The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

Years ago my [first] husband gave me a Venus comb murex shell. It was so beautiful, so perfect, I couldn’t even look at it. It wasn’t until the brass stand on which it stood tarnished that I was able to look right at it and accept that it was mine.

A similar thing happened when my mother-in-law gave me a little ceramic rabbit with one tall ear erect. One day it fell over, breaking the ear off at its base. I glued them together and then, when it wasn’t perfect, I could let it into my life.

Perfection. I long for it and delight in it. But when it is offered me, it makes me nervous and I reject it–because I am imperfect and feel unworthy of perfection. All my life I have passed on to others gifts I have been given, the ones I treasure the most–just like my mother did.

And because I know I will spoil, ruin, destroy it. I cannot receive it unless/until it is flawed.

And yet I long for perfection.

I think maybe everything we do here is connected to the relentless pursuit of perfection:

We try to make this world or at least our own world perfect (in accord with our own definition of perfection) by:
–dusting and mopping with a vengeance.
–nagging, bullying, or bossing, try to banish imperfection from others.
–punish imperfection (even in ourselves) by criticizing, complaining and condemning. How many times have we responded to a compliment by pointing out a flaw?

Or we settle for and get comfortable with imperfection, becoming slobs. Or we give up, sinking into depression, becoming indifferent to the possibility of beauty, joy, and justice.

Or take sides with imperfection, contributing our own verbal or visual pollution–trash, graffiti, slurs, hatred. Or take revenge against it, showing by criminal behavior our contempt for it–which is really disappointment.

Or we pretend things are perfect.

In so many different ways we each respond to thorns, dents, delays, dust, crashes (computer as well as car), broken dolls, slow drivers, burnt food, irritating neighbors–not to mention the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. . . whips and scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes”–in short, the “moths, rust and thieves” of life, everything from zits to cancer, typos to global warming, racism, and nuclear proliferation. Things we can’t stand but can’t do much if anything about. We are reacting to imperfection almost every moment of every day.

Despair over this twisted world and our inability to fix it can be the beginning of a powerful paradigm shift. Imperfection was a possibility programmed into a perfectly designed universe, a possibility dependent on our response to a variable, free will. By choosing self–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–by choosing NOT-GOD, our first parents brought a curse, a limp, a withering, a meanness, not only upon themselves but (as all that we were to become was contained within them) all of us and upon the earth itself. In Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis referred to a race of “bent creatures. . . full of fears.”

Jesus Christ came to straighten the bentness but not in the way we expected. He did not come to make major repairs to the purring car because it was now running out of control. Our choices had redirected it over a cliff and it would have to be replaced by a new one. He did not invest his heart in this imperfect world system. Although he had no illusions that it could be permanently cured, he was–is–constantly redeeming it, one person and relationship and miracle at a time: Forgive. Love your enemies. Repent. Believe in Me. Go and sin no more.

He overcame this broken world by dying and resuming life on a different dimension to break its hold on us. He calls each of us into that new dimension even while we exist within the old, imperfect one. When the car goes over the cliff, we will keep on purring. He urges us to bring as many others with us as will come. His promised return is our assurance that imperfection will soon be swallowed up in perfect justice, completion, significance and righteousness.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Soliloquy. C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet. Matthew 6:19, Matthew 6:7-15, Matthew 5:44, Matthew 4:17, John 14:1, John 3:16, John 8:11, John 11:25, 26.
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The reality of imperfection

Sooner or later we each learn that we have been born into an imperfect world, a world where not all our needs will be met and even some of our most basic needs may be thoroughly and permanently blown to smithereens. A world in which we ask for bread and may be given stones, seek fish and receive snakes, look for eggs and are met by scorpions.

For nine-year old C.S. “Jack” Lewis it was the night he had toothache and wanted his mother. He cried for her to come but she didn’t come.

She had died.

For a friend of mine named Jen it was not the loss of a mother but her indifference and neglect. When I didn’t know her very well, Jen and another friend and I attended a two-day conference on Dissociation Identity Disorder (DID) and Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA). The three of us shared a room overnight.

There were two queen-sized beds. The second friend settled on one of them, turned her back to us and went right to sleep. So Jen and I took the other bed. She talked about early memories the conference was stirring up. Eventually we both fell asleep–or I thought we did.

