Game Review: Meatspace

Game: Meatspace

Score:  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  (7 out of 5 possible!)

Category: First Person Immersive / Puzzle / Real Life Adventure


meatspace: /meet’spays/, n.
The physical world, where the meat lives — as opposed to cyberspace. Hackers are actually more willing to use this term than ‘cyberspace’, because it’s not speculative — we already have a running meatspace implementation (the universe). Compare RL.
The New Hacker’s Dictionary, “meatspace

I am faced with the daunting task of reviewing Meatspace. The temptation is to say, “This is stunning! It makes [insert name of classic] look like a bad Pong clone! I want to play it again and again!” It’s a temptation, not because the game doesn’t live up to that praise, but because discerning readers read reviews like that and their defenses go up against a reviewer who is, to put it delicately, getting slightly carried away.

So I’ll let go of the obvious temptation, and talk about how Meatspace handles physics. There’s another game we all know where player slang for a smoke grenade is “lag bomb”, because the physics of the smoke is so taxing that it slows the other player’s computer to a crawl: a smoke grenade, aka lag bomb, is a cheap way to half-paralyze other players. Maybe that’s an extreme example, but haven’t we all dealt with games where things get choppy (maybe just a little) when there’s a lot going on?

That doesn’t happen in Meatspace. End of discussion. Period. For one example, one of a million little effects done perfectly is a squirrel running across your path. It’s a throwaway effect, really: the game would appear quite convincing without it, but every single detail, from how the furry little body changes shape as it moves to the artificial intelligence controlling its motion to every single perfectly rendered hair, is flawless. Trying to find something that works as a lag bomb simply doesn’t work. Move over, physics engines that have a reasonably convincing rag doll effect. Move over, for that matter, the supercomputers I used at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. The physics is absolutely stunning.

But to say that and stop there is to paint a deceptive picture. Very deceptive. The physics and the graphics are the best I’ve seen, but there is more to the game than the physics. Many players don’t give the physics a second thought. However well done the physics may be, and however stunningly advanced, the physics is one piece among a million. A beautiful piece, admittedly, but not even one of the biggest. At least to most players; there are some players who play only for the sight and sound aspect, but you can play the game well without those things even being much of a consideration. As impressive as the physics are, and as impressive as every sensory effect is, it would be deceptive at best to say that the game is driven by sight and sound.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the book, but unfortunately not the movie), Zaphod Beeblebrox is drawn towards the Total Perspective Vortex, which we learn is a horrifying death, before learning why it is a horrifying death. The Total Perspective Vortex shows a person’s absolute (in)significance within the universe as an insignificant and forgettable item in a universe that is vast beyond measure. And that is such a horrifying experience that people die from the trauma. Except that Zaphod walks into the Total Perspective Vortex and walks out not only not dead, but contented, happy, proud, and even more full of himself than usual.

What has been happening is that Zaphod has been in an alternate universe, and more specifically an alternate universe that completely revolves around him. He is the most important feature of the universe, and the universe knows it. Had he been thrown into the realuniverse’s Total Perspective Vortex, he would have been destroyed by it.

And in fact with the other computer games I’ve played and written, the player is the center of the universe. And that’s not the end of it. The universe revolves around the player, and in fact nothing is put into the game but things that are for the player. In a room in a first person shooter, there are millions and in fact billions of ways to see the room. But, if there is a player in the room, only one of those perspectives or angles is calculated: the player’s. Everything else is simply ignored. If there isn’t a player in the room, the room might as well not be visible. And the rooms themselves exist for the player. The player is a good deal more than the center of the universe: if it’s not there for the player, it’s not there.

Maybe I’ve been the center of the universe in other games I’ve played. In Meatspace, I am not the center of the universe. Meatspace has such an immense, fathomless universe that you or I could never be its center.

In Meatspace, if I am in a room and I can see, the light goes just as well where I can’t see it as where I can see it. If I leave the light on and walk out of the room, the room is visible—the physics calculations go on—just as well as I am in the room. There are places I could get to, and places I could never get to, and both are developed in full detail—even though there are many more places I couldn’t get to than places I could (conceivably) travel to. When I play the game—or, to be more exact, when I join the game—there are billions of others in the game, the vast, vast majority of whom have no idea that I am there. If I’m the center of a game’s universe, the universe is miserably small. In Meatspace, there is a universe with so many stars that no one inside the game knows exactly how many, and one planet on one of those stars is a rich enough world that no matter how long you played you could never see more than a tiny slice of its treasures.

And AI in the game… To talk about artificial intelligence, I need to draw an analogy with anime. When people watch anime, they are not so imperceptive that they think that the pictures look exactly like people, or cars, or whatever. What they do is cooperate with pictures that most people would never confuse with the real thing, and make believe with some not-very-realistic cartoons, and in their minds give something that isn’t really there. The pictures certainly suggest people, or whatever else they are supposed to represent. But people watching it cooperate and overlook some rather vast differences between the pictures and what people pretend the pictures are.

In games, the artificial intelligence is like this. You can pretend that you’re really having a conversation, or even that the non-player characters move around in a natural way. You can cooperate with the artificial intelligence the way anime enthusiasts cooperate with the cartoon. But you’re being generous.

I didn’t have to pretend the Meatspace people were intelligent. They were intelligent, without my pretending. The game was much more interesting than if the universe, and everybody’s life, revolved around me. People had an infinite wealth of experiences, stories, goals, projects, desires, habits, and I may have been part of the picture, but the picture was far bigger than me. When I talked with people, I was not pretending they were intelligent. There was no need. I was stepping into a larger world. In a fantasy world, characters talk about selling magic items, rumors, joining a party, and other things that revolve around a cramped player. I can’t list all the things people talk about in Meatspace (my hard drive only has 30 gigabytes of free space), but talking with another person is an encounter with a larger world that includes more than your priorities. The way other people appear in Meatspace is something I’ve never seen in another game: an opportunity to step into something deeper and vaster than “Me! Me! Me!”

And this is deceptive, because it generally describes something in a game where nothing is generic—everything is always specific. I’d like to give a slice of specifically what I encountered.

I went through a meandering course that took me through shops with sundry wares, ended up purchasing a few square feet of something very much like leather, and settled down at a place where I could get a food ration. Except “food ration” is a generic and therefore inappropriate term; they did not sell me a “food ration”, but (in this case) a delightfully spiced beef curry with vegetables and rice.

As I was waiting for them to make my food, there were pictures around. There was one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting on a low stone wall in front of a French formal garden and chateau, one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting on a camel in front of an Egyptian pyramid, and one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting against a powerful red sports car. There were other pictures obscured by stacked boxes of soda. The women, as well as being beautiful and wearing flattering Western clothes, had the general build and almost the complexion of a Western ideal of beauty.

I had seen this kind of artwork in previous levels of Meatspace—in one large area, there was simply no other kind of picture you could buy on a calendar—but I’d always been puzzled by it. This time, there was something else I could see. They were almost like religious icons. This is not to say that people specifically believed religious doctrines about them, or that there was some failure of perceivedly due reverence in stacking boxes of soda in front of them, or some other things like that, but it is to say that they aren’t just pictures of what they show. What they show is not only exotic but the emblem of something transcendent that’s shining through. And I can be saddened by some things about them—those pictures can easily slide into the pornographic—but there is something I was saddened by that I am no longer bothered by.

The image of beauty and transcendence is Western much for some of the same reasons that (for a tongue in cheek example) we have a Great White Ninja played by Chris Farley in Beverly Hills Ninja. The West is exotic to the East, and the East is exotic to the West. The pictures are misunderstood if they are not seen as a sort of stained glass window that people look at because they see something shining through it.

There’s probably a lot more to be said. If I spent several more years of play just to investigate the question, I might also be able to tell you why the shops allowed me to purchase about a square yard of an artificial surrogate for leather, and a few yards of cord, for less money than I would earn in an hour. For now, my game play has included little research into how communities can produce or fail to produce wealth. I just know enough to know that a detail like that, like the kind of system where there are poor people who eat meat with every meal, is a balancing act that has never before been managed in two and a half million years of human community, and quite probably a balancing act that will not survive longer than its civilization, any more than a tree can keep growing once its river runs dry.

There is something about the Meatspace levels we find ourselves in that makes it harder to see the gems around us. The medieval and the Arthurian looks a certain way to us after they no longer exist. What do things look like if we look at our placement in Meatspace as it might appear when our technological society is but a memory?

My avatar (but one could take a long time explaining how it is more than an avatar) was just in a place with Gothic lettering on a sign on the ground, saying, “Spaccarelli Meditation Garden.” A pale, almost luminous statue of the Virgin overlooks a waterfall, rocks, plants, and a bench. The garden is small, but in its enclosed space one can be drawn into the quiet of the waterfall’s song, forget about the outside world, even the nearby Gothic buildings—Gothic buildings that did not exist in the Middle Ages but do exist on a level that didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. I have since moved to a building that combines the Gothic with the modern: I can see stonework that evokes the Gothic, and I see it through a glass wall which would have been extremely unlikely at a time when glass cost as much as a precious metal.

Some players entered the game wishing they were set in the future instead of the past—anything but where they are now. What would my life have been like if I were born in the Middle Ages? That’s simple enough. I would have died in infancy, and my mother with me. Usually when I imagine myself in the Middle Ages, I take any number of things for granted.

The Middle Ages—the knights in armor of Arthurian legend, a picture which becomes even more interesting when it is deepened with scholarly resources to include a different way of perceiving time and space, the shadow of Plato, minstrels singing love songs, precursors to scientific method which become all the more interesting if one looks not at what they became but what they came from—all of this makes for a lost world that is all the more haunting because it can only be entered as a memory.

The character I play is studying theology at a university. “University” means a tradition that began in the Middle Ages, and it means living in community with other students and scholars, free to use technology but always connecting face-to-face and meeting as flesh and blood. As well as the older kind of university, the technology in Meatspace has allowed another kind of education which is a new enough possibility that many players remember when it would have been impossible. In the new model, a student may never meet any of his teachers; there is no sense of living together in community and no real sense that a path or way which has defined teaching since before the ancients is necessary. Not everyone in the ancient model understood or even would accepted the idea that a university should be an embodied community. But the only alternative, the older kind of correspondence school, never enjoyed the same prestige. Now there is another model, not so much another kind of community as a way to substitute for community and embodied presence, and it is gaining a massive ground in a short time. It is a real threat to the older university.

Given the rapid ascent of the “bodiless university”, it seems to me quite possible that by the end of my game, I will have seen the old order of a university as an embodied community as it has been since its medieval birth, will have vanished as the horse-drawn carriage vanished after Henry Ford introduced what seemed to simply be another option (besides riding a horse). Perhaps this will never happen, but if you consider how much could vanish, and how much is easy to take for granted, the scholarly community has something as hauntingly beautiful as the knight in shining armor, or perhaps more beautiful, and this is not only because the university is a medieval institution and some universities have Gothic architecture. The roots run much deeper than that. And that is only one slice of the game—a rather small slice, all things considered.

Technology in this area of the game is interesting, and more importantly than just the technology, the cultural forces surrounding technology are interesting. They hold a tragic beauty, in its own way as tragic and as beautiful as the tale of Arthur’s death: two armies stood across from each other, and each had been ordered not to attack unless the other side drew a sword. Then one soldier saw a snake in the grass, drew his sword to protect himself. Then the battle began, and King Arthur was mortally wounded. On the side of technology, the community had achieved technology that opened up possibilities that never existed before partly because it had oriented itself toward technology as no such community had done before. That made for a sorceror’s bargain that made it difficult to perceive other kinds of beauty in other cultures—or for that matter, their own. The full cultural story—were it possible to fully understand—is even deeper in its tragic beauty than the bittersweet hypothesis of a disembodied university opening up something new while hurting the older tradition. One cannot seriously examine technology without seeing its power—and even its beauty—yet in this society, it is a minority at best who know what it means, and what the beauty would consist of, for a society ordered around other principles like contemplation.

Yet to say that is silly. It’s like reviewing a chess program by describing the art history behind the pictures representing the pawns. Interesting, perhaps, and perhaps impressive, but it falls short of the mark, as does any serious attempt to review Meatspace. I haven’t discussed 99% of an expanse of pavement stretching as far as the eye can see and then further, nor a room that lets me look out over trees and buildings as if I were suspended in the sky, nor a melting pot which combines the wealth of Africa, indigenous Americans, Europe, and Asia and which is believed to be the birthplace of hip hop, nor indeed what it means to be in an outer borough in the “capital of the world,” nor why some dismiss the Bronx as being not a very nice place to live. I believe I have deeply failed to capture the global spirit of Meatspace because I gave too little attention to the unique local character of my level—and you cannot play Meatspace without encountering such a unique local character. To play Meatspace is to enter a world rich with apples and appearances, books and buttercups, children and cats, drivel and daydreams, electronics and excellence, fables and fairy tales, grandeur and giggles, horses (yes, they still exist!) and houses, igloos and imagination, jumping and justice, kites and katana, languages and laughter, microscopes and megaphones, noses and noise, operas and obverses, porpoises and porcupines, quiet and quickness, roaches and Russia, Swiss Army Knives and spirit, transportation and tummies, understanding and understatements, vowels and vices, water and wisdom, xanthan gum and xylophones, yule logs and youth, zebras and zits. It is far beyond my power to describe them.

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Why Study Mathematics?

One question which is raised by many people is, “Why should I study mathematics?”. The question is usually asked from a perspective that there is probably no good and desirable reason for the speaker to study mathematics, but he will tolerate the minimum required because he has to, and then get on to more valuable and important things.

I readily acknowledge that there are many math classes which are drudgery and a general waste of time, and that many people have had experiences with mathematics which give them good reason to hold a distaste for the discipline. However, it is my hope that I may provide readers with an insight that there is something more to mathematics, and that this something more may be worthwhile.

Let’s begin by looking at the reasons that the reader may already have come across for why he should study mathematics:

  • There are certain basic computational skills that are needed in life. People should be able to figure out whether a 24-pack of their favorite soda for $3.89 is a better or worse deal than a 12-pack for $1.99.
  • It builds character. I suffered through mathematics for such-and-such many years. So should you.

Of course, nobody explicitly says the second reason, but it may very well seem that way—like one of the hush-hushed truths that the Adult Conspiracy hides from students the same way it hides the fact that there is no Santa Claus from little children. And the first reason is something that many non-mathematical administrators believe.

But those are not the real reasons that a mathematician will give for why a nonmathematician should study mathematics, and what kind of mathematics a nonmathematician should study.

The first question which should be addressed is, “What is mathematics really about?”

The answer which many nonmathematicians may have is something along the lines of, “Mathematics, at its heart, is about learning and using formulas and things like that. In gradeschool, you learn the formulas and methods to add, subtract, multiply, and divide; then in middle school and high school it is on to bigger and better formulas, like the formula for the slope of a line passing through two points. Then in college, if your discipline unfortunately requires a little mathematics (such as the social sciences requiring statistics), you learn formulas that are even more complicated and harder to remember. The deeper you go into mathematics, the more formulas and rote methods you have to learn, and the worse it gets.”

The best response I can think of to that question is to respond by analogy, and my response is along the following lines:

A child is in school will be taught various grammatical rules, sentence diagramming, and so on. These will be drilled and studied for quite a long while, and it must be said that this is not the most interesting of areas to study.

An English teacher who is asked, “Is this what your discipline is really about?”, will almost certainly answer, “No!”. Perhaps the English student is proficient in grammar, but that’s not what English is about. English is about literature—about stories, about ideas, about characters, about plots, about poetic description, about philosophy, about theology, about thinking, about life. Grammar is not studied so that people can suffer through learning more pointless grammar; grammar is studied to provide students with a basic foundation from which they will be able to use the English language. It is a little drudgery which is worked through so that students may behold an object of great beauty.

This is the function of the formulas and rules of mathematics. Not rules and formulas so that the student is prepared for more rules and formulas, but rules and formulas which are studied so that the student can go past them to see what mathematics is really about.

And what is mathematics really about? Before I give a full answer, let me say that it is something like what English is about.

The one real glimpse that someone who has been through high school may have had of mathematics is in the study of geometry. There are a few things about high school geometry that I would like to point out:

  • In geometry, one is given certain axioms and postulates (for example, the parallel postulate—given a line and a point not on the line, there is exactly one line through the given point which does not intersect the given line), definitions (a circle is the set of points equidistant (at an equal distance) from a given point), and undefined terms (point, line). From those axioms and postulates, definitions, and undefined terms, one begins to explore what they imply—theorems and lemmas.
  • In geometry, rote memorization is not enough—and, in fact, is in and of itself one of the least effective approaches to take. It is necessary to understand—to get an intuitive grasp of the material. Learning comes from the “Aha!” when something clicks and fits together—then it is the idea that remains in the student’s memory.
  • Geometry builds upon itself. One starts with fundamentals (axioms, postulates, definitions, and undefined terms), and uses them to prove basic theorems, which are in turn used along with axioms and postulates to prove more elaborate theorems, and so on. It is like a building—once the foundation has been laid, beams and walls may be secured to the foundation, and then one may continue to build up from the foundation and from what has been secured to the foundation. Geometry is an edifice built on its fundamentals with logic, and the structure that is ultimately built is quite impressive.
  • Geometry is an abstract and rigorous way of thinking. (More will be made of this later.)
  • Geometry is about creative problem solving. The aforespoken edifice—or, more specifically, what is in that edifice—is used by the geometer as tools with which to solve problems. Problem solving—figuring out how to prove a theorem or do a construction (which is a special kind of theorem)—is a creative endeavor, as much as painting, musical improvisation, or writing (and I am writing as one who does mathematics, paints, improvises, and writes).

Imagine a dream where there are many pillars—some low, some high—all of which are too high to step up to, and all of which are wide enough to stand upon.

Now imagine someone dreaming this dream. That person looks at one of the pillars and asks, “Has anyone been on top of that pillar?” Then one of the Inhabitants of his dream answers, “No, nobody has been on top of that pillar.” Then the person looks at another of the pillars, which has a set of stairs next to it, and asks, “Has anyone been on top of that pillar over there?”. The answer is, “Yes, someone has, and has left behind a set of steps. You may take those steps and climb up on top of the pillar yourself, if you wish.”

And this person continues, and sees more pillars. Some of them stand alone, too high to step up to, and nobody has been to those. Others have had someone on top, and there is always a set of steps which the person left behind, by which he may climb up personally. And the steps go every which way—some go straight up, some go one way and then another, some seem to almost go sideways. Some are very strange. Some pillars have more than one set of steps. But all of them lead up to the top of the pillar.

The person dreaming may well have the impression that one gets atop a pillar by laying down one step, then another, then another, until one has assembled steps that reach to the top of the pillar. And, indeed, it is possible to climb the steps up to the pillars that others have gone to first.

But that impression is wrong.

And the person sees what really happens when the guide becomes very excited and says, “Look over there! There is a great athlete who is going to attempt a pillar that nobody has ever been atop!”

And the athlete runs, and jumps, and sails through the air, and lands on top of the pillar.

And when the athlete lands, there appears a set of stairs around the pillar. The athlete climbs up and down the stairs a few times to tidy them up for other people, but the stairs were produced, not by laying down slabs of stone one atop another, but by jumping.

Then the guide explained to the dreamer that the athlete had learned to jump not only by looking at the steps that others had left, but by jumping to other pillars that already had steps, instead of using the steps.

Then the dreamer woke up.

What does the story mean?

The pillars are mathematical facts, some proven and some unproven.

The pillars that stand alone are mathematical facts that nobody has proven.

The pillars that stand with steps leading up to them are mathematical facts that have been proven.

The steps are the steps of proofs, the little assertions. As some of the steps are bizarre, so are some proofs. As some pillars have more than one path of steps, so some facts have more than one known proof.

The leap is a flash of intuition, by which the mathematician knows which of many steps will take him where he wants to go.

As the steps appeared when the leap was made, so the proof appears when the flash of intuition comes. The athlete then tidied up the steps, as the mathematician writes down and clarifies the proof, but the proof comes from jumping, not from building one step on another.

The athlete was the mathematician.

Finally, the athlete became an athlete not only by climbing up and down existing steps, but also by jumping up to pillars that already had steps—one becomes skilled at making intuitive leaps, not only by learning existing proofs, but also by solving already proven problems as if there were no proof to read.

As one philosophy major commented to me, “Mathematicians do proofs, but they don’t use them.”

That flash of insight is the flash of inspiration that artists work under, and in this sense a mathematician is very similar to an artist. (What do a mathematician and an artist have in common? Both are pursuing beauty, to start with…)

This character of mathematics that is captured in geometry is true to geometry, but the actual form that it takes is largely irrelevant. Other branches of mathematics, properly taught, could accomplish just the same purpose, and for that matter could just as well replace geometry. Two other disciplines which draw heavily on applied mathematics, namely computer science and physics, have essentially the same strong points. I would hold no objections, for that matter, if high school geometry classes were replaced by strategy games like chess and go.

Mathematics is about puzzle solving; I would refer the reader to works such as Raymond Smullyan’s The Lady or the Tiger? and Colin Adams’s The Knot Book: an Elementary Introduction to the Mathematical theory of Knots. There are many people to whom mathematics is a recreation, consisting of the pleasure of solving puzzles. If mathematics is approached as memorizing incomprehensible formulas and hoping to have the good luck to guess the right formula at the right time, it will be a chore and a torture. If it is instead approached as puzzle solving, the activity will yield unexpected pleasure.

My father has a doctorate in physics and teaches computer science. He has said, more than once, that he would like for all of his students to take physics before taking his classes. There is a very important and simple reason for this. It is not because he wants his students to program physics simulators, or because there is any direct application of the mathematics in physics to the computer science he teaches. There isn’t. It is because of the problem solving, the manner of thinking. It is because someone who has learned how to think in a way that is effective in physics, will be able to think in a way that is effective in computer science.

This applies to other disciplines as well. Ancient Greek philosophers, and medieval European theologians, made the study of geometry a prerequisite to the study of their respective disciplines. It was not because the constructions or theorems would be directly useful in making claims about the nature of God. Like physics and computer science, there was no direct application. But in order to study geometry, one had to be able to think rigorously, analytically, critically, logically, and abstractly.

Thinking logically and abstractly is an important discipline in life and in other academic disciplines that consist of thinking—it has been said that if you can do mathematics, you can do almost anything. The main reason mathematics is valuable to the non-mathematician is as a form of weight lifting for the mind. Even when the knowledge has no application, the finesse that’s learned can be useful.

To the non-mathematician, mathematics is a valuable discipline which offers practice in how to think well—both analytic thought and problem solving. Mathematics classes will most profitably be approached, not as “What is the formula I have to memorize,” but with ideas such as those enumerated here. The nonmathematician who approaches a mathematics class as an opportunity for disciplined thought and problem solving will do better, profit more, and maybe, just maybe, enjoy the course.

It is my the hope that this essay have provided the nonmathematician with an inkling of why it is profitable for people who aren’t going to be mathematicians to still study mathematics.

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He Created Them Male and Female, Masculine and Feminine

Cover for Knights and Ladies, Women and Men

God is the Creator and Origin of all. Leaving out of address the Problem of Evil, there is nothing good which does not issue from him.

That stated, God does have the power to create something which is both new and good, a good which is not in himself. That is an implication of the extent to which he is the Creator.

I would point to the material, physical world as a prime example of this. We are created as carnal creatures, and that is good. It is a gift given to us, and any spirituality which shuns or disdains the physical is a lie.

The physical, though, was wholly created. In history, after the Creation in Eden, God the Son became incarnate by the virgin Mary, but now (God the Father and God the Holy Spirit) and then in the three persons of God, God (was) an aphysical spirit.

When I speak of God as being masculine and not feminine, I am not asserting that femininity is an evil characteristic, or unreal, or something else of that order. Femininity was created as good. I am simply speaking of God as being masculine and not feminine.


