On Regress

Where progress has become torpid, stunted and stultifying, may we always be ready (and not too proud) to regress to the point where the road deviated and wended rather toward the listless waste than the shining city, from there to journey on a new and better path.

In other terms – it is no longer progress when moving forward produces nothing that is more virtuous and good than before. Better to retrace one’s steps back to the point of decision and from there take another path; in the moment, this may look like regress, but outside of time it is known as wisdom.

Of Early Morning in Wootton Major

There is a special pleasure that comes from riding in the predawn darkness, quietly collecting a book and warm clothes, and secreting oneself to a dark room of the house to read until daybreak. The still world is broken only by the occasional call of a forlorn owl in the woods behind the house, and the periodic cycling of the water filter in the fridge.

This morning’s reading was the short fiction from Tolkien, “Smith of Wootton Major.” I’ve known of this book for as long as I can remember – as a little boy growing up in our yellow aluminum house in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I used to look at the rows and rows of books on the black shelves filling the corner of our modest living room. Quite the random collection of works were fostered there! Thin paperbacks like “The Ox-Bow Incident” stood quietly beside the many works of such modern Christian writers as Bonhoeffer and Packer, or a thick copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, or little known books on discipleship, or family, or psychology. I think the lack of fiction on these bricks and boards always gave the rate example an especial fascination to me. And one such book, long looked at but never read, was this “Smith.” I still marvel that somehow this book came to be among the chosen texts, while “The Hobbit” and Lord of the Rings did not.

What prompted the reading selection this morning was, some might say, just as random as the family library of my youth. Yesterday (for we are at early hours now) the New York pastor Timothy Keller passed away. Asking the many kinds and generous comments posted online in remember of his life and service, one included a brief reflection of Keller’s on Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” – referencing how Niggle imagines a large and lovely tree but in his lifetime is only able to, by art and craftsmanship, produce the replica of a single lead of this tree in all his living years. Yet when he dies, Niggle finds the whole Tree of his imagination already exists in the heavenly places, full and lush and beautiful and grand. Keller exalted this image of life and afterlife.

Having read this quote, I was inclined to read “Leaf” in full, thinking I had a copy of it somewhere here in my own library. But looking through the Lewis-Chesterton-Macdonald-Tolkien stacks, I realised that I don’t have a copy of “Leaf” after all: only the major works from Tolkien, along with the small, pretty hardcover copy of “Mr Bliss” given me for my birthday by Will Dragoo (founder of our Dufflepud cohort) and, yes, the old paperback copy of “Smith” pilfered from my parents’ collection now many years ago.

Perhaps sometime I will share my own reflections on this other work of Tolkien’s, and how the land of fairy to him was something which defied the simple, saccharine connotations so many others give to fairies – being instead a place of great peril for the common, mortal man, full of fayery (fay connoting magical activity) that Matty terrorise and transform without explanation or logic. But now the bird song increases, the outlines of the windows begin to glow faintly, and dawn is approaching. The fairyland wandering of early rising recedes into the familiar morning light.

Lived Questions

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet”

There Is No Going Back

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

–Wendell Berry


Welcome to the new website! I’ll likely continue dabbling with its design over the coming days, but in the meantime it’s providing a nice fresh feeling. The new aesthetic carries with it some obligation to write more regularly, and so I hope to do. Most of my efforts will likely be meditations and creative writing efforts, as they have been in the past, with perhaps the odd song or two thrown in. Hope you enjoy! And do drop me a note if you have suggestions for improvement.

The Widow of Nain

Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.

Luke 7:11-15

The Widow of Nain shows us a different scenario than many of the other miracles Jesus performed. Here there is no dialogue about faith, or even suggestion that the grieving woman and mourners sought Jesus’ help. He is not teaching a lesson and selling an illustrative example. They were simple passers-by full of grief, and He was full of compassion at their loss. He cared, He stopped them on their way (rather than the other way round), He acted without supplication.

These are beautiful reminders for us when we are tempted to narrow God’s goodness into a transaction surrounding faith. He sees and acts and does good unlooked for, unexpected, undeserved.