A Detailed Mathematical Model

CJSH.name/complex

This model represents a mathematician’s second attempt at making a mathematical model, and as such is very detailed, complex, and at times hard to keep track of. It is being kept on the web primarily as a courtesy to people who are already using it. If you are not a heavy gamer, and are not used to complex mathematical models, I strongly suggest that you use this simpler model. This document may still be useful, as a wealth of detail about mechanical devices and other creations, but newcomers are warned that using this as an actual model for game play may be difficult.


Section I: General model

Section I A: Getting Started


The parts of this document are as follows:

Another document, “From zero”, introduces the concept of role play and deals with all of the non-numerical parts of getting started; this document tells how to deal with numbers and dice.

For basic introduction and getting the feel for the model:

Section I B attempts to explain some of the basic concepts. Section IV develops a sample character sheet, a sheet used to store basic information useful to play; it demonstrates what a player goes through in order to set things up. Section II F gives some numbers to use as reference points, for questions like “What should be the difficulty for thus-and-such?” Section III gives a quick key to abbreviations used throughout the work.

For developping a character sheet:

Section II A tells how to generate a character’s attributes — numerical ratings that tell how talented a character is in various areas — and section II B tells how to adjust them for age, gender, and race. Section II D gives the basic list of skills and tells how they are to be adjusted by attributes. Section II H gives starting experience, and section II G tells how much experience it takes to raise a skill to a certain level.

For modelling play:

Section II I tells how, when a character attempts an action, to roll dice to decide whether the character, with skill A, succeeds at an action with difficulty B. Section II J deals with combat and damage. Section II K deals with random encounters of animals and people, and describes what animals are in the world. Section II L deals with equipment.

Optional rules and Other:

There are several optional rules which may be used to enhance play and give it more detail. Section I C is the first such section, dealing with skills ratings. Section II C gives miscellaneous numbers about the races. Section II E gives numbers referenced in II C. Section II M gives rules about the time taken for various actions, and performing actions simultaneously. Section V comments on the model.


Section I B: The Basic Idea


This is essentially a skill-based model, a modified version of another model to use dice. It requires the use of two six-sided dice of different colors — for the sake of simplicity, the two dice will be referrered to as r (red) and b (blue), and read as producing numbers ranging from 1 to 6. For example, 6*r+b would be read as ten times the number on the red die, plus the number on the blue die, which would in effect produce a random number from 7 to 42. It is, while not necessary, helpful in some cases to have two ten-sided dice.

In general for skills, attributes, ratings, etc., a 0 is average, and the number (positive or negative) tells how far above or below average that creature is. The scale is exponential; 10 points correspond to doubling/halving. So someone with a strength of 20 and a dexterity of -10 would have a strength of 2*2=4 times average, while someone with a dexterity of -10 would be half as dexterous as the average person. The game generally uses the attributes in the form given — essentially, how to adjust an average ability — and doesn’t really deal with an absolute scale.

A character’s skill will have an av (adjusted value), equal to the bs (base skill), minus the skill’s dl (difficulty of learning), plus the character’s al (ability to learn), plus the gaa (governing attributes addend). When the character attempts an action, the skill’s difficulty will be subtracted from the av, and then dice will be rolled to see if the attempt was successful.

If an action is being taken against another character (for example, haggling), that person’s av is the difficulty.


Section I C: Additional Rules


Some skills are related to each other by an ld (learning difference). If skill X and skill Y are related by an ld of 5, then a character’s bs (exclusive of experience) in skill x is at least the number five less than his bs in skill Y. So a character who had a bs of 15 in skill X would have a minimum bs of 10 in skill Y. The ld’s are additive (if X and Y have ld 5 and Y and Z have ld 10, X and Z have ld 15), but explicitly listed differences supercede the values that are calculated from additivity. If there are two or more ld’s contributing point values to a specific skill, and/or a nonzero untrained base, the total is not the sum of the point values. It is the maximum.

Learning may take place under a tutor who has a skill of at least the skill level that the character is training to; in that case, the learning is at half price. The experience given starting characters takes this tutelage into account.


Section II: Charts

Section II A: Attributes


Several random numbers generated as r – b: the number on the red die, less the number on the blue die.

These values are numbered n1 through n36.

The attributes are read roughly as how far above or below the average they are: a +10 would be a fair amount above average (twice the average), while -10 would be moderately below average (half the average), with zero being average. The maximum possible is 25, and the minimum -25.

Here are the calculated attributes:

ag (Agility)		n1+n2+n3+n4+n5
al (Ability to Learn)	n1+n6+n7+n8+n9
ch (Charisma)		n1+n6+n10+n11+n12
co (Constitution)	n13+n14+n15+n16+n17
de (Dexterity)		n1+n2+n3+n18+n19
in (Intelligence)	n1+n6+n7+n20+n21
kn (Knowledge)		n1+n6+n7+n22+n23
me (Memory)		n1+n6+n7+n24+n25
pe (Perception)		n1+n6+n26+n27+n28
sp (Speed)		n1+n2+n29+n30+n31
st (Strength)		n13+n14+n32+n33+n34
wi (Wisdom)		n1+n6+n7+n35+n36

Section II B: Attribute Adjustments


All adjustments are addends: they are added to a character’s base attribute. All adjustments are 0 unless otherwise specified.