I think that the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang (although not perfect for this purpose — look far enough in writings, and you will find lots of weird mysticism that wanders from truth) is capable of illuminating the matter a great deal. (I will, rather than refute, simply leave out what is inconsistent with Christian teaching)

First of all, the thought of Yin and Yang is greatly present. Something highly similar is embodied in that the structure of most languages intrinsically speaks of masculine and feminine; if I were writing this in French, at least half of the words would be masculine or feminine. It is not another superficial detail; it is a manner in which the world is seen.

Yang is the masculine, active principle; Yin is the passive, feminine principle. In a landscape, Yang is the great mountain which thrusts out and stands because that is the nature of its solid presence; Yin is the flat land or the valley whose quiet nature is there. Yang is rough and solid, the might and majesty of an organ played sforzando, the deep echo of tympani, the firmness of a rock. Yin is the soft and supple, the peacefulness of an organ (key of F) played gedekt, the sweet resonance of a soprano voice, the pliancy of velvet and water. Yang is constant and immutable; Yin is conformant and polymorphic. Yang gives; Yin receives.

The relation between God and man is the relation between Yang and Yin.

God is HE WHO IS, the rock and foundation. In God is such power and authority that he commanded, “Let there be light,” and it was so. It is God whose mere presence causes mountains to melt like wax, at whose awesome presence the prophet Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am destroyed.”

God created a garden, and placed man in it, telling him to receive; he forbade eating one of the two trees in the center of the garden (the other was the Tree of Life) only after telling them to enjoy and eat freely of the trees.

Again to Noah, God gave salvation from the flood.

Abraham, God called.

Moses, God bestowed the Law.

David, God promised an heir.

Israel, God sent prophets and righteous men.

In the fullness of time, God sent his Son.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. Yahweh Sabaoth is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Righteousness is not something we earn; it is something Jesus earned for us when he offered one perfect sacrifice for all time. Works come because “we are sanctified by faith and faith alone, but faith which sanctifies is never alone.” The forgiveness of sins is a pure and undeserved gift; the power to obey, by the motion of the Spirit is a gift. All who accept and abide in these gifts will be presented spotless before God the Father, as the bride of Christ to feast with the bridegroom in glory, joy, and peace for all eternity. Christ, like the phoenix who dies only to shoot forth blazing in new glory, afire with the power of an indestructible life, offers this life to us, that we also may receive it.

The thread running through all of these things, through the words “Ask and receive, that your joy may be complete,” indeed through all of Scripture from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, is, “I love you. Receive.”

To ask if God is more like a man or more like a woman is a backwards question.

The answer instead begins by looking at God.

God is the ultimate Yang.

“All creatures embody Yin and embrace Yang.”

-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Man, next to God, is Yin. It is only in comparison with each other that the human male is Yang and the human female is Yin; both are very Yin in the shadow of God.

It is something of this that is found in the passages that most explicitly speak of the imago dei:

“God created man in his image; In the image of God he created him; Male and female he created them.”

Gen. 1:27

“With [the tongue], we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, made in God’s image.”

James 3:9

“…[the man] is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man…. In the Lord, however, man is not independant of woman, nor is woman independant of man. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”

I Cor. 11:7-9, 11-12

Now, before I proceed, let me issue a clear statement that this does not bear an implication of murder of a woman is no big deal, men are moral entities but women are chattels, or some other such nonsense. The Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” not “Do unto other males as you would have them do unto you;” indeed, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s letters, etc. were addressed to women as well as men. I could devote space to a detailed explanation of why it is wrong to treat women as subhuman, but I do not think that that particular problem is great enough now (at least here/in formal thought) to need a refutation, although it certainly merits a sharp reproof when it does appear.

The picture painted is one of the male being a Yin-reflection of God, and (here in a manner which is not nearly so different, and is essentially equal) the female being a Yin-reflection of God and man.

It is all humanity to which obedience means being Yin to God’s Yang, being clay which is pliant and supple in the hands of the potter. It is, in my opinion, one of the great graces, along with becoming the sons and daughters of God, that the Church is/is to be the bride of Christ. (Note that in the Old Testament and the New Testament alike, the metaphor is quite specifically bride, not ‘spouse’ in a generic sense and never ‘husband’.)
The relation between God and man is the relation between Yang and Yin; God is more Yang than Yang. The difference dwarfs even the profound differences between human male and female. There is a sense in which the standard is the same; even in the passages in which Paul talks about this order, there is nothing of a man having a macho iron fist and a woman being a nauseating sex toy. Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as if to the Lord,” comes immediately after some words that are quite unfortunately far less cited: “Believers, submit to one another in love,” and the following words to husbands make an even higher call: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up to her.” Elucidation elsewhere (“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them,” Col. 3:19) speaks at least as plainly; the passages addressed to wives telling them to submit are quite specifically addressed to wives, and not to husbands. The words, “Husbands, here is how you are to impose submission on your wives and keep them under control,” do not appear anywhere in Scripture.

To have a man who is macho and dominant, whose ideal of the ultimate form of manhood is Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying around a Gatling gun, or to have a woman who is wishy-washy and insubstantial, who is “so wonderfully free of the ravishes of intelligence” (Time Bandits), is disagreeable. It is, however, not at all disagreeable because “All people are essentially identical, but our phallocentric society has artificially imposed these unnatural gender differences.” It is not anything close to that.

It is rather that macho and wishy-washy both represent an exceedingly shallow, flattened out (per)version of masculinity or femininity. It is like the difference between an artificial cover of politeness and etiquette over a heart of ice, and a real and genuine love.

The solution is not to become unisex, but to move to a robust, three dimensional, profound, and true masculinity or femininity. There is a distinctly masculine, and a distinctly feminine way to embody virtue. It is like eating a hot casserole as contrasted to eating a cool piece of fruit: both are good and solidly nourishing, but they are different.

[note: I handwrote this document, and decided to type it later… a part of this next paragraph will have the same effect as Paul’s words, “See what large letters I am using as I write with my own hand,” in the tiny print of a pocket NIV… I am choosing to leave it in, because its thought contributes something even when the script is lost]

I know that I am not the perfect image of masculinity — there is a good deal of both macho and effeminacy in me — but there is one little thing of myself that I would like to draw attention to: my handwriting, the script in which this letter is written. It should be seen at a glance by anyone who thinks about it that this was written by a male; rather than the neat, round letters of a feminine script, this script bears fire and energy. I draw this to attention because it is one example of (in my case) masculinity showing itself in even a tiny detail.

A good part of growing mature is for a man to become truly masculine, and for a woman to grow truly feminine; it is also to be able to see masculinity and femininity.

Vive la différence!

Do We Have Rights?

Knights and Ladies

The Patriarchy we object to

What the Present Debate Will Not Tell You About Headship

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Institutional Pages:

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Christian Classics Ethereal Library
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library, available on CD-ROM, is a collection of numerous classic Christian public domain e-texts, a lifetime’s worth of reading. G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is a good place to start. This site also has links to other sites hosting noteworthy Christian content.

First Things: A Journal of Religion and Public Life
After long and frustrated surfing through innumerable web pages looking for serious Christian thought, and finding pages that are among human thought what MacDonald’s is among foods, I found a First Things article entitled Abortion: A Failure to Communicatethat was a breath of fresh air and then some: it was serious, thought-provoking, and drew attention to facts that were important but not obvious. First Things is a good place to go if you want to chomp on conceptual meat.

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The Gutenberg Project
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The Onion Dome
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Orthodox Church in America Saints: The Prologue
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Vote Smart
For reasons elaborated by Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business, present American political discourse is a matter of show business, sound bites, empty phrases, and hard-hitting images — not rational arguments and positions — to the effect that most of what reaches us from the candidates is not helpful in choosing who to vote for.

When I asked around for websites that would cut through the circus and tell where candidates stand on issues, Vote Smart was reccommended to me. I am mentioning it, not to say that it’s better than other sites in the same category, but in hopes that people may use resources like this to get past TV showmanship, and vote based on where the candidates stand on the issues.

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This category is for personal sites, including those of friends and acquaintances who publish real content, that I like. At the moment, it’s small (my best friend Robin’s site, for instance, has little besides a resume and some links), but I’m hoping that it will grow over time.

Josh Wibberley’s Wolfhawke
Wolfhawke is on this page because it contains fiction and some nonfiction — as well as having a nice look and feel. Josh is an American who grew up in Turkey and has lived in Germany, and we mesh well.

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On Kything

0
Nota bene: Before the reflection, I have included a couple of journal entries which are alluded to and whose content contributes to the discourse. People not interested can skip down.

I was walking outside and met Robin, and we talked. When he asked me how I was doing, I didn’t have much to say, but mentioned a few thoughts I’d had. Then I asked him how he was doing, and he said that he had been feeling really close to God, and more aware of other people.

I hadn’t mentioned, because it had been around so long, the emptiness I was feeling, and I became more acutely aware of how dry my own spiritual life had been, how mechanical of an exercise my Bible reading was.

That night, I was walking over to Wheaton’s campus for Pooh’s Corner (a group of people that meets to read children’s books aloud). A long and slow-moving freight train was crossing the tracks. While I was standing and waiting, I thought about the conversation and my own dryness, and decided to work on my spiritual state when I got home.

—No, not when you get home. Now.

—Not now! I’m waiting for a train.

—Now.

I decided to do something then and there. But what? Iniative and power are all on God’s side; there was nothing I could do that would accomplish closeness between God and me. So I prayed a simple prayer.

That moment, I was filled with joy and peace, deeper than I had known in a long time. I paced back and forth in that joy and peace waiting for the train — enjoying through them the simple little things: the walking, the sound of the train. Whatever I did, there was God.

I thought about Thérèse de Lisieux’s little way (as depicted in the movie Household Saints), about resting in God’s presence, and of being in God’s will in even the most simple places — even waiting for a train. At a low spot — when I medically can’t work above half-time, and have an intermittent job not related to computers — and when used to thinking about serving God in spectacular and heroic ways, it was good to realize that. I went on to Pooh’s corner, and enjoyed things there a great deal more. There were milk and cookies, and I enjoyed them in a different way than I usually enjoy food. I usually eat good food slowly and in little bites, to consciously savor its flavor — but I do not completely engage, or rather I am not able to let go of my disengagement. This time I was able to engage, and not just with the milk and cookies; I was also able to engage with the camaraderie and silliness.

When I create something (even something little), there is a first conception of the idea, then an incubation period where I let the idea ferment, then a time of implementation. The fermenting period is one which I cherish, and one which I had rarely experienced since a loss of creativity associated with my medication (the creativity has returned after an adjustment of the levels of those medications). I experienced it then. I also spent time worrying about the loss of the joy and peace, although I tried not to.


At Pooh’s Corner, I was distracted for a good part of it, wanting to get up and write about the posting on the forum wall, but still trying to enjoy it, as that would be all the Pooh’s Corner I would have for the week. Pooh’s Corner meets in the lobby of Fischer dorm, where I stayed my freshman year. It is a place full of distractions and people passing through. There is a piano there, and partway through I realized in a flash that I had been drinking the music in the same way that I drink wine.

What I mean is this: Wine, as contrasted to e.g. milk or juice, is something you can only take a small amount of. You can drink water until your thirst is quenched, or have several glasses of milk, but with wine it is different. If you are having one drink, then that translates to a 5 ounce glass — not even a full cup. If you drink it the same way you drink Pepsi, you are going to find yourself holding an empty glass before you know it.

Consequently, when I drink wine, I sip it very slowly, and I consciously savor it in a way that would never occur to me if I could drink an indefinite quantity and remain sober. What I realized last night as I was thinking about my realization was that I taste wine in a way that I do not taste milk. I drink milk, and like it, and vaguely and absently taste it, but do not taste it wholly. With wine, the realization that I only have a little amount and it will soon be gone keeps me from absently quaffing glass after glass; when I have a glass of wine, I sometimes close my eyes and am able to taste it so intensely that I am not aware of anything else.

That is what happened with the music, and which I realized afterwards. I have no control over the music that is played, and the most beautiful passages seem to be over so quickly. At one point in the music, I was doing the same thing as I do when I hold a sip of wine in my mouth, close my eyes, and savor it — I was concentrating on it so intensely that I was not aware of anything else (in a busy room with many voices talking and people passing through), and when it was over I had a feeling of having drunk it to the dregs.

It was somewhat strange to realize that I had learned such a thing from wine. My attitude towards alcohol is European rather than American, and (without trying to trace the argument here) I regard alcohol as a symbol of moderation, and learning to enjoy things in a temperate manner (the Puritan attitude towards alcohol). I had not, though, expected that in drinking I would learn something of this nature. I think that what I did is close to what goes on in empathic listening — a drinking in with your whole being. At the beginning of this journal, I talked about not being able to engage. This is a point where I have learned to truly engage in one area, and it may well help me to engage in others — it has helped me to enjoy music, at least.


I was also thinking, Tuesday, about a point related to chapter 4 of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Specifically, many things imagined as magic and psychic phenomena are exaggerated and cosmetically altered versions of things God has given us. For example, teleportation (to be able to move instantaneously from point to point) is less astounding than being able to move from point to point in the first place, and there are many creatures which live without any such faculty (such as trees). Telekenesis is not that much more astounding than having hands with which to move things. Mental telepathy is quite similar to speech, and the surprise we would have at seeing mental telepathy is nothing like the surprise an animal (with a sufficiently anthropomorphic mind) would have at discovering that once one of these creatures learns something, the rest know it. It would be like what reaction we might have upon first learning certain things about Star Trek’s Borg, multiplied tenfold. If it is thought of in this manner, the concept of speech is far more impressive than the concept of altering speech by changing the channel through which the mind-to-mind transmission occurs. It might be also pointed out that, in the past few millenia, we have found another channel for mind-to-mind transmission to occur: reading and writing. When one pair of Wycliffe missionaries was working with some tribesmen, they were trying to persuade the chief of the advantage of writing. One of them left the other room, and the other one asked the chief’s mother’s name, and wrote it down. When his partner returned and read her name, the chief almost fainted.

There are a couple of things that come from this.

The first is that God’s creation really is magical, in the sense of being something awesome, and something we should be amazed that we have. It is in our nature to become blasé; our eyes become glazed over at magnificent things. If we can somehow let scales fall from our eyes, we would be dumbstruck at what we have — for example, music.

The second is that, if we can become blasé at what God has given us, we would probably also become blasé at the things we fantasize about. When I was a child, I absolutely loved to swim, and I wished that I could breathe underwater… but that (after a little while) would have held nothing for me than being able to breathe air, hold my breath, and swim underwater. I have fantasized about all of the special powers that I would like to have, and when I do that I do not much enjoy the gifts I have, not only as a human being, but personally — my sharp mind and so on and so forth.

Also related to this insight was kything… In A Wind in the Door, Madeleine l’Engle uses the word ‘kythe’ to describe a beautiful communion beyond communication. It is the whole cherubic language, of which mental telepathy is just the beginning. It holds a similar place to ‘grok’ in Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and the meanings of the two words are similar. I am not going to try per se to describe its meaning further, but simply refer the reader to that excellent book.

What he had actually seen she could not begin to guess. That he had seen something, something unusual, she was positive.

This is the same sort of feeling I felt about kything.

There is something in that word that strikes a deep chord in my spirit; it is the primary reason why that is my favorite book out of the series, and at times been one of my favorite books at all. In conjunction with the above musing, l’Engle’s portrait of kything has a beauty that is not an ex nihilo creation, that shows forth a beauty that is really in this world but which we do not see. I would very much like to kythe — but I can’t do what’s in the book without sinning. What is in this world that embodies the beauty of kything?

As I was thinking and praying, I realized several things that may, in a sense, be called kything, that are beautiful in the same way. I felt a Spirit-tugging to list a hundred such things. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that, or if so where I’ll come up with a hundred, but I will none the less try.

100 Ways to Kythe
1: Prayer. Prayer allows a kind of communion with God that (at least this side of Heaven) we can’t have with anyone else. With God, prayer is not limited to words; we can pray with words, or with images, or with music… Prayer has the same opportunities for exploration as kything.2: Holy Communion. God speaks to us through that.

3: Martial arts sparring. It takes time (I’ve studied martial arts for a little over a year, and I’ve only begun to taste this), but there is something martial artists call ‘harmony with opponents’ that is a deep attunement. I’ve had one sparring match where I knew everything my opponent was going to do about a quarter second before he did it. A good book to read to get a little better feeling for this is The Way of Karate: Beyond Technique.

4: Flow, as described in Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence.

5: Empathic listening. This is listening in which the listener is completely attuned to the speaker. I don’t know any books to reccommend for that topic.

6: Drinking as I drink wine, or as I drank music.

7: Improvising musically. Music is an alien language, not symbolic, not logical, and yet speaking powerfully. When you can really let the music flow through you, you are kything.

8: Making love. The subject of the Song of Songs is not just a physical act, but a total communion between a man and a woman, united for life.

9: Stillness. There is a way of being still that is kything.

10: What I did at Pooh’s Corner the first night described.

(Well, there’s ten at one sitting… I expect to come back to this later.)

11: Mathematical problem solving. I won’t even begin to explain this, beyond saying that to those who have experienced it no explanation is necessary. Just remembered — there’s a good book on this topic for non-mathematicians, entitled, The Art of Mathematics.

12: Musical improvisation with another person. I have never done this, but I remember, at Calvin, being fascinated by my friends Bruce and Janna talking about when they improvised together at the keyboard. It worked. I believe, from conversations, that the Spirit was guiding them, and it was a communion with the Spirit and each other.

13: Singing prayers in tongues. I don’t pray this way very often, but when I do, it’s very uplifting. It is a praying, not with the rational mind, but with the spirit, and it receives what to say moment by moment from the Spirit.

14: Non-sexual touch. It’s going to be hard to say something brief here, as I’ve written a whole treatise on this point, but to try: Non-sexual touch can be deep, and express something words cannot. It is the nature of love to draw close; touch is an incarnate race’s physical means of communicating love, and for babies the first and foremost way of knowing love. Beyond that… if what I am saying doesn’t resonate within you (or if you’d just like a hug), ask me for a hug — a real one. It took me a long time, but I have learned how to touch, and at times to drink touch as I drink wine.

15: Dancing. Wheaton alumnus Alan Light wrote a beautiful letter about how he had adopted a code of duty, honor, and steadfastness, and a folkdancing class had opened his eyes to joy, peace, and freedom. There is something beautiful of those things that can be learned in dancing, something that it’s easy not to know you’re missing. (For all that, I don’t dance very well. Before a knee injury, I had something to do with my feet that looked impressive, but I haven’t learned to dance (to commune with others, to connect in a merry, moving hug) as I have learned to touch.)

(Coming back after a time) I can recall one occasion when I really danced. At the last Mennonite Conference I attended, both youth and adult worship were religion within the bounds of amusement, but the youth worship was at least honest about it, and I preferred it to the adult sessions. Before a Ken Medema concert, there was a group of high schoolers playing a dance game, and I joined in. It lifted me out of sorrow, and there was a vibrant synergy, a joy and connection and communion. It’s something that everyone should experience at least once. He who dances, sings twice.

16: An I-Thou relationship. An I-Thou relationship differs from an I-It relationship as kything differs from mental telepathy. I only got halfway through Martin Buber’s I and Thou before setting the book down, because it was too hard to concentrate on, but it says a lot about how to kythe. As pertains to prayer and kything with God, I would pose an insight in the form of a riddle: how is it that the saint and mystic refers to God as `I’ without blaspheming?

17: Dreaming. One story in a marvelous book, Tales of a Magic Monastery by Theophane the Monk, ended with a character saying, “While you tend to judge a monk by his decorum during the day, we judge him by the number of persons he touches at night, and the number of stars.” Dreaming has always been special to me; it allows access to a different, fantastic world. It can be a way to kythe. What if there were a culture that regarded dreaming rather than waking as the aroused state?

18: Praying with another person. Where two or three are gathered, he is with them. When they are praying, there is not only an individual bond between each one and God; there are connections within the group. There have been some people who hold that a man and a woman who are not married to each other should not pray together; I do not agree with that, but the fact that such a position has been taken by levelheaded believers seems to underscore that there is a communion between people who pray together.

19: Artistic creation. When I create something, it fills my mind, my musings; I kythe with it as I give it form.

20: Children’s play. Children’s play can be timeless and absorbing, and Peter Kreeft, in Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing, says that the activity of Heaven will be neither work, which is wearying, nor rest, which is passive, but pure and unending play, an activity which is energetic and energizing. Playing with children is entering into another world, a magical world, and entering into it means kything.

21: Listening prayers; listening to the Spirit. Ordinarily we think of prayer as speaking to God, but it is also possible to listen to him. And dancing with the Spirit — there are so many adventures to be had.

22: The Romance. There is a sacred Romance described in, for example, C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, and Brent Curtis’s Less-Wild Lovers: Standing at the Crossroads of Desire. You do not come to the Romance; the Romance comes to you, although you may respond. Being in that is kything.

(I thought I might be able to think of 20 ways of kything… I’ve already gotten past that, by God’s grace.)

23: Silliness. When some friends are doing something silly — tickling or teasing (without going too far — this is something I’m not very good at), for example, it is not thought of in terms of something serious (as ‘serious’ is misunderstood to mean ‘somber’). None the less, there is in the lightheartedness a bond being forged or strengthened, a connection being made. Kything at its best is communication that needs no symbolic content, that has something that can’t be reduced to words. So is grabbing your friend’s nose.

24: Friendship and family relations. This differs from the above items, in that it is not an instantaneous experience resembling an instant of kything. It is rather a bond over time that is more than communication, where hearts touch each other. It is a bond where two people know each other, and in the time spent together a connection accumulates.

25: Agape love. There is a vain phrase, “To know me is to love me,” that might fruitfully be turned around as, “To love me is to know me.”

One of the stories in Tales of a Magic Monastery goes roughly as follows:

The Crystal Globe

I told the guestmaster I’d like to become a monk.

“What kind of monk?” he asked. “A real monk?”

“Yes,” I said, “a real monk.”

He poured a cup of wine, and said, “Here, take this.”

No sooner had I drunk it than I became aware of a small crystal globe forming about me. It expanded until it included him.

Suddenly, this monk, who had seemed so commonplace, took on an astonishing beauty. I was struck dumb. I thought, “Maybe he doesn’t know how beautiful he is. Maybe I should tell him.” But I really was dumb. The wine had burned out my tongue!

After a time, he made a motion for me to leave, and I gladly got up, thinking that the memory of such beauty would be well worth the loss of my tongue. Imagine my surprise when, when each person would unwittingly pass into my globe, I would see his beauty too.

Is this what it means to be a real monk? To see the beauty in others and be silent?

There have been times that I have been able to see beauty in other people, sometimes beauty that they were not likely aware of. Robin and Joel might not think in these terms, but they have the sight that comes of love. The words, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” bespeak this kind of love. Love is the essence of kything.

26: Passion. When we are filled with passion, we are singleminded and undistracted. Someone said that hate is closer to love than is apathy; if anything is the opposite of kything, it is apathy. Kything need not be associated with intense emotion, but passion has something of the spark of kything.

27: Tears. Crying is cathartic, and comes unbidden at the moments when something comes really close to our heart — be it painful or joyful. My ex-fiancée Rebecca commented that she was impressed at one time she saw me crying in public. My friend Amy, after reading my treatise on touch, said that she wished I had written a treatise on crying — something that is well worth writing, but I don’t have it in me to write. To cry is to kythe.

28: Don a mask. Putting on a mask can be a way of revealing; in role-play, I have through characters found ways of expressing myself that I couldn’t have done otherwise, and many people learn more about themselves through acting. Temporarily putting on a mask allows you to kythe through that mask in a way that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

29: Stand on your head. With familiarity, we don’t really see the things before us; we become Inspector Clouseaus. This is why some painters stood on their heads to look at landscapes — to see afresh what was familiar. Standing on your head is not exactly a way of kything, but it does open up ways to kythe that would normally be overlooked.

