Saturday, March 26, 2011

The New Blogchild in the Family

Well. Time for an announcement. Last Sunday I decided to retire Notes from a Nearsighted Soul...and begin again with what I have termed a new "blogchild." So to those of you who may still be faithfully straggling along after months of not posts, thank you for your dedication. A fresh string of musings (and what I hope will eventually blossom into a sort of interaction) will be found at See you there!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Which I Decide to Always Wear Matching Socks in the Future, Just in Case I Visit a Mosque for Eid Again

Today, for the first time, I visited a mosque and experienced an Eid al-Adha celebration. The Muslim Student Association took a van to the mosque in Somerset, so we left at 7:30 and drove about an hour to join the cheerful community celebrating Eid, which involved a service and a potluck and merriment that was sort of like Christmas. I was excited and pleased and amazed and thoughtful all at once because this event held a lot of meaning for me after the studying and searching I've been doing.

Of course, a new adventure could not come and go without a little Cassie-Goes-to-Kaniv moment. If you don't know what Cassie-Goes-to-Kaniv means, or have somehow forgotten (I fail to believe that anyone who knew and ribbed me about it for weeks has forgotten) I advise you read the May 12th 2009 post of this blog.

But back to the present. It all started over the weekend when I innocently did the laundry. The dorm laundry room is equipped with three washers and three dryers that are usually more or less functioning. We share. Sometimes stuff gets moved or "disappears." Sometimes there is malevolent intent, but mostly I think that the dryers, like every other dryer I have encountered thus far in my existence, have a taste for socks.

This one apparently prefers striped fleece ones, because somehow, one sock from each of my two favorite pairs of Ukrainian fleece socks vanished this weekend. I was very sad, especially because the Kentucky weather has taken a bitter turn of late. My boots will be lonely without them.

I rose at 6:00 this morning to a cold, wet world and crept to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Brittany was still asleep and it was dark as Hades.

Now I was well aware that I was visiting a mosque today, and after all, I have been to Afghanistan. I knew there were certain things you shouldn't wear in the setting I would be in, but I still tried a little research online to see if there was anything I should consider as far as dressing in a way that wouldn't offend. So I put on what I had picked out, a pretty normal outfit from my generally conservative wardrobe, slightly modified with a headscarf. So far, so good.

By 6:50 I had dressed, had breakfast, and made a cup of tea for the road. I was about ready to meet the others at Alumni Circle. But it looked so cold outside, and there were my boots. I looked down at the sorely un-matching socks I had left in a sad little huddle by my nightstand. Both of them were striped, but one was blue, white and gray, while the other was all dark brown, blue, and black. I looked back at my boots. I looked back at the socks. I needed to leave, and I needed to be warm, and oh-what-the-heck-who's-going-to-see-my-socks-anyway? No one would ever know.

I pulled on the fleecy goodness and my black boots, grabbed my tea, and headed out into the drizzly cold. No one was waiting outside the Alumni Building and it was 6:59, so I went inside to our alternate meeting place, the little prayer room inside the building. The other students greeted me, and I went into the prayer room with Ayuna, the other girl in our group. It was only when she started taking off her boots at the door that the realization hit me: my little secret was about to be exposed, not just to my four classmates, but to the whole Somerset Muslim community within the hour.

The guys said their prayers and Ayuna and I sat quietly on the benches. I tucked my blue striped foot behind my brown striped foot and prayed silently too.

In the end, socks don't matter so much. We got to Somerset I don't think anyone really noticed; or if they did, they graciously didn't comment. I felt like I was welcomed into a family. The smells of delicious slightly unknown food, the reverent whisper of sock feet on perfectly vacuumed carpet, the rythmic prayers in Arabic and the thoughts about Abraham's unswervingly obedient faith, the little kids kneeling with their parents, the almost-kisses the women gave me and each other on both cheeks, all combined to give me a sense of awe and wonder.

We were sleepy on the ride home. The rain slid down the fogged windows like tears and clouds hung mysteriously in the hills along 75. Somebody turned on the radio and it was hip-hop, and then it got turned off again. I thought a lot about what devotion means and how holy God is. I thought about the paradoxes in my life and the way my socks don't match. I thought about what it's like to wrestle for answers till you're worn out, and what it's like to be so in love with God Incarnate that He's the only answer you end up wanting after all.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

People of the Heart

The days are long now. I don't mean anything having to do with seasons. I just mean that I feel disturbed that the moon is shining a greeting to me in the morning as I walk to food service and it is shining again when I get to bed at night. And the hours in between are full of activities and challenges that pull at my brain like it's silly putty (which it feels like at this point). I hope it will harden up a little by the end of the semester.

