposite bank. Yet I hardly saw the lake, all I could think about was Jesus, how he was staring at me. I didn't know how to react. At first I felt the need to be cautious. I didn't want him to think I was afraid or nervous to see him. I thought maybe I should be overjoyed by this opportunity, but I wasn't. I wanted him to think that I was okay, that I didn't mind being in his presence. As a result, I found myself extremely guarded as I approached him.

Yet, with every step forward my resolve to remain protected and careful began to falter and break apart. I could literally feel my throat constricting as a forced the tears to stay down. I did not know why I wanted to cry. I refused to cry. When I finally reached him (I was walking very slowly), I could not look into his face. He started to say something as he reached his hand out to me. The moment I felt his touch, everything inside of me broke down.

As if my bones dissolved, my body sank to the ground. I began to weep. At first in stifled murmurs, then finally in the ugly, messy sort of weeping where the eyes become red and swollen, the face contorts, drool dribbles out of the mouth a little, and the body convulses with agony. I knew he wanted me to stand next to him, to take in beauty of the lake, but I could not even lift my head. I dared not even touch his feet.  

Instead of forcing me to stand up, he knelt down. Aware of his face coming closer to mine, my crying subsided a little. I was listening.

"Look at me."

I felt his hand once again touch my face. Still in my puddle of remorse, I shook my head and refused to look.

"Look at me."

Again, I refused. I felt his hand turn my neck and tilt my chin up abruptly. Startled by this, I stopped crying. Now facing him, I still averted my eyes. I could feel the hot tears smeared across my face and a burning sensation starting from my throat, reaching all the way up to my eyes.


Finally, with great deliberation, I forced my eyes up. What I saw chilled the marrow of my bones. Nothing could have prepared me for this. It was utterly horrifying at first.

For I looked, and there beheld my own face.

Or at least, I thought it was my face. It was so hard to tell, so blurry, quite unclear. Yet the more I stared, the more sure I was. Who else could this be? This And yet, it was completely him. How hard it is to try to conceptualize this phenomenon to you. I was not looking at a man's body with my head, I was not looking at a man at all. Yet I was. As I lay there gazing, my brain tried to comprehend how it was possible for my reality and this abstraction to merge together in this bizarre visual. There he was, kneeling next to me. He was me, yet he was not me. 

His eyes seemed to see so far down into my soul that my head began to hurt. I wanted to ask a thousand questions. Nevertheless, I felt that I should remain silent; I understood that no matter what I said, my words were not enough.

Then he spoke.

"I know Danae."

I blinked, trying to understand what he meant. Even as I think back on it now, it seems to have a double meaning. His words could have been sympathetic, as in "I know, Danae." Or, "I know what you're going through, I understand, I've been there."

Or maybe he meant it in a different way; addressing me indirectly. Maybe he said, "I know Danae," as if to say, "I know who your are." Perhaps he meant both. I'd like to think he meant both.

After a while he lifted me up. I still wouldn't stand, but he set me upright, propping my body against his. I sat next to this absurd concept of him and vague and confusing. Together, we admired the lake. I did truly admire it now. How still it was, so quiet and unmoving. I liked the way it reflected the colors of the leaves so vividly, duplicating the scenery so clearly. From a different angle it would have been hard to distinguish where the trees ended and where the reflection began.

While I was still deeply bemused by our encounter, I also felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I'm not exactly sure I know what peace is, but I believe in that moment I truly felt it. Finally, I told him I must go, that my 10 minutes were up, and that it was time to return. I did not tell him I would come back, I wasn't sure if I could.

Walking away on the dirt road, I turned around a couple of times to see him there, by the lake, watching me go.

That was the end of the vision. I returned to reality, still utterly confused, still strangely at peace.

The fruit of our work, as well as the ability to carry it out, comes from prayer. The work that we accomplish is the fruit of our union with Christ. We have been called to give Jesus to the peoples of the world, so that they can look at Him and discover His love, His compassion, and His humility in action.

 Mother Teresa
I am no longer my own. Whether I live or whether I die, I belong to my Saviour I have nothing of my own. God is my all, and my whole being is His.I will have nothing to do with a love that would be for God or in God. I cannot bear the word for or the word in, because they denote something that may be in between God and me.   — Saint Catherine of Genoa 

Each one of us is what [s/]he is in the eyes of God.     Mother Teresa

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:12

I hope this brings encouragement to your day.