Fragments of Me, Part II: Night Wandering Man

(If you need context for this project, see Part I)

The first fragment I’ve decided to share is a list of poem titles, written on the back of a dirty paycheck envelope:

Three of them are William Wordsworth poems, which I’ll be looking at today, and two are Emily Dickinson, which I will discuss next time. I’m not sure when or why I was reading these, or how they spoke to me at the time, but perhaps I can reconstruct my state of mind by rereading them.

The first listed is Wordsworth’s “The Nightingale,” with the following passage specifically noted:

And hark! the Nightingale begins its song

“Most musical, most melancholy” Bird!

A melancholy Bird? O idle thought!

In nature there is nothing melancholy.

— But some night wandering Man, whose heart was pierc’d

With the remembrance of a grievous wrong,

Or slow distemper or neglected love,

(And so, poor Wretch! fill’d all things with himself

And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale

Of his own sorrows) he and such as he

First named these notes a melancholy strain:

And many a poet echoes the conceit;

Poet, who hath been building up the rhyme

When he had better far have stretch’d his limbs

Beside a ‘brook in mossy forest-dell

By sun or moonlight, to the influxes

Of shapes and sounds and shifting elements

Surrendering his whole spirit, of his song

And of his fame forgetful! so his fame

Should share in nature’s immortality,

A venerable thing! and so his song

Should make all nature lovelier, and itself

Be lov’d, like nature! — But ’twill not be so;

What he seems to be saying here, is that the natural world is inherently lovely and not melancholy. It is melancholy poets who make the world melancholy out of their own internal pain. If they would only leave their writing desks and experience Nature for themselves, they would see her perfect loveliness, and that would in turn cure their melancholy hearts.

Again, I don’t know where my mind was when I made my note on the back of an envelope, but I can currently read this poem in two ways:

1) I disagree with Wordsworth. I sometimes like a good melancholy mood, and almost always enjoy a good rainy day, foggy night, scraggly forest, dirty street, etc. I also like artists who can capture a dark mood, and I resent the implication that everyone should just go smell some flowers and think happy thoughts. However,

2) I can also see his point. When I’m having a “the whole world sucks” experience, it often does have more to do with me and my own internal problems. And when I’m in that space, I tend to color the world ugly for others as well.

The second poem on the envelope is “Expostulation and Reply”:

Why, William, on that old grey stone,

Thus for the length of half a day,

Why, William, sit you thus alone,

And dream your time away?

“Where are your books?–that light bequeathed

To Beings else forlorn and blind!

Up! up! and drink the spirit breathed

From dead men to their kind.

“You look round on your Mother Earth,

As if she for no purpose bore you;

As if you were her first-born birth,

And none had lived before you!”

One morning thus, by Esthwaite lake,

When life was sweet, I knew not why,

To me my good friend Matthew spake,

And thus I made reply:

“The eye–it cannot choose but see;

We cannot bid the ear be still;

Our bodies feel, where’er they be,

Against or with our will.

“Nor less I deem that there are Powers

Which of themselves our minds impress;

That we can feed this mind of ours

In a wise passiveness.

“Think you, ‘mid all this mighty sum

Of things for ever speaking,

That nothing of itself will come,

But we must still be seeking?

“–Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,

Conversing as I may,

I sit upon this old grey stone,

And dream my time away,”

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been discovering a lot about myself over the past few months through studying the Enneagram personality typing system. One of my major coping strategies as an Enneagram Type 5 is seeking solace through knowledge. Any time fear, anxiety, sadness, or boredom threaten me, I turn to books. Like Wordsworth’s friend Matthew in this poem, I consider learning to be the best use of my free time.

Learning, however, fails to comfort me much of the time. And relying on knowledge as an exclusive source of comfort can lead to a very dark place. So I’m trying to work on turning my attention outward as well as inward. This blog series is part of that process, and so is prayer.

I’m finding this article by Tara Owens particularly helpful when it comes to prayer*, and the Prayer of the Senses she describes is essentially what Wordsworth’s narrator is doing in this poem:

As Observers, Type Fives like to take in the world through their eyes. They read, they watch, they take pictures. Prayers that integrate their whole selves into communion with God (and with all their other parts) are therefore deeply valuable—and sometimes very difficult and frustrating for a Type Five. Prayers of the Senses are prayers that use the senses as a form of attending to God and His goodness in the world. To pray this way, we engage all of our various ways of absorbing the gifts around us—taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing—in a holistic experience of the present moment. An easy way to start this type of prayer is to eat meals mindfully, to intentionally slow down your eating so that you can absorb all the various tastes of the food in your mouth, the smell of the nourishment that is coming to you, the way things feel in your mouth. Paying attention in this way naturally leads to wonder, thanksgiving and praise—have you ever really tasted a fresh raspberry? It’s hard to not turn toward God in worship.

