Just a quick post to say thank you to those of you who recommended C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms back when we discussed the subject a few weeks ago. I just got my copy in the mail, and, as with so many things that Lewis writes, I’m already blown away.
For those of you who haven’t read it, I wanted to share an excerpt that I found particularly stirring. Lewis has been discussing why the Lord would include poetry in sacred scripture, and suggests that one of the reasons may be that the “rhythmic and incantatory expression” of the psalms makes the truths they contain easier to remember. Then he says he thinks there may be something more. He writes:
It seems to me appropriate, almost inevitable, that when that great Imagination which in the beginning, for Its own delight and for the delight of men and angels and (in their proper mode) of beasts, had invented and formed the whole world of Nature, submitted to express Itself in human speech, that speech should sometimes be poetry. For poetry too is a little incarnation, giving body to what had been before invisible and inaudible.
“A little incarnation.” What a perfect expression of what happens when you read a profound poem or hear a beautiful piece of music. You find that it’s more than the sum of its sounds, that something else has become present through the power of words delivered this way. This is what I was fumbling around to articulate when I was talking about how music helped lead me to God: When I would hear certain songs I had a brush with something real, something tangible, something with roots outside of our fallen material world. That is to say, I experienced a little incarnation.
I can’t wait to read more of this book. Thanks again to those who suggested it!
P.S. Still swamped catching up on all the comments to my last post. Thanks for all your thoughts, both those that agreed and those that disagreed. All perspectives are welcome!
Two weeks ago, I was scheming about moving. I was tired of trying to fit seven people into three bedrooms, tired of the fact that issues with our back yard mean that the kids won’t play out there for long periods of time, tired of scorpions stinging my children in the face. Also, a few weeks ago my seven-year-old son and a boy his age who lives nearby had been involved in what they thought were humorous pranks on our neighbors, but turned out to cause serious property damage. After the humiliating experience of having to knock on doors, introduce ourselves, apologize, and write checks, I was ready to get out of here. We can’t exactly afford to run out and get a bigger house, but I was determined to make something work. I picked up flyers from local houses that had just gone on the market, and trolled real estate websites, hoping against hope to find a spectacularly good deal.
Then, a week ago last Saturday, I was driving home from my mom’s house at 8:45 at night after dropping the kids off for a special spend-the-night with her and a visiting aunt. Her house is within the same connected network of subdivisions that we’re in, and so I was winding through neighborhood streets. Shortly after I turned onto the main drive of our own subdivision, I saw a motorcycle zoom past me, headed the opposite direction. I had just come around a corner, and when I looked at his trajectory and considered how the street curved, my heart sunk. He’s not going to make it, I thought. I hit the brakes and looked in my rear-view mirror. The darkness erupted in a spray of sparks, and I heard a terrible crash.
I turned the car around as I dialed 911. I parked by the accident site and jumped out to check on the rider. I could never have been prepared for the horror of what I would see. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that it was like something you’d see in a war zone. One officer commented that it was one of the worst scenes he’d come across in 20 years. I had trouble breathing, and immediately started going into a state of shock.
After I got off the phone, there was a surreal silence. I was standing next to this horrendous scene, with no authorities having yet arrived. It was just me and this deceased young man, with a couple of other stunned witnesses across the street. For a brief moment, I was pulled out of my shock and given a specific, very clear message: I was supposed to be there, on behalf of this kid’s mother. I was her envoy, there to look after him, to pray for him, and to send him off on to his journey in the next life. A feeling of calm, as thick and palpable as a fog, enshrouded the scene, and I was given the words to say a short prayer for him and his family — specifically, for his mother.
Police sirens broke the silence, and within minutes the street was filled with police, paramedics, neighbors, all walking around in the glare of headlights and flashing red and blue lights. I fell back into my state of shock, and was told by officers to go home.
At my house, I sat with my husband on our back porch and told him everything that happened. As I spoke, I felt a connection with the victim’s mother. “I feel like I know her,” I said. It was an irrational thought: The drive on which the accident happened was one of the main arteries into a large network of neighborhoods that contains hundreds of houses. I don’t know that many people around here. Also, the victim could have been here to visit friends for a Saturday night get-together; he may not have lived anywhere nearby. And yet I felt this sense of connection so strongly that I ran out the front door and stood in the middle of the road and looked down the street toward the house of my neighbor friend who has a teenage son. Her house was dark, and so I went inside.
The next morning after Mass, I got the call. We did know him. It was Cameron, the gregarious 21-year-old son of my neighbor a couple of doors down. When I was standing in the road the night before, I was turned the wrong direction; if I had turned around, I would have seen his mother’s house bustling with grief-stricken visitors, and I would have known.
As more details came out in the following days, it seemed that everyone on our street was involved in this tragedy in some way. Cameron had stopped by one neighbor’s house just minutes before the accident. Another neighbor was the first person he’d shown his brand new motorcycle to. Another neighbor had gone with him when he bought it. I was the first person to find him. Another neighbor was just arriving back from a night out when I came home from the scene, and cried with me as I told her what happened. Other neighbors had been outside because of all the sirens, and were with his mother when the police arrived to deliver the news. Still others were good friends of his.
