I started this blog, not knowing exactly what I wanted to say in it, but knowing that I was going to deviate drastically enough from the types of posts I’d written on other blogs that I needed a brand new blog. I decided to go with my Twitter handle, @JypsyJBook, as the title of the blog, similarly not knowing exactly what that meant other than that it is a subtle nod to the concept of “literary journeys.”
Today I wrote to a friend of mine about this blog and tried to characterize what it’s developed into so far. I thought I’d share what I wrote because it might be interesting to follow the evolution of what this blog is truly “about.” Here’s what I said:
I wasn’t totally sure what the purpose of the blog was going to be, but currently I’d say the theme is focusing on the things that give me hope even in the darkness. I’ve been teetering on the edge of plunging into that state of darkness/depression a lot lately, but I am continually rescued from it after only a short period of time. And it’s often just by little things — a song, a brief conversation, a thought, a prayer. But I want to record these moments of hope. Often blog posts I’ve written in the past have been critical or complaining, but that doesn’t really bring much value to anyone, even if the posts do seem “intellectually interesting” to me. My biggest dream would be that someone else who is going through a period of darkness could stumble upon my blog and maybe listen to a song I posted or something, and even for just a moment feel the hope and love and peace that come from being embraced by Jesus.
In keeping with the theme of discovering what my own blog is about, I also wanted to share a “literary journey” quote I recently discovered. I’d purchased a picture frame in Prague and was intending to frame a postcard of a Franz Kafka quote (he was from Prague and I loved the Kafka Museum when I was there). However, the postcard I’d gotten didn’t fit, so I decided to design a new one that was the correct size. In the process, I found this brief piece he wrote called “My Destination”:
I called for my horse to be brought from the stable. The servant did not understand me. I myself went into the stable, saddled my horse and mounted. In the distance I heard a trumpet blast. I asked him what it meant but he did not know and had not heard it. By the gate he stopped me and asked “where are you riding to sir?” I answered “away from here, away from here, always away from here. Only by doing so can I reach my destination.” “Then you know your destination” he asked. “Yes” I said “I have already said so, ‘Away-From-Here’ that is my destination.” “You have no provisions with you” he said. “I don’t need any” I said. “The journey is so long that I will die of hunger if I do not get something along the way. It is, fortunately, a truely immense journey.” (from The Kafka Project)
The seeming incongruity, but the actual harmony, between the purposeful journey and the unknown destination is also a theme of this blog. I hope you will join me in this discovery, this journey, this story called life.
The best thing about Thanksgiving being over is that we now officially get to start listening to Christmas music. But this year, I broke the “wait until after Thanksgiving” rule in a big way.
My friend and I co-lead a church “small group” that studies the Bible, prays for each other, and generally gets to know each other and has fun together. We decided that we wanted to create Advent calendars for each of the women in our group. This entailed writing out a Christmas-themed thought or Bible verse for each of the first 25 days in December. We then printed out these little bits of text and sealed them in envelopes labeled 1 through 25. From today until Christmas Day, the women will open one envelope every day and hopefully be encouraged by the verse/thought throughout the day. In order to make sure we could give the calendars to our group before December 1, we finished them well before Thanksgiving – thus prompting more than a little Christmas caroling when I was home alone one day in early November.
Advent calendars are one of the traditional ways Christians celebrate the weeks leading up to Christmas, preparing our hearts for the arrival of Christ on earth. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church (i.e., a church heavily focused on seasons like Advent or Lent), but I’m naturally attracted to the symbols and traditional readings that characterize the church calendar so I’ve taught myself a bit about it over the years. (Also, the church I’ve attended ever since moving to Boston – Park Street Church – uses the liturgical calendar in some ways during its services.)
One thing I learned this year while creating the Advent calendar is that the church calendar contains two cycles: the Christmas Cycle (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany) and the Easter Cycle (Lent-Easter-Pentecost). Each cycle begins with a season of preparation symbolized by the color purple and ends with a celebratory season symbolized by the color white. After each cycle, there is an ordinary time of growth symbolized by the color green. (from United Methodist Church website)
Epiphany (the “twelve days of Christmas”): white
Ordinary Time: green
Ordinary Time: green
Purple has been my favorite color for the past several years because I find it to be the perfect mixture of pain and joy. Blood red combined with the blue of peaceful water becomes longing, hopeful purple. This makes it the perfect color for Advent, the season of waiting for the Messiah.
While writing the text for December 15 of the Advent calendar, I couldn’t help but transition from humming a few bars of Christmas carols to belting out full choruses of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” I was writing about a story that demonstrates the Advent spirit of longing and hoping. Simeon had served God his entire life, waiting to see his promised Messiah and the salvation of Israel and the entire world. Here’s what I wrote:
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah…Simeon took [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’” Luke 2:25-32
Simeon had been waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise for his whole life. Israel had been waiting since God had promised David a kingdom that would never end; Abraham had been waiting since God promised him descendants like the sands of the sea. And the world had been waiting since God told the serpent in the Garden of Eden that one was coming who would crush his head; Adam and Eve’s sin was not the end of the story.
In this season of Advent, we remember the long years of waiting for God’s redemption: “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel!” We also rejoice that we live in the era of the fulfillment of God’s promise: “The thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”
I couldn’t help but joyfully burst into song when I thought about God’s beautiful story of redemption, which he has been writing since the beginning of the world – and even before the beginning of the world. When I see the brokenness of this world and of my own soul, I am thrilled that God would send a Messiah, not to save Israel from the earthly oppression of the Romans but for a deeper and wider, eternal salvation. He came to save the world from the chains of sin.