Prayers of the senses are an engaged form of prayer that focuses on the gift of the now, releasing problems and worries, and, most importantly for a Type Five, fears. To be in the present moment with God, engaging the senses right now rather than analyzing or worrying, helps a Type Five to receive God’s love and overwhelming care for them in their places of emptiness.

Perhaps when “Expostulation and Reply” caught my attention however long ago, I was intuiting a need I couldn’t yet put words to.

The final William Wordsworth poem on my envelope is “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” which I apparently misspelled (I was listening to an audio version of these). This one is longer and harder to excerpt, so I won’t quote it directly, but you can and should read it here.

It begins by describing a transcendent, joyous experience the poet had while looking at a beautiful landscape. He recalls this experience repeatedly throughout the years as a source of peace in hard times, and eventually returns to the beloved place with his sister. The second experience is even more joyous, because it connects the two of them to each other as well as to the transcendent.

While I’ll probably never be the mystic Wordsworth is, I do want to try and experience the physical world more, as I’ve already said, and I also think I would do well to share more of the joys I experience with others. I don’t always do that, because it feels vulnerable and silly, and I don’t like those feelings.

But hey, here I am doing just that. These poems brought me a measure of joy at some point in the past. I’ve enjoyed revisiting them, and I’ve enjoyed sharing them. And even though I’ve been discussing them in personal terms, I hope you’ve found something to appreciate in them too.

Emily Dickinson was notoriously not a sharer of poems, so we’ll see what she brings up next time…

* I do have to say I was disappointed in Owens’ Spotify playlist. So of course I made one of my own.


Fragments of Me, Part I: Time to Adjust

The following is a highly autobiographical excerpt from a short story I wrote 3 years ago called “12/26”:

The radio stays off during the drive from Pine Hill to Little Rock. Pop 105.9, “Your musical home for the holidays,” quit playing Christmas music this morning while Josh was on his way to work – 5am on the dot. He doesn’t necessarily want to still be listening to Christmas music right now, but he hasn’t figured out yet what kind of music he is in the mood for.

Country? Not warm enough. Classic rock? He’s not ready for that either. His mood needs time to adjust.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me, he thinks. He always feels sad after a big holiday or a vacation. Not sad that it’s over – those things are stressful, and sometimes he’s even relieved that they’re over. It’s adjusting back to the Normal that makes him sad. Holidays, trips, even things like “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day,” provide a distraction from the Normal, and when the day after the day rolls around, reality resurfaces like a repressed memory – a Monday with horns. Hard to come back.

Christmas is over. And Josh is once again acutely conscious of his identity. Will things turn around next year? He’s wondered that every year since college. Will he finally pay off his student loans and open that guitar shop? We’ll see.

At least the Christmas tree at his house is still up.

This is basically how I feel the first week or two of every year. A little disoriented, a little discouraged, missing my family and hating my job and wondering/doubting if there’s anything I can do this year to make next year different.

And even though this year is different in a lot of positive ways, I haven’t been able to escape those feelings. They aren’t necessarily for escaping, though. They’re sometimes for enduring, and sometimes, I think this time they are, for self-reflection.

I turned to prayer at one point this past week, and realized as soon as I began that it is never my first instinct to pray. My first instinct is to read. “I always take things in, and rarely give them out,” I heard myself say – an insight that had everything to do with my wife’s and my recent obsession with the enneagram.

If you aren’t familiar with this personality typing system, I’d encourage you to check it out. I won’t try to explain it here (my friends and family are probably tired of hearing about it anyway), but as far as it concerns this discussion, I am a Type 5, and as such, I’ve learned that my personal besetting sin is avarice.

Avarice is a holding back and holding in – the hoarding of time, space, and resources out of fear of impending impoverishment. It’s not so much greediness as retentiveness, a “drive to hold on to what [they] already have rather than [a] drive to acquire more.”

– Beatrice Chestnut

I don’t like giving parts of myself away, and that is why I need to.

In addition to prayer, I thought about journaling this week, which is not something I do very often. And I still haven’t done it, but I found something else to do instead. Inside my journal, I found several scraps of paper – notes, poems, quotes I wanted to remember, etc. Some of them are from a long time ago, some of them are barely legible, and most of them are things I never considered sharing with anyone.

