“Some think that it is a miracle to walk on water. But I tell you, the true miracle is to walk every day on earth.” –Thich Nat Hanh, Vietnamese monk

I have too much to write about.

A few days’ worth of external quiet, and I’ve already developed a cluttered mind.

At the moment, I feel like I could use a second brain to store thoughts on, like an external hard drive.  So instead of going to the brain depository and snatching a brain labeled  “Abbie-Normal” (big points for you if you can name that movie reference), I’m just going to post some of it here. I apologize if this entry looks like a schizophrenic’s version of a literary review/movie review/to-do/have-done/might-do list.  That’s a lot of slashes, I know, but that’s how many “voices” I’ve got running around in my head at the moment.  Fittingly, this entry came out partially in the third-person, and in a weird, Gollum-like third-person voice to boot.  Enjoy (?) my attempt to organize it.  I feel like it was worth the effort to make sense out of it.

1.     Housecleaning, in the internal sense.

So, Ruth’s been gleaning again, she has, and that’s part of her problem. Reading. Watching. Job-searching. And it’s all strange stuff that nobody’s heard of.  Come on, have you ever read anything by Thomas A’ Kempis—namely, The Imitation of Christ? No? Okay, maybe you’ve heard about a director named Oliver Irving?  Still nope? 

Well, Ruthie stumbled onto both while reading and looking at other things. I think an Elizabeth Elliot book made passing reference to A’Kempis, and, of course, my pursuit of small-budget British independent films on Netflix led me to Oliver Irving—and right back to Rob Pattinson by virtue of the current nature of the universe, which puts his name/face/paparazzi photo EVERYWHERE. Who knew RPattz was that big of a dork before Twilight? Apparently, Oliver Irving did, and that’s why he cast Rob in the lead role of Art in How To Be (2008).

An etching of Thomas A'Kempis accepted by the Catholic Church as true-to-life.

Both of these works–How to Be and The Imitation of Christ–are tiny, fly-under-the-radar types of things.   The reason why you probably haven’t heard of A’Kempis is because his piece is admittedly an esoteric find: part 14th-century theological treatise, part devotional, and part mystical dialogue with Christ himself. It’s very bizarre in some parts, so it’s never really been accepted in traditional Christian circles, but it’s powerful. It’s been carried into the wilds of the world by some of the most radical, world-changing missionaries in history. And I bought it in a five dollar bin at Books-a-Million.  Yeah, I know.  It hurts to see how far literary popular culture has fallen.

Anyway, back to why they’re important to me right now.  A’Kempis speaks to me on that hard-hitting level that my dad used to; I’ll just plain say that straight right now.  Check out some of this and see if it doesn’t make you feel like changing yourself:

“Boast not thyself in thy riches if thou hast them, nor in thy friends if they be powerful, but in God, who giveth all things, and in addition to all things desireth to give even Himself. Be not lifted up because of thy strength or beauty, for with only a slight sickness it will fail and wither away. Be not vain of thy skillfulness or ability, lest thou displease God, from whom cometh every good gift which we have.” (I.VII)

“[T]o refuse to harken to others when reason or occasion requireth it, is a mark of pride or willfulness” (I.IX).

Also, some very preachy advice and sound spiritual wisdom:

“Do what lieth in thy power, and God will help thy good intent” (I.VII).

“The beginning of all temptations to evil is instability of temper and want of trust in God . . . ” (I.XIII).

“We must not trust every word of others or feeling within ourselves, but cautiously and patiently try the matter, whether it be of God. . . . A good life maketh a man wise toward God, and giveth him experience in many things. The more humble a man is in himself, and the more obedient towards God, the wiser will he be in all things, and the more shall his soul be at peace.” (I.V)

So, in keeping with A’Kempis’ wisdom,  I’m trying to learn from my hastiness over the last month or so, and I’m questioning the things I did during that time, like quitting the restaurant (although every spiritual and temporal authority and guardian in my life was telling me to). Has it been a good thing? A bad thing?  A self-thing or a God-thing?  I don’t know.  But I’m thinking about it.

2.    Listening and Watching.

At the same time, I took A’Kempis observation (and Josh Bales’ observation in his song “Ten Thousand Places”) seriously: “Without respect of persons God speaketh to us in divers[e] manners”(I.V).

I took that statement very seriously when I heard these word’s coming out of Art’s mouth directed to his boss at the grocery store in the film How to Be and thought, yeah, that’s what I should have said when I quit at the restaurant:

“Look, I’ve decided I don’t want to work here anymore. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment, and I’m interested in other stuff.  I mean, I’ve got a degree. So I thought to spend some time on my music [or in Ruth’s case, writing] and  . . . find my call. So I quit. I resign.”

I thought, Go, Art. That took some serious bravery!  Then a little teacher-like voice inside me said, I think it might be better to admit that we need to do some painful growing and searching in life rather than to allow ourselves to stay in one safe, stagnant vocation for a long time. Quitting his safe pud job was the beginning of Art’s grand adventure, after all, since it opened up a big, wide world of terrifying possibilities, much like the one I’m facing now; hence, the craziness.

3.    Trying to fix things, or be fixed, and have faith in the process.

In How to Be, Art’s life coach, Dr. Ellington, advises Art to have faith in the process of figuring yourself out.  And he offers a visual metaphor for it that I thought was semi-clever: “If you think  of a problem as an unknitted jigsaw puzzle, try to imagine that the fragments of your lifestyle are the individual pieces. Now, as they lay scattered in the box they may seem random.  But remember, each piece has its place. They will knit. . . . [until then,] an unknitted puzzle makes for a cluttered mind.”