I just had a change of perspective… I thought about soliciting others’ insights as to ways of kything, but with some guilt, as if thinking about not doing my work. Then I remembered what I was writing about — a connected communion — and that it would be very appropriate to have this be not my isolated work but the work of several minds. So I will solicit and seek the help of others.

30: Stop hurrying. Our culture is obsessed with doing things quickly, and rushes through almost everything. Carl Jung, heretic as he may have been, had rare moments of lucidity; in one of them, he said, “Hurry is not of the Devil. Hurry is the Devil.” Removing hurry, and letting a moment last however long it should last by its own internal timing, is not exactly kything, but it is a removal of one of the chief barriers we face to kything. Kything is a foretaste of the eternal, timeless joy that is to come, and in kything five seconds and five hours are the same. One good idea before trying to kythe is to take off your watch.

31: Walks. I have just come back from a kything walk. It was warm, the ground was moist after rain, the sky was mostly covered by pink clouds, and it was silence — there was even silence in the sound of cars going by. Summer nights, with fireflies and crickets and a crystalline blue sky, are excellent for kything walks. In thinking about this, I realized that what we have is an incarnate kything — spirit moving through matter — while l’Engle portrays what is essentially a discarnate kything — spirit moving without regard to matter. It is also interesting to note that (to me at least) touch is more kything than sight — with sight potentially working at almost any range (we can see stars billions of light-years away), and touch having no range at all. I’m glad that I can absorb the grass around me in a way that I cannot absorb the grass a thousand miles away.

32: Grace. Up until now, I have written about what you can do to kythe, but there is a lot of kything that God initiates and provides. Having a vision is a kind of kything, and that is not anything you can do. My time with God by the railroad tracks was a kything with him that I had no power to create.

33: Looking. I am allergic to cats, and my family has a wonderful grey tabby named Zappy. I usually don’t touch her, but I do sometimes sit and gaze at her for a while. (I just realized that looking at Zappy for a while has the same effect on me as stroking a cat has on most people.) I can recall being warmed by the same gaze as an expectant mother in my small group, Kelly, smiled at me as I stroked Lena’s head (Lena being the 5 year old daughter of the group leader). In medieval culture, beholding the body and blood of Christ at mass was in a sense almost more held to be a receiving, a partaking, than eating and drinking them. The kything power of sight is attested to in Augustine’s words: “See what you believe; become what you behold.”

34: Absorbing poetry. Here is an example of a poem I wrote which I think is effective for the purpose:

Beyond

Beyond doing, there is being.

Beyond time, there is eternity.

Beyond mortality, there is immortality.

Beyond knowledge, there is faith.

Beyond justice, there is mercy.

Beyond happy thoughts, there is joy.

Beyond communication, there is communion.

Beyond petition, there is prayer.

Beyond work, there is rest.

Beyond right action, there is virtue.
Beyond virtue, there is the Holy Spirit.

Beyond appreciation, there is awe.

Beyond sound, there is stillness.
Beyond stillness, there is the eternal song.

Beyond law, there is grace.

Beyond even wisdom, there is love.

Beyond all else, HE IS.

35: Mirth. The one line from all of C.S. Lewis’s writing that most sticks in my mind comes from Out of the Silent Planet, where he wrote, “…but unfortunately, [name of villain] didn’t know the Malacandrian word for ‘laugh’. Indeed, ‘laugh’ was a word which he didn’t understand very well in any language.” I debated about whether to put laughter in, as it has many forms — some of which, as the cynic’s scoff, are corrupt, and some of which are lesser goods — but there is at least one form of laughter that really is kything. It is mirth. It can be found, for example, where old friends are sitting around a table after a hearty meal; the laughter is not just a reaction to isolated events, but a mood that has little eruptions over things that aren’t that funny in themselves. It is mingled with companionship and fellow-feeling, and is a mirth that is the crowning jewel of forms of laughter.

36: Becoming good. Websters Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913, p. 877, has:

Kythe
(Kythe, Kithe) (ki&thlig;), v. t. [imp. Kydde, Kidde (kid”de); p. p. Kythed Kid; p. pr. & vb. n. Kything.] [OE. kythen, kithen, cuden, to make known, AS. cydan, fr. cud known. √45. See Uncouth, Can to be able, and cf. Kith.] To make known; to manifest; to show; to declare. [Obs. or Scot.]

For gentle hearte kytheth gentilesse.

Chaucer.

Kythe
(Kythe), v. t. To come into view; to appear. [Scot.]

It kythes bright . . . because all is dark around it.

Sir W. Scott.

The latter meaning of ‘kythe’ is the reason Madeleine l’Engle, after a search, chose that word to carry her meaning.

C.S. Lewis said that the process of becoming good was like the process of becoming visible, in that objects becoming visible are more sharply distinguished not only from objects in obscurity but from each other; becoming good is becoming more truly the person you were created to be (being Named).

Becoming good is kything in the dictionary sense, and it is why I put it here. It is also a kind of kything, and an aid to kything, in l’Engle’s sense — a stepping into the great kythe, into the great dance. It is like learning vocabulary to speech, or a conversation in which one learns vocabulary.

37: Comforting those in pain. Pain can isolate, but it can also bring down the walls around a person. I can remember now one time at a retreat when I was in the long, dark night of the soul, when I drank in a friend’s silent presence and touch like a lifeline. The worst comforters offer words to fix everything with clichés and pat answers. The best often feel somewhat helpless, enduring an awkward silence as if they don’t have anything to offer to so great a pain, but none the less offer something deep, more than they could have put into words, more often than they realize.

38: Presence. This facet of kything is perhaps best portrayed not directly, but in its stark silhouette, painted by Charles Baudelaire in his poem “Enivrez-vous”: <<Il faut etre toujours ivre…. Pour ne pas sentir l’horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans treve. Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu, à votre guise….>> — “You must always be drunk…. to not feel the horrible burden of Time which crushes your shoulders and pushes you towards the earth, you must ceaselessly get drunk. But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please….”

Against this silhouette, of seeking something, anything, to flee into, stands out another facet of kything: that of being present, and giving undivided, focused attention. The kind of person you’d like to be around, the kind of person you’d want to have as a friend — isn’t hepresent?

39: Digesting experience.

As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.Luke 2:19, NJB
A book is best understood, not just after being read once, but after being gone over several times. The same thing goes for experiences — they can be contemplated and pondered. This does not have instantaneous effect, but in a certain way it makes the experience contemplated a more complete experience, one that is more fully grasped.40: Riflery. Riflery, I discovered, is not a macho thing, and someone who comes in with a macho attitude won’t shoot very well. It has much more do do with concentration, stillness, and patience. In riflery, I learned how to hold at least parts of my body so still that the biggest cause of motion was the beating of my heart. Riflery is not so much a kything with, as just a kything.

41: Brainstorming. I think I do not need to say much here.

42: Step into other people’s worlds… Tonight my father, Joseph, and I went to play ping-pong. I didn’t realize one thing I had been doing — playing Joe’s way, Joe’s rules — until I saw Dad make Joseph rather upset by insisting that he play a standard, official rules game of ping-pong. (To his credit, Dad later started playing Joe’s way.) Then I realized that I had been stepping into Joe’s own little world, and meeting him more completely than had I insisted we stay in the public space that all ping-pong players share. Joe didn’t exactly mean to play ping-pong; he wanted to spend some time together, play around, goof off in a way that happened to make use of the framework of ping-pong. Part of the time, he was doing silly things that weren’t ping-pong (such as hitting the ball around the room), which our father frowned on, and I commented were a little bit of Janra-ball (see below), a compliment which Joe said he really appreciated. People invite you into their worlds all the time, but the invitations don’t have much fanfare and can be hard to notice. I’m glad I accepted Joe’s invitation.

43: …and invite others into your own. In one letter, when cherished abilities were beginning to return in the healing, I wrote:

The other thing which I have to share now is something which happened during the Gospel reading at the mass. I had my first theological musing in a while. That touched a greater frustration — that of reading some of the richest passages of the Scriptures, and learning almost nothing from them. There had one text that I read and was able to appreciate, if not being able to think much at all (Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come…”). This bleak dryness was broken both mentally and emotionally (there is a distinct and deep pleasure I have in theological reasoning), as I mused over the words: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places [or rooms, or mansions, in other translations].”

The most obvious interpretation of this metaphor is to think of a physical building, and that is surely appropriate. But I began to think of another interpretation of the dwelling-places, and that is this: our souls and spirits.

We have a temptation and a culture which defines happiness and sadness almost purely in terms of what is materially external to us: our possessions, the way others treat us, etc. That is certainly relevant — in that such blessings are to be gratefully received as a part of God’s grace and provision, and pains are a real suffering to work through — but even more important and more central is what is internal to us and our interactions and relationship with God. Being an alcoholic is a worse suffering than being in prison. It is something related to this insight that is behind many Eastern religions defining Heaven and Hell to be defined almost purely by your internal state. One Zen koan tells us:

A Samurai came to a Zen master and said, “Show me the gates of Heaven and Hell.”

The Zen master said, “Are you a Samurai? You look much more like a beggar. And that sword — I bet it is so dull that it could not cut off my head.”

The enraged Samurai drew his sword, and raised it to strike the master down.

The Zen master said, “Now show me the gates of Heaven.”

The Samurai sheathed his sword, bowed to the master, and left.

A person’s bedroom is a place that has flavor and detail; it is an interesting place to explore, especially as compared to the sterility of a classroom or some other public place. A person’s soul, too, has something of this color and distinctiveness; there are interests, memories, stories, and other things even more vital but which I have more difficulty describing — the particular virtues and vices, the particular tendencies, which cause a person to act unlike any other. A soul, like a house, is a place of hospitality — a guest is invited into a host’s house, to enjoy his comforts, his foods, and a friend is invited into another friend’s soul, to enjoy it in a deeper form of the way in which we enjoy a friend’s house. (In Heaven, there will be very much opportunity for hospitality; it will be the final place of community and celebration, and therefore our dwelling places can hardly be places of isolation.) For many years, I thought of this passage in terms of something of a more ornate, perhaps almost magical, physical edifice that would be nothing more; now, I see what is in retrospect obvious: when the old order of things has passed away and behold, all things are made new, our dwelling places will not simply be better purely physical buildings, but better than purely physical buildings. This is just as our bodies, which are dwelling-places of the Holy Spirit, will not simply be better purely physical bodies, but pneumatikon, spirit-bodies, better than purely physical bodies. I thought before of these rooms as physical rooms which we would decorate with artistic creations — and those artists among you will know what it means, and what a room means, when you are able to fill it with your artwork. I still do believe that — and I realized another form that will take. By our faith, and by our works, we are doing with our spirits what an artist does with a room when he toils over artwork to adorn it with. We are shaping the dwelling places we will have for our eternal play (and one of the images painted of Heaven is one of neither work nor rest, but pure and unbounded play). God is shaping us to become gods and goddesses, but he is not doing it in a way that bypasses us and our free will; we are working with God in the work that will shape us forever.

Our souls, like our domiciles, are special places, far more than public places that anybody can enter without asking permission, in which to receive other people.

44: Nursing. The natural focal distance for an adult’s eyes is twenty feet and on; the natural focal distance for an infant’s eyes is eighteen inches, the distance between a woman’s nipple and her nose. (Infants look at, and remember, noses rather than eyes.) Feeding, important as it may be, is only the beginning of what is going on when a mother is nursing a child. To put it another way, the necessity of physical feeding provides the occasion for a kything of love that provides even more necessary spiritual feeding.

45: Pregnancy. A fortiori.

46: Timeless moments. One person, speaking of singing a worship song, suggested thinking not so much in terms of “We start and stop this song,” as “This song always has been going on and always will be going on; we just step into it for a time.” In this spirit, there are moments of kything, often unsought and unattempted, which do not so much start and stop as are a stepping into the Eternal Kythe.

47: Parenting a child with a severe disease. At a bioethics conference, Dr. C. Everett Koop said, “There is a special bond that forms with a defective child, often far moreso than a normal child.” He told a story from the practice of a Jewish pediatrician and colleague. A father lost a second child to Tay-Sachs, a degenerative disease whose people do not live to the age of four. Grieving, he said through tears, “He never gave me a moment’s trouble.” I am not sure why this is, but it may have something to do with why I enjoy a small glass of wine more than a bottomless cup of Coke.

48: Corporate worship. Worship is a foretaste of Heaven, and it plays a focal role in the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on bringing Heaven down to earth; they describe their worship as stepping into Heaven. Worship is also the highest form of love. In these two aspects, at least, worship is kything. Corporate worship is a kything not only with God, but with the others you are worshipping with.

49: Janra-ball. This is a game I devised, and has been described as a Zen NOMIC. To excerpt the ingredients list:

Springfield, Monty Python, Calvin-Ball, body language, Harlem Globetrotters, sideways logic, Thieves’ Cant, Intuition, counter-intuitive segues, spoon photography, creativity, Zen koans, Psychiatrist, adrenaline, perception, tickling, urban legend Spam recipe, swallowing a pill, illusionism, NOMIC, modern physics, raw chaos, F.D. & C. yellow number 5.

I originally hesitated to put this in, on the grounds that it is difficult to play, at least in a pure state. There’ve been a couple of times I’ve gotten together a group of people willing to play, and it didn’t work. I thought it would require players with more of something — perception, intuition, creativity, spontaneity, etc. — but in thinking recently, I have come to believe that it’s something, like empathic listening, that can’t just be turned on at will, especially by someone inexperienced (which would be everyone now). Joseph’s behavior at the game last night persuaded me that it is indeed possible, perhaps best started at in small increments from a more structured game. (Maybe Pooh’s Corner will be able to play. Who knows?) I will say this: It’s a difficult game to play, but if you can play it, it’s anawesome kythe.

50: Synchronicity/attunement. As treated in The Dance of Life, people have rhythms about them — outside of conscious awareness — and when people are together, these rhythms can become attuned (and, if so, the people themselves are more attuned). This is something that is not as well appreciated in our culture as in others. The easiest example or analogue I can point to (I’m not sure which) is in walking together and holding hands. When I was dating Rebecca, it took me a long time to learn to get in step, and stay in step — but things were smoother when I did.

51: A kind of openness. There is a kind of openness where you perceive something but can’t put your finger on exactly what. If you can listen, be opening, look, then there is a sort of listening kything. I checked out a copy of A Wind in the Door yesterday, and when I was reading through to find insights for more ways of kything, I came on something that I felt was significant to what I’m writing, but I couldn’t say what. I sat then, open, thinking, waiting to see what it was — and then realized that it was not the heart of a way of kything, but something to put at the beginning:

What he had actually seen she could not begin to guess. That he had seen something, something unusual, she was positive.

This is the same sort of feeling I felt about kything.

This is part of how kything is to Charles Wallace:

Meg said sharply, “Why? What did mother say?”

Charles Wallace walked slowly through the high grass in the orchard. “She hasn’t said. But it’s sort of like radar blipping at me.”

This kind of listening kythe is how I get a lot of the ideas for these items.

52: Introspection.

Then [Blajeny] sat up and folded his arms across his chest, and his strange luminous eyes turned inwards, so that he was looking not at the stars nor at the children but into some deep, dark place far within himself, and then further. He sat there, moving in, deeper and deeper, for time out of time. Then the focus of his eyes returned to the children, and he gave his radiant smile and answered Calvin’s question as though not a moment had passed.

Introspection is a kything with oneself.

53: Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a spiritual act, a restoration of broken communion.

54: Artistic appreciation. In high school, I made a silver ring, designed to hold a drop of water as a stone. When I started to paint, I learned a new way of seeing. After a painting in which a pair of hands played prominently, I was captivated by the beauty of people’s hands all around me; for the first time in my life, I saw in them a beauty as great as that of faces.

What an artist does is allow you to see through his eyes. When you look at a friend’s watercolor, you are seeing the beach through her eyes, as you would not have perceived it yourself. When you read this list, you are thinking about the word ‘kythe’ through my mind.

55: Talking. This one is so obvious I overlooked it completely. The magic of symbols that allows mind-to-mind communication is one that is appreciated, for instance, when trying to work with someone who doesn’t speak a common language with you.

56: Looking into another person, and telling him what you see. I have always enjoyed other people telling me what they see in me. For a time, I thought that was vanity, and vanity certainly played a part. But recently, I have come to see a deeper reason for asking this of other persons.

I have for a while enjoyed asking foreigners what they think of American culture, and probed a bit not only for the appreciation they will voice, but criticisms. Most foreigners can articulate the character of American culture better than can most Americans, and they have insights that wouldn’t occur to an American. They see things that have become invisible to Americans. They have a distance, like aesthetic distance, that allows them to see what is too close to be visible to us.

For the same or analogous reasons, having another person tell you what he sees in you is another variant on introspection, like using a mirror in looking at yourself to see parts you can’t look at directly. Different people who have known you for different amounts of time can see different parts of you.

When you tell another person what you see in him, you provide this sort of introspection; your words fuse with his knowledge of himself to form a deeper self-knowledge, and say more to him than they would mean to anyone else. They connect. They kythe. It is like the story of the crystal globe — only you can tell people how beautiful they are.

57: Driving. In the car this morning, after having to take my brother to school and my mother to work, I was thinking about the podracing in Star Wars: Episode I — one of the most Jedi/Force parts of the movie — and I realized I was really enjoying driving for the first time in years. (I started late in driving, and have a fear of it. I had enjoyed singing while driving, but not driving itself.) I was very aware of my surroundings, and connected, and entered flow. Though I stayed within the speed limit and there were no hazardous conditions, it was in a very real sense podracing. It was a kythe with my surroundings and especially with my car, which was as an extension of my body. It is entirely possible to kythe with technology (and I was seeking an example), to have your hands on a steering wheel or a keyboard so that you are thinking through them, and your thoughts are not on your hands or fingertips, but where the car is moving, or what letters are appearing on the screen. Technology (techne, art + logos, logic, reason, domain of knowledge) is part of the creation of the imago Dei, and therefore has a role in God’s order. There is a tendency for the sort of people interested in kything things to be Luddites, but this need not be. If you can kythe with God, with another person, with a shaggy dog, with the grass, with ideas, with experiences, then you can also kythe with a car, with a computer.

58: Pain. This one will probably be difficult for most Americans to understand, and I’m not sure I can explain it well — here I will probably be talking around my point mostly. We live in a painkilling culture, one that attemps to delete that entire region of human experience, and therefore neither understands nor profits from it.

A place to begin is to say that leprosy ravages the body through one very simple means: it shuts off a person’s ability to feel pain. Exactly how shutting off pain causes such severe damage is left as a valuable exercise to the reader’s imagination. Pain is an awareness of your body’s state, and of what you can and cannot do without aggravating an injury. I very rarely take painkillers, because I want to know exactly how my body is doing. (Sunday night was the first time in memory of taking a painkiller not prescribed by a doctor.)

In addition, pain is a present sensation; it is not in our nature to not notice. Intense pain can fill consciousness. (Some mentally ill people self-mutilate because the sensation of physical pain, if only momentarily, can take them out of their mental anguish.) If all our kything is as real as pain, we are doing well.

59: DeathWhat was said about pain and our culture applies, mutatis mutandis, to death and our culture. (I don’t know any good books on pain; a good, deep book on death is Peter Kreeft’s Love is Stronger Than Death.) In other kythes, you kythe love, or ideas, or listening; in this kythe, you kythe yourself. The art of dying well is an art of letting go of a world you’ve known for years and giving yourself fully to God. That’s about as full of a message as you can send.

60: Gift-giving. A good gift is at least three messages: a statement about the nature of the person giving the gift, a statement about the nature of the person receiving the gift, and something else peculiar to the character of the gift. None of these messages are symbolically encoded, and the result is that they can say things inexpressible in normal words. A gift is not worth a thousand words; there is no exchange rate between gifts and words.

61: Reminiscing. Reminiscing is a kything with memories.

62: Local traditions. There are traditions, like Pooh’s Corner or Club Pseudo (a tradition at my high school, similar to an open mike at a coffeehouse). These traditions have a unique local flavor and personality, and create a special bond among participants. Janra-ball, if it works, would be another example.

63: Community. Community is like friendship, but it does not reduce to friendship. A community is more than a set of friendships, as a friendship is more than two isolated individuals.

64: Ellis lifeguarding. This entry should not be written by me; it should be written by my high school acquaintance Chuck Saletta. American Red Cross lifeguards are taught to respond to problems; Ellis lifeguards are taught to see them coming. Chuck has written that he knows ahead of time when a swimmer is going to be in distress, and also that on the highway he watches the cars ahead of him and is usually able to tell whether or not they’ll turn on an exit — before they put their turn signals on. That has to involve an attention and attunement to the situation that is noteworthy.

65: Gathering.

“Has Mother actually told you all this?”

“Some of it. The rest I’ve just—gathered.”

Charles Wallace did gather things out of his mother’s mind, out of meg’s mind, as another child might gather daisies in a field.

This is another passage that sticks in my mind as an insight into kything. I gather when I muse, when I have certain intuitions. I gather passages from the book. Where do you gather?

66: Firing a ballista at your television. Television is a crawling abomination from the darkest pits of Hell. It is a pack of cigarettes for the mind. It blinds the inner eye. It is the anti-kythe.

When I was in fourth grade, we read The Last of the Really Great Wang-Doodles, and then drew pictures. My teacher commented that she could tell from the pictures who watched TV. A home without television is like a slice of chocolate cake without tartar sauce. Get rid of your television, and you will find yourself living life more fully, and kything more deeply.

Two good books dealing with this topic are Neil Postman’s concise and lively Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business, and Jerry Mander’s in-depth Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television.

67: Boundaries. Boundaries are an important part of friendship; the boundaries of a message give it shape; drinking a certain amount of wine and then stopping enables you to enjoy it without becoming drunk. Boundaries are a kind of kythe, and also a part of other kythes; a hug is best if it is neither too short nor too long.

68: Thunderstorms. Imagine that you are a child, outside in a thunderstorm at night, with the rain warm and heavy, the wind blowing about, the trees dancing, everything suddenly illumined by flashes of lightning. Wild nights are my glory. This is a night to connect with, to drink in.

(Idea taken from Robin Munn.)

69: Using a knack. I am adept at finding pressure points on the body — not just the ones I know, but the ones I don’t know. I can tell from looking if a person will say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a hug. More fallibly, I can sometimes guess if a person is ticklish (hi, Ashley!).

I don’t know how I do any of these things, but these knacks are a form of kything.

70: Trying to kythe. I think it was Richard Foster who said that the very act of struggling to pray is itself a form of prayer. Last night during Pooh’s Corner, my fear of driving began to act up, and I walked out of the building thinking, “I won’t be able to kythe now. I’m not in the proper frame of mind.” Then I realized — no, I could kythe. I couldn’t produce the same end result, but I could put myself into it. A small child’s crayon drawing of a five-legged dog whose head is larger than its body is a beautiful thing, and it is made beautiful not by the performance criteria that a commercial product would be judged by, but by the love and effort that went into it.

I have attention deficit disorder. I can hyperfocus at times (exactly which times being largely out of my control), but quite often I haven’t connected with Pooh’s Corner. I haven’t been in the silliness, drinking it in even as an observer. What I have realized in writing this entry is that that doesn’t matter nearly as much as I thought it did, just as the crudity of the above described drawing doesn’t matter very much. It doesn’t matter if I often don’t succeed. I try. I kythe.

71: Weight lifting. The amount of force coming from a muscle is the result, not only of the muscle’s size and condition, but the amount of nervous impulse coming from the brain. People can normally summon only a small fraction of the total possible muscle impulse. One case where there can be full or near-full exertion is when people are terrified; they can possess something called hysterical strength, where it is entirely possible for a small, middle-aged woman to lift the back end of a car. Another is an epileptic seizure; in my EMT class, we were told not to try to restrain someone having a seizure, because bones will snap sooner than muscle strength will give out.

