On Reading Again

Reading has been hard over the last few months. I love reading, and I missed it, but I just couldn’t find a book that either sounded interesting or kept me interested. 

The amount of TV I’ve been watching didn’t help. For me, watching TV and reading a book are two entirely different experience: a book invites you in, to imagination and experiences and emotions. TV is, for the most part, a much more passive experience: there is nothing to imagine, no connections to make. There is only what is, playing out on the screen in front of you. And I know that’s not entirely fair: TV invites us into fully imagined worlds and visceral experiences that aren’t possible in books. But I find books far more participatory and inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, I have finally begun to read again. On a day when I was being kind to myself, I went to a public library and checked out a few books that sounded interesting. I did the same a few days ago, leaving with an impossibly large stack of books. There’s no way I’ll read them all before they’re due. But I had a few books in mind, and I had a lovely conversation with two librarians who recommended several more. It all made me feel generous. I may as well! And then I went home and read until midnight because one book was just so incredibly wonderful. I could have put it down, but I didn’t have any plans for the night, and it was such a fun book: I did a lot of laughing, and a lot of moaning and whisper-screaming at the characters. I still haven’t returned it; I finished it, but I enjoyed it so much that I don’t quite want to let it go just yet. 

Trying new books has felt too risky. I’m giving up time and emotions to something that might be awful. It might have a message that I hate. It might be just mediocre. 

But right now that risk feels OK. 

God Talk

I have a very vivid memory of that moment: grass too green to imagine, framed and dotted by lush trees and a few brick buildings. I was in the car with an acquaintance; I don’t remember where we were going. I just remember sitting next to her, watching the cultivated college landscape go by as she drove down the winding road and said about the most recent speaker, “She said she thinks of God as She.” 

I didn’t quite know what to do with that; neither did she, to be fair. It was an idea she played with as we drove, and I listened. 

That’s the moment that keeps coming back to me as I think about God as mother.* That wasn’t the moment when I accepted it, or even heard of this idea. I think it was the moment where the idea of God as feminine became a possibility, or maybe even the seed of an idea. 

If you’re curious about this idea, feel free to check out my devotion.* Here‘s another personal narrative of seeing God as mother. This article offers a good overview of Biblical sources that describe God as mother, and this site has a pretty comprehensive list of verses.


*They’ll ask for a login to see the devotional I wrote, since it’s been a few days since it posted–but it’s completely free to create one if you don’t already have one, and I never get unwanted emails from them. Don’t freak out!

Speaking of freaking out: there’s also no need to freak out about all this God-as-feminine talk. As the Creator of both male and female (Genesis 1:26), both genders reflect God but God has no gender. And so I prefer to use no pronouns at all to refer to God–but that also means that it makes sense to use imagery and ideas of and about both genders to talk about God.

What I’m Into (April 2017)

Reading

Oh, boy. It was a good reading month; I read a lot of amazing books. I finished both The Iliad and The Odyssey this month, and loved them both. The writing was beautiful, and I loved the metaphors because they gave such a glimpse into life of the time–they were full of images of herding and weaving and all these tasks we never think about today. I love those reminders that life was so different in ways that we don’t even think about, like the hours and hours and hours of work it took to weave cloth (let alone harvesting of the fiber, cleaning it, spinning it, and maybe dyeing it) or prepare food. And both books were full of very strong, human emotions and characters.

I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale. What a powerful story. It was so well-written that I had to pause from reading every ten chapters or so; the emotions were just so vivid, even overwhelming. Offred was such a poignant, self-aware, and observant narrator. It was a good (and by good I mean haunting) example of how religious legalism often isn’t about religion at all; in the official religion there was no mention of Jesus, and barely any, really, of God. I was so blown away/horrified/intrigued by it that I held on to my library copy for an extra week, because I couldn’t quite bear to give it up, and have now spent several hours discussing it with various friends. I’d love to do some more of that, if anyone’s interested; seriously, leave a comment or email me.  I’m now intrigued by the Hulu show; I don’t have any way to watch it right now, but I’ve heard really good things. Anyone else seen it?

And I’m in the middle of a few other good books that I’ll save for next month.

Listening

This month I intentionally searched out fiction-based podcasts, and I found some amazing ones.

Clarkesworld Magazine regularly posts short stories from their magazine (science fiction and fantasy). They’re always narrated beautifully, and they’re really interesting stories.

Escape Pod also posts short stories from their magazine. They’re just sci fi, but they have really cool noise effects and good narrators.

ars PARADOXICA is a time travel story (yes, please!), which unlike the others is one long story continued in episode form. So far it’s been creepy and fascinating, and I love our spunky scientist narrator.