Tonight I tried multitasking by doing stretches and reading an assignment at the same time. It worked pretty well because I sort of forgot what I was doing and stretched back and forth for a long time. I'll probably be quite aware of it tomorrow.

Speaking of stretching, we did Danish Gymnastics in PE the other day. When I tell people about it and act excited they want to know how it's different from other gymnastics, say, Finnish ones. I guess I wouldn't know, seeing as I've never had Finnish gymnastics or any other kinds of gymnastics. All I know is that one of the few somewhat reasonable compensations for having to be at class at 8:00 in morning on a mournfully rainy and chill day is listening to good music. And since we, as beginners, did only very simple moves, (not ones you have to bust out, but just gentle ones) it was incredibly relaxing.

Today I visited my Archaeology professor, because she offered bonus points to anyone who would come see her at her office this week and bring some object that is dear to them as a conversation piece. She's cool like that. She said some people have brought their sisters before. I couldn't bring my sister because she is about a 1000 miles away right now, so I settled for my big, beautiful blue and gold Islamic art book, since that's what I wanted to ask her about generally anyway.

I still am uncertain about my major. I just know what makes me feel alive. It's a little complicated because I love Jesus so much and I'm entirely committed to Him, while all the while I'm going giddy over Islamic architecture. My logical side says this can't work, but some little voice inside me says it's supposed to be this way. What's a girl to do? Nobody offer trite platitudes, please; I've already thought through them.

But for now I'm not going to worry. Luckily I've got time to make the decision. And as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock: "In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisons which a minute will reverse." Even if this four year education business threatens to push me into becoming someone I don't want to become. I'm not talking about religion here, I'm talking about the toughness you have to assume in order to get through it all. I don't want to become hardened at all. I wonder if I have to. I wonder if I really want to go where this path logically leads me. I wonder if I can survive the "real world" and why I would want to anyway if it's just about achievement and getting your rights.

Tonight I was reading a book that a fellow student loaned me by a guy named Osho. The book, called Intuition, made me sad at some places, but it did have some interesting points. Osho said:

"[The heart] knows love, but love is not a commodity of any use in the world. It knows beauty, but what are you going to do with beauty in the marketplace? The people of the heart-- the painters, the poets, the musicians, the dancers, the actors,-- are all irrational. They create great beauty, they are great lovers, but they are absolutely unfit in a society that is arranged by the head."

As I researched for my Peace Research Project today about the heated issue of the Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan, I struggled between sets of information and ideas that oppose each other and yet both seem plausible to me. I am quick to see the reasoning behind both sides of an argument, which makes me a great sympathizer and a horrible debater. It's a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I feel guilty for not making up my mind about my "convictions." To some people the issues are so clear cut, but I feel that they are so layered and nuanced I'm likely to drown, suffocate, or run screaming from the room before I ever come to a conclusion.

It was in the midst of this that I felt a great welling up of God's love for me, right where I sat at my desk this afternoon. In my mind I could see a stream flowing over rocks, and I sensed God saying that He made me this way and He has grace for my slow processing, my malleability. I am the water flowing around the rocks; the rocks are the solid ones who are standing on beliefs that are clearly marked out to Him. All of us are necessary to Him. He doesn't see me as betraying Him, but seeking deeper than the surface. He is there. He will not leave me. I trust His leadership.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Bit of Solace

I love families. Can I say that again? I love families. And if I can't be with my own family, it's somewhat of a solace to be tucked away in the hills of eastern Kentucky for a weekend with my room mate and her family. Putting roots down in Appalachia.

This morning the ridge behind the house sits solemn and overcast under a bank of clouds, and raindrops hang on tree branches. Outside the kitchen window the dogwood tree is full of red berries. I feel that red berries will be the ticket to my survival through a long winter. Not eating them, just feasting my eyes on something of good cheer against this untellin' lonesomeness.

"Untelling" is a word I picked up from Brittany. She's an Appalachian Studies major and knows these things. I love it and think it should be in Websters. Where my mom might say, "How many hours of sleep do you think you'll get this week," and I would reply, "There's no tellin,'" I'd say instead, "It's untellin.'"

It's getting cold outside. The birds are jumping around in the dogwood tree nibbling at the berries. Inside, I'm at the kitchen table and can hardly say how pleased I am to be in the center of a house full of a family, Brittany and her parents and two sisters and Michael, her boyfriend. In a few hours, after a warm home-cooked meal, it's back to The Bubble for us. But small delights go a long way. I won't give up hope just yet.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Post That Could Be Taken Very Wrongly by A Lot of People

Sometimes I cry because I miss God. It's true. Today I did. I've never seen Him, but I miss Him. It's not because He isn't with me, but because I can't see Him and talk to Him as flesh and blood.

Today was a very good day. I got very little done this weekend out of all the homework I have. I find that I'm very slow at getting homework done, which is sometimes because I dread it and other times because I love it.