I trained with weights for a few years, and doing so was largely on will. I had pencil-thin arms and legs as a child, and worked to the point of having a Greek figure. (I now have a Greek figure plus a paunch, but we won’t get into that.) I got to the point of being able to lift the full stack (as much resistance as a machine designed for football players can give) on the better part of the machines, and (in moments of being macho and trying to do something I could brag about) walked a couple of short steps while carrying over 400 pounds of weight, and injured my hand by punching through stone tiles. I didn’t get much bigger after a certain point. Only a small portion of my doing those things was muscle. The rest was mind.

Many of the items above have been kythes of drinking in. This a kythe of putting out.

72: Doing something new and difficult. When you are skilled at something, you don’t have to put much of yourself into it to succeed. In high school, I put a lot of effort into trying to learn how to balance on a slack rope. I never really succeeded at what I aimed for, but I learned a couple of things. My balance improved a lot. One person watching me said it was like watching the sensei catching flies with chopsticks, in The Karate Kid. Even if I didn’t succeed at my intention, I learned to put my whole self into it.

73: Going through a difficult experience together. Meg and Mr. Jenkins came to know each other in a way that never would have happened had things been light and sunny. It may not be seen for the pain at the moment, but afterwards a growing-closer has happened.

74: Intuitions. Being attuned to, and using, your intuition is another way of kything.

75: Knowing others.

[Meg:] “…Did you know it was one of Calvin’s brothers who beat Charles Wallace up today? I bet he’s upset—I don’t mean Whippy, he couldn’t care less—Calvin. Somebody’s bound to have told him.”

[Mrs. Murray:] “Do you want to call him?”

“Not me. Not Calvin. I just have to wait. Maybe he’ll come over or something.”

One form of communion comes from knowing another person so well that communication is unnecessary. There is something more in this passage than if Meg had called Calvin — far more.

76: The useless. Many of those areas of human intercourse which are cut out by American pragmatism are the areas of speech which most embody kything. Within speech, talking about how to get something done is not a kythe — certainly not compared to a discussion which conveys love or insight or theory. Kything is something that’s not in Pierce’s and Dewey’s practical world.

77: Culture. Culture, often invisible to us, is a shared kythe across a group of people. It is the framework for communication, a kythe that gives other kythes their shape.

78: Wordless knowledge. When I was at Innes’s house, she asked me if I thought my twin brothers Ben and Joe were introverted, extroverted, etc. My first response, after a bit of a pause, was, “I don’t know.” I thought some more, and realized that the truth was slightly different: it had never occurred to me to think about them in those terms.

After I read Stranger in a Strange Land, I began to realize that many of my deepest thoughts were not in English, not for that matter in anything like verbal language. When I write them down, it is usually a translation, and sometimes matter a far more difficult translation than between English and French. It is more like trying to translate a song into a poem. These thoughts are of a wordless thinking, like the kything of the fara.

Personal Knowledge, a profound book and an excellent cure for insomnia, deals with those facets of human thought and interaction that do not reduce to words.

79: Being underwater. I felt that this was a kythe, but couldn’t put my finger on how. I still can’t fully articulate it, but it has a similar feel to a visual kythe. The beginning of A Dream of Light provides a good description of an underwater kythe:

You pull your arms to your side and glide through the water. On your left is a fountain of bubbles, upside down, beneath a waterfall; the bubbles shoot down and then cascade out and to the surface. To your right swims a school of colorful fish, red and blue with thin black stripes. The water is cool, and you can feel the currents gently pushing and pulling your body. Ahead of you, seaweed above and long, bright green leaves below wave back and forth, flowing and bending. You pull your arms, again, with a powerful stroke which shoots you forward under the seaweed; your back feels cool in the shade. You kick, and you feel the warmth of the sun again, soaking in and through your skin and muscles. Bands of light dance on the sand beneath you, as the light is bent and turned by the waves.

There is a time of rest and stillness; all is at a deep and serene peace. The slow motion of the waves, the dancing lights below and above, the supple bending of the plants, all form part of a stillness. It is soothing, like the soft, smooth notes of a lullaby.

Your eyes slowly close, and you feel even more the warm sunlight, and the gentle caresses of the sea. And, in your rest, you become more aware of a silent presence. You were not unaware of it before, but you are more aware of it now. It is there:

Being.

Love.

Life.

Healing.

Calm.

Rest.

Reality.

Like a tree with water slowly flowing in, through roots hidden deep within the earth, and filling it from the inside out, you abide in the presence. It is a moment spent, not in time, but in eternity.

You look out of the eternity; your eyes are now open because you have eternity in your heart and your heart in eternity. In the distance, you see dolphins; one of them turns to you, and begins to swim. The others are not far off.

It lets you pet its nose, and nestles against you. You grab on to its dorsal fin, and go speeding off together. The water rushes by at an exhilarating speed; the dolphin jumps out of the water, so that you see waves and sky for a brief moment before splashing through the surface.

The dolphins chase each other, and swim hither and thither, in and out from the shore. After they all seem exhausted, they swim more slowly, until at last you come to a lagoon.

In the center, you see a large mass; swimming closer, you see that it is a sunken ship. You find an opening…

80: Becoming ancient. Most entries so far have focused on what you do when you kythe. This is an entry about who you are. When you are ancient, you have had ages to let God work with you. You have had time to grow mature. You have gained experience. You have lived through many events and circumstances. You have smiled on generations. You have experienced change, both without you and within you. You have learned what is constant, both without you and within you. You have grown wise. You kythe with depth, with reality. You are like Senex (whose name means ‘aged’), like the fara — deep, rooted, moving without motion, sharing in the age (however faintly) of the Ancient of Days. Become all this, and you will kythe.

81: Becoming a child. When you are a child, you look with wonder at every bit of the world God has made; you do not know jadedness. You do not know guile; it would never occur to you to wear a mask. You play. You are never afraid to come running for a hug. You stay out in the rain. You always want to grow. You always want to know, “Why?” You bear a peace no storm has troubled. You can believe anything. You are like the little farandolae, dancing, swimming. Become all this, and you will kythe.

82: Doing something for its own sake. Someone said that a classic is a book that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read. There is a big difference between reading a book because you want to have read it, and reading it because you want to read it. The former is something to endure, the latter something to enjoy. For a while, when I drove, I would often drive five or ten miles under the limit, and when I started driving at the limit, it was mainly as a courtesy to not stress other drivers, and because I started driving on streets with heavier traffic where it would be hazardous to drive that much more slowly than the flow of traffic. I do not generally get tense (for reasons other than my fear of driving, and blunders I make as I still learn to drive), have nervous fidgets, get angry, or experience stress at red lights, slow traffic, and other delays that shoot some drivers’ blood pressure through the roof. The reason is that I am operating within a mindset of “I am driving; I am in the process of getting there; I will be there,” as opposed to “I need to be therenow, and I am tolerating this drive because it is the least slow means of getting there, and— Hey! That’s another second’s delay. Ooh, that makes me mad!” Pirsig treats this point at some length in the section of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that deals with climbing and his son’s ego climbing.

Of course many activities are means to other activities, and we would be in a bad state if we couldn’t do one thing to get at something else. But even then, intermediate activities that are trampled on are not good to do. Really wanting to do something, and doing it for its own sake, is a kythe with the activity that is better for both you and the activity.

83: Silence.

Through [Mr. Jenkins’s] discouragement she became aware of Calvin. “Hey, Meg! Communication implies sound. Communion doesn’t.” He sent her a brief image of walking silently through the woods, the two of them alone together, their feet almost noiseless on the rusty carpet of pine needles. They walked without speaking, without touching, and yet they were as close as it is possible for two human beings to be. They climbed up through the woods, coming out of the brilliant sunlight at the top of the hill. A few sumac trees showed their rusty candles. Mountain laurel, shiny, so dark a green the leaves seemed black in the fierceness of sunlight, pressed towards the woods. Meg and Calvin had stretched out in the thick, late-summer grass, lying on their backs and gazing up into the shimmering blue of sky, a vault interrupted only by a few small clouds.

And she had been as happy, she remembere, as it is possible to be, and as close to Calvin as she had ever been to anybody in her life, even Charles Wallace, so close that their separate bodies, daisies and buttercups joining rather than dividig them, seemed a single enjoyment of summer and sun and each other.

That was surely the purest form of kything.

When I was in France, Rebecca wrote a letter about some of the moments she valued most with me. There was one moment when we went into the fine arts center, and I improvised on the organ for her,

and then we sat

in the silence

in the dark

not saying anything

not doing anything

just being.

Other people had talked with her and done things with her. I was the first person to be in the silence with her, and it profoundly affected her.

84: Dodge-ball. When I thought of this during a slow, back-burner brainstorm, I initially wanted to put it in because of pride and boastfulness: I wanted to impress you with how talented I am. Then I realized what I was thinking, and realized that was entirely out of place, and decided to definitely leave it out. But I still had some idle thoughts about it mulling about… and I mused… and realized something amazing. This definitely belongs in.

In dodge-ball, I couldn’t throw worth beans. Still can’t. But, in a lock-in for sophomores at IMSA, I joined a game of dodge-ball, and hid around in the back… and noticed that there were fewer and fewer people left on my team… and then I was one of two… and then the only one. Then, for five minutes, i dodged the whole other team throwing at me, sometimes four or five balls at once, and then a ball brushed me. When I stopped and began to slow down, I realized that the soles of my bare feet were burning hit from the friction of my jumping. After another game like that, people decided that if it got down to the other team versus me, the game was a draw.

One of the upperclassmen supervising, Paul Vondrak, was a great thrower; he was able not only to throw accurately, but to throw much faster than anyone else. He would stand, wind up slowly, and throw like lightning. I think it only took him about five throws to nick me.

I was thinking about this latter item, and (examining the memory) realized that I was paying very close attention to him… then realized that I was attuned to him… then thought that it was almost like a martial artist… and then realized, in a flash of insight, that in the one game I was doing the same thing a Samurai does when he defeats ten men. I do not understand exactly why I was able to do this without any special training or experience, although it does lend some corroboration to the puzzling fact that as a karate white belt I was able to defeat two out of three of my blackbelt instructors in sparring. Now I know that I have had an experience I would not ordinarily expect to have access to. I guess I would chalk it up to an unusual talent for certain kinds of kything.

I was trying to analyze my state of mind in (especially) the five minute dodge at the end, and the first thing I realized was that I don’t remember that state of mind too well — not as well as I remember feeling that my feet were hot afterwards. From what I remember, my state of mind differed from normal consciousness. A hint of an explanation would be to say that the perceptual processing alone would have severely overloaded my conscious mind. It could also be described as flow or podracing. I know there’s more, but I can’t get at it. If I can better process this memory, I think I will better understand kything. As I mull over this, I think that those five minutes may qualify as the most intense kythe of my life.

85: Reading another person’s body languages and emotions. As telekinesis is really moving things with your arms and telepathy is really talking, Charles Wallace’s awareness, without being told, of what’s going on in meg is really a perception of others’ emotions. This is the origin for the spark of beauty in that facet of Charles Wallace’s kything, and it is an area where I’d like to grow.

86: Withdrawing.

[The Shal’s] moments of community are profound; their moments of solitude are even more profound. `Withdrawing’ is what they call it; it is a time of stillness, and an expression of a love so profound that all other loves appear to be hate. It is a time of finding a secret place, and then withdrawing — from family, friends, and loved ones, from music and the beauty of nature, from cherished activities, from sensation — into the heart of the Father. It is a time of — it is hard to say what. Of being loved, and of loving. Of growing still, and becoming. Of being set in a right state, and realigned in accordance with the ultimate reality. Of purity from the Origin. Of being made who one is to be. Of communion and worship. Of imago dei filled with the light of Deus. Of being pulled out of time and knowing something of the eternal.

Espiriticthus: Cultures of a Fantasy World not Touched by Sin.

87: Zoning out. This is one of the last places one would look for kything; Robin observed that one of the central themes tying these entries together is presence, and this would seem to be the essence of absence. For all that… I found myself spacing out, and left the spacing out for introspection, and realized that my mental and emotional state was that of kything. A start of an explanation is that if it is an absence, it is entirely devoid of the Baudelarian flight urged in Enivrez-vous. It is a present absence; it goes into It is an egoless sliding into enjoyment. It is still and peaceful; it is quite restful; it is a good. Being in a similar attitude will help other kythes.

88: Playing Springfield. Springfield is a game with very simple rules: two people alternate naming state capitals, and the first person to name Springfield wins.

What makes it interesting is that it’s not a game of mathematical strategy. It’s a game of perception. The real objective is to win as late as possible, and that means reading the other person and seeing how far you can go: from nonverbal cues, you need to read his mind.

Springfield is probably comparable to poker.

89: Thinking deeply, prolongedly, and intensely about a question. I realized today that I had been thinking pretty hard about kything for several days, and thought I should take a sabbath from it: I would record ideas that I had, but not intentionally give conscious thought to the question. It was after I did that that I began to realize how deeply I had been kything with the idea of kything.

The first thing I noticed was that it was hard to stop thinking. The second thing I realized was that I was still thinking of ways of kything. I probably don’t have to devote any more conscious effort to thinking to complete the number of entries.

When you think in that manner, for a sufficient length of time, your thought acquires the momentum of a frieght train. Mathematicians solve some of the most difficult problems after long and intense thought, and then cessation of conscious thought, usually to the point of forgetting it — and the solution comes. If it can be solved by continuous thought, it is not among the most difficult problems; the mathematician is not exercising his full abilities. When the storm ceases and the surface of the ocean stills, then the Leviathan stirs in the deeps. Deep calls to deep. This is perhaps the most profound kythe with an idea.

90: Experience. Experience in a domain constitutes and enables a kythe with that domain. My Mom asked me if I had a universal adaptor for her tape recorder, and I pulled one and said, “Is this the right jack? If it isn’t, I have another.” She said, “I don’t know, let me see.” A short while afterwards, she called me over to look at it, because “it seems to have two prongs.” I looked at, and instantly realized that it didn’t need an adaptor. It needed a power cord.

I was mildly irritated, and was finally able to put my finger on something I’d felt. Answering her help requests with technology has the same feel to me as explaining things to a small, naive child who doesn’t understand how the world works. She sees technology as this mysterious, unpredictable black box which works by magic.

I thought a little more, as my mother is neither naive nor childish. She is an intelligent and well-educated woman. What I realized was that I was not appreciating my own experience. Experience enables a person to look at the surface and see the depths — and a port for a power cord does not look fundamentally different from what a port for an adaptor might be. I see a computer as having definite inner workings which work according to understandable principle; when the computer is malfunctioning, I think I have a chance of understanding why. If my Mom thinks that the computer is a black box (you can see what it does, but not what’s inside it), I think of it as a white box (you can see what’s going on inside, and try to fix it if need be). The way I look at computers might be compared to the topographical anatomy I was taught in my EMT class, where you look at skin and see the underlying organs.

You kythe more when you’re interacting with a white box than with a black box, and that comes with experience.

91: Closing your eyes.

[Charles Wallace] closed his eyes, not to shut out Louise, not to shut out Meg, but to see with his inner eyes.

I closed my eyes when visiting my friend Innes’s house, and I realized what I was doing, and why: to focus, to connect, to concentrate. This is why couples close their eyes when they kiss; this is why we have the custom of closing our eyes when we pray. The image of a blind seer is a part of myth and literature; when we close our eyes, we momentarily blind ourselves so we can see.

92: Mental illness. Mental illness is not exactly a purely negative thing. It is a difference that is ecological in character, with positive as well as negative aspects. This very dark cloud has a silver lining, sometimes a mithril lining. This is why people with mental illness speak of a gift — something that puzzled me when I first heard it.

93: Mental health. If mental illness is a way of kything, then mental health is definitely a way of kything. Robin is a good friend and an excellent listener, and he radiates health. And Joel —

Robin once mentioned a theatre professor saying of his predecessor that with most people, they walk into a room and it’s “What about me?” His predecessor walks into the room and it’s, “What about you?”

I remember thinking, “I’d like to have a friend like that,” and then, “I would like to be like that.” A day later, I realized that I do have a friend like that: Joel. With Joel, it’s “What about you?”

Joel is probably the best kyther I know.

94: Watching or studying a kythe.

[Meg] found herself looking directly into one of his eyes, a great, amber cat’s eye, the dark mandala of the pupil, opening, compelling, beckoning.

She was drawn towards the oval, was pulled into it,

was through it.

My brothers were playing, and I was watching Ben and Joe play. I became aware of an energetic character to the play, and then I recognized a kythe a split second before remembering the entry about play as kything. So I decided to watch — and then I realized I was in the kythe.

95: Nature. To be out in the woods, or looking at night at the sapphire sky and crystalline stars, or listen to the sounds of a forest, or to play with an animal, or wade barefoot through a cold, babbling brook — these are ways of kything with nature. (Taken from Innes Sheridan.)

96: Swallowing a pill. Learning to swallow a pill was a long and traumatic experience for me; for the longest time, I tried my hardest and just couldn’t do it. The reason was precisely that I was trying my hardest: I was trying much too hard. When I finally did learn, I learned far better than most; I can now swallow several decent-sized pills on a sip of water — when I was last hospitalized, the nurses remarked at how little water I needed, and told me to drink more.

In what is for the most people a minor learning experience, I came to really appreciate how easy swallowing a pill is — to easy to force or accomplish by willpower. In this regard, it is not only an example of kything, but a symbol. Do, or do not. There is no try.

97: Mystical experiences. These are bestowed by God, and are not human doing; visions may come once or twice in a person’s life, not at all for most people. When they do happen, they are a special moment of grace, and communion with God, and they can leave a person changed for life.

98: Massage. Being able to do backrubs is a good skill to take to college campuses. When you give another person a massage, you communicate with his body through touch, and relax the flesh, the body, and the person you are touching, more fully than he can himself. It is different from many other touches, in that it is not spontaneous or habitual; it is a special time set aside to connect.

99: Saying farewell.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

-William Shakespeare

When someone’s leaving, people say many of the things that they should have said long before but never got around to. Barriers come down. People realize how much others mean. They cry.

That is an obvious insight into saying farewell. What is less obvious is that these things can happen at any time. It is not so much that people can’t normally commune in this manner and are specially enabled to when someone leaves, as that people normally avoid this communion, and when some leaves they realize how bad it would be to them at any point. You can tell someone how much they mean to you any day. I did something like this for Robin recently, as I stopped from writing this to think about practicing what I was preaching. He and I are both glad I did. One part of the barriers coming down is that sharing yourself is inherently risky, and there is less risk if a person is leaving — if you share something that makes the other person think you are stupid, at least he’ll be away. So people share more. If you realize this, you can share on ordinary days what you would normally share when saying farewell — and grow closer. It might be a good idea to hold a farewell party for someone when he’s not going away. The same may be said for a funeral — there is something magnificent that goes on at a funeral, that doesn’t really have to wait for a person’s death.

100: Anything. Thursday night, I was at a band concert at Ben and Joe’s school. Afterwards, when walking through the mass of people, there was a moment when I was looking down into a little girl’s face, and as it passed I realized I was kything. There is a sense in which anything can be kything, if it is done in the right way.

Now we kythe darkly and through a glass. Then we shall kythe fully, spirit to spirit, even as we are fully kythed.

soli deo gloria

The Horn of Joy: A Meditation on Eternity and Time, Kairos and Chronos

The Sign of the Grail

Technonomicon: tochnology, nature, ascesis

Within the Steel Orb

Romantic Impressions

Robert A. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance drew a distinction between ‘classical’ and ‘romantic’ modes of perception. Classical is concerned with inner workings, with gears and levers that lurk behind the surface; romantic is concerned with impressions and associations. (It does not, in this context, refer in particular to romantic love.) There appears to me to be some similarity to Jung’s ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ preferences, and probably to Snow’s two cultures of the sciences and humanities.

As I start fleshing out ideas, I am at my grandparents’ house, probably for the last time before they move out; I have looked around at the impressions and memories. What I realized a little while ago, with some degree of surprise, that my conceptual paraphrase, equating classical with what is deep and concerned with what lies beyond the surface, and romantic with what is shallow and only concerned with the surface, was mistaken. Perhaps it is a fair representation of Pirsig’s book, which defines ‘classical’ and explores its inner depths, but does not explore ‘romantic’ much at all — but it is not a fair understanding of ‘classical’ and ‘romantic’. The romantic mode of perception is also deep and is also concerned with what lies beyond the surface; this is true in a way that a classical perspective would not recognize. With this realization came an awareness of romantic impressions I’ve had — impressions which mean something.

The meanings that the impressions hold to me would not necessarily be evident to other readers; for this reason, and because I do not know of an existing genre that serves my purposes, I am writing about the romantic impressions in a non-romantic (some would say ‘classical’) manner. I will describe the romantic impression first — or, more precisely, the image evoked in my mind — and then talk about what it means to me.

Or that is one way to put it. A slightly more informative statement would be that there are meanings in my mind, and they are represented by visual symbols and romantic images. What I am doing is recording the image, and then recording the meaning behind it and which is manipulated through that symbol. It may be a form of writing that captures nonlinguistic thought better than a direct enfleshing in words — and perhaps something will shine through the poetic images directly that is not captured in the analysis.

Missionary’s Kid Room

Impression

A missionary’s kid jumps up on a top bunk, sitting Indian-style, and is eating noodles with chopsticks.

Meaning

One of the entries in You Know You’re an MK When… says, “You worry about fitting in, and wear a native wrap around the dorm.”

One division experienced by most people is a division between public and private. It is mauled in various vulgarizations — C.S. Lewis begins an essay by talking about a bad sermon from a parson eulogizing the family as the perfect place where you can put off all of society’s artificial restrictions — and showed how in the parson’s case this translated to setting aside every human decency and treating his children in ways he would not consider treating a stranger. It is mauled in various distortions, but it is a legitimate distinction, and some people experience it more intensely than others. There is a public world where one conforms to the agreed-upon compromises necessary for a world of different people to live with each other, and then there is (inside a boundary) a private sphere where agape is still needed, but where there is unique room to be yourself (a cliché — and a cliché is a cliché because it’s true). The basic distinction is human, but metaculturals experience it more intensely; it is to us not simply a fact of life, but a basic tension of existence.

Finding another person who can pass through the glass wall is difficult; I’ve been burned many times. But I have found some people who can pass through, and it is a rich reward. Dealing with someone through the glass wall requires both agape and acting according to standards designed by and for people who do not function as I do — while dealing with someone inside the glass wall “only” requires agape. It is still a high standard, but there is not an expectation which distorts a person who is different and has not yet acquired a great deal of maturity.

What does “through the glass wall” mean? In the movie Time Bandits, the bandits are walking though a vast desert wasteland — and bump into a glass wall. It’s invisible, but they can’t pass through it. They have been walking for hours in pursuit of a castle, which is nowhere in sight — and they start bickering. Tempers flare, and one of them picks up a skull and throws it at another. The other time bandit ducks.

The skull shatters the glass — and through the hole, the bandits suddenly see the castle they were looking for.

What I mean by “through the glass wall” is that, after being burned numerous times in approaching people — in ways that I didn’t understand were unusual — I have erected a sort of glass wall that (badly) hides those aspects of me that are alien to most people, and then pull people through the glass wall to something inside that is very different. By ‘pull’ I don’t mean either force or deceit; I rather mean that I draw the other person into my world.

Friend Cheering

Impression

One of my friends is jumping along, her arms raised, cheering.

Meaning

There is a certain quality, loosely that of being ‘unashamed‘. If the above impression is of having a private world, this is the quality of being unashamed of it, of being comfortable. It is self-awareness without self-consciousness. There is room — not absolute freedom, but definite space none the less — to publicly differ from what is usual. This impression of one of my friends captures this quality.