But, I’m going to start sharing them here, for two reasons: 1) as a spiritual practice of “generosity” – giving away what I would normally keep to myself, and 2) as a way to get myself back into writing. The angsty, melancholy twenty-something who wrote most of these notes was more in touch with his creativity than I am today, and I would like to recapture some of his passion.

I don’t know if any of this will interest anyone else, but that’s not really the point. The point is to clear out my hoarder’s closet of private thoughts, a little bit at a time. There might be some rotten stuff in there, but if you see anything you like, it’s yours.

And if something you read here inspires, confuses, or upsets you, feel free to interact with me in the comments. That’s something else I need to learn how to do.

The Parable of the Sectarians

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.  – Luke 18:9

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a Sadducee. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: pagans, apostates, drunkards, sexual deviants, and traitors, or even, especially, like this Sadducee – this puppet of globalist Rome, this darling of the Jerusalem elite, this false teacher who does not walk according to the tradition of the elders, and who delights in leading your nation astray. Thank you, O Lord, that I am holy.”

The Sadducee stood up to pray, taking care to articulate each word clearly, so that all those present could understand: “God, I thank you that I am not like this small-minded Pharisee, this backwater bumpkin who believes in fairytale spirits and ‘life after death,’ who clings to his antiquated traditions and refuses to enter the 1st century. Thank you, O Lord, that I am enlightened.”

Then it was my turn to stand up. Not to pray, but to leave. I could no longer handle the hypocrisy, the grandstanding, the prostitution of prayer in the temple of God. I walked out into the streets of the city, unsure of where I was heading.

When I reached the marketplace, I saw a group of Zealots standing in the middle of the street with swords drawn, blocking the path of the merchants and travelers. Above the frustrated clamor of the crowd, I heard the Zealot leader screaming an impassioned prayer: “God, I thank you that we are not like these blind sheep or their corrupt, establishment shepherds, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who sit even now in a temple built under a system of empire, languishing in their thrones of Levitical privilege, while the bodies of your chosen people are being nailed to Roman crosses.”

At first, my heart was strangely moved by his words and by the excitement of the crowd. Could this be the beginning of real change, a sign of the great peace foretold by the prophets? But then the Zealot leader cried “Thank you, O Lord, that we are just!” and kicked over a nearby fruit barrel. His followers reacted in kind, pushing, shoving, toppling the vendors’ carts, and shouting at the top of their voices: “Resist Rome! Resist Rome!”

Some of the merchants tried to protect their property, and they were swiftly beaten. Other innocent bystanders, including some of the children, were trampled by the mob. Then came the hoof beats of Roman horses, and everyone began to scatter. I ran toward the city gate, with sounds of clanging steel and snapping whips fading behind me.

And that was the last time I saw Jerusalem. Thanks be to God for leading me into the desert, and into the community of the Essenes.

I thank you, Lord, that we are not like those prideful politicians and vengeful revolutionaries who twist your law to their own ends. I thank you that I have found truth and peace through solitude, meditation, and immersion in the scrolls, that I have risen above the sinful passions and ambitions of others. Thank you, O Lord, that I am transcendent.

Ballad of a Thin Church

You’ve seen the Barna research, and don’t like how it looks / At conferences you’ve all discussed recipes like cooks / You’ve been through all of John C. Maxwell’s books / You’ve made your vision statements well-known / But something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Pastor Jones?

Immeasurable by Skye Jethani is a book about ministry. It is not about efficiency. It is not about branding. It is not about reaching, impacting, or changing the world. But it is about ministry – pastoring, shepherding, feeding Christ’s sheep. It is about a tender calling that many Christian leaders have lost sight of “in the age of Church, Inc.”

“Church, Inc.” is an approach to ministry that seeks to “contain [God],” to “institutionalize Him and systematize Him so that we can ultimately understand, predict, and control Him” (p. 83). It is Jesus meets corporate America. It’s slick, successful, and attractive, from the outside. It’s pervasive in megachurches, but its assumptions run deep, affecting believers of all ages and congregations of all sizes. The gospel it peddles is one of spiritual production and consumption over grace and peace, and most of the time, we aren’t even aware of its influence, because in many, many cases, Church, Inc. is the water we are swimming in.

Immeasurable calls out the dangers of Church, Inc. for what they are and offers a fresh look at what ministry could look like if we lift our gaze to the proper place. The chapters are essentially a series of individual essays, touching on various topics including preaching, reading, art, social media, millennials’ work ethic, and more. If you’re familiar with Jethanis other work, some of the essays will sound familiar, but there is still enough new material to make the book worthwhile, especially if you are in church leadership.