Last night I worked for a long time but got very little done because I was lingering over Gurney Norman's exquisitely written but sometimes painful and peculiar book, Divine Right's Trip. It's about a guy who is always on drugs, and his girlfriend who is almost always on drugs. I can't believe I like it so much, but I think it's because Norman is so sensitive to detail and the communicates the lostness that human beings feel in life.

I was supposed to read 100 pages and write a two-page response, but instead I just read and read and scribbled notes in the book and thought and read and admired the book because it is a brand new book and it belongs to me and I had forgotten what a delicious feeling it is to have a brand new book that belongs to you, especially when it is a book worth reading.

After a very good morning at church (I love the preaching at River of Life!) I spent a while in the art building with two of my classmates staring at a tiny ancient bowl from Palestine. I've never looked at a bowl for so long before, but it was important to do so because I need to write a paper describing it artistically. It's for Archaeology.

My classmates were writing about another object, a small Egyptian figurine with hieroglyphs all over him. David named him Billy Bob. I don't know how the Egyptian figurine felt about that. I decided he must be from Southern Egypt. Julianna took tons of notes, but I consoled myself with the thought that my handwriting is smaller than hers, so I should have plenty of notes too. Unfortunately that is not quite true; I'll have to go back tomorrow. We were so still that the motion detector lights kept going off, leaving us in the shadows.

After about forty minutes of standing in line at the cafe for tea + fruitless work on the beginning of my paper while gazing longingly at the hills of Berea forest from the patio, I decided on a brisk hike up Brushy Fork trail. I just needed to talk to God. I missed Him.

I hear people talk about God like He's an object that can be shelved if one feels like it. A lot of people look down on God like He can be put under a microscope and analyzed scientifically. Or others seem to think of Him as a warm coat they can interchange with other coats depending on the weather that morning. Few people, even self-identified Christians, are willing to accept the incredibly unpopular idea that God is the I Am and doesn't owe us an explanation for His actions.

In the past week I've heard people say that they used to believe in God, but then they got educated and realized they couldn't responsibly believe that anymore. They are people who really care about society and injustices in the world. I'm glad. Now it's all up to them to fix this mess. Good luck with that.

Admitting to God and subsequently submitting to God is scary. Even with my Pollyanna glasses on, I know that it is. The big problem is that the password to the Door is "I believe," and until we're able to say that and step through the Door in faith, we won't ever begin to understand God's character. We can't know Him unless we say yes, but we don't want to say yes till we know Him. It seems quite unfair.

There's an incredible arrogance afoot that says that God needs to be fair and logical for us, intelligent humans that we are, to accept Him. It's a good thing God hasn't been fair or logical with us lately or we'd all be dead. Including me. No one can see God by putting Him under a microscope. He isn't willing to be brought down to size, not unless you count the exception for love when He chose to become a man on earth for our sakes.

I'm sure I'm doing a dis-service to my reputation by putting all this out there. Please know that I don't condone mindless acceptance of any idea or religion, even my own. In the end, each of us will have to account for whom and what we placed our faith in, and that's a choice no individual can make for another. I only know that the more irresponsible my commitment appears and the more uncomfortable it becomes, the more willing I must become to say what is rooted deep in my heart.

In the woods, expressing all this to God, all the love I know I don't have to earn or prove flooded back to me. I have chosen a road less traveled by. In a society that recoils from the idea of submission in any form, I have chosen to submit myself to a Man I've never seen. I've decided to believe that the book so many consider a myth is actually the Word of God. I've chosen to believe that someday I will meet Christ in eternity and be completely fulfilled.

What do I get for all this strange belief? Not exactly a cozy blankie of religion to comfort me on cold nights. Comfort, yes, in times of pain and fear. But it leaves me with a lot of explaining to do, something I'm not skilled at. It's beginning to put me in uncomfortable places. It's the kind of thing that could get you in a lot of trouble, this being absolute and all.

The reward isn't material wealth. It isn't a free pass on trial and hardship. It isn't a cheat sheet with all the answers to the hard questions. The reward He has given me is Himself. The love pent up in His heart, He has poured out on me. The help of His Holy Spirit, He has installed in me. The work of complete transformation, He has started in me. I can't prove it scientifically, but it is. I might never be eloquent enough or theologically studied enough to discuss it with some of you. But just as I can't explain this bond, I can't break it either. I am incapable of going back.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Unfairness of Time and Grammar

Sometimes life feels unfair. And maybe I'm being unreasonable, but I hardly feel the unfairness more keenly than when hearing grammar technicalities being applied to writing. The Henry David Thoreau in me that would stare at a single, crimson leaf for three hours at a time feels a sort of dying sadness when writing has to become scientific. I could cry.