VMWare

Impression

“VMWare: Providing Linux with backwards compatibility with legacy computational infrastructure.”

Meaning

If you’re a hacker, any explanation would is superfluous. If you’re not a hacker, this one would take a while to explain. If you really want to know, ask a hacker (if you know any), or appropriate newsgroup or mailing list.

Tae Kwon Do Demonstration

Impression

At an Asian culture festival, a group of non-Asians (mostly white) in martial arts uniforms gives a Tae Kwon Do demonstration. The head instructor steps up to the microphone, and says both “If you’re surprised at seeing us at an Asian culture festival, don’t be,” and that they have taken the Tae Kwon Do tradition and removed its competitiveness and militarism.

Meaning

The analysis on this one is a bit more complicated than most. I am not bothered perforce by the presence of non-Asians at an exhibition of Asian culture. What did stick in my mind, quite a bit, was the presence of non-Asians at an Asian culture festival who exhibited attitudes contradictory to those of Eastern culture, or for that matter of Western culture for most of recorded history. I mean specifically the regard for a tradition as something arbitrary, to be changed according to whatever the Zeitgeist is blowing. Environmentalists are fond of the proverb, variously attributed to different aboriginal peoples of Africa and the Americas, that says, “Be kind to the earth. It was not inherited from our ancestors; it is borrowed from our children.” Members of a great many societies across much of history embody an attitude that could be stated as “Be careful with this tradition. It was not inherited from our ancestors; it is borrowed from our children.” Jewish children grow up acutely aware that it would take only one generation of Jews to finish Hitler’s work, to sever all future generations from the heritage and identity that has survived for so long under the most difficult of circumstances. This attitude, quite conspicuous by its absence at an Asian culture festival, is present in the medieval mindset — the environment that made cathedrals possible, masterpieces that (in the words of Jeffrey Burke Satinover) “are as impossible for us on spiritual grounds as our photocopiers would have been to medievals on technological grounds.” The romantic impression is distinctive as the inverse image of something very, very important.

Traveller Addressing Servant in Servant’s Native Tongue

Impression

A traveler who is visiting a house turns to a servant, and addresses the servant in his native tongue.

Meaning

The traveler is someone of grandeur, and he shows this grandeur in the un-thought-of courtesy of speaking to a servant in his native tongue. Speaking in another person’s preferred tongue — even if it is only with the twenty words of politeness — is a kindness, if one not often thought of in 21st century America. Showing this courtesy to a servant — someone who is looked down on and ignored when not needed — is a mark of moral grandeur.

This has application, not just in literal languages, but in entering another person’s world — “speaking the other person’s language” in a figurative sense.

Merlin Unlocking Gate

Impression

In Lawhead’s Merlin, Merlin stands stumped by a locked gate, then as it were shakes off a dust of sleep, remembers his powers, and magically removes the lock. He speaks of “that which men call magic”, learned from the fhain.

Meaning

The meaning of “that which men call magic” — which for me signifies an incredibly diverse (non-magical) collection of skills, such as writing HTML, jury-rigging things, and reading languages (some computer and some human) — is a birthright of gradually collected abilities that is described for my temperament in Please Understand Me II. The meaning of what the fhain taught Merlin in Lawhead’s book, “that which men call magic”, is an intriguing idea which I will not attempt to reproduce here.

Exception granted

Impression

An authority figure starts to tell someone that a given rule applies, then remembers who he’s talking to, and readily grants an exception.

Meaning

There are a couple of specific examples — grandfather clauses, pacifists under draft. A draft board might not simply say, “Oh, you’re a pacifist. Never mind,” but they are illustrations of a basic pattern.

When I read Please Understand Me (reviewed in my canon), I came across an explanation that both accounted for my actions (in a non-insulting way) and made sense of my feelings. The SJ (sensate judging) temperament, which comprises 38% of the population, including most of the people who create and enforce rules, tends to believe that “Having rules and seeing that they are followed is very beneficial to a community,” while my temperament, NT (intuitive thinking), which comprises only 6% of the population, could state its perspective as “Rules exist for the betterment of community and may therefore be set aside when they do not contribute to that end.” The difference in perspective could be stated as “Rules are almost always good” versus “Rules are good if they are helpful, and not good if they are not helpful.” There are a number of times I have been in situations not anticipated by rules, in which the rules did not serve their intended purpose, and I was reasoning from an NT background that “If I show these people that applying the rules is not beneficial in this context, they will naturally make an exception.” The assumption betrays a lack of understanding of SJ perspective on rules, of course, but it was appropriate given my temperament and what I did and didn’t know at the time.

This impression is of someone in authority who looks at a situation, sees that applying the rules is not beneficial in that context, and readily grants an exception. It may be born more out of hope than experience, but it is a little picture of paradise — a paradise that sometimes says to people who are different, “The rule in this case was not created in anticipation of your situation, and will not be applied.” And who knows? Perhaps some people in authority might read this and exercise judgment so that rules do not harm those people for whom they were not created.

It Doesn’t Work That Way

Impression

A child expectantly asks an adult, “You’ll make everything better, right?”

The adult sadly answers, “It doesn’t work that way.”

Meaning

There are a number of things that are, in the minds of people who do not understand them, magical. Among these may be mentioned adulthood, exceptional intelligence, computers, counseling, and medicine. People on the outside have certain expectations. Children expect adults to know what to do in every situation; people of normal intelligence expect a genius to have perfect grades and never make mistakes; people want computers to have humanlike intelligence; codependent people want to enlist the counselor’s help in controlling everybody around them; patients want doctors to always have a pill that will make everything better. Those people who are inside the magic circle can only shake their heads and say, “It just doesn’t work that way.” Genius, for instance, is not an immunity to failure; a genius will actually experience more failure.

It doesn’t mean that these domains don’t have power — all of them do. Rather, it means that this power isn’t what people expect it to be. Christ came as the long-awaited Messiah — and when he came to preach spiritual deliverance from sin instead of military deliverance from Rome, disappointed many of the people who were waiting for him.

With giftedness, for example, there is a common assumption that it is an automatic badge to success: perfect grades in school, and being better at everything. Not so; many bright individuals have terrible school grades (Einstein was failed at math), and their intelligence functions differently, so that they experience difficulties like those of a foreigner in a very different land.

It may be that, in dealing with a great good, we need to be open to its being good in a way we cannot anticipate — even if our anticipation of its goodness is what draws us to it.

The Nest

Impression

In Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Michael Valentine Smith is raised in Martian culture and then brought to earth as a young man. He experiences terrific difficulty in adjustment, but adjusts to human culture first in author Jubal Harshaw’s den, and then explores the world on his own before creating his own nest — a unique place that combines Martian and human culture. Inside it, there is little clothing, and no need for money — but this is superficial; more deeply, there is a shared consciousness, a world that is entered when a person steps over the threshold.

Meaning

Michael’s nest resonates with me in a very strong sense of home. I do not have any physical place with the external distinctiveness of Michael’s nest — a thief who broke in would probably think I am a boring person — but that is not the essence of Mike’s nest even in Heinlein’s book. It was almost a literary symbol — and people who saw through the external strangeness found an internal wonder, itself even stranger, that was preserved when the people in the nest moved to a hotel hideout. My nest, which I have just begun to build, is found in part in scattered places (here, there, everywhere: in the schoolyard during first-grade recess; with the cherubim and seraphim; among the farandolae) — most recently in the dance class I have started. I wrote above about there being a glass wall, and my having been burned again and again after inviting people to pass through it (perhaps I did not understand how difficult it is for other people) — and I have found a few friends who have passed through it without me being burned. With two of them in particular (Robin and Heather Munn, a delightful brother and sister), I am now not intentionally building so much as living inside a nest.

This nest is a symbol of Heaven, and I will never before death be able to have it in full — there are times when I long strongly for it, and am a bit closer, but this nest has the same fundamental beauty as the Romance described in Less-Wild Lovers: Standing at the Crossroads of Desire — or a related one.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Impression

In a room full of men, one man challenges another. The challenged man rises and begins to sing the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Immediately other men rise, singing, until the room is filled with song.

Meaning

The song is a symbol of the Christian faith. It is something shared, something great that is common to many people. It is worship — that is to say, it is a touch of Heaven here on earth. The harmony among people — a harmony that is assumed not to be there in the challenge — exists in contrast to the classification of private, arbitrary beliefs, a sort of thing you can do as long as you hide it and don’t make it anything public to be taken seriously. The singing is public and intended to be taken seriously.

There are other dimensions to be carried as well, although I do not recall them now. It is not an allegory, with exactly one specific meaning; the symbol itself is more ambiguous — it carries multiple meanings, the primary one being the one referred to above.

Annular Chessboard

Impression

A tall person in a black cloak sits in a large hole at the center of an immense circular chessboard, slowly, unhurriedly moving pieces in and out in an intricate and complex pattern.

Meaning

This image is a symbol of genius, but not of my own gifts. My gifts mean experience of both spectacular success and spectacular failure; this image of genius is of a mastermind who has several projects in motion, giving attention to each in due turn. It is something I do in part — but this image is an image of perfection.

The Mask

Impression

A man puts on a mask and through it shows himself in a way that would not have come without the mask.

Meaning

Some of this is hinted at in what I wrote about my Halloween costume. The terms I have used in my own thought (though I don’t remember using them with anyone else) concern a “standard translation”. In the ordinary course of events, a person reveals himself in certain standard ways — which is not a straight copy, but a translation in which something gets lost. Sometimes nonstandard translations can allow things to be seen — good things — that are not shown in the standard translation. There are ways in which actions which are on the surface complete fantasy, allow the presentation of things that do not have occasion to be shown normally.

I think something of this is common — acting is concerned not only with using the actor to reveal an arbitrarily chosen different person, but with the development and revelation of the actor (to those who know him) — but my experience of it seems more intense than usual. I was surprised when some friends and I were playing a game I made, and one friend pulled a card from the deck that said to tell what about her she most wished other people knew, and she said that most people understood the things about her that she wanted to be understood. I had assumed that my intuitions applied to everyone.

Argentina

Impression

This impression came to me as I was listening to some Argentinian tango music, and gave new reality to something a church friend, whose family is from Argentina, talked about how it was the most European of South American countries, but the Argentina she knew of is a lost world — the country and the people are still there, but inflation and other factors have made a drastic change.

(This is what I remember from a couple of sources; it is not the result of research, and is not intended to be taken as such. It is listed here as a romantic impression from a historical situation whose full details I do not understand.)

Meaning

Europe has more the symbolic meaning of home to me than does America, and a piece of Europe in the beautiful land of South America bears some of the romance l’Engle conveys in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Its loss — the lost world symbol, or lost home — be it Atlantis, Ynes Avalach, Arthurian England for me, Gone With the Wind for many Southerners, and still other symbols for people of other backgrounds — is tremendously powerful, and those places live on as a memory inside people’s hearts even when they are only a memory.

Another facet is that my sense of self (my personal feeling? my experience of a universal human emotion?) is in someone from a lost realm. There is not too much external evidence that would suggest this — my high school has its own culture, and I can’t go back there, and my excursions into Malaysia and France cannot easily be repeated — but the country in which I have spent the bulk of my life is still the same country and has not changed with any particularly great violence — a society that embraces change will be more altered than one that tries to preserve traditions, but there is a strong continuity. Perhaps it is a part of adult nostalgia for a romanticized childhood — as Calvin put it, “People who are nostalgic about childhood were never children — but the symbol holds resonances for me, and is reflected in other works as well.

Sidhe Nobles in Cafe

Impression

Two people are sitting in a cafe full of people, talking. That is what can be easily seen. What is less easily seen is that they are færie nobles, an invisible minority and representatives of a lost world.

Meaning

This is a part of the powerful romance captured in the online book excerpts for Changeling: the Dreaming. It bears a romance of a lost world, but it also captures something of those who, because of their intelligence, have minds more different than most people would dream to imagine before having encountered them. It also represents, as well as genius, Christians in naturalistic academia — and probably other things as well.

Double Weapons

Impression

In a Hollywood action-adventure style, there is a hero wielding two shortswords, or two small automatic weapons (the visual symbol varies). It is in the midst of an intense battle, but under the surface of all the chaos there is stillness, control, and peace.

Meaning

This one may surprise those who know me, and know that I am a pacifist and consider glorified violence in movies to be a significant problem. Why do I include it?

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a second rate treatment of first rate issues, Pirsig talks about being in Quality (the idea of Quality being similar to the Chinese concept of the Tao, as the book notes). He explains that this relaxed, peaceful state is not only found in meditation; it can be found in racing or heavy combat. I have not experienced this in sparring, but I believe it exists, and there is a powerful impression of a person who is in a situation of sheer chaos and hostility, but the chaos outside the person does not bring chaos within.

Boy chasing girl

Impression

In a room, a college girl dashes through, being eagerly chased by a college boy, who is asking a barrage of teasing questions. There are some adults who are in the room, and they continue on — one of them calmly sipping his tea — without anyone raising an eyebrow.

Meaning

One of my friends, Ashley, has voiced emphatically that she doesn’t want to get married and is not domestic. It’s not that she doesn’t like men — she enjoys men a great deal, and can sit down at a table full of men and not feel self conscious at all. She just wants to be single.

At one point, she was spending a lot of time with one guy in particular, and the two of them started to sit together at Pooh’s Corner (a group of people who meet to read children’s books aloud).

I waited for a good moment, and then put an arm around her shoulder and said, “So, Ashley, when are you sending me a wedding invitation?”

The look on her face was classic.

(I’m glad Ashley’s such a good sport.)

I enjoy picking on those people who are close to me, especially girls and women. It’s a form of affection. Picking on can be mean-spirited — but need not be. I’ve heard people telling children “Don’t pick on people who don’t fit in,” but not (except by silence and possibly example) acknowledging that picking on someone in the right way, under the proper circumstances, can be part of a close bond.

Inside the glass wall, touch is important, as are teasing, tickling, horseplay, and the like. I don’t think that these are the most unusual things inside the glass wall — only that they play a part of the picture; they are part of the Nest.

The Bozone Layer

Impression

In a classic Far Side cartoon, there is a layer of stacked clowns hovering above the earth’s surface. The caption reads:

The Bozone Layer: Shielding the rest of the universe from the earth’s harmful effects.

This cartoon is funny, but in the way hackers call ‘ha ha only serious’ — it describes a truth. Our world is fallen — which means not only ‘sinful’ as positively understood, but at times positively goofy. I am a part of this, too — I do not see my own absurdities, as I don’t see my own blind spots, but from all the ridiculous things I have seen in others, I would be quite surprised if I was somehow exempt from this pervasive human law.

There is a peace that comes from the recognition of this absurdity, especially after trying and failing to make it go away. It is easy to hold an unstated belief that “If I only try hard enough, I can fix this — and if I can’t make it all better, I’m failing as a person.” The freedom and peace come from realizing that the absurdity is innate and out of our control, that it can perhaps be made better through our influence, but that if we try our best and it’s still positively looney, we can live with ourselves.

The Son of God incarnate did not cause the outrageous things of his countrymen to snap to where they should be; he attacked the absurdity tooth and nail, and his countrymen killed him. That at least should help us to accept that God doesn’t expect us to make the world anything near a perfect place: we should try to better it, and be at peace when our imperfect efforts achieve more imperfect results.

In the Wasteland

Impression

There is a hero who is powerful and respected, and has a fall — he is disgraced, his name made a laughingstock, and he is exiled in a wasteland — and forgotten.

In the wasteland — slowly, imperceptibly, not noticed by anyone — he slowly regains his strength. Nobody expects when he returns.

Meaning

Perhaps the oldest recorded example of this impression is Samson’s story, but I was not originally thinking of that. I was thinking of what I hope part of my own experience to be.

I am in a wasteland now; I am not where I thought I would be five years ago. And I cannot tell the future, to confidently predict any glorious return. But I am in a sort of Sabbath, regaining my strength, refocusing, having lost certain things, and learning how to use other strengths to best advantage. The romance appeals to me; while ‘education’ commonly describes a first ascent to effectiveness, and ‘experience’ the slow refinement of skills as one works in the field, I do not know any single word to tell of regained competency after a fall. This image describes it, and it describes what I am trying to do now.

A Dream of Light

Espiriticthus: Cultures of a Fantasy World Not Touched by Evil

The Spectacles

Within the Steel Orb

Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day

Let me begin by sharing my favorite For Better or for Worse strip. On a night that is dark, wet, and probably quite cold, John Patterson steps into a cab and says, “What a miserable day!” The cabby surprises him by saying, “Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day.”

John is surprised, but the cabby explains. “You see,” he says, “I am from Sudan. I have seen my friends shot and killed. I have a wife whom I have not seen in two years, and a son whom I have never seen. But every day I save a little, and I am that much closer to bringing them here.” At the end of the trip, John rather pensively pays and tips the cabby.

Then he steps in the door—it is still dark, wet, and probably rather cold—and his wife says, “What a miserable day!”

John simply puts his arms around her and their little girl, and said, “Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day.”

This is a good vignette to be mindful of, and if economic times are rougher now than when these words first appeared, it does not diminish their truth in the least. To me, it is a very good day.

To me, it is a very good day.

And let me explain what I mean.

One of my goals in life has been to be a scholar, and I’ve tried hard to earn credentials to teach in theology. Given the difficulties Ph.D. holders have getting a job, it seemed to me to be rather silly to apply for a job without getting the standard “union card:” a Ph.D.

I became a graduate student in theology while overcoming cancer, and earned a master’s in theology under Cambridge’s philosophy of religion seminar. And, after some time to recover, I entered a Ph.D. program. And…

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for a way to explain what happened in the Ph.D. program. Eventually, I began to suspect that I might be having such difficulty finding an appropriate way to explain those events because they are not the kind of thing that can be explained appropriately.

So let me say the following.

  • I’m a pretty bright guy. Ranked 7th in a nationwide math contest. Did an independent study of calculus in middle school. Studied over a dozen languages. And so on.
  • I honestly found more than one thing at the university to be worse than suffering chemo. (And chemotherapy included the worst hour of merely physical pain in my life.)
  • The university is not budging in their position that, as my GPA in all that happened was 3.386/4.0 and a 3.5 was required, I have washed out of their Ph.D. program.

And I’m not sure, after an experience like that, that I’m really in the best position to apply to another program: references are important, and it would show a profound naïveté to tell a professor, “I know you retaliated for my gestures of friendship, but you’ll still be kind and give me a good letter of reference, right?” I am not in the best position to apply to another Ph.D. program. And I wish to very clearly say, today is a very good day to me.

The goals I was pursuing are a privilege and not a right. For that matter, the job I have now is not something to be taken for granted. I have a job that is meeting all my basic expenses. Most jobs you have at least one pest to deal with. Not this one; there is not a single person at my job that I would rather not deal with. They’re all decent people.

If I had my way and got my Ph.D., there are other things that probably would not have happened, including my books being published. And I am quite glad for that. And even in theology, I may never be involved with theology on the terms I envisioned, but that is not nearly so final as it sounds, and I would like to be clear about that.

A Christian in the West may or may not find it strange to place theology in the category of “academic disciplines.” In Orthodoxy the placement is strange indeed, because theology, even in its treatment of texts, is much more a spiritual discipline of prayer than a technical discipline of analysis. And in that sense, the door to theology is as open to me as it ever was: it is a door that I can enter through repentance, and is as open to me now as much as any time.

To me, it is a very good day.

And perhaps I may well leave behind something value, but perhaps God did not intend it to be scholarship. Perhaps I was just meant to write.

And on that note, I would like to share some snippets, some highlights, from my books.

The books include several shorter works building up to a long piece; The Sign of the Grail tells the story of a young man whose world begins to deepen when he discovers, in his college dorm room, a book of Arthurian legends:

After eating part of his meal, George opened Brocéliande, flipping from place to place until an illustration caught his eye. He read:

Merlin walked about in the clearing on the Isle of Avalon. To his right was the castle, and to his left was the forest. Amidst the birdsong a brook babbled, and a faint fragrance of frankincense flowed.

Sir Galahad walked out of the castle portal, and he bore a basket of bread.

Then Galahad asked Merlin about his secrets and ways, of what he could do and his lore, of his calling forth from the wood what a man anchored in the castle could never call forth. And Galahad enquired, and Merlin answered, and Galahad enquired of Merlin if Merlin knew words that were more words than our words and more mystically real than the British tongue, and then the High Latin tongue, and then the tongue of Old Atlantis. And then Galahad asked after anything beyond Atlantis, and Merlin’s inexhaustible fount ran dry.

Then Sir Galahad asked Merlin of his wood, of the stones and herbs, and the trees and birds, and the adder and the dragon, the gryphon and the lion, and the unicorn whom only a virgin may touch. And Merlin spake to him him of the pelican, piercing her bosom that her young may feed, and the wonders, virtues, and interpretation of each creature, until Galahad asked of the dragon’s head for which Uther had been called Uther Pendragon, and every Pendragon after him bore the title of King and Pendragon. Merlin wot the virtue of the dragon’s body, but of the dragon’s head he wot nothing, and Sir Galahad spake that it was better that Merlin wist not.

Then Sir Galahad did ask Merlin after things of which he knew him nothing, of what was the weight of fire, and of what is the end of natural philosophy without magic art, and what is a man if he enters not in the castle, and “Whom doth the Grail serve?”, and of how many layers the Grail hath. And Merlin did avow that of these he wist not none.

Then Merlin asked, “How is it that you are wise to ask after these all?”

Then Galahad spake of a soft voice in Merlin his ear and anon Merlin ran into the wood, bearing bread from the castle.

George was tired, and he wished he could read more. But he absently closed the book, threw away what was left of his hamburgers and fries, and crawled into bed. It seemed but a moment that he was dreaming.

George found himself on the enchanted Isle of Avalon, and it seemed that the Grail Castle was not far off.

George was in the castle, and explored room after room, entranced. Then he opened a heavy wooden door and found himself facing the museum exhibit, and he knew he was seeing the same 5th-6th century sword from the Celtic lands, only it looked exactly like a wall hanger sword he had seen online, a replica of a 13th century Provençale longsword that was mass produced, bore no artisan’s fingerprints, and would split if it struck a bale of hay. He tried to make it look like the real surface, ever so real, that he had seen, but machined steel never changed.

Then George looked at the plaque, and every letter, every word, every sentence was something he could read but the whole thing made no sense. Then the plaque grew larger and larger, until the words and even letters grew undecipherable, and he heard what he knew were a dragon’s footprints and smelled the stench of acrid smoke. George went through room and passage until the noises grew louder, and chanced to glance at a pool and see his reflection.

He could never remember what his body looked like, but his head was unmistakably the head of a dragon.

And the story of this nightmare is part of the story of how he begins questing for the Holy Grail and ultimately wakes up in life.

A short story builds up in The Christmas Tales:

The crown of Earth is the temple,
and the crown of the temple is Heaven.

Stephan ran to get away from his pesky sister—if nothing else he could at least outrun her!

Where to go?

One place seemed best, and his legs carried him to the chapel—or, better to say, the temple. The chapel was a building which seemed larger from the inside than the outside, and (though this is less remarkable than it sounds) it is shaped like an octagon on the outside and a cross on the inside.

Stephan slowed down to a walk. This place, so vast and open and full of light on the inside—a mystically hearted architect who read The Timeless Way of Building might have said that it breathed—and Stephan did not think of why he felt so much at home, but if he did he would have thought of the congregation worshipping with the skies and the seas, the rocks and the trees, and choir after choir of angels, and perhaps he would have thought of this place not only as a crown to earth but a room of Heaven.