The Bright Sessions is another longer story, told entirely through recordings made by a psychologist trying to treat multiple patients with special abilities. It has such good voice acting! The wider plot has been slow-moving so far, but the characters are interesting enough to keep me listening.

Welcome to Night Vale has such a dry sense of humor and I love it. I’m not sure why it took so long for me to start listening to this; a lot of people I really trust listen. I thought it always sounded weird, honestly, which is true, but it’s also hilarious and strange and fascinating. Although I’m not sure if it’s fiction so much as a series of shorts set in the same town?

Whew! I really got into fiction podcasts this month!

Watching

The Arrow, because I finally got on board that particular fan train. I’m really enjoying it, because the novelty of having an intelligent character who makes overall good decisions is just too good to pass up. Besides, season 2 of Supergirl isn’t on Netflix yet.

Writing

I had an article published on Off the Page, on finding God in nature.

On the blog, I wrote about my Lent disciplines this year.

I did a lot of personal writing, and a lot of writing that hasn’t been published yet. I worked on a short story that I’m super excited about. I submitted to a lot of magazines, and so it looks like it was pretty quiet on this front, but I got quite a bit done.

Doing

Lots of dogsitting! I don’t have anyone’s permission to post pictures of their dogs, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they were all adorable and so sweet (if not always obedient).

Carnegie-Mellon has a gorgeous campus; I walked around for half an hour, taking a phone call, and otherwise spent an afternoon buried in the library getting work done.


I enjoyed the fact that the weather has been warm and the plants are starting to grow and bloom again–so much so that I have no pictures of that, either! But it’s been wonderful.

That’s it for this month!

 

I’m linking up with What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer.

Seeing God [Off the Page]

Mountains stretched to the horizon, mountain after mountain: most of them blue-green with evergreens, a few tall enough to be topped with rocks and snow. The closest had a peak covered by a meadow bright with flowers: gold, scarlet, and violet swaths, with highlights of creamy white and tiger orange dotted with jagged boulders.

That rainbow mountain was why I was here.


 

I’ve always loved nature and seen God in it. Well, almost always. There were a few years there where that wasn’t quite true, and today I’m over at Off the Page telling my story of seeing God in nature, especially in those few years.

(You may especially enjoy it if you love hearing about flowers, bees, mountains, beautiful nature things…)

Lent Reflections

I went into Lent with two disciplines in mind: I committed to both giving something up (phone games) and adding something into my life (writing daily). 

From the beginning, I felt a bit weird about both goals. Was I just using Lent as an excuse to build good habits? I felt strongly about both of them–they occurred to me one morning a few days before Lent and immediately felt right–but I really didn’t want to use Lent as a goal-making scheme, as just a way to jump-start those habits I’d been pining for. But I trusted that feeling enough to choose them as my Lenten disciplines.

Giving up phone games went so well–why hadn’t I done this before, it was so easy!!–that I started giving up other things too: Netflix, sugar… There was a method to the madness: I had been reflecting on and struggling with my tendency to avoid God and feelings and important things in general by playing games on my phone, or watching Netflix, or eating sugar, or… There’s a longer list, of course, and I had every intention of working my way down that list until the entire enterprise imploded. My motivation disappeared, and it didn’t feel important anymore, and I went right back to all of my unhealthy not-coping strategies with barely a nudge of guilt. (And, of course, the guilt I did feel was subsumed by games, videos, and deliciously unhealthy sugary foods…)

Writing went much the same way. A few days into Lent, I realized that writing daily wasn’t about creating a good habit–it was about respecting this gift that I’ve been given. It was about trusting God and this desire that God has given me. It was about using this gift to write things worth writing. But it didn’t take long for writing every day to become a nice idea that never happened.

————————————–

And now Lent has ended.

I’ve started working towards both goals again. I’ve written four out of the past five days; I just deleted several phone games, and have cut down my playing time to almost nothing. And yet in so many ways, the habits I started with aren’t the point of Lent. They aren’t even the point of my goals.

The point was God, and all of the ways that I run away from God.

Lent is a time of reflection and sorrow. It’s a time in the wilderness, confronting head-on our own sinfulness and demons and need for God. It’s a time of repentance. And in all sorts of unexpected ways, that’s what I found this season. I’ve seen some of my own sin and started to confront it; I’ve been reminded again that God is by my side while I do that. I’ve been learning about doing hard, important things.