It's fall, the best time to write. Alumni field is full of fog below my dorm in the morning, and just before dusk the yellow flowers there look like they're going to miss the sun. A lot. "It's crispy outside," I told Mikheil, when we went to the Labor Office. Crispy can be chicken nuggets, but it can also be aged leaves and fresh notebook pages. And that's why it's time to write.

Time is the key, though. Writing feels like something illegal when I've got homework due. My classes are billowing with assignments that feel like they're hung out on a clothesline in my back yard in a gale with gimpy safety pins. Some of them fly away and are forgotten, to my chagrin and shame.

Last night I sat on my bed and skimmed through a chapter of a writing handbook. It was very well made, and I liked it as writing handbooks go. But I guess I felt a little of that dying inside when I thought of applying science to my soul. And citations. There won't be those in heaven, I think. We'll just know who said what and whose research that really was and MLA and Chicago Style will cease. Hallelujah. Forever and Ever, Amen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cannonball off the High Dive

The lamp throws a warm light around the room. The air conditioning unit thrums rythmically in the corner. Emily Dickinson sits calm and green on the desk beside me in the quiet room. A book of her poems, that is. And I? I'm finally at college, in a dorm of my own.

As it happens, my room mate hasn't shown her face yet. So I have a room (a big room!) to myself until she materializes, or someone takes her place. Which I expect to be any day now.

I definitely won't be able to recount all the bliss and whirlwind of the past few days since I arrived for orientation on Saturday. (Is it really Tuesday night?) It feels like a year since I left. In a good way.

After yesterday's extreme schedule makeover, I find myself the proud, happy, and excited enrollee of an Ancient/Near East Archaeology class and a Conflict Transformation class, plus Appalachian Literature taught by a local author I'm already really appreciating. Also a writing class and a health class.

Berea is crawling with possibilities. Opportunities. Chances to try things I've always wanted to do and didn't have the guts to. I know that voice lessons, cross country running, and swing dancing aren't fear factor fare for most folks. But for me, it's what Hasan Davis at freshman convocations called "the cannonball off the high dive." Now is the time to leave behind the excuses we've always carried around with us.

I love my home, but in a way I feel like a prisoner released from a life sentence, or a cancer patient restored to health. Being landed a place like Berea with $100,000 tuition covered and everything from free laptop and very low cost music lessons to unbelievable study abroad options feels like being handed a new life.

It's not just the opportunities though-- it's the atmosphere. I'm quick to let others "name" me and allow the tradition of who I've been and how I feel defined by myself and others rule everything I do and don't do. I have my excuses following me around like mongrels on a leash, yapping at my heels. And anybody who really knows me would wonder why I'd stay okay with that, 'cause I'm certainly not a fan of dogs.

The biggest thing that has impressed me so far at Berea is the diversity and respect that is cultivated in this place. I don't agree with everything condoned by people on campus. Or a lot of the things. But I can't begin to say what pleasure I get from seeing black people and white people walking around on campus together, looking an African American in the eyes and smiling like we're actually friends. Cause we are. And for some reason, even when I wanted that to be a possibility, it was a struggle at my community college at home.

I can't begin to tell you the relief, surprise, and dignity I feel when, in an auditorium NOT homogonously Christian or even religious, students can stand on stage and say they want to stay a virgin in college, and the place erupts in cheers. Respect. I feel it for real here. And I like it a lot.

I feel like I've entered some kind of bubble, some kind of dream world. I have four years here max. I want everything to count. I want to love people. I want to do the things I've craved and dreaded. In the midst of it, the heart of it, I want the Holy Spirit to be my Teacher. I want to listen and hear "This the way, walk in it."

I want to ask the important questions, like "How do you see me?" and hear Him say, as I felt Him say to me out of the blue during a very worldview-challenging session, "I think you're beautiful." I want to constantly exalt Him to the highest place, because He deserves it. I want to give everything to Him because $100,000 tuition is nothing to the new start He has given me by the sacrifice of His Son's beautiful life.

A guy named Jake in Ukraine talked to us in a retreat about how he always thinks of the scene from The Count of Monte Cristo (movie) where the main character beats the pirate Jacapo in a fight (I think this is what happens; it's been a while since I've seen it) and Jacapo, after being mercifully released from death, pledges his life to serve him. His words in that piratey accent keep coming to mind, "I am your man forever."

I guess the gospel shoulders fresh meaning when I realize that He's offered me every opportunity for new life free from the fear, guilt, and shame that was always dogging me, if only I would step up to the challenge of faith. The challenge to obey His Word and see what happens, forsaking every doubt, fear, and self-will for the sake of an enduring loyalty for the Friend of Friends, who first gave His love to me.

It's time for the cannonball off the high dive.