What he was thinking of was the Icon that adorns the Icon stand, and for that matter adorns the whole temple. It had not only the Icons, but the relics of (from left to right) Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Basil the Great. His mother had told Stephan that they were very old, and Stephan looked at her and said, “Older than email? Now that is old!” She closed her eyes, and when she opened them she smiled. “Older than email,” she said, “and electric lights, and cars, and a great many of the kinds of things in our house, and our country, and…” her voice trailed off. He said, “Was it as old as King Arthur?” She said, “It is older than even the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.”

This story, incidentally, is set in a real place. I have been there.

One of the medium-sized works in A Cord of Seven Strands is a narrative as of a dream:

You pull your arms to your side and glide through the water. On your left is a fountain of bubbles, upside down, beneath a waterfall; the bubbles shoot down and then cascade out and to the surface. To your right swims a school of colorful fish, red and blue with thin black stripes. The water is cool, and you can feel the currents gently pushing and pulling on your body. Ahead of you, seaweed above and long, bright green leaves below wave back and forth, flowing and bending. You pull your arms, again, with a powerful stroke which shoots you forward under the seaweed; your back feels cool in the shade. You kick, and you feel the warmth of the sun again, soaking in and through your skin and muscles. Bands of light dance on the sand beneath you, as the light is bent and turned by the waves.

There is a time of rest and stillness; all is at a deep and serene peace. The slow motion of the waves, the dancing lights below and above, the supple bending of the plants, all form part of a stillness. It is soothing, like the soft, smooth notes of a lullaby.

Your eyes slowly close, and you feel even more the warm sunlight, and the gentle caresses of the sea. And, in your rest, you become more aware of a silent presence. You were not unaware of it before, but you are more aware of it now. It is there:

Being.

Love.

Life.

Healing.

Calm.

Rest.

Reality.

Like a tree with water slowly flowing in, through roots hidden deep within the earth, and filling it from the inside out, you abide in the presence. It is a moment spent, not in time, but in eternity.

Firestorm 2034 tells the story of a brilliant medieval traveler transported to some twenty or thirty years in our future. It’s a little like a story told more compactly and more like a dream:

It was late in the day, and my feet were hurting.

I had spent the past three hours on the winding path up the foothills, and you will excuse me if I was not paying attention to the beauty around me.

I saw it, and then wondered how I had not seen it—an alabaster palace rising out of the dark rock around it, hidden in a niche as foothill became mountain. After I saw it, I realized—I could not tell if the plants around me were wild or garden, but there was a grassy spot around it. Some of my fatigue eased as I looked into a pond and saw koi and goldfish swimming.

I looked around and saw the Gothic buildings, the trees, the stone path and walkways. I was beginning to relax, when I heard a voice say, “Good evening,” and looked, and realized there was a man on the bench in front of me.

He was wearing a grey-green monk’s robe, and cleaning a gun. He looked at me for a moment, tucked the gun into a shack, and welcomed me in.

Outside, the sun was setting. At the time, I thought of the last rays of the dying sun—but it was not that, so much as day giving birth to night. We passed inside to a hallway, with wooden chairs and a round wooden table. It seemed brightly enough lit, if by torchlight.

My guide disappeared into a hallway, and returned with two silver chalices, and set one before me. He raised his chalice, and took a sip.

The wine was a dry white wine—refreshing and cold as ice. It must have gone to my head faster than I expected; I gave a long list of complaints, about how inaccessible this place was, and how hard the road. He listened silently, and I burst out, “Can you get the master of this place to come to me? I need to see him personally.”

The servant softly replied, “He knows you are coming, and he will see you before you leave. In the mean time, may I show you around his corner of the world?”

I felt anger flaring within me; I am a busy man, and do not like to waste my time with subordinates. If it was only one of his underlings who would be available, I would have sent a subordinate myself. As I thought this, I was surprised to hear myself say, “Please.”

We set down the chalices, and started walking through a maze of passageways. He took a small oil lamp, one that seemed to burn brightly, and we passed through a few doors before stepping into a massive room.

The room blazed with intense brilliance; I covered my eyes, and wondered how they made a flame to burn so bright. Then I realized that the chandaliers were lit with incandescent light. The shelves had illuminated manuscripts next to books with plastic covers—computer science next to bestiaries. My guide went over by one place, tapped with his finger—and I realized that he was at a computer.

Perhaps reading the look on my face, my guide told me, “The master uses computers as much as you do. Do you need to check your e-mail?”

I asked, “Why are there torches in the room you left me in, and electric light here?”

He said, “Is a person not permitted to use both? The master, as you call him, believes that technology is like alcohol—good within proper limits—and not something you have to use as much as you can. There are electric lights here because their brilliance makes reading easier on the eyes. Other rooms have torches, or nothing at all, because a flame has a different meaning, one that we prefer. Never mind; I can get you a flashlight if you like. Oh, and you can take off your watch now. It won’t work here.”

“It won’t work? Look, it keeps track of time to the second, and it is working as we speak!”

The man studied my watch, though I think he was humoring me, and said, “It will give a number as well here as anywhere else. But that number means very little here, and you would do just as well to put it in your pocket.”

I looked at my watch, and kept it on. He asked, “What time is it?”

I looked, and said, “19:58.”

“Is that all?”

I told him the seconds, and then the date and year, and added, “But it doesn’t feel like the 21st century here.” I was beginning to feel a little nervous.

He said, “What century do you think it is here?”

I said, “Like a medieval time that someone’s taken a scissors to. You have a garden with perfect gothic architecture, and you in a monk’s robe, holding an expensive-looking rifle. And a computer in a library that doesn’t even try to organize books by subject or time.”

I looked around on the wall, and noticed a hunting trophy. Or at least that’s what I took it for at first. There was a large sheild-shaped piece of wood, such as would come with a beautiful stag—but no animal’s head. Instead, there were hundreds upon hundreds of bullet holes in the wood—enough that the wood should have shattered. I walked over, and read the glass plate: “This magnificent deer shot 1-4-98 in Wisconsin with an AK-47. God bless the NRA.”

I laughed a minute, and said, “What is this doing in here?”

The servant said, “What is anything doing here? Does it surprise you?”

I said, “From what I have heard, the master of this place is very serious about life.”

My guide said, “Of course he is. And he cherishes laughter.”

I looked around a bit, but could not understand why the other things were there—only be puzzled at how anyone could arrange a computer and other oddments to make a room that felt unmistably medieval. Or was it? “What time is it here? To you?”

My guide said, “Every time and no time. We do not measure time by numbers here; to the extent that time is ‘measured’, we ‘measure’ by what fills it—something qualitative and not quantiative. Your culture measures a place’s niche in history by how many physical years have passed before it; we understand that well enough, but we reckon time, not by its place in the march of seconds, but by the content of its character. You may think of this place as medieval if you want; others view it as ancient, and not a small part is postmodern—more than the computer is contemporary.”

I looked at my watch. Only five minutes had passed. I felt frustration and puzzlement, and wondered how long this could go on.

“When can we move on from here?”

“When you are ready. You aren’t ready yet.”

I looked at my watch. Not even ten seconds had passed. The second hand seemed to be moving very slowly.

I felt something moving in the back of my mind, but I tried to push it back. The second hand continued on its lazy journey, and then—I took off my watch and put it in my pocket.

My guide stood up and said, “Walk this way, please.”

He led me to a doorway, opening a door, and warning me not to step over the threshold. I looked, and saw why—there was a drop of about a foot, into a pool of water. The walls were blue, and there was sand at the far end. Two children—a little boy and a little girl—were making sand castles.

He led me through the mazelike passages to rooms I cannot describe. One room had mechanical devices in all stages of assembly and disassembly. Another was bare and clean. The kitchen had pepperoni and peppers hanging, and was filled with an orange glow that was more than torchlight. There was a deserted classroom filled with flickering blue light, and then we walked into a theatre.

The chamber was small, and this theatre had more than the usual slanted floor. The best way I could describe it is to say that it was a wall, at times vertical, with handholds and outcroppings. There were three women and two men on the stage, but not standing—or sitting, for that matter. They were climbing, shifting about as they talked.

I could not understand their language, but there was something about it that fascinated me. I was surprised to find myself listening to it. I was even more surprised to realize that, if I could not understand the words, I could no less grasp the story. It was a story of friendship, and there is something important in that words melted into song, and climbing into dance.

I watched to the end. The actors and actresses did not disappear backstage, but simply climbed down into the audience, and began talking with people. I could not tell if the conversation was part of the act, or if they were just seeing friends. I wondered if it really made any difference—and then realized, with a flash, that I had caught a glimpse into how this place worked.

When I wanted to go, the servant led me to a room filled with pipes. He cranked a wheel, and I heard gears turning, and began to see the jet black keys of an organ. He played a musical fragment; it sounded incomplete.

He said, “Play.”

I closed my eyes and said, “I don’t know how to play any instrument.”

He repeated the fragment and said, “That doesn’t matter. Play.”

There followed a game of question and answer—he would improvise a snatch of music, and I would follow. I would say that it was beautiful, but I couldn’t really put it that way. It would be better to say that his music was mediocre, and mine didn’t quite reach that standard.

We walked out into a cloister. I gasped. There was a sheltered pathway around a grassy court and a pool stirred by fish. It was illumined by moon and star, and the brilliance was dazzling.

We walked around, and I looked. In my mind’s eye I could see white marble statues of saints praying—I wasn’t sure, but I made up my mind to suggest that to the master. After a time we stopped walking on the grass, and entered another door.

Not too far into the hallway, he turned, set the oil lamp into a small alcove, and began to rise up the wall. Shortly before disappearing into the blackness above, he said, “Climb.”

I learn a little, I think. I did not protest; I put my hands and feet on the wall, and felt nothing. I leaned against it, and felt something give way—something yielding to give a handhold. Then I started climbing. I fell a couple of times, but reached the shadows where he disappeared. He took me by the hand and began to lead me along a path.

I could feel a wall on either side, and then nothing, save his hand and my feet. Where was I? I said, “I can’t see!”

A woman’s voice said, “No one can see here. Eyes aren’t needed.” I felt an arm around my waist, and a gentle squeeze.

I felt that warmth, and said, “I came to this place because I wanted to see the master of this house, and I wanted to see him personally. Now—I am ready to leave without seeing him. I have seen enough, and I no longer want to trouble him.”

I felt my guide’s hand on my shoulder, and heard his voice as he said, “You have seen me personally, and you are not troubling me. You are here at my invitation. You will always be welcome here.”

When I first entered the house, I would have been stunned. Now, it seemed the last puzzle piece in something I had been gathering since I started hiking.

The conversation was deep, and I cannot tell you what was said. I don’t mean that I forgot it—I remember it clearly enough. I don’t really mean that it would be a breach of confidence—it might be that as well. What I mean is that there was something special in that room, and it would not make much sense to you even if I could explain it. If I were to say that we talked in a room without light, where you had to feel around to move about—it would be literally true, but beside the point. When I remember the room, I do not think about what wasn’t there, but what was there. I was glad I took off my watch—but I cannot say why. The best thing I can say is that if you can figure out how a person could be aware of a succession of moments, and at the same time have time sense that is not entirely linear—or at very least not just linear—you have a glimpse of what I found in that room.

We talked long, and it was late into the next day when I got up from a perfectly ordinary guestroom, packed, and left. I put on my watch, returned to my business, and started working on the backlog of invoices and meetings that accumulated in my absence. I’m still pretty busy, but I have never left that room.

Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary is a thin volume for a dictionary, but then it works a little unlike the more standard dictionary one uses to look things up:

Form, n. A piece of paper used by administrations to deter people from using their services. It is the opinion of this lexicographer that the following form could be of the utmost assistance in helping bureaucracies more effectively serve those under their care.

 

Form to Request Information in the Form of a Form

 

Section 1: Personal Information

Name: ___________________________ Sex: [ ]M [ ]F Date of Birth: __/__/__
Social Security Number: ___-__-____
Driver’s License Number: ____-____-____
VISA/MasterCard Number: ____-____-____-____
Mailing Address, Business:
Street:_____________________________ City:________________ State:__ ZIP Code:_____
Mailing Address, Home:
Street:_____________________________ City:________________ State:__ ZIP Code:_____
Telephone, Work: (___)___-____, Ext. ____
Telephone, Home: (___)___-____
Telephone, Car: (___)___-____
Beeper: (___)___-____ Chicago High School: [ ]Y [ ]N
E-mail Address: ____________________________________________________ (if address is in domain aol.com or webtv.net, please explain on a separate sheet of paper)
Height: _’, __” Weight: ___# Hair: ______ Eyes: _____ Blood type: __ IQ: __
Political Affiliation: [ ]Federalist [ ]Republican [ ]Democrat [ ]Libertarian [ ]Monarchist [ ]Socialist [ ]Marxist [ ]Communist [ ]Nazi [ ]Fascist [ ]Anarchist [ ]Other (Please specify:_____________)
Citizenship: [ ]United States, including Canada and other territories [ ]Mexico [ ]California [ ]Other (Please specify:_____________________)
Race: [ ]Caucasian/Pigmentally Challenged [ ]African [ ]Asian [ ]Hispanic/Latino [ ]Amerindian [ ]Heinz-57 [ ]Other (Please specify: __________________) [ ]An athletic event where people run around an oval again and again and again.

Page 1 * End of Section 1 of 3

Section 2: Form Description

Length of Form, in Characters: _____
Number of Questions or Required Data: ____
Expected Time to Complete: __ Hours, __ Minutes, __ Seconds.
Expected Mental Effort Required to Complete: __________________________ (if form would insult the intelligence of a senile hamster, please explain on a separate sheet of paper)
Expected number of questions judged to be annoying, unnecessary, and/or personally offensive: __
Expected time wasted on questions judged to be annoying, unnecessary, and/or personally offensive: __ Hours, __ Minutes, __ Seconds.
Expected blood pressure increase while filling out form: __ mmHg systolic, __ mmHg diastolic.

If further contemplation has led you to believe that some of the questions asked are not strictly necessary to provide the service that you offer upon completion of said form, please enclose revised prototype here.

Page 2 * End of Section 2 of 3

Section 3: Essay Questions

Please explain, in 500 words or less, your philosophy concerning the use of forms.

Please explain, in 200 words or less, why you designed this form as you did.

Please explain, in 300 words or less, why you believe that this form is necessary. If you are in a service oriented sector and desire to require the form of people you serve, please explain why you believe that requiring people to fill out forms constitutes a service to them.

When this form is completed, please return to the address provided. The Committee for Selecting Forms will carefully examine your case and delegate responsibility to an appropriate subcommittee.

Please allow approximately six to eight weeks for the appointed subcommittee to lose your file in a paper shuffle.

Page 3 * End of Section 3 of 3

But many of the definitions are shorter: “Christmas, n. An annual holiday celebrating the coming of the chief Deity of Western civilization: Mammon.”

Yonder is a shorter work, like the others can be mischievous and iconoclastic, and opens with a fictitious news article heralding the discovery of an inclusive language manuscript for a good chunk of the Greek New Testament. The culminating work is a Socratic dialogue, set in a science fiction thoughtscape that paints a terrifying silhouette and asks a terrifying question, “What if we really didn’t have the things about a world of men and women and all the things that we chafe at?” Along the way to that work comes a moment of rest:

The day his daughter Abigail was born was the best day of Abraham’s life. Like father, like daughter, they said in the village, and especially of them. He was an accomplished musician, and she breathed music.

He taught her a music that was simple, pure, powerful. It had only one voice; it needed only one voice. It moved slowly, unhurriedly, and had a force that was spellbinding. Abraham taught Abigail many songs, and as she grew, she began to make songs of her own. Abigail knew nothing of polyphony, nor of hurried technical complexity; her songs needed nothing of them. Her songs came from an unhurried time out of time, gentle as lapping waves, and mighty as an ocean.

One day a visitor came, a young man in a white suit. He said, “Before your father comes, I would like you to see what you have been missing.” He took out a music player, and began to play.

Abby at first covered her ears; she was in turn stunned, shocked, and intrigued. The music had many voices, weaving in and out of each other quickly, intricately. She heard wheels within wheels within wheels within wheels of complexity. She began to try, began to think in polyphony — and the man said, “I will come to you later. It is time for your music with your father.”

Every time in her life, sitting down at a keyboard with her father was the highlight of her day. Every day but this day. This day, she could only think about how simple and plain the music was, how lacking in complexity. Abraham stopped his song and looked at his daughter. “Who have you been listening to, Abigail?”

Something had been gnawing at Abby’s heart; the music seemed bleak, grey. It was as if she had beheld the world in fair moonlight, and then a blast of eerie light assaulted her eyes — and now she could see nothing. She felt embarrassed by her music, ashamed to have dared to approach her father with anything so terribly unsophisticated. Crying, she gathered up her skirts and ran as if there were no tomorrow.

Tomorrow came, and the day after; it was a miserable day, after sleeping in a gutter. Abigail began to beg, and it was over a year before another beggar let her play on his keyboard. Abby learned to play in many voices; she was so successful that she forgot that she was missing something. She occupied herself so fully with intricate music that in another year she was asked to give concerts and performances. Her music was rich and full, and her heart was poor and empty.

Years passed, and Abigail gave the performance of her career. It was before a sold-out audience, and it was written about in the papers. She walked out after the performance and the reception, with moonlight falling over soft grass and fireflies dancing, and something happened.

Abby heard the wind blowing in the trees.

In the wind, Abigail heard music, and in the wind and the music Abigail heard all the things she had lost in her childhood. It was as if she had looked in an image and asked, “What is that wretched thing?” — and realized she was looking into a mirror. No, it was not quite that; it was as if in an instant her whole world was turned upside down, and her musical complexity she could not bear. She heard all over again the words, “Who have you been listening to?” — only, this time, she did not think them the words of a jealous monster, but words of concern, words of “Who has struck a blow against you?” She saw that she was blind and heard that she was deaf: that the hearing of complexity had not simply been an opening of her ears, but a wounding, a smiting, after which she could not know the concentrated presence a child had known, no matter how complex — or how simple — the music became. The sword cut deeper when she tried to sing songs from her childhood, at first could remember none, then could remember one — and it sounded empty — and she knew that the song was not empty. It was her. She lay down and wailed.

Suddenly, she realized she was not alone. An old man was watching her. Abigail looked around in fright; there was nowhere to run to hide. “What do you want?” she said.

“There is music even in your wail.”

“I loathe music.”

There was a time of silence, a time that drew uncomfortably long, and Abigail asked, “What is your name?”

The man said, “Look into my eyes. You know my name.”

Abigail stood, poised like a man balancing on the edge of a sword, a chasm to either side. She did not — Abigail shrieked with joy. “Daddy!

“It has been a long time since we’ve sat down at music, sweet daughter.”

“You don’t want to hear my music. I was ashamed of what we used to play, and I am now ashamed of it all.”

“Oh, child! Yes, I do. I will never be ashamed of you. Will you come and walk with me? I have a keyboard.”

As Abby’s fingers began to dance, she first felt as if she were being weighed in the balance and found wanting. The self-consciousness she had finally managed to banish in her playing was now there — ugly, repulsive — and then she was through it. She made a horrible mistake, and then another, and then laughed, and Abraham laughed with her. Abby began to play and then sing, serious, inconsequential, silly, and delightful in the presence of her father. It was as if shackles fell from her wrists, her tongue loosed — she thought for a moment that she was like a little girl again, playing at her father’s side, and then knew that it was better. What could she compare it to? She couldn’t. She was at a simplicity beyond complexity, and her father called forth from her music that she could never have done without her trouble. The music seemed like dance, like laughter; it was under and around and through her, connecting her with her father, a moment out of time.

After they had both sung and laughed and cried, Abraham said, “Abby, will you come home with me? My house has never been the same without you.”

There are some other passages that I would like to quote, but I’ll stop with one more, from The Steel Orb, which ends with a paired science fiction short work and a fantasy novella. Both of those works share in this paean’s joy:

With what words
shall I hymn the Lord of Heaven and Earth,
the Creator of all things visible and invisible?
Shall I indeed meditate
on the beauty of his Creation?

As I pray to Thee, Lord,
what words shall I use,
and how shall I render Thee praise?

Shall I thank thee for the living tapestry,
oak and maple and ivy and grass,
that I see before me
as I go to return to Thee at Church?

Shall I thank Thee for Zappy,
and for her long life—
eighteen years old and still catching mice?
Shall I thank thee for her tiger stripes,
the color of pepper?
Shall I thank thee for her kindness,
and the warmth of her purr?

Shall I thank Thee for a starry sapphire orb
hung with a million million diamonds, where
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands.
Day to day utters speech,
and night to night proclaims knowledge.
There are no speeches or words,
in which their voices are not heard.
Their voice is gone out into all the earth,
and their words to the end of the earth.
In the sun he has set his tabernacle;
and he comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber: he will exult as a giant to run his course.”?

Shall I thank Thee for the river of time,
now flowing quickly,
now flowing slowly,
now narrow,
now deep,
now flowing straight and clear,
now swirling in eddies that dance?

Shall I thank Thee for the hymns and songs,
the chant at Church, when we praise Thee in the head of Creation, the vanguard of Creation that has come from Thee in Thy splendor and to Thee returns in reverence?

Shall I thank thee for the Chalice:
an image,
an icon,
a shadow of,
a participation in,
a re-embodiment of,
the Holy Grail?

Shall I forget how the Holy Grail itself
is but the shadow,
the impact,
the golden surface reflecting the light,
secondary reflection to the primeval light,
the wrapping paper that disintegrates next to the Gift it holds:
that which is
mystically and really
the body and the blood of Christ:
the family of saints
for me to be united to,
and the divine Life?

Shall I meditate
on how I am fed
by the divine generosity
and the divine gift
of the divine energies?

Shall I thank Thee for a stew I am making,
or for a body nourished by food?

Shall I indeed muse that there is
nothing else I could be nourished by,
for spaghetti and bread and beer
are from a whole cosmos
illuminated by the divine light,
a candle next to the sun,
a beeswax candle,
where the sun’s energy filters through plants
and the work of bees
and the work of men
to deliver light and energy from the sun,
and as candle to sun,
so too is the bread of earth
to the Bread that came from Heaven,
the work of plants and men,
the firstfruits of Earth
returned to Heaven,
that they may become
the firstfruits of Heaven
returned to earth?

Shall I muse on the royal “we,”
where the kings and queens
said not of themselves”I”, but “we”
while Christians are called to say “we”
and learn that the “I” is to be transformed,
made luminous,
scintillating,
when we move beyond “Me, me, me,”
to learn to say, “we”?

And the royal priesthood is one in which we are called to be
a royal priesthood,
a chosen people,
more than conquerors,
a Church of God’s eclecticism,
made divine,
a family of little Christs,
sons to God and brothers to Christ,
the ornament of the visible Creation,
of rocks and trees and stars and seas,
and the spiritual Creation as well:
seraphim, cherubim, thrones
dominions, principalities, authorities,
powers, archangels, angels,
rank on rank of angels,
singing before the presence of God,
and without whom no one can plumb the depths
of the world that can be seen and touched.

For to which of the angels did God say,
“You make my Creation complete,” or
“My whole Creation, visible and invisible,
is encapsulated in you,
summed up in your human race?”

To which of the angels
did the divine Word say,
“I am become what you are
that you may become what I am?”

To which of the angels did the Light say,
“Thou art my Son; today I have adopted Thee,”
and then turn to say,
“You are my sons; today I have adopted you;
because I AM WHO I AM,
you are who you are.”?

So I am called to learn to say, “we”,
and when we learn to say we,
that “we” means,
a royal priesthood,
a chosen people,
more than conquerors,
a Church of God’s eclecticism,
a family of little Christs,
made divine,
the ornament of Creation, visible and invisible,
called to lead the whole Creation
loved into being by God,
to be in love
that to God they may return.