All last week, I spent most of my time with the people on my street. I wasn’t online at all, and directed all of my energy to interacting with the people whose lives play out just yards away from mine. We stopped and hugged one another on the way to the mailbox, stood and cried on the sidewalks, sometimes right in the middle of the street. When we gathered to walk to the candlelight vigil at the accident site, the first person to greet me was one of the women whose property my son and his friend had damaged. The last time I had seen her I was standing on her doorstep, humiliated and chagrined, thinking that we’d probably never speak again. She walked up to me with tears in her eyes and asked if I was okay, we embraced, we cried, and we walked to the candlelight vigil together.
The night of the funeral a bunch of us gathered outside, sitting on the curb and talking until past 1 AM. We toasted to Cameron, we prayed, we laughed those raw and intense laughs that don’t quite cover over the grief, we cried, and we asked ourselves why we never got to know each other before now. The next day another person approached my house with the biggest bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. I could tell it was a neighbor since there was no car in front of my house, but couldn’t see the person’s face because of the size of this tremendous gift. I opened the door to see Cameron’s mother, accompanied by his sister and step-father. In an act of graciousness almost too shocking to comprehend, she had come by to give me this gift as a token of thanks.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the day before the accident, my husband and I stumbled across an idea for creating some more space in our house that took a lot of pressure off of our overcrowding situation. I had been so fixated on my plans that I had never paused to consider whether it was God’s plan for us to move on from this place. That time may come one day, but this week it was as clear to me as few things have ever been clear to me in my life, that that time is not now. I knew that God sends us to just the right time period in human history, that he sends us our families, but I don’t think that it clicked until this past week that he sends us our neighbors too.
As I talked with Cameron’s family, his mother and I in tears as we spoke, I noticed that his sister was sitting in the same place in my living room that she sat almost four years ago to the day, that afternoon when I first met her and my other little friends. And I had the same feeling that moment last week that I had those years before: this is exactly where I need to be.
When I was at the Behold Conference, a friend named Carla came up to say hello. I had met her last year when she was in the process of adopting a special needs child, and asked how things were going. She told me all about her precious new son, who is her seventh child, and recounted some of the adventures of the adoption process (which you can read about at her great blog here). But then she immediately changed the subject to a little boy named Malcolm, who also needs a home. I haven’t stopped thinking about him since that moment.
Malcolm is five years old, and has cerebral palsy. He is cognitively normal, but is scheduled to be transferred to an adult mental facility in his country next month. From his page at Reece’s Rainbow:
Malcolm needs family badly. He is very emotional, sensitive and not a leader by nature and is being hurt by older and physically healthy children in the orphanage. He can hardly walk but retains sensitivity in the feet. There is a chance only in the presence of caring and loving parents Malcolm can walk independently in a future but in the orphanage environment the child is afraid of everything even walking.
Malcolm has a favorite little toy: stuffed tiger, he carries it everywhere, he kisses it, puts to sleep, worries about it. Malcolm is interested in all new, he knows the names and colors, understands commands, has attachments to friends in a group, he goes on contact easily and is pleased to dialogue.
Okay, internets. What are we going to do about the little boy and his stuffed tiger who desperately need a home?
Both the good news and the bad news is this: One of the biggest hurdles is money. Overseas special needs adoptions often cost around $30,000. Even if there are families who are interested in bringing him home, they may not have the funds to do so. That’s bad news because it’s tragic to think that Malcolm could languish in an adult mental facility just because of a financial issue; but it’s good news because it’s relatively easy to do something about.
HOW TO DONATE (IT’S EASY!):
You can find the link at the bottom of his Reece’s Rainbow page (as well as an update about his current level of funds). Reece’s Rainbow is a respected organization, and their payment system uses PayPal, so it only takes a matter of seconds to make a donation.
I just donated, and would love for you to join me, even if it’s only a few dollars.
Here is a video of this sweet boy:
A few other items:
- You can read about Brianna Heldt’s special needs adoption discernment here.
- You can find Carla’s special needs adoption story in two installments, here and here.
- If you’d like to find out more about how you can help waiting children with special needs, read the Reece’s Rainbow page here.
And please do keep Malcolm and all the other orphans in the world in your prayers. Thank you.
All my life, I’ve been fascinated by stories. Whether it was told in the form of a book, a movie, a play, or through some old relatives sitting on the front porch on a hot day sipping cold bottles of beer, I’ve always been captivated by the almost magical power a story has to make you feel more human, more alive.
As a kid, I used to write my own tales incessantly. When I was eleven I finished up a 100-page novel about an awkward loner girl who was ostracized by the popular kids, only to have them falling at her feet and begging for her approval and forgiveness after she solved a great mystery (no idea where I got that plotline). By the time I graduated from high school, I had five or six more unfinished books tucked away in dresser drawers. But a funny thing happened as I got older: I lost my passion for stories.