I also sang because these verses reminded me about how long the world had desired Emmanuel, “God with us.” They knew God in the Old Testament way, but they hadn’t yet seen God become flesh in the person of Jesus. For thousands of years, people had trusted that God’s salvation was coming but they died with the promise unfulfilled. They never got to know Jesus the way I know him.
I was overcome in that moment by how much I love him. I know him, speak with him, and love him as I know, speak with, and love the closest people in my life, except even more deeply. And I am grateful beyond words to live when I do because I wouldn’t want to imagine a different kind of relationship with God; my relationship with Jesus is the most important, most real, and most hopeful thing in my life. How can I keep from singing?
Of course, the spirit of Advent – the waiting, the longing, the hoping – remains. Our world is still broken, still fallen, still in need of redemption. Today at church, we sang several Christmas hymns. As I mentioned, I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church, so I’m often surprised and delighted at the lyrics in the later verses of many hymns, even the familiar ones. I noticed today that the final verses of several Advent hymns talk about how we’re still waiting for Christ. We’re waiting for him to come again and make all things new.
We live in an interesting era, when the promise of the Messiah has been fulfilled but the final consummation of that promise hasn’t yet been realized and won’t be until Christ comes again. In one of my high school Bible classes, our teacher told us that the theological phrase to describe this idea is “already and not yet.” I don’t know if that’s a real theological phrase, but I think it describes the concept well.
So while we rejoice in knowing Jesus personally, we continue to trust God that the small glimpses of redemption we see are but small tastes of what things ought to be, and what things will be. Until that day, we continue to wait, and long, and hope.
We were trying to leave a work function a lot early, and a little gracefully, by sneaking out the back staircase. The event was in a two-level function room (one of those “innovative” designs that Kendall Square companies like so much); we were on the 10th floor while our coats were on the 11th. Conscientious people who actually wanted to hear the speakers were sitting on the open staircase in the center of the room, so rather than clamber over these rapt listeners, we figured we would climb one flight using the inconspicuous stairwell, grab our coats, and make our stealthy getaway on the elevator.
The flaw in the plan? The stairwell locks. And no amount of me waving my paper guest badge in front of the keypad would open it.
We made our way down ten flights of stairs, into the parking garage, back into the building lobby where we checked in once again with the strict security guards who demanded to see our valid IDs, and again into the function room to get our coats and leave – a little less early and lot less gracefully than we’d hoped.
Once we’d made it outside, I was in one of those silly moods (probably due to our breathless getaway) where anything that pops into my mind is likely to come out of my mouth unfiltered. For whatever reason, I blurted, “So I have this vague memory of talking about Parks and Recreation with two guys and a girl recently, but I cannot remember who the conversation was with!” Had my filters been working properly, I wouldn’t have made this comment since I doubted my friend could help me with this problem.
But it turns out that she could. “Is this a joke?” she asked. “That was at the brunch you had with me, Sean, and Kyle two days ago!”
“Oh yeah!” I exclaimed. “You see, I definitely have MS!”
“Memory loss is only one sign of MS. You could just as easily have early onset Alzheimer’s,” she responded helpfully.
Upon further reflection, I am giving myself a different diagnosis. I’ve noticed that I tend to spend enormous amounts of mental energy reliving moments and interactions that worry or upset me, as though by replaying them endlessly I might be able to change the ending. But just as Romeo and Juliet will always remain star-crossed lovers headed to their graves, my endless mental analysis is never going to change particular chapters of my life.
Perhaps the biggest downside of rehashing negative scenes is that it leaves very little time or space to relive the good ones – particularly those characterized by simple, quiet beauty that require no analysis. They just are.
Having forgotten the specific topics of conversation we’d had at brunch is, apparently, a deep compliment. If that brunch had been any better, I’d probably have forgotten it had happened at all.
But it’s not a compliment I want to keep giving because the world doesn’t supply an endless stream of affirmation, laughter, and simple goodness. It’s not because God isn’t good, but it’s because the world isn’t heaven. We only get little, often fleeting, glimpses of how things should be. I have to hold onto these moments consciously and remember the promise they hold, especially during the darker times in life.
A few weeks ago, I was walking along the Charles River, on Memorial Drive heading west. In typical fashion, I was charging ahead quickly, determinedly, even though I had nowhere in particular I had to be.
Up ahead of me, I saw a man who had stepped off the path and was staring past me at the sky. My eyes flickered toward his for just a second, but it was enough for him to stop me.
“Look at the quality of light behind you,” he said.
Turning in the direction he was facing, I saw the Boston skyline transformed to gold by the low angle of winter sunlight. It was beautiful. So beautiful that I didn’t even know how to tell the man what it meant to me that he’d gotten me to notice something I would otherwise have missed.
I want to remember those comfortable, fun conversations with friends, and I want to slow down and notice the beauty around me. I want to stop replaying scenes of darkness and instead focus on the quality of light that reflects God’s endless, pure, and perfect light.
And that’s really the point of this blog: to take note of the small moments, the music that touches something deep inside me, the articles that inspire me, the thoughts and realizations that sustain me for minutes or miles. When the days turn dark, I’ll have a record of the Light.
Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point.