And when we worship thus,
it cannot be only us, for
apples and alligators,
boulders and bears,
creeks and crystals,
dolphins and dragonflies,
eggplants and emeralds,
fog and furballs,
galaxies and grapes,
horses and habaneros,
ice and icicles,
jacinth and jade,
kangaroos and knots,
lightning and light,
meadows and mist,
nebulas and neutrons,
oaks and octupi,
porcupines and petunias,
quails and quarks,
rocks and rivers,
skies and seas,
toads and trees,
ukeleles and umber umbrellas,
wine and weirs,
xylophones and X-rays,
yuccas and yaks,
zebras and zebrawood,
are all called to join us before Thy throne
in the Divine Liturgy:

Praise ye the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord from the heavens:
praise him in the heights.
Praise ye him, all his angels:
praise ye him, all his hosts.
Praise ye him, sun and moon:
praise him, all ye stars of light.
Praise him, ye heavens of heavens,
and ye waters that be above the heavens.
Let them praise the name of the Lord:
for he commanded, and they were created.
He hath also stablished them for ever and ever:
he hath made a decree which shall not pass.
Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours;
stormy wind fulfilling his word:
Mountains, and all hills;
fruitful trees, and all cedars:
Beasts, and all cattle;
creeping things, and flying fowl:
Kings of the earth, and all people;
princes, and all judges of the earth:
Both young men, and maidens;
old men, and children:
Let them praise the name of the Lord:
for his name alone is excellent;
his glory is above the earth and heaven.
He also exalteth the horn of his people,
the praise of all his saints;
even of the children of Israel,
a people near unto him.
Praise ye the Lord.

And my blessings are not just that, unlike the cab driver, I have not seen my friends shot and killed. Nor is it just that I have a job in a time when having a job shouldn’t be taken for granted—working with kind co-workers, and a good boss, to boot. I’ve received my first major book review—and, I hope, not the last:

Down through the centuries, the Legend of King Arthur has been used as an icon for so many literary works in the western world. “The Sign of the Grail” is a collection of memorable literary works by CJS Hayward centering around the Holy Grail and what it means to orthodox religion, as well as those who follow those teachings. Tackling diverse subjects such as iconography and an earthly paradise, he pulls no punches when dealing with many of the topics laid out through the legends. “The Sign of the Grail” is a unique, scholarly, and thorough examination of the Grail mythos, granting it a top reccommendation for academia and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in these subjects. Also very highly recommended for personal, academic, and community library collections are CJS Hayward’s other deftly written and original literary works, essays, and commentaries compilations and anthologies: “Yonder” (9780615202174, $40.00); “Firestorm 2034” (9780615202167, $40.00), “A Cord of Seven Strands” (9780615202174, $40.00), “The Steel Orb” (9780615193618, $40.00), “The Christmas Tales” (9780615193632, $40.00), and “Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary” (9780615193625, $40.00).

John Burroughs
Reviewer
[The Midwest Book Review]

Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day.

Books by Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward

An author’s musing memoirs about his work: retrospective reflections, retracings, and retractions

A Dream of Light

The Sign of the Grail

A Customer Experience Survey

We are presently conducting a survey to see how we can improve our services. This survey should only take five minutes to complete and is meant to help us improve your experience. You are some of our best clientele, and our entire line of business is built on customers like you.

1: How many times have you been thrown into a dumpster?
0-99
100-999
1000-9999
10000-99999
I throw myself in the dumpster every time I have the chance.

2: How long has it been since you were last thrown into a dumpster?
A few days.
Several hours.
A few minutes.
I just got out of a dumpster.
I’m still in the dumpster.

3: Roughly how many cubic feet of space were in the last dumpster you were thrown into?
20
200
500
1000
The dumpster had room for several dumpsters.

4: We are experimenting with special tourist packages. Which of the following cities would you most like to visit as a dumpster tourist?
Beijing
Cairo
Mexico City
New York City
Paris

Please answer the following four questions on a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best).

5: How would you rate the quality of the rubbish or other dumpster contents you were thrown into?
1
2
3
4
5

6: How would you rate the surprise factor when you were being taken to the dumpster?
1
2
3
4
5

7: How would you overall rate your last dumpster experience(s)?
1
2
3
4
5

8: How would you overall rate your satisfaction regarding dumpsters?
1
2
3
4
5

9: Do you have any suggestions for how we might improve our dumpsters and services?

10: Do you have any other suggestions for how we might pick on you?

In addition to responding on-web, please print out a copy to put someplace where it will end up in the dumpster. You’ll be joining the printout shortly.

Submit

Now there’s a devoted survey taker!

Automated Windows tech support

Janra Ball: The Headache

Procedures for the repair and adjustment of televisions

The quintessential webpage

Connections

No man is an island. I live in connection with institutions and other people, and I would like to provide a list of some of them. My list of friends is necessarily incomplete because most of them don’t have webpages. (If you know me and am wondering why I don’t have a link to your homepage, please contact me.)

Organizations

My connections with these organizations vary. Some I am formally connected with, some informally; with some the connection is present and with some it is past. (And no, I don’t speak for them, unless they say so.) There’s a disproportionately high list of groups doing things with the mind; my guess as to why is that other communities I’m involved with aren’t as likely to have web pages.

Calvin College
I completed my bachelor’s in pure mathematics at Calvin. In many ways it was like Wheaton: a beautiful campus, challenging classes available, and faculty who care about students. I enjoyed moving about by touch in dark underground tunnels there, and improvising on the chapel organ. It was there that my most prized writings began: Religion Within the Bounds of Amusement and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The Christian Reformed Church, which runs Calvin, puts a heavy emphasis on thinking Christianly, and it shows. (They also have a goofy tendency to worship the human mind, but we won’t go into that.)

Cambridge University
I earned my second master’s at Cambridge, England, a beautiful place where I took the pictures on my home page and the pictures I used for Impressions of Cambridge, a Myst-like virtual tour.

Church of the Great Shepherd
Church of the Great Shepherd has felt about as much of a home as any church has. A lot of things are nice—there’s more than one culture present, and the people are interesting—but the one thing that draws me most about it is that there is a community of love, worship, and the presence of the Spirit. There are a lot of little things I could point to and say “I like this, I like that,” but the one overriding interest is that God’s love is present. Leaving Church of the Great Shepherd, alongside leaving the people I know at Wheaton, is one of few things I was not looking forward to in my future studies at Cambridge. Church of the Great Shepherd is a place of fond memories for me.

Eolas Technologies
One respected book on software development said that, if you find a technically competent boss, you should do everything in your power to keep him. Mike Doyle, CEO and founder of Eolas, is all that and more. He’s a brilliant inventor who designed Eolas the way an inventor would design it, and as a person he’s surprised me by going the extra mile. I’d love to see him meet Mike Welge, who hired me into the National Center for Supercomputing Applications; both Eolas and NCSA combine deep thought, cool discovery, and technologies taken right out of science fiction books.

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
IMSA has very much its own feel, and creates a niche both eccentric and intriguing. I would trace my being taught to think and explore as a scholar to IMSA—I consider it the beginning of my higher education, and I graduated ready to take the highest level of coursework in mathematics, computer science, physics, philosophy, and French. I missed my graduation because I was away at a math contest, and IMSA was kind enough to devote a whole minute of silence to me before other graduates walked up to receive their diplomas.

Mega Foundation
The Mega Foundation exists to serve some of the needs of very bright individuals. (What special needs could there be? That would take a lot of explaining.) Among other things, the Mega Foundation runs the Ultranet (which has been important to me). It provides an environment for spellbinding conversation, and gave the warmest response of any online community when I shared that I’d been accepted to a good graduate school.

Newman Foundation
The Newman Foundation at the University of Illinois was founded to provide a home away from home for Catholic students. It appears to be, with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, one of two loci of vibrant Christian faith where “Christianity” does not mean “Christianity, revised and edited,” or the “Church of Jesus, Buddha, and Socrates,” or what some scholars term “Gnosticism.” The Foundation runs Newman Hall, where I stayed, and Newman Foundation Koinonia, where a retreat serves as the entrance to a very warm community. The hall has a few priests etc. on staff whose job description is 90% to care about you, whether or not you’re Catholic.

Pooh’s Corner
Pooh’s Corner is a group of mostly Wheaton students (an administrator and a couple of alumni thrown in) who meet at 9:58 Tuesday evenings to read children’s books aloud. It’s a colorful tradition, at times quite animated, and the silliness and fellowship are delightful. At the beginning of this year, when we were making signs to invite people, one student suggested the slogan, “Pooh’s Corner. Come for the women; stay for the food!” He was naturally met by a hail of crayons, but that sign ended up getting as much applause as any.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Many Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy alumni arrive there, where I earned a master’s in applied mathematics with a computational science and engineering option. I was also the first student to graduate with the department’s new thesis option. My thesis described a new kind of mathematical structure between a topology and a metric space. It turns out to be easy to use those spaces to derive new types of numbers. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, like many other universities, is a little universe of its own. Other Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy alumni complained that the environment was boring, but I think they missed one of the most valuable lessons from attending a boarding school in the middle of a cornfield (no cars allowed). The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, a library of byzantine complexity, and all sorts of student organizations. There’s plenty of reason to find that fascinating.

Université de Sorbonne
My time at the Sorbonne is part of why I am so delighted to be accepted to Cambridge. I spent a semester studying abroad, and when I left France, my heart stayed. There are so many things about France that feel like home: wine, beautiful architecture, and saying hi to friends with a kiss on the cheek are among the more concretely enumerable reasons why. They are important, but there’s something of the mindset that’s harder to describe and which I prize highly. England and France are not the same country, but I believe that that spark will also be seen in Cambridge.

Wheaton College
I went to Wheaton College after high school, and have kept ties since then. When I realized that some community requirements were set in a way I couldn’t keep in good conscience, I left; the experience was painful, but Wheaton remains a place of sharp thinkers and considerable kindness. Wheaton remains close to my heart.

People

Josh Wibberley
Josh grew up in Turkey, writes, thinks, and makes web pages. He’s also good at entering other people’s worlds.

Robin Munn
Robin is my best friend. He grew up in France, double majored in computer science and philosophy, and wants to provide technical support for missionaries. He wants very much to be a good listener in his interactions with other people.

Favorite Haunts

Jobs for Theologians

An Orthodox Bookshelf

The Spectacles

Jonathan’s Canon

Below is the corpus of writings that I have read so far and would most quickly recommend to others, on a basis of theological or philosophical merit and personal impact. The books, series, etc. are alphabetized by title (not author), and exclude two areas: first the Bible, because that Canon is prior to and infinitely greater than my canon, and second, my own writings, which I believe others should be the judges of. The boundaries are hazy — I’m sure that your favorite book not on the list is better than your favorite book on the list. All entries should be assumed to be books unless stated otherwise.

Looking for a good book, for me, is a quest a little like a detective’s searching for clues: anything that can be anticipated is not it. It is like a good surprise birthday present: you know it when you see it, but anything you can anticipate is not it. (In that regard, it is like a foretaste of Heaven: eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor any mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.) The list should grow longer as time progresses.

I told a friend once that I thought that some things would be a lot better if theologians would do all the apologetics, and apologists would do all of the theology. I’m not sure how to explain that remark (beyond asking people to think about it and let it sink in), but I often get more out of lesser works than greater. I am not including Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae on the list, for instance, because I got less out of reading it (in abridgment) than out of reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and less out of reading parts of Dante’s Divina Commedia than C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Maybe when I have matured more I will be ready to read some of the greater works, but now I usually learn best at the hands of the lesser masters. My judgment has certainly bothered people; the aforementioned friend was quite surprised when I gave high acclaim to Titanic, and he eventually said, after seeing what I saw in it, that my reading was so beautiful of a reading that he almost hesitated to attribute it to Kirk Cameron. Many of these works are lesser classics; I am aware of the greater classics, but have not learned much from most of them. Readers who enjoy this list may also like to see my favorite haunts on the web.

The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
An excellent and concise description of what Western culture is trying to do, and what will come of it.

Abortion: A Failure to Communicate.
On Saturday Night Live, the announcer said, “Kenny G came out with his new Christmas album. [pause] Happy birthday, Jesus. I hope you like crap!”

Being aloof from popular artists, it took me a while to realize that Kenny G is not a Christian artist. Most of what goes by the name of Christian is intellectually and artistically worthless, in a sense a blasphemy against the Creator who lovingly and lavishly created no two blades of grass alike. In looking through Christian this and Christian that on the web, it was a very refreshing pearl amidst a desert of sand. This was the first good Christian article I found in a long while.

Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts, by Franky Schaeffer
This book provides an excellent analysis of bad philosophy as it leads to an impoverished culture — dealing with how utilitarianism (leaving the obvious critique related to pursuing only means and never ends) has nearly killed one aspect of the imago dei in our culture. A good and accessible read to anyone concerned with philosophy, art, or culture.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman
After I read this book (a quick read, in contradistinction to Jerry Mander’s weightier and slower Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television), I’ve never looked at a TV the same way again. This would be a good candidate for the first book on this list to read, because once you’ve read this one you’ll find it easier to break away from television’s accursed spell and read other books and otherwise experience life.

There’s something that must be said for television. It must be said, because it cannot be printed.

All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections, by Gandhi
This book, and in particular the chapter entitled, “Ahimse or the way of nonviolence,” provided a large part of my real beginning in understanding peacemaking, and the loose prototype for Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Real Peace through Real Strength. It’s largely a collection of excellent quotes, and well worth reading to anyone asking the questions concerning violence and peace.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
C.S. Lewis said that children’s books should be good enough for adults, and that childrens’ books which aren’t good enough for adults won’t be any good for children, either. All of the best children’s literature is good for adults, and this book in particular is interesting, funny, and truly profound. (Something similar, incidentally, might be said for Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.)

The Book of Heroic Failures, by Stephen Pile
This book I debated putting in, but I decided for: first, because when I read it I laughed so hard I cried and could barely talk, and second, because it does help to come to terms with a side of being human that most of us find a smidgen embarrassing.

Changeling: the Dreaming
Reading about this game (which I could not play in good conscience, incidentally), was one of the things I did that most pierced me with a glimpse of Heaven, as did Pilgrim’s Regress and other places. To quote from the web site:

We are changelings, the forgotten ones, neither fully fae nor wholly mortal. The last of our kind on Earth, we have built ourselves an invisible kingdom. We are everywhere, yet you have never seen us. We hide, not behind some fragile Masquerade, but in plain sight, with the power of our Glamour. We exist within a real world of make-believe where “imaginary” things can kill, and “pretend” monsters are real.

This is an exquisitely beautiful description of the spilled religion that is Romanticism, and someone who drinks those drops may well imbibe deeper from the Chalice than someone who is careful to have his lips touch the chalice, but makes no effort to take in the Drink inside. We are indeed members of an invisible kingdom, hidden in plain sight by the power of grace and prayer, and believe many things that the Kingdom of Darkness now calls imaginary. Reading this inspired a part of one of my writings:

On the web, I found a place set up by a woman who believed she was a fairy. At first, it weirded me out — but, the more and more I think about, the less it strikes me as strange. I don’t mean that it’s not wrong — I mean rather that it is far less wrong than many beliefs about which we’ve become blase’. The essential idea of a person who is really a fairy, and a world of wonder, a nature of beauty, and of magic, is in some ways very close to the truth of imago dei, of God’s magnificent creation, and of prayer. It has its definite errors and omissions, but it is far closer to true than the idea of a person as only a material body, of nature as only a particular configuration of subatomic particles, of the supernatural as only a figment of human imagination and superstition. The beliefs around fairies would make the basis for an excellent parable, of which a crude rendition is as follows:

Once upon a time, there was a village of men, that was on the border of fairy-land. And some people saw faries, but some lived lives that were dull and dreary.

And the god of nature, who was the prince of the gods, entered this village and began to take men and women into his arms, embracing them and kissing them. And when he kissed them, he made them into fairies. And he took them, and taught them to dance, a wild, merry, pagan dance with the trees and stars and rivers and lakes and flowers.

And the god cut through what was dull and mundane, and the leaders whose interests were in all that was dull and mundane were enraged and killed him. And yet all of their rage and unbelief and violence, even death itself, could not keep him. Before he was killed, he gave the fairies to eat his flesh and drink his blood, that he might live in them and they in him, and after he was killed, he rose in a surge of the indestructible life that was within him.

And now, he has left that he might be everywhere — in men, in the stars, in the trees, and enchant them with his magic, that they might dance also, and he abides and is found inside each fairy, and empowers them to kiss others with his kiss and draw them into the circle of life, that they also might become fairies, living the life of the nature god, weaving his magic by which the entire universe pulses with life, carried about by song and wonder, and dancing the great dance.

And he has designs yet unveiled — to bring an even greater perfection to the nature, the fairies, the magic, the dance, the embrace.

And the story is unfolding even now.

Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World, by Dorothy Sayers
An excellent collection of essays, beginning with a beautiful satire entitled, “The Pantheon Papers”

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
These seven books are excellent children’s literature, and storytelling that tells the most beautiful story through fantasy. I have always been drawn to fantasy, because it draws out the wondrous and beautiful truths about our world — “The better you know another world, the better you know your own,” (George MacDonald, Lilith) — and because good fantasy is a reflection of our world.

Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction, by Steve C. McConnell
All of the really good books, in any field, are books of philosophy. This book is a book of philosophy in computer programming, but it is widely applicable outside of that field. Its central point is that computer programming is an activity done by humans instead of just an activity using computer, and as such it is not enough to know the computer’s strengths and weaknesses, but also to know your own strengths and weaknesses. Some of its immediate content — how to choose variable names and lay out procedures so that you’re less likely to run into certain bugs resulting from your short-term memory failure in designing the program — is only relevant to programmers, but macroscopically it would be valuable to anyone. A must-read for software engineers, and a should-read for everyone else.

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This is an excellent book; it is a good competitor to Experiencing God for the place of #1 recommendation, or more appropriately a good companion volume. This book shows what sola fide really means in terms of works, and the monumental importance of good works in a context of faith. Bonhoeffer repeats, as a refrain, “Only those who believe can obey, and only those who obey can believe.” Works are like a sacrament — not human means of making ourselves worthy, but physical conduits of God’s blessing. Show Bonhoeffer your faith without works, and this martyr and mensch will show you his faith through his works.

Darwin on Trial, by Phillip Johnson
Shortly after reading Abortion: A Failure to Communicate, I earnestly read all kinds of articles at Leadership University, happy to find high-quality Christian articles… and my estimation of the site dropped several notches when I saw articles with titles like “Darwin on Trial.” It seemed that here, after a lot of mature thought, was a kneejerk conservative backsliding into fighting to restore six-day creationism and otherwise fight what good science said. One day, I actually read one of these articles I detested, and it blew me away.What followed after that was a crisis, followed by a loss of faith — not in God, but rather in academia. I came to believe something I had long resisted — that Darwinism was established dogma, not because of its support in the evidence (existing scientific evidence being extremely hostile to any form of Darwinism that is both recognizably connected with Darwin’s theory, and within spitting distance of being called a scientific theory), but because it provides an excuse for an explanation of how life could come to be without a Creator.

Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe
Darwin on Trial gives a broad overview of scientific evidence concerning Darwinism. Darwin’s Black Box provides a focused and in-depth look at one very specific biochemical mechanism. I didn’t find it quite as fascinating as the former, but it’s definitely worth reading for people who like intricate clockwork and complexity. An engineer should like it.

The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce
This classic of satire contains a number of extremely funny definitions (my personal favorite defined rum to be “generically, fiery liquors which produce madness in total abstainers”), and is poignantly insightful as to the shortfallings of American Christianity. It was the basis, and provided the model, for Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary. Its cynicism is something to be wary of, but beyond that it is a classic of wit and refreshingly blunt honesty.

The Disappearance of Childhood, by Neil Postman
I plan on re-reading this book if and when I get married, have kids, and my eldest child reaches the age of three. It deals with the themes of other books, plus a harmful blurring of the line that separates children from adults. If you care about children having a real childhood, you should probably read this.
The Empty Self: Gnostic Foundations of Modern Identity, by Dr. Jeffrey Burke Satinover
Gnosticism is the most ancient of heresies, and one of the deadly poisons infesting the Church. (I am using ‘heresy’ in its ancient sense of “a fatally flawed idea that is as damaging to the believer as is a belief that arsenic is healthy food”, not in the modern sense of “an excellent idea which narrow-minded society benightedly condemns.”) This provides an excellent introduction by which to know and avoid it.

Experiencing God: How to Live the Full Adventure of Knowing and Doing the Will of God, by Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King
This book articulate deep lessons about listening to God and obeying him. It comes highly reccommended.

Fairy Tales: At The Back of the North Wind, The Complete Fairy Tales, The Day Boy and the Night Girl, The Golden Key, The Light Princess, The Lost Princess, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, by George MacDonald.
C.S. Lewis said that he fancies he never wrote a story that did not in some way borrow from MacDonald, and it was MacDonald who served as his mentor in The Great Divorce. These different fairy tales are profound, moving, and some of the deepest literature I know. They are rare gems equally appropriate to children and adults.

Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father : Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father
This book shows how the light of Heaven shines in the darkest situations. Father Arseny was a survivor of the brutal “special sector” death camps of the Stalinist regime, and is the kind of person who can light a candle in the darkest corner of Hell. One comes away from this book feeling, not the atrocity inside and outside of the brutal Stalinist death camps, but a good that could shine even in those circumstances. I highly reccommend it.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, by Paul Brand and Phillip Yancey.
This book, written by a doctor, explores the beauty and power of the human body, and by analogy the body of Christ. Chapters 15 through 18 awakened me to the goodness of touch — hugging me used to be like hugging a board, but I now have a very present and powerful touch. It was because of them that I wrote A Treatise on Touch. A very beautiful and thoughtful book.

First Things: A Journal of Religion and Public Life
This journal is about putting first things first, as described in the opening editorial. It has substantial and intellectually mature treatments of many of the issues of our day. If you like it, you might consider subscribing.

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander
Neil Postman presents one good argument as to why television is not the bestthing since sliced bread. Mander presents four, developped at greater length. There is less of a lively pace, and the argument gets weird some of the time, but it still produces thought-provoking and serious arguments as to why television should be eliminated. Among the excellent comments may be found, “The programming is the packaging; the advertising is the content.” If you watch more than an hour of TV a week, take half an hour of your regular TV time and devote it to reading this book.

45 Effective Ways of Hiring Smart! How to Predict Winners and Losers in the Incredibly Expensive People-Reading Game, by Pierre Mornell, et al. (Author has also written another excellent title, for job hunters: Games Companies Play)
Written for people who hire others, this is a book on how to read people. It seems to me to do a good job of living up to its rather large title.

Foundations of Cognitive Science, ed. Michael A. Posner
This is my favorite textbook; it presents an interdisciplinary field, cognitive science, and is fascinating reading.

Galileo, Science, and the Church, by Jerome J. Langford
I make it a personal rule not to reccommend a book I haven’t read, and this book justifies breaking that rule.

I, and I suspect you, have heard in science classes a moral fable about a heroic natural philosopher named Galileo who was martyred by the evil, oppressive, and censorious Church. It is a beautiful story — showing, as well as any morality play, that being a scientist is good, and the Church and its concept of orthodoxy are demonspawn (sentiments that are echoed in, for example, the Oxford Companion to Philosophy having an entry for persecution of philosophers, but no reference to persecution by philosophers — not the faintest reference to the bloodbath that culminated the siecle des lumieres with cleaning ladies and eight year old children guillotined as much as clergy and statesmen, with patriots standing at the foot of the guillotine to be sprayed by the blood of the unfortunates and then eat their still living flesh; nor any reference to the hundred million lives lost, and the blood that has flowed like a river every single time people have taken Marx’s philosophy as a good basis for a political order). But the Galileo fable has no connection with fact.

Among other points may be mentioned that Galileo scientifically produced garbage — no experimental data and no particularly good interpretation of those results — that Galileo was friends of the Pope but alienated him and made a number of enemies by being a jerk, and that Galileo was preceded in his heliocentrism by nearly half a century, and that by a cardinal. The only reason the story is told is as part of the process of brainwashing people to worship science and despise the Church.

