we are storied – together

Stories are what bring us together, what bind us together, what change us together and what tear us apart.

They make sense of our world and the role we play in it. When loss strikes us, whether through death, setbacks, or impairment, the grief is not only about the loss itself but the overwhelming project of re-formulating the story, piecing together the fragments of the assumptive world that was shattered when we realized the narrative we find ourselves in has never been the story that we thought it was.

Stanley Hauwerwas has observed,

The project of modernity is to create a people who believe they have no story except the story they chose when they had no story.

As Christians, we can’t help but find ourselves bound to story. The book that we cling to is one of stories – profound and mundane – as well as stories told by the One the story is about. They confuse us, astound us, challenge us and motivate us. Indeed, in loving God and loving our neighbour we come to realize that we are intrinsically and intimately tied not only to our own story, but the countless stories that surround us and transform us – even the stories that make little sense to us or don’t connect with the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves.

Atlas GirlMy sister, Emily Wierenga, weaves her story intricately and beautifully, encouraging and inspiring those around her to reflect on their own stories in new and powerful ways. Through her blog and books, she vulnerably shares her struggles and triumphs in her past and present, including the ways that she has been impacted by her family and wrestling with anorexia and self-image. Her latest book, Atlas Girl, has been described;

Raw, emotive and lovely . . . Emily Wierenga’s memoir is captivating, descriptive in imagery and emotion, and you can’t help but find yourself in her story.

~Jenni Catron

Our family has supported Emily’s through her writing career, and it is exciting to see her reaching so many people with her experience and ministering to them in the story in which they find themselves.

I have a secret, though. While I have bought all of Emily’s books, I have never read one from cover to cover. You see, while so many people can’t help but find themselves in her story, I am one of the few that can’t.

Dad, Emily and I

Dad, Emily and I in Congo

The other day someone asked me where I was from. I’m never really sure how to answer that, but I made sure to include that I was born in Brazzaville, Congo. This, I usually add, is one of the most exciting aspects of my life even though I don’t remember our time there.

The start of my story goes something like this: Born in Congo, homeschooled and raised in a loving family with supportive parents, I went to Bible college… etc. Needless to say, I haven’t written a memoir. All of us Dow children are professing Christians to this day and we have a close family connection and love our parents deeply. When I look around, not many pastor’s families are as fortunate. My father has been an inspiration to me throughout my life, and I have always admired his remarkable patience and commitment to our family and his ministry.

So when this timid, short and relatively uneventful story comes crashing into the striking tales recounted by Emily of frustration and quasi-neglect, spiritual turmoil and desperation to connect with her earthly and heavenly father, I have a difficult time finding myself in her story. It is as though we grew up in two different households, with two sets of parents.

As I hear her share her story in interviews and online, in print and across the continent, I have to constantly remind myself that just because my story isn’t as dramatic doesn’t mean it is less significant. Maybe this is why I am drawn to artists like Cornelius Krieghoff (The New Year’s Day Parade – in header) who bring to life the story of ordinary Canadians in the 19th century, or the Peredvizhnikithe Wanderers, a group of Russian painters who powerfully portray the lives of peasants in the same time period (Vasily Perov – “Troika,” below). Even ordinary, mundane stories have a depth to them that can’t be fathomed until they are intimately known, and that is what these artists bring out.

perov_troika-688x230

Each one of us has a story to tell, to share, to come crashing into each and every other story. Community – family –  is where we come to see that my story and your story, together, is our story. We will never have one story, just as scripture does not have one story. In fact, to love our neighbour as ourselves is to come to love our neighbour, in their story, as God works to redeem all of our stories, together.

So thank you, Emily, for telling your story. I have come to realize that it will never be my story, but it is very much our story. Maybe I’ll even find the courage to read it from cover-to-cover.

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freaks and lunatics

The following passage is from Revelation by Flannery O’Conner

Then like a monumental statue coming to life, she bent her head slowly and gazed, as if through the very heart of mystery, down into the pig parlor at the hogs. They had settled all in one corner around the old sow who was grunting softly. A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with a secret life.

Until the sun slipped finally behind the tree line, Mrs. Turpin remained there with her gaze bent to them as if she were absorbing some abysmal life-giving knowledge. At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives…and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claude, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away.

She lowered her hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile. At length she got down and turned off the faucet and made her slow way on the darkening path to the house. In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.

footnote to all prayers

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

I have recently been reading about the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the sometimes mystical, spiritual and and always exacting perfectionist with a overwhelming sense of the gravity of his own life and death. In many ways he pushed himself and others to leave philosophical study in order to invest life in the practical, since there is so little of which we can speak with confidence. Of even the Tractatus he later admitted he had gone too far in what could be said.