At the time I was a strict atheist materialist, and the more I thought through this worldview, the less room I found for the human story. Every time I had ever felt moved by some epic tale of heroism or glory, I had been moved by a sense of the transcendent, that something had transpired here that was more than the sum of its parts. I was touched by the idea that even if every single character on the staged died, with nobody knowing of anything that they had done in their final glorious moments, they would still have had an impact on the universe in some lasting way. Yet my atheist materialist belief system did not account for that. In a worldview that said that all of mankind’s experiences ultimately go no further than the chemical reactions in the human brain, concepts like heroism and glory and honor, as they had classically been defined, did not exist.
In college I briefly explored Buddhism, and found it to be wisest among the godless philosophies. I was drawn to Buddha’s ideas about the cessation of suffering being possible through letting go of passion. And it was another blow to my love of the story: whether it was a thriller or a mystery, a historical epic or a nonfiction how-to instructional, what made reading or moviegoing electrifying was the thrill ride of death-defying victories and breathtaking losses, and the transformation of the individual that took place along the way. Yet if Buddha could have heard me, he surely would have cautioned me against all these passions, and perhaps even counseled me not to think of “me” as doing anything at all. There is nothing permanent in this world, he would say. Even my concept of “self” was merely an illusion — a dangerous illusion that I needed to let go of, because it would keep me clinging to all those passions. In a sermon to his first followers, the Buddha said that the best path is to get wearied of feeling and perception and consciousness, until you’re finally wearied enough that you let go of passion. Then you’ll be free.
“Well, that’s unbelievably depressing,” I thought when I first read it. I wanted to jump on a tabletop in defiance, shouting that not all passion is bad and that the instinct to seek triumph and joy and love and the wild ride that comes with it is something to be toasted, not something to intentionally grow weary of and discard. But then my rational brain would kick in, pat me on the hand and remind me to get real. Everything in this world is destined to decay, including yourself, and there is no individual life beyond death, so you might as well let go of it all.
And then I discovered Christianity, and everything changed.
First of all, Christianity preached the soul. It said that, wrapped up in all those chemical reactions that fuel our emotions and our experiences, there is a non-material aspect of our being, one that unites us to a realm beyond the fleeting material world. In The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton fabulously connected this concept to the concept of the story when he took aim at atheist materialists who see history in purely economic terms, who assume that we humans make our decisions based on cost/benefit analyses rooted in instinct alone. He wrote:
Cows may be purely economic, in the sense that we cannot see that they do much beyond grazing and seeking better grazing-grounds; and that is why a history of cows in twelve volumes would not be very lively reading. Sheep and goats may be pure economists in their external action at least; but that is why the sheep has hardly been a hero of epic wars and empires thought worthy of detailed narration.
I was still researching Christianity when I read this, and I actually got chills when he went on to say that a true story only begins “where the motive of the cows and sheep leaves off.”
That is what I had been looking for all those years as I wandered through the wasteland of dead materialist thought. Immediately, I recognized that the eternal soul is the necessary component to the story. It clicked into place that stories — as well as all art — are secret handshakes of beings with souls, the very calling card of the only members of the animal kingdom who are made in the likeness of God. “It will be hard to maintain that the Arctic explorers went north with the same material motive that made the swallows go south,” Chesterton wrote. And if you do try to remove the mysterious movements of the human soul from the human story, he warned, “it will not only cease to be human at all, but cease to be a story at all.”
I still had a million questions about this odd belief system. I’d only read a couple pages from the Bible at this point, and still could not imagine setting foot inside a church. But I began to see something here, something that sent a shiver down my spine, something that left me with an exciting and terrifying premonition that told me that I would end up giving up everything I had for this belief system because everything it said was true: It was that here I saw no sins against the story.
“All the other philosophies avowedly end where they begin; and it is the definition of a story that it ends differently,” Chesterton wrote. “From Buddha and his wheel to Akhen Aten and his disc, from Pythagoras with his abstraction of number to Confucius with his religion of routine, there is not one of them that does not in some way sin against the soul of a story.”
Only Christianity understood it. What it said of who we are, why we’re here, what we really want, and what is truly good in life all resonated with everything I’d ever known about what makes a story. To read the Catechism was like watching the stage get set up for a great epic. It said that the material world is good, but will not bring us lasting happiness. It taught that life is to be cherished, and that we should live each moment to the fullest. It said that resentment leads to slavery and forgiveness brings freedom. It warned that indulging your carnal pleasures to excess will lead to death, spiritually if not physically. And it loudly, boldly proclaimed that in order to achieve anything worthwhile, you first must be willing to sacrifice everything.
There were a lot of reasons I ended up converting to Christianity. It was a years-long process in which I searched and asked questions and read a couple of shelves full of books. But one of the key turning points in my journey was that moment when I realized that this belief system understood the human story better than any other. When I realized that I was looking at an uncannily thorough knowledge of what it means to be a player in the grand drama that we call the human experience, I had to consider that it may have all come from the One who wrote the script.