The Game (movie)
Q: What do the following three things have in common?

  • A joke.
  • A Zen koan.
  • The book of Job.

A: They all share something with The Game, and the effect in that movie is stunning.

Gather (hymnal)
This is a lively, modern hymnal of the sort that achieves several dishonorable mentions in Why Catholics Can’t Sing. That stated, it has a number of songs that I cherish and that were new to me, including “Canticle of the Sun,” “Gather us in,” and “The City of God.”

This is the songbook used by Koinonia at the Newman Foundation at the University of Illinois, and for that reason I cherish it — I purchased a copy when I had almost no money, just to be able to have those songs. I used a few of its songs to improvise on in my second recorded tape.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher et al.
This is, as far as I know, the best book for dealing with conflicts where another party and you can’t yet agree on something. I don’t think that this is the substance of life, but conflicts are bound to happen, and knowing this book will be immeasurably helpful in dealing with some conflicts.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas E. Hofstadter.
This book is one of the most stunning displays of intellectual fireworks I have read. It relates art, music, stories, and mathematics, along with wit, witticism, and clever dialogues. It started out as a little pamphlet, and Hofstadter soon realized he was writing more than just a pamphlet explanation of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
This is just a great book, useful for nurturing the reader in Christian wisdom — and one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. I got a lot more out of this than out of the parts of La Divina Commedia that I’ve read.

Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers, by James T. Webb et al.
Being very smart does not just mean more of the same kind of intelligence most people possess; it means possessing a different kind of mind. When I first read this book, it seemed to me to be part of the cult of giftedness; my estimation has since changed to recognizing a special needs population, with its strengths and weaknesses, and providing insight into things such as an unusual sense of humor and special moral concerns.

Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing, by Peter Kreeft
Hebrews catalogues what a few giants of faith did, and then says (11:13-16, RSV):

These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

Christians have historically placed a major emphasis on Heaven and the hope that is there, and today Orthodox believers give a high place to bringing Heaven down to earth. For beauty’s sake, I wish to quote another passage, one that is very close to my heart (Rev. 22:1-5):

Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.

Kreeft’s book could as well be entitled, “Heaven: The Heart’s True Home.” I consider it to probably be the most profound and one of the most beautiful books on this list, and would deeply recommend it. It both speaks of Heaven — the sort of reason why, on a young adult retreat where a getting-to-know-you question was “If you could visit one place, where would it be?”, I answered in perfect seriousness, “Heaven,” giving not a physical ‘where’, but an infinitely greater spiritual ‘where’. It also tells how to listen with your heart — something very, very important in life.

Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton
A part of being in a culture means a kind of blindness, a “How else could anyone think of it?” Heretics unmasks the blindness.

How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, by Francis Schaeffer.
This book is on par with The Abolition of Man, providing a much more culturally in-depth treatment of how Western thought is falling. It is a deep and extensive writing, as well as a fascinating read. It deals with the interior schism between head and heart, something well worth escaping.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
The title sounds positively Machiavellian, doesn’t it? Don’t let that deceive you. I prefer to talk with people who are trying to follow the principles in this book. It tells a lot about how to be a person others will genuinely enjoy being with.

I Saw Gooley Fly, by Joseph Bayly
This book is a collection of short stories; the first one, from which the book takes its title, is about a college freshman who is a complete klutz, gets into all kinds of accidents, and can fly. Not fly an airplane or hang glider or kite, mind you; he can jump out of his third-storey window and sail over to the dining hall.

I read that story after my best friend Robin, who is quite busy, took the effort to type it up and posted the whole printout to a forum wall. It struck a deep enough chord that I poked around until I purchased one of two available copies from a suggested book dealers’ network, by a friend who works at a used and rare bookstore. I recently read it, and am glad to have gone to the trouble to find it.

What’s so impressive about this book? In a word, creativity. The stories are as creative as Dorothy Sayers’ “Pantheon Papers”, but it’s not just one work like that in a book of essays (which are insightful and quite often creative, but do not fill the same literary niche). Someone who likes the creativity shown in my different writings may find I Saw Gooley Fly to be a rare treat.

Best odds for getting a copy? Probably inter-library loan.

Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, by Dinesh D’Souza
This book helped me make sense of some of my own experiences, and offers an alternative analysis of racial tensions besides, “Continue with what we’re doing, only more of it and faster!”

In Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster
This book was given to me when I was baptized in Malaysia, and I am glad to have read it. It guides the reader on a spiritual journey inward, upward, and outward, in four disciplines each:

Part I: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, Study
Part II: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, Service
Part III: Confession, Worship, Guidance, Celebration

The note on the first page reads:

Presented to MR. JONATHAN HAYWARD on the occasion of his baptism on 13 JUNE 1993, by the Petaling Jaya Gospel Hall.

—Ephesians 3:16-19—
 

Ephesians 3:16-19 RSV reads:

…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Introduction to Eugenics, booklet
This booklet, which struck me as too weird to be true until I actually did some research, is something I haven’t been able to find online, but I believe there are probably some good books on. Nutshell is that the eugenics movement is alive and well, appearing under various masks such as Planned Parenthood: Margaret Sanger, the organization’s founder, being openly and actively interested in reducing the number of black babies born — though her successors are much better than that, and instead work on having abortion clinics situated well to take on charity abortions (‘situated well’ meaning ‘in minority neighborhoods’). The belief in a population explosion (which is a bit absurd, if you think about it: why should population growth in third world countries suddenly meet such astronomical growth after being more or less stable for millenia, and why is apocalyptic overpopulation still approaching despite repeated and careful predictions for the doomsday which have come and gone) is listed as a major eugenic success.

The Joy of Mathematics, by Theoni Pappas
When I tell people that I’m a mathematician, the reaction is usually some mixture of one or more of awe, fear, and pity. They’ve had a couple of bad math classes, and therefore they figure that a math major experiences a concentrated form of such torture. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and this book explains to a non-mathematician what joy and beauty lie in such a profession.

Kevin Trudeau’s Mega Memory, by Kevin Trudeau
Long ago and far away, people had memories that were prodigious by our standards; in Somalia, a large minority of educated men have memorized the Koran—without knowing Arabic. There is a proficiency in using memory that is mostly neglected here, and it can be useful. As I write, I’m using the basic technique to keep with me about twenty distinct points in an hour-long speech.

I’m at a disadvantage using these skills; they work best for a concrete mind rather than a very abstract one like mine. You may well find it easier to use the techniques than I do, and I still find them useful. Kevin Trudeau’s book is one of several practical how-to books, and knowing even some of it is useful.

Labyrinth (movie—out of print, check an older rental store)
This fantasy movie is visually exquisite, and has the penultimate scene in M.C. Escher’s “House of Stairs”. Morally, it is the only movie I can recall seeing whose villain really tempts someone instead of shooting at him; the story goes on and has more and more things fall apart; the heroine keeps saying, “That’s not fair!” — and finally says in her heart, “It’s not fair, but I’m going to give it my determination and my elbow grease. I can identify with that; I have met difficulties I would not have imagined possible, and yet still I follow God — all the more powerfully, if anything. The term ‘eye of the tiger’ refers to a soldier who has been wounded and then returns to battle; there is no warrior so fierce as the eye of the tiger. I am in spiritual warfare the eye of the tiger, and this movie means a lot to me.

Leadership Is an Art, by Max DePree
I was calling random recruiters to send a resume… one of them was AC Recruiters, and (having seen many meaningless acronyms) did not guess that the AC stood for ‘air conditioning’, and was meant to place air conditioning repairmen etc. So I called, and had a pleasantly relaxed conversation, and he happened to know one guy in Homewood, “the best boss you’ll ever have.” He passed on my resume, and Lou (the head of the company) wanted to meet me. I asked him, “What’s the title of that book he’s so enthusiastic about?”, and when he told me “Leadership Is an Art”, checked out a copy to be able to read it and be prepared for the interview… and checked it out, and found that it was solid gold. It is the most humane and moral — not to mention effective — form of capitalism I have yet seen, and I would like to work under it. Lou, acting out the principles in this book, had a sign at the front door saying, “Welcome Jonathan Hayward”, and we talked for over an hour.

This little book could be summarized as the Sermon on the Mount applied to business.

Leadership University
This site is an anthology of a lot of the best stuff on the web; it is worth at least a week of reading. It was where I found Abortion: A Failure to Communicate, and other gems.

The Lefthander Syndrome, by Stanley Coren
Apart from trying to make left-handers into another angry minority (a cure which is worse than the disease), this is a fascinating book about left-handedness.

Listening, A Practical Approach, by James J. Floyd
The art of communicating well consists far more in being a good listener than in being a good speaker. Few people want someone to talk to them; many people want someone to listen, and then share a something afterwards. A short and valuable read.

Love is Stronger Than Death, by Peter Kreeft
This book looks at love first as a stranger, then as an enemy, then as a friend, then as a mother, then as a lover: each mask worn must be looked into and embraced until it dissolves and shows the next mask. The last mask to come off reveals the face of God. This is an excellent companion to Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing; we live in a pain-killing culture that is terrified of facing death, and this book provides a mature and thoughtful invitation to come, and see what death is. I found it to be very moving.

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers
A classic.

Never Alone: A Personal Way to God, by Joseph Girzone
This is a gentle book, that may introduces spirituality to people who cannot see God because of pain caused by perversions of religion.

An Orthodox Prayer Book
I wish I could put the print version of a prayer book like this. Alas, this book is hard to find in print.

The Orthodox Way, by Kallistos Ware
This describes the Christian faith with fingerprints on it. It has the kind of beauty of a very personal touch, not only because of the mystical author, but much more because the author brings in the fingerprints of his tradition.

Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith, by G.K. Chesterton
After Chesterton wrote Heretics, someone asked him, “If that is what we shouldn’t believe, what should we believe?”

After a moment, he said, “I am going to write a book about that.” So he wrote Orthodoxy

Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
This is an enjoyable read about a fantastic journey to another world.

Participant Observation: Step by Step, by James P. Spradley
This is an anthropology text, but some of its concepts have broader application.

Pensées, by Blaise Pascal

Qu’est-ce donc que nous crie cette avidite et cette impuissance, sinon qu’il y a eu autrefois en l’homme un veritable bonheur dont il ne lui reste maintenant que la marque et la trace toute vide, qu’il essaye inutilement de remplir de tout ce qui l’environne, en cherchant dans les choses absentes le secoures qu’il n’obtient pas des presentes, et que les unes et les autres sont incapables de lui donner, parce que ce gouffre infini ne peut etre rempli que par un objet infini et immuable?

What then does this avidity and powerlessness cry out to us, if not that there was once in man a true happiness of which nothing remains save the quite empty mark and trace, which he futilely tries to fill with everything around him, looking in what he does not have for what he does not find in those he does have, and which either one is incapable of giving him, because this infinite void can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object?

Pascal knew a haunting romance as well. Food for thought.

Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis
The sequel to Out of the Silent Planet, this describes the main character brought to a sinless world to be his representative as the sinless Eve was being tempted.

Phantastes, by George MacDonald
This is a faerie romance for adults. It was my favorite book for a time, and reading it let me know that I could write A Dream of Light.

The Pilgrim’s Regress, by C.S. Lewis
This allegorical defense of Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism was Lewis’s first writing after his conversion: a little rough around the edges, but a good writing. Lewis knew romance’s haunting as well.

Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence, by David Kiersey
I have read both Please Understand Me and Please Understand Me II on the suggestion of a reader, and thought considerably about whether one of these texts should be included. The case for inclusion is that they offer an invaluable enrichment to interpersonal understanding, and for reasons I explain below, one beyond the benefit offered by standard descriptions of the sixteen Meyers-Briggs personality types. The case against it is that it is woven through and through with a very destructive philosophical error, one that appears humane and reasonable on the surface and at the core is a far worse poison than racism. If I knew an alternative, a book that would offer the same insight without mingling it with poison, I would include that; not knowing of any such alternative, I think I will reccommend it with a warning.

The idea of the sixteen personality types based on four personality dimensions is one of the best things to come out of Jungian psychology — the only one, for that matter, that I have encountered which is separable from Jung’s Gnosticism — and Meyers and Briggs created a tool that allowed most people to get a good quick-and-dirty result that would help them to understand themselves better. The good thing about a book about the sixteen personality types is that it allows people to read about their own types, and quite probably come to understand themselves better. The bad thing about such a book is that it provides too much information to be assimilated or navigated by the casual, nonspecialist reader. The reader’s type, read with interest, is quite probably the one personality type that will be remembered. Maybe one more for spouse, if the reader is married — but not sixteen. Sixteen are too many to keep track of.

Enter Please Understand Me. This book provides a road map, connecting Meyers-Briggs personality types with the four classical temperaments. Each temperament is a cluster of four similar personality types, and the four temperaments provide a much more manageable learning feat. I at least walked away from both books with a clear understanding of all four temperaments, not just my own. The books do treat all sixteen personality types, but within the context of a coherent and manageable framework. The reader is likely to walk away from either book with a far better picture of human variation than from any straight description of the sixteen personality types.

That’s the good news. What’s the bad news?

Errors often come in diametrically opposed pairs — such as legalism and libertinism. C.S. Lewis said that the Devil always sends us errors in pairs — he wants our extra hate for one to pull us into the other. The pair of errors I am concerned with here is as follows:

 

There are no legitimate personal variations. Every difference is a matter of right or wrong. Everybody should strive to adhere to every standard I want to adhere to. There are no matters of right or wrong. Every difference is a legitimate personal variation. No person should apply any of his standards to anybody else.

I am not going to tell you which of these errors is worse; I am not going to say which is the real error to be aware of. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, that’s exactly what the Devil wants. He wants us to be so focused on how bad one of those errors is that our extra hate for it will suck us into the opposite — like the pickpocket duo where one member urgently warns you about a spilling cup of coffee so that you won’t notice that the other has stolen your wallet. Like extreme heat and extreme cold, they are quite different from each other, but both extremes produce the same undesirable result: they make you quite thoroughly dead.

I am not going to tell you which of these errors is worse, but Kiersey is. He succumbs to the temptation. Kiersey bewails one error and uses its awfulness to lure the reader into the other. From a theologian’s perspective — or from a demon’s, for that matter — it doesn’t particularly matter which is which. In this case Kiersey bewails the error on the left, luring the reader to embrace the error on the right. He makes no distinction between preferences in matters keeping to a schedule vs. open-ended playing by ear, or keeping a neat vs. creatively disorganized house, and choices in matters such as embracing faith vs. delving into the occult, or chastity vs. lust.

The treatment of sexual practices in Please Understand Me II deserves particular note. I was going to say that the text makes no distinction between sexual purity and promiscuity — but then I realized that that is not quite correct. It is certainly true that one temperament’s tendency towards sexual promiscuity is described in respectful, nonjudgmental terms — and that two other temperaments’ tendency to do what they choose whether or not contemporary society approves (that is, whether or not it violates the concensus of the Natural Law shared by innumerable times and places — save that the choice of loaded language leads the reader to regard these standards as arbitrary and parochial). When, however, one temperament at least tries to be abstinent before the wedding and faithful after, it is described in language that appears to be neutral, nonjudgmental and “just the facts, Ma’am” — and somehow manages to describe this purity in what I consider to be the most degrading language in the text. It calls to mind the maxim, “Where orthodoxy is optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed.” Chastity isn’t exactly proscribed, but it is a mark of talent to be able to appear to be impartially and nonjudgmentally reporting the facts and still paint a picture that’s that unflattering. There is no hint in the text — in the chapter on mating or anywhere else — of the freedom and joy of sexual union between a husband and wife who offer each other their virginities on their wedding night and choose to be faithful thereafter.

I would like to elaborate a little more about what I said about this being a worse poison than racism. I wasn’t just making a poetic exaggeration, like someone who comes in during the summer and says, “It’s hotter than Hell out there!” I was making a literal statement. I am a white male — and if racism is not defined as “the prejudice of whites against blacks and other minorities”, then my tenure as an American in a non-Western nation at a time when anti-American sentiment was running strong, my experience of (for example) having a careful and respectful question met with an angry rant, and other experiences of getting only the dregs left after those in power had considered how to meet the needs of those types whom they considered worth caring for, gives me at least a limited basis to know, by experience, that racism is nasty. Even after this, I do not believe that racism is the one unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost, that it is presently made out to be. It is as if a person may be dishonest, may be coldhearted, may be arrogant and lazy, and he is like everyone else an imperfect person — but establish that he is really, genuinely, and truly racist, and then he embraces the unacceptable. You think I exaggerate? For the next week, as you go about your life, count the number of times you encounter a communication from some group working “against racism,” and the number of times you encounter a communication from some group working “against coldheartedness.” I will be surprised if the ‘working against coldheartedness’ tally totals to a tenth as many as the ‘working against racism’ tally. For that matter, I will be surprised if the ‘working against coldheartedness’ tally is not zero.

It makes sense to say that a person is a smoker and is relatively healthy. Cigarettes do damage to any person’s lungs, but it is possible to regard a person as being overall healthy despite the very real damage caused by smoking. In the same sense, it makes sense to say that a society is openly racist and relatively healthy. Not by any means that the racism is harmless — it causes real and significant harm. But that harm can coexist with other areas of health. A society can be openly racist, can nurse grudges against other ethnicities, be they minorities or the denizens of other nations — and live on for centuries, alive and kicking. It is poison, but not all poison, not even all strong poison, is lethal. The same cannot be said for poison found in Please Understand Me. As a member of the host of ideas Lewis analyzes in The Abolition of Man, no society can long embrace such ideas without destroying itself. Societies have taken such “progressive” views before — and then fallen apart. In addition, this idea appears a reasonable and enlightened idea, one that a person should be respected for holding — to say that you are for racism, on the other hand, is to instantly forfeit all claim to be taken seriously. Poison that appears to be food will harm far more people than poison in a bottle clearly labelled, “Poison”. For these reasons, I mean quite literally that one of the fundamental ideas woven throughout the text is worse than racism.

Having made this critique, I wish to say that Please Understand Me is a book worth reading, even with such a massive flaw — and I believe that the danger is lessened to a reader who has been forewarned. That I would list anything I believe to justify such a warning is meant as a reccommendation.

There are two editions of the book: Please Understand Me, published in the 1970s, and Please Understand Me II, published in the 1990s. The second book is about twice as long, and talks about differences in kind of intelligence found in temperaments and personality types; the first book gives a very good feel for what people are like — experience of the world and actions. I am not exactly going to reccommend one book over the other, so much as provide a helpful question: “Do you specifically want to know about mental competencies enough to read twice the length of material, or would you prefer a shorter piece that gives the same insight into most aspects of personhood but does not significantly treat intelligence?”

(Side note: I would not endorse Please Understand Me II as a resource for understanding multiple intelligence theory. It does not ask the question of “What are the basic kinds of human intelligence?” so much as “What are the temperaments and personality types, and what kind of intelligence may be associated with each of them?” It’s kind of like a book on academic departments asking, “What are the academic departments in a university, and what kinds of intelligence may be associated with each of them?” That would be a good resource on academic departments, but it’s the wrong place to look if your goal is to understand multiple intelligence theory.)

Prayer, by Richard Foster
An in-depth treatment of one of the most foundational areas of the Christian life. Giants of faith have said things like, “I am so busy that I cannot get on with less than two hours of prayer a day.” This book is worth reading and following.

The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, by Shih Chao-Chou
This provides a collection of profound koans (illustrative stories), not concerned primarily with moral cleanliness, but with something that will sharpen and challenge almost any mind. It was after reading them that I wrote Christian Koans.

Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Law, Science, and the University, by Phillip Johnson
Darwinism is the cutting dullness of the sword being wielded against Christianity; the sword is named ‘naturalism’. Johnson here provides a good and broad view that is well worth reading, especially for Christians in an academic context.

Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, Thomas Oden
About how modern theology has gone sour; interesting and quite honest. A must-read for anyone going to seminary.

Saint Francis of Assisi, by G.K. Chesterton
This book is full of “magic from another real world;” it does a good job of telling the story of one of the most colorful saints in history.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll
“The scandal of the Evangelical mind,” Noll writes, “is that there’s not much of an Evangelical mind.”

This deals with the tragic story of how many people who really love the Lord and yet who are very far from loving God with all of their minds. An Evangelical equivalent to Why Catholics Can’t Sing.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
This is a practical and popular book, and it is practical and popular precisely because it does something deep.

Sources of the Self, by Charles Taylor
This book provides a good history of the philosophers whose work has shaped our modern sense of identity. It’s ponderous reading; I thought I hadn’t gotten anything out of wading through it until I found myself referring to its concepts in a conversation.

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein was a sex-crazed libertine, anti-Christian, and deliberately wrote to be offensive. Stranger is the most monumentally flawed book I have read which I would even consider reccommending to another person — and I have. This book is a deeply interesting book. I identify a lot with Michael Valentine Smith, and Charles Wallace in A Wind in the Door.

Tales of a Magic Monastery, by Theophane the Monk
I’ve given away a couple of copies of this book. Its stories are short, simple, and profound.

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu
Written millenia ago in China, this book is a collection of 81 poems (and the inspiration for me to write The Way of the Way). There are a number of insights about slowing down and growing still, relying on God’s grace, and other things…

Technopoly, by Neil Postman
This book could be summarized in a single question: “Was technology made for man, or man for technology?” It has a number of valuable insights, and I would like to see a new edition published with an appendix about the Web. His insights about the detrimental side effects of technology, and the sorceror’s bargain involved in each. I wish Postman would write a book entitled, The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, which would analyze different technologies and the advantages and disadvantages of using each, to help people decide when and where to buy what technological items — and suffer from the sorceror’s bargain as little as possible.

That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis
The conclusion of Lewis’s space trilogy, and a good fairy tale for adults.

Three Philosophies of Life, by Peter Kreeft
This book explores three philosophies of life: life as empty vanity, as developed in Ecclesiastes, then life as redemptive suffering, as developed in Job, then life as love and joy, as developed in the Song of Songs. It is a fascinating book, and the onethat (after being lent to me) motivated me to check out other Kreeft books.

Truth is Symphonic, by Han Urs von Balthasar
A fascinating theological read about the beauty of diversity in the created order.

Two-Way Prayer, by Priscilla Brandt
Reading this book helped me desire a prayer that is listening as well as speaking. People who like Experiencing God might like it.

What Color Is Your Parachute?, by Richard Bolles
This book is practical by remembering what people forget when they try to be practical. There’s something shining that often dies in people; Bolles has helped me pursue work where that something shining is alive.

Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste, by Thomas Day
A Catholic equivalent to The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. This deals with truly awful Catholic music, and is of relevance to a whole lot more people than just Catholics.

Why Go to Mass?
A short article dealing with why consumer-oriented services are not a substitute for services designed ad maior Dei gloriam.

A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine l’Engle
This book is special to me, both because of its imagination, beauty, storytelling, depth, imagery, description of kything, etc., and because I identify with Charles Wallace — in needing to adapt while remaining wholly myself, and in other things.

Die Wolkenreise, a picture book by Sis Koch, with illustrations by Sigrod Heuck
This children’s book was given to me by a very good friend after her trip to Germany, and it is one of the most beautifully tragic books I have read. Here is the rough paraphrase translation she gave me (as best I can reconstruct it from memory, the pictures, and a very rough knowledge of German — the pictures are exquisite, and the reason I am reccommending the book):

Once the wind said to a cloud, “Come with me, let me blow you about, and show you the world!

“I will show you woods, hills and fields, and plains with wild horses and fields, cities, and even deserts, seas and mountain islands. I’ll show you desert islands, coral reefs, and even more, all around the world.”

The cloud said to the wind, “I can’t do that. I have to go and make it rain.”

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine l’Engle
The book introducing the characters in A Wind in the Door.

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