But Jen slept restlessly, mumbling and thrashing, and at some point I realized she was regressing into infancy. She was reliving something scary and painful, and my presence was all she had to accompany her into the darkness. Dr. Tom Hawkins and his wife Diane, the couple running the conference, the experts in this sort of thing, were asleep somewhere else. All Jen had now was me.

I sat up to be more present to her. I held her hand and stroked her hair and asked Jesus to heal the memory. She was sobbing, “No dope in my bottle! No dope in ba-ba!” Later, shaking, she cried out, “It hurts! It hurts!” But most of her words were unintelligible. I prayed desperately that I would be able to understand enough to comfort her.

I remember asking God to extend mercy and spare her having to relive every painful memory. I felt so helpless and I was sorry I could do so little for her.

In the morning Jen woke up released and grateful. She had imprinted on me as a mother surrogate. “First I remembered being in my crib, being doped to sleep,” she confided. “At five, my mother sent me to school unwashed, unkempt, wearing clothes that didn’t fit anymore, with milk that had spoiled. There were times she left me all alone. And worse times, when she left me alone with her boyfriends.”

God had met her in her memories and removed their sting.

Like Jen, we were all born into an imperfect world. I am beginning to wonder if our whole lives aren’t a constant adjusting to that reality as they are to the reality of gravity. We are always either denying, excusing, accommodating, challenging, resisting, exploiting, exacerbating, covering up, succumbing to, compensating or apologizing for, trying to fix, punish, or overcome this imperfect world and our imperfect selves.

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JESUS IS COMING (8): The Coming World Dictator

The Cornerstone website, cclb.org, is being reworked. Paste this:

<iframe src=”http://new.livestream.com/accounts/3240259/events/1946467/videos/54610783/player?width=640&height=360&autoPlay=false&mute=false” width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe>

into that line up above, and when the video starts, move the cursor forward to about 16:00 to get to beginning of service. The ads are on their overhead screen before the service begins.

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Joy and perfection

From my journal:

Malibu Beach Inn, Saturday, April 20, 1996

I am perfectly content for minutes at a time here. I sit in a shaded corner of our balcony and watch the sea break around rocks and darken the sand below me and am perfectly content.

I hear the clink of cups from the patio below and think I would be even more perfectly content if I had a cup of English Breakfast tea, hot but not scalding, not too strong, with a little bit of honey. So I go out the front door, which opens onto a view of cars speeding along Pacific Coast Highway and hills yellow-green with mustard, and down the stairs almost immediately to my right, which lead directly to the various bakery goods and beverages of the continental breakfast, available until eleven a.m. I feel a great fondness for this food because it is included in the price of the room (which my mother-in-law is paying), thereby alleviating some of my guilt at being here, at such an expensive hotel in such a beautiful place.

I make myself a cup of tea, hot but not scalding, not too strong, with a little bit of honey and bring it back upstairs.

Now I sit in a shaded corner of our balcony with my cup of tea and am perfectly content. There are flickering highlights on the rumpled surface of the blue-green sea and an array of scattered fishing boats and even, closer, a couple of people in kayaks. The tide is up but there is still a belt of empty sand between it and the crescent of beach houses.

My [first] husband comes out on the balcony in sweatpants, barefoot. “We have the only rocks,” he says. “They’re the only rocks up or down the beach.” I hadn’t noticed. “The rocks give more visual interest to the waves and the moss gives more visual interest to the rocks. Aren’t you cold?” He goes inside.

The sun is higher and the shade in my corner deeper. Maybe I am a little chilly. Maybe I would be even more perfectly content with a sweater. And now, because I have been writing, my tea is chilly too.

Why doesn’t joy last? Is it because things change–the sun moves, lowering the temperature and cooling the tea? Is it because perfection doesn’t last?

Or is it (at least partly) because some perfect things don’t change for long periods: the sky remains blue, the sea keeps swaying back and forth, in and out? We need perfect weather plus a cup of tea, a perfect scene plus (eventually) people paddling a kayak into it. If nothing happens, do we get bored with perfection? Is it our attention span that doesn’t last?

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Jesus and Jack: Men of Joy

Joy is our bedrock, our touchstone of reality. It is the reset button we keep looking for, mostly in self-gratifying and therefore unsatisfying places. Sometimes, when we align ourselves with God and stay still–receptive but not straining to hear, not requiring anything–He recalibrates us as a Wii recalibrates its remotes. C.S. “Jack” Lewis called that joy: “the truest index of our real situation.”