We are told that Christ is the Word become flesh, coming from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Wittgenstein’s pronouncement is a great truth – that our language is full of inadequacies and deceptions, and the way we use it often binds us in feeble conceptions that don’t align with reality. A friend recently shared the following poem by the great author and literary critic C. S. Lewis, Footnote to All Prayers. It reminds me of grace, that while in the act of worship we surpass the limits of language and in fact often cling too passionately to our metaphors and word-pictures, the grace of Christ covers even this blaspheming. It is not only God’s love that covers over a multitude of sins, for our love for God through our service to others is the only incense that makes our fumbling phrases anything more than a resounding gong or clanging symbol.

archeological-reminiscence-millet-s-angelus
He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, muttering Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart

Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in Thy great,
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

by grace, to wake again?

[twocol_one]to sleep, perchance to dream and yet

to sleep, my dreams release

it’s then I drift beyond my goals,

resigned, oncoming peace?

 

now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my worry keep,

in the morning to reclaim again

and swim against the tide…[/twocol_one]

[twocol_one_last]insomnia: the rich world’s curse

afraid to let the night come nigh

enternal time protests the rise

of necessity’s demands.

 

when due, may I accept the clock

in hospice eventide,

to face with confidence my fear

of finite self so dear.[/twocol_one_last]

The Knight of Faith

From Fear and Trembling
By Søren Kierkegaard

fishes

I candidly admit that in my practice I have not found any reliable example of the knight of faith, though I would not therefore deny that every second man may be such an example. I have been trying, however, for several years to get on the track of this, and all in vain. People commonly travel around the world to see rivers and mountains, new stars, birds of rare plumage, queerly deformed fishes, ridiculous breeds of men — they abandon themselves to the bestial stupor which gapes at existence, and they think they have seen something. This does not interest me. But if I knew where there was such a knight of faith, I would make a pilgrimage to him on foot, for this prodigy interests me absolutely. I would not let go of him for an instant, every moment I would watch to see how he managed to make the movements, I would regard myself as secured for life, and would divide my time between looking at him and practicing the exercises myself, and thus would spend all my time admiring him.

As was said, I have not found any such person, but I can well think him. Here he is. Acquaintance made, I am introduced to him. The moment I set eyes on him I instantly push him from me, I myself leap backwards, I clasp my hands and say half aloud,

[quote]Good Lord, is this the man? Is it really he? Why, he looks like a tax-collector![/quote]

However, it is the man after all. I draw closer to him, watching his least movements to see whether there might not be visible a little heterogeneous fractional telegraphic message from the infinite, a glance, a look, a gesture, a note of sadness, a smile, which betrayed the infinite in its heterogeneity with the finite. No! I examine his figure from tip to toe to see if there might not be a cranny through which the infinite was peeping. No! He is solid through and through. His tread? It is vigorous, belonging entirely to finiteness; no smartly dressed townsman who walks out to Fresberg on a Sunday afternoon treads the ground more firmly, he belongs entirely to the world, no Philistine more so. One can discover nothing of that aloof and superior nature whereby one recognizes the knight of the infinite.

He takes delight in everything, and whenever one sees him taking part in a particular pleasure, he does it with the persistence which is the mark of the earthly man whose soul is absorbed in such things.

He tends to his work. So when one looks at him one might suppose that he was a clerk who had lost his soul in an intricate system of book-keeping, so precise is he. He takes a holiday on Sunday. He goes to church. No heavenly glance or any other token of the incommensurable betrays him; if one did not know him, it would be impossible to distinguish him from the rest of the congregation, for his healthy and vigorous hymn-singing proves at the most that he has a good chest. In the afternoon he walks to the forest. He takes delight in everything he sees, in the human swarm, in the new omnibuses, in the water of the Sound; when one meets him on the Beach Road one might suppose he was a shopkeeper taking his fling, that’s just the way he disports himself, for he is not a poet, and I have sought in vain to detect in him the poetic incommensurability.