It wasn’t the Lent I imagined. It certainly wasn’t the Lent I was hoping for. But it was messy and difficult and very true to the wilderness-wandering spirit of Lent.

Ridiculous Expectations

I have a lot of expectations. Of myself, of others, of products and fictional universes–but mostly of myself. I’m perfectly willing to admit that other people are flawed, and do things that don’t make sense, and need days of rest. I’m almost as willing to admit that my favorite character isn’t perfect, or that the fictional universe doesn’t have to be what I really, really want it to be.

But myself? It’s so much harder to give up my own expectations for myself.

So many of my expectations are ones I don’t even realize I have. Like when it comes to adults: I can verbalize that adults are not perfect and do not have it all together. Really, though, I still believe that other adults are in fact perfect, or at least have this adulting thing down to an art, and I’m the only one still bumbling along, avoiding doing my taxes or taking my car to the mechanic. I have this expectation that adults doing avoid anything, ever, and certainly clean and do laundry on a regular basis and want to go to work. I’m not even sure where these expectations came from, actually, because I don’t actually know any adults who want to go to work all the time, and it’s ridiculous to think that no one ever avoids doing things or always does all of their chores. And, see, I can name that ridiculousness, but I still feel guilty thinking of the pile of laundry I need to do. 

And when it comes to writing–boy, do I have some expectations about that. I expect myself to write consistently, ideally an hour or two every morning before I go do some laundry or whatever. I expect my ideas to come regularly (but not overwhelmingly). I expect the words to come easily. I expect myself to always balance perfectly the need to write and writing for money and writing becoming addictive again and writing what I love and writing well. And then I get so frustrated when, oddly, I am not perfect. And, see, I can recognize that these expectations are ridiculous, too, but that isn’t that helpful when I’m in the midst of feeling like a worthless writer because I have no ideas or haven’t blogged in two weeks, or like a worthless human being because I’ve fallen into addictive, destructive behaviors towards stories, or like a failure because I want to write so much that I sit at my computer and watch Netflix because sometimes feelings are just too overwhelming. 

And, yes, recognizing a problem is the first step in solving it. Sure. But I’ve always struggled with this and I suspect I always will. I struggle with my ridiculous expectations, but I’ve also been doing the work to let those expectations go.

Rest

Sleep. Prayer. Exercise. Reading a good book; working on a craft project, a hobby, a labor of love. 

Rest.

I don’t rest. I don’t feel like I do enough in a week to “deserve” it, and so instead I shoehorn in an episode of something here, twenty guilty minutes of reading there. Guilty time, when I could be doing something else–should be doing something else. It’s not terribly restful; if anything, it’s time when I “give myself a break” by doing something I don’t have to think about much, and end up feeling even more tired and frazzled than when I started. Maybe it’s the guilt; maybe it’s the looming threat of unproductivity; maybe it’s that not thinking isn’t really that restful. Maybe it’s because getting sick of working and so casting about for anything to fill the time with that isn’t “productive” isn’t really that restful.

One of the books I read mostly in guilty spurts was Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church–except, of course, once I got to the second half of the book it was impossible to feel guilty about reading it. It got beautiful and emotional and true. I read huge chunks of it and it was restful. In it, she narrates her journey from working as a pastor to working as a professor, and all these things she realized about church and herself once she wasn’t working at a church anymore. I was struck by many of the things she wrote, but most immediately by her chapter on Sabbath. She writes of the struggles and joys of setting aside a day where there’s no housework, no work, just worship and the things that you enjoy doing–the things that refresh you.

I used to do that. I was really good at it in college–I would take walks, and read books that needed attention like Shakespeare and a history of biological thought and epic poems. I would reflect on my week, and avoid homework, and spend time with friends. It was wonderful, too–I admit, I’m not sure why I stopped, can’t quite remember. But I did. I haven’t kept a good, intentional Sabbath in–far too long. (I’m not not being cagey or intentionally obscuring an embarrassing number; I really can’t remember the last time I had a true Sabbath)

And I’m tired. I need to start again.

I have, actually: last week I took a Sabbath, and it was difficult and joyful just like Taylor described it. I rode the full ride, from ‘This is so wonderful and restful!’ to ‘I want to do something productive!!!’ I’m excited to continue that this week, and next week, and on and on. I’m excited to remember that everything does not rest on my shoulders, that leaving some dishes another day will not end the world, that deserving and productivity and everything else that I put in quotation marks above doesn’t mean the constricted, guilt-laden things I put on them. They’re not the be-all, end-all of my life. I can let them go for a day, and when I pick them up again later they’re not quite so heavy and bent out of shape.