Here are just a few examples of Immeasurable’s insight:

[God] does not need us to accomplish His work. If He did, He wouldn’t be a God worthy of our worship. Here is an important truth that ministers need to hear as much as, if not more than, everyone else: God does not need you. He wants you. He did not send His Son to recruit you to change the world. He sent His Son to reconcile you to Himself. Your value to God is not in your effectiveness, but in your presence.

“Effectiveness,” p. 27

Artists who cultivate beauty in the world remind us that the most precious things are often the least useful. Artists provoke us to see the world differently—not simply as a bundle of resources to be used, but as a gift to be received. Therefore, the creative arts serve as a model of God’s grace, and how the church affirms and celebrates the vocations of artists is likely to inform its vision of God.

“Wastefulness,” p. 32

What may be most sinister about missionalism [“the belief that the worth of one’s life is determined by the achievement of a grand objective”] is its self-propagating mechanism. When a church leader is in its grip, he or she will unknowingly transmit the burden of missionalism to those under their care. When a pastor’s sense of significance is linked to the impact of their ministry, those within the church are told the same message. In subtle or overt ways they are rewarded for their missional output or shamed for their failure to perform, and a new generation of Christian missionalists are created. After a few generations the values of missionalism may be so ingrained within the culture of a church or denomination that they are never questioned. A careful examination of the community may reveal that pastors are imploding at alarming rates, young people are full of anxiety, families may be in crisis, and the fruit of God’s Spirit may be woefully absent, but no one stops. No one dares ask if something is wrong, or if this is what God had intended for His people. No one questions the enshrinement of missionalism because the work must go on.

“Missionalism,” pp. 189-190

If we are to slay the Idol of Effectiveness, we must look for the right fruit both in ourselves and in the leaders we choose to follow. That fruit is not relevance or power or global impact. The fruit of a life lived in communion with Jesus Christ is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

“Effectiveness,” p. 27

Read this book. It will challenge you. It will encourage you. And it will, hopefully, prompt change. “The drive to use people rather than empower them is what drains the life out of them” (p. 46), but church doesn’t have to be that way.

Follow the link below and use the promo code Immeasurable40 at checkout for a 40% discount!

The Once and Future Shepherd

For “David.” A psalm in prose.

How long, O Lord?

And how many times have I asked you that question? Well, I’m through with asking, and I’m through with singing.

Singing is what got me into this mess in the first place. I remember when they brought me to him. I entered his gates with thanksgiving in my heart and a lyre in my hand. I sat at his feet and sang praise. I aided him and soothed him, and he loved me. When the prophet anointed my head, I could barely imagine how a shepherd would become king, but now that I was in the palace, I thought, “Surely, this is it. The king will find favor with me and name me his heir. O, praise the Lord who is faithful to the righteous!”

Confidence in your promise gave me strength to face the giant. I fought in many battles under the king’s flag, and I earned his daughter’s hand. I could see your plan unfolding, and it filled me with delight.

Then the S.O.B. threw a spear at me and ran me out of the kingdom. Out of my kingdom, if your so-called prophet’s to be believed.

The oil in my hair has long since dried. And your nation is in the hands of a madman. Have you heard what he’s been doing, God? Or do you just not care?

I know. This is why you chose me, right? I try to keep telling myself that, but sometimes I wish I would’ve stayed with the sheep. I used to scoff at my ancestors for wanting to return to Egypt, but now I totally get it.

You did deliver them. In your time.

I hate your time.

God, help me hold on. For one more day.

Wine and Vinegar

“[A.K. Hamilton Jenkin] continued (what Arthur [Greeves] had begun) my education as a seeing, listening, smelling, receptive creature. Arthur had had his preference for the Homely. But Jenkin seemed to be able to enjoy everything; even ugliness. I learned from him that we should attempt a total surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment; in a squalid town to seek out those very places where its squalor rose to grimness and almost grandeur, on a dismal day to find the most dismal and dripping wood, on a windy day to seek the windiest ridge. There was no Betjemannic irony about it; only a serious, yet gleeful, determination to rub one’s nose in the very quiddity of each thing, to rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was.”

– C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy

“Trails are like that: you’re floating along in a Shakespearean Arden paradise and expect to see nymphs and fluteboys, then suddenly you’re struggling in a hot broiling sun of hell in dust and nettles and poison oak… just like life.”

– Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

“A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.”

‭‭- The Gospel According to St. John 19:29