Peasant with Pipe Rudolf Schweitzer-Cumpana (1922)

Peasant with Pipe
Rudolf Schweitzer-Cumpana (1922)

Toward evening he walks home, his gait is as indefatigable as that of the postman. On his way he reflects that his wife has surely a special little warm dish prepared for him, e.g. a calf’s head roasted, garnished with vegetables. If he were to meet a man like-minded, he could continue as far as East Gate to discourse with him about that dish, with a passion befitting a hotel chef. As it happens, he hasn’t four pence to his name, and yet he fully and firmly believes that his wife has that dainty dish for him. If she had it, it would then be an invidious sight for superior people and an inspiring one for the plain man, to see him eat; for his appetite is greater than Esau’s. His wife hasn’t it — strangely enough, it is quite the same to him. On the way he runs across another man. They talk together for a moment. In the twinkling of an eye he erects a new building,he has at his disposition all the powers necessary for it. The stranger leaves him with the thought that he certainly was a capitalist, while my admired knight thinks, “Yes, if the money were needed, I dare say I could get it.” He lounges at an open window and looks out on the square on which he lives; he is interested in everything that goes on, in a rat which slips under the curb, in the children’s play, and this with the nonchalance of a girl of sixteen.

And yet he is no genius, for in vain I have sought in him the incommensurability of genius. In the evening he smokes his pipe; to look at him one would swear that it was the grocer over the way vegetating in the twilight. He lives as carefree as a ne’er-do-well and yet he buys up the acceptable time at the dearest price, for he does not do the least thing except by virtue of the absurd. And yet, and yet I could become furious over it — for envy, if for no other reason — because the man has made and every instant is making the movements of infinity.

With infinite resignation he has drained the cup of life’s profound sadness, he knows the bliss of the infinite, he senses the pain of renouncing everything, the dearest things he possesses in the world, and yet finiteness tastes to him just as good as to one who never knew anything higher, for his continuance in the finite did not bear a trace of the cowed and fearful spirit produced by the process of training; and yet he has this sense of security in enjoying it, as though the finite life were the surest thing of all. And yet, and yet the whole earthly form he exhibits is a new creation by virtue of the absurd. He resigned everything infinitely, and then he grasped everything again by virtue of the absurd.

He constantly makes the movements of infinity, but he does this with such correctness and assurance that he constantly gets the finite out of it, and there is not a second when one has a notion of anything else. It is supposed to be the most difficult task for a dancer to leap into a definite posture in such a way that there is not a second when he is grasping after the posture, but by the leap itself he stands fixed in that posture. Perhaps no dancer can do it — that is what this knight does.

Most people live dejectedly in worldly sorrow and joy; they are the ones who sit along the wall and do not join in the dance.

The knights of infinity are dancers and possess elevation. They make the movements upward, and fall down again; and this too is no mean pastime, nor ungraceful to behold. But whenever they fall down they are not able at once to assume the posture, they vacillate an instant, and this vacillation shows that after all they are strangers in the world. This is more or less strikingly evident in proportion to the art they possess, but even the most artistic knights cannot altogether conceal this vacillation. One need not look at them when they are up in the air, but only the instant they touch or have touched the ground — then one recognizes them. But to be able to fall down in such a way that the same second it looks as if one were standing and walking, to transform the leap of life into a walk, absolutely to express the sublime and the pedestrian — that only these knights [of faith] can do — and this is the one and only prodigy.

the time I have (with you)

I haven’t always spent the time I had with you the way I would
Stopped to talk or walked and walked or kissed your head, as you stood
In rewind it went so fast but when on play life seemed a pause
Quiet moments side by side were hallowed, graceful gifts of God

I haven’t always done for you the smallish things I wanted to
At times too tired or forgetful to pursue or carry through
Your eyes they never even whispered / mumbled gently of disdain
Always only, ever giving, your voice shone when spoke my name

Now I look back longing, loving, letting go unwillingly
My weakened body is no longer the safe home it used to be

Aren’t we all
temporarily abled,
momentarily alive?

Caught in time now,
not quite sure how,
trying to survive?

Real life is not in focus but is found along the side
So help me see you, let me see through all distractions I provide

 

lodge

 

Counterfeit Giving

I read the following story while in University and it has stuck with me ever since:

As we were walking away from a tobacconist’s, my friend carefully sorted out his change: into his left vest pocket he slipped the small gold coins, into his right vest pocket the small silver coins; into the left pocket of his pants, a handful of large copper coins, and finally into his right pant’s pocket, a two franc silver piece he had examined with particular attention.

“A singular and meticulous division!,” I said to myself.

We encountered a poor man who tremblingly held out his hat to us. — I know nothing more disquieting than the mute eloquence of those supplicating eyes, which contain at one and the same time so much humility and so many reproaches, at least for the sensitive man who knows how to read them.  He finds something approaching these depths of complicated emotion in the tearful eyes of dogs being beaten.

My friend’s offering was much larger than my own, and I said to him:

“You are right: next to the pleasure of being astonished, there is none greater than causing surprise.”  “It was the counterfeit coin,” he replied tranquilly, as if to justify his prodigality.

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