For Jack, joy was stabs of “an almost unbearable pleasure,” “a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss,” “that razor-edged or needle-pointed quality . . . that shock, as if one were swallowing light itself,” an “experience. . .  of intense desire.” “The longing for home.”

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited” (from The Weight of Glory).

“. . . that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year after year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for. You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for’” (from Latin Letters).

You know it when you feel its sudden, explosive rush–or its deep, grateful contentment. By practicing the presence of God, according to Brother Lawrence, we can extend our periods of experiencing the satisfaction of Jesus’ joy, peace, love, pleasure, and rest all in one because it all comes from Him: “In His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11).

Quotes above from Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, Present Concerns, Surprised by Joy, Till We Have Faces and Latin Letters are all in Terry Lindvall’s “Joy and Sehnsucht–The Laughter and Longings of C.S. Lewis” http://www.leaderu.com/marshill/mhr08/hall1.html
Sherwood E. Wirt, Jesus: Man of Joy http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Wirt%2C+Jesus%3A+Man+of+Joy

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords= Brother+Lawrence%2C+The+Practice+of+the+Presence+of+God
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Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You

Joy is our birthright. It was Jesus’ default position and it is meant to be ours.

Have you watched a wanted baby in its mother’s arms? When she gazes into her newborn’s face, totally enraptured, she is pouring love and nurture into that child. Within just a few days the baby’s eyes are riveted on hers as it receives that deep sense of affirmation for just being. Later her look will cause the little one to smile back and even wriggle with delight.

This bond, this exchange of love through look, Drs. James G Friesen and E. James Wilder call “eye synchronization.” They have written all about it in their book Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You. (You see it also in the faces of couples who are in love. They are not sitting side by side but facing each other, looking into each other’s face, drinking in every expression, delighting in and enjoying the other person.)

According to Friesen and Wilder, eye synchronization is like an electromagnetic connectedness that transmits a sparkle–and elicits a sparkle in return. It creates a capacity for joy. Throughout life, when a person has a healthy joy capacity, he or she can experience bad things and negative emotions and still return to that hub of joy.

But many babies don’t get this kind of pleased attention and eye contact. Experiences that produce terror or despair overwhelm and snuff out the joy. Growing up, the child or adult finds himself lost in fear or despair or anger and has a hard time finding the way back to joy.

For these people, eye contact is difficult because it means feeling vulnerable. These people need safe relationships where they can look into the eyes of a spouse, parent, friend, or even stranger–someone who is glad they exist–and exchange mutual assurances of value, significance, and caring.

The good news is, the “joy center” of the brain can grow. The most neglected person can enlarge his or her joy capacity at any stage of life–and thrive!

The Life Model: Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You, by James G. Friesen and E. James Wilder. http://lifemodel.org/shopping/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=1&zenid=e9062cafdb73400e6e944fed211d67ca

 

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–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing

“I’ve brought some books of poetry,” the man leading the Bag End Cafe at the C.S. Lewis Foundation summer potluck said, almost casually, to all of us. “Help yourselves.” After everyone else had had a turn to choose, the little book of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry was still there. I didn’t have to sell all I had and buy the field. I asked with beating heart, “May I have that one?” And the man said yes.

I had only read a few of Hopkins’ poems, the ones frequently anthologized: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil. . .”

“Glory be to God for dappled things–For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow. . .”

“I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding. . .”

But the word choices and imagery in each one have always flooded me with a kind of wild joy beyond full understanding.

In this jewelry box of a book, I count 48 poems this Jesuit priest wrote which I have never read, didn’t know existed! I know he destroyed others because he was afraid he enjoyed his own poetry more than he enjoyed his Lord.

The summary of his life inside the plain front cover says, “Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) . . . combined an intense feeling for nature with an ecstatic awareness of its divine origins. He was also one of English poetry’s greatest stylistic innovators, and his poems reveal an unprecedented constructive imagination in the service of a vision of reality which is equally original.”

I have placed the book on the bed stand, with my Bible, my daily devotional (Jesus Calling), and my current reading (Joel Rosenberg’s The Ezekiel Option). There is such savoring in the anticipation that it may take me awhile to actually open it and read the poems themselves.

 

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