Art (Rob Pattinson) tries, and only marginally succeeds, at finding some direction in his life in "How to Be" (2008).

Art stares at Dr. Ellington here, and in his dubious silence, he seems to ask the unspoken questions that are so problematic for the quarter-life-crisee:  “But, Doc, what if we don’t have the picture on the box to guide the stupid jigsaw puzzle?  What if the pieces are broken and don’t fit?”

In Art’s life, the most influential people in his circle are telling him that his pieces won’t fit, that he’s a failure (“Arthur, your existence is an oxymoron,” says Dad), that there’s something not quite right with him (“Art, I really wonder about you sometimes,” sighs Mom), and that he’ll never amount to anything (both parents say this).  All they can talk about is their burden of worrying about him because he never seems to “do anything worthwhile.”  Art is terribly hurt to hear his worst fears articulated over and over, and he finally fires back sarcastically, “Have you ever felt guilty about producing such a pathetic, useless child?” When his mother responds honestly, “Of course I feel guilty!” that’s when Art hits his breaking point. 

Art spirals down emotionally, hits bottom, and then gears up for a radical life change. This is where the faith element comes in—when Art decides to “go it alone” and see what happens. After dismissing the useless Dr. Ellington and running away from home in his used P.O.S. car, Art sells all of his personal possessions (including the craptastic car) that are worth anything, gives the rest away to the homeless, and rents a tiny room in lower London. He then tries to get his old job back at the care center for disabled adults.  “I’m trying to focus less on myself,” he tells his old supervisor. “I feel like I want to help people.”

 And for the first time in the entire movie, Art gets actual encouragement from someone (!). It’s a scene that makes you cheer for poor Art, whose eyes get round with wonder and soft with happiness when the supervisor begins to be swayed and kindly opines, “There is definitely something to you, Art. You have a tenacious spirit. You just need to channel it, keep it in check. Don’t give up on yourself. All that stuff you’re involved in, it’s got it’s place; you just take things to extremes. This sounds too simple , probably, but, what gives you a buzz? What do you really want to be?”

Art takes this advice and runs with it—right back to the music store to buy a guitar.  One month later, he has a gig with his little band of friends. And for once, his parents actually come. So does his supervisor. And the homeless guys. The homeless guys clap. And we cheer, even though the band kinda sucks, because at least Art’s getting some love.  Okay, I cheered, anyway.  It’s hard not to—the poor lovable dork just steals your heart and reminds you too much of your inner loser.  You want to celebrate with him for coming out okay on the other side of his struggle.

Art gives himself a pep talk before heading on stage. "You're not a nobody. You're a somebody."

 4. Dealing with TEH SUCK in the meantime (for those of you who don’t speak Cat-pidgeon, or Leet-speak, “Teh suck” refers to things in life that honestly, well, are awful.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teh).

Anyone else gotten some rotten news lately?  Because Ruth sure has.  Like a person who I used to play with on the playground apparently just got diagnosed with stage four cancer. Yeah, I know. Stage. Four. And this is a person who is actually a little younger than I, actually—and my ex-boyfriend’s best friend, who is also ex-boyfriend to one of my best gal pals, to boot.   When that gal pal called me, I was in shock. When I got home about twenty-four hours later, I cried and threw things in my bedroom and might have called God a bully, a neglectful father, and a lot of other not-so-nice names. It was a stupid thing to do, like putting on a pair of sneakers to kick a tank—the only damage that was done was to myself, and I admit that freely, even as I borrow Ravi Zacharias’ kicked-tank visual to do it.

And then I sat down and read some more of A’Kempis’s admonitions, and only felt a mild stirring of comfort to read that “though thou run hither and thither, thou wilt not find peace, save in humble subjection to the authority of Him who is set over thee. Fancies about places and change of them have deceived many” (I.VIII).  And, “He who seekth aught save God and the health of his soul shall find only tribulation and sorrow” (I.XVII).

So I’m going to watch and pray, take the opportunities that come (including doing some freelance writing. We’ll see if I can make a go of it!), and hope, against hope, that things will be okay, and that God will take my open stance to mean that I’m ready to be assigned a purpose for my existence.  Because I’m sure tired of trying to figure it out for myself.

There, I feel better now. So in the words of Art to his audience, I’d like to say, “Thanks for . . . listening.”

Ruth

 

Notes:

*You can read A’Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ online for free at http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imitation.html.  It’s a pretty decent translation, too.

*Josh Bales is a singer/songwriter from Chattanooga, Tennessee, with whom Ruth had a two-week acquaintance (no, we never dated. But we did sing together to lead worship, which is like making out, pretty much. Right? No? Poooh.). “Ten Thousand Places” is a song from his old album Underneath the Armor, which is available on iTunes. You can listen to Josh sing from his latest album on his MySpace page, www.myspace.com/joshbales

*Ravi Zacharias uses the kicking-the-tank metaphor in one of his sermons, and I don’t remember which one.  But you should check out my link to his website in the side bar >>>> over there >>>>> and listen to a sermon or two. You just might catch it.

*Just so there’s no confusion, it should be said that RPattz only plays the role of a bad musician in How To Be, and that he actually had to train himself to sing off-key to do it.  This is what Rob really sounds like when he plays and sings—er, okay, this is what Rob sounds like when he’s slightly drunk and playing around with his falsetto and a Van Morrison song.  Just listen to it. It bounces around from kinda weird (but even he laughs at his falsetto and weird improvisations), to kinda sexy (esp. around 1:00 to 3:20), to seriously hot (again, that magic sultry space between 1:00-3:20), then back to just plain funny at the end. Gotta love a man who laughs at his mistakes but doesn’t skip a beat. He just keeps on singin’.

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