Attribute:     ag  al  ch  co  de  in  kn  me  pe  sp  st  wi

Race: Nor’krin 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 5 0 0 5 0 Tuz 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 10 0 Urvanovestilli 0 0 2 0 5 5 2 3 0 0 -10 0 Yedidia 0 0 5 0 0 3 0 0 10 0 0 0 Jec 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Shal 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 -5 0 5 Janra 20 0 5 0 0 4 0 0 2 5 5 0

Gender: Male 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 Female 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 5 0 -5 0

Age: Child 5 10 2 10 0 -8 5 0 10 10 -4 -10 Young Adult 5 5 0 5 5 0 -4 0 5 5 5 0 Middle Aged 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 Old -4 -4 0 -4 -4 -3 5 -3 -4 -4 -4 5 Extremely Old -10 -10 0 -10 -10 -5 5 -8 -10 -10 -10 10


Section II C: Racial Non-Attribute Statistics.


A character’s actual lifespan is calculated by multiplying the racial base by his constitution (constitution not adjusted for race, gender, or age), except for the border between child and young adult, which is not adjusted. For example, a Janra with a non-adjusted log of constitution of .8 would become a young adult at 16, middle aged at 41, old at 73, and extremely old at 89. A character will die of old age at an age of his maximum adjusted lifespan times the square root of x1, where x1 is uniformly distributed over [0,1].

Age:		Child	Young Adult	Middle Aged	Old	Extremely Old
Nor'krin	0-15	16-30		31-60		61-90	91-120
Tuz		0-15	16-25		26-40		41-50	51-60
Urvanovestilli	0-30	31-100		101-300		301-400	401-500
Yedidia		0-20	21-50		51-120		121-160	161-200
Jec		0-15	16-30		31-60		61-90	91-120
Shal		0-50	51-200		201-600		601-800	801-1000
Janra		0-15	16-50		51-90		91-110	111-120

Speed of movement is given in both miles per hour and feet per second. A character’s speed of movement is equal to the racial base multiplied by his speed, adjusted for age and gender but not race. Females suffer a 10% speed penalty.

Speed: mph:	Walk	Jog	Sprint	fps:	Walk	Jog	Sprint
Nor'krin	2	4	14		2	5	21
Tuz		1	2	8		2	3	12
Urvanovestilli	3	5	20		4	7	29
Yedidia		2	3	12		2	4	18
Jec		2	4	14		2	5	21
Shal		1	2	6		1	2	9
Janra		5	7	30		7	11	44

Adult height is normally distributed with mean m and standard deviation s.

Height:	Male:	m	s	Female:	m	s
Nor'krin	6'6"	3"		5'8"	3"
Tuz		4'6"	2"		4'3"	2"
Urvanovestilli	5'2"	1.5"		4'8"	1.5"
Yedidia		5'4"	2.5"		4'6"	2"
Jec		5'6"	2.5"		5'2"	2"
Shal		5'6"	2"		5'2"	1.5"
Janra		6'0"	3"		5'6"	3"

As is adult weight:

Weight: Male:	m	s	Female:	m	s
Nor'krin	200#	29#		150#	25#
Tuz		200#	28#		150#	22#
Urvanovestilli	100#	9#		70#	7#
Yedidia		150#	22#		100#	14#
Jec		130#	18#		110#	13#
Shal		145#	16#		125#	11#
Janra		150#	23#		130#	22#

Section II D: Skills


Here is a listing of skills/areas of knowledge/abilities. It is meant to be illustrative rather than exclusive. (Partially borrowed from AD&D)

Following most skills are: untrained base (general, and then with values for specific races following, separated by commas if need be: (N)or’krin, (T)uz, (U)rvanovestilli, (Y)edidia, Je(C), (S)hal, and (J)anra); dl; base time (s=seconds, m=minutes, h=hours, d=days; w=weeks; y=years. A hyphen (‘-‘) for untrained base means that an untrained character is incapable of attempting that skill. A trailing c means that an action is continuous and must be checked with that frequency — for example, moving silently); gaa elements.

An untrained attribute of 0 does not mean that a character is incapable of performing that action. It means that he has no special training above what is common.

The gaa element is the number of times that an attribute is to be added. For example, st 2, co 1 would mean that the gaa is twice the character’s strength plus his constitution.

(Other comments may follow as appropriate.)

Acquisition, 0, J 10; 0; 1d; ch 1, pe 1
Acrobatics/Tumbling 0, Y 10, J 20; 0; 2 s; ag 1, st 1
Acting 0; 0; 30 m; ch 1
Ambidexterity costs 5 points
Animal Handling 0, Y 20, C 10; 0; 5 m; ch 1
Animal Lore 0, Y 20; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Animal Training 0, Y 10; 0; 3 w; –
Anatomy 0, U 10, Y 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Anthropology -, U 10; 0; 1 m; in 1, kn 1, me 1
Appraisal 10, U 20; 0; 1 m; pe 1
Artistic Skill (Specific Medium) 0; 0; 1 d; in 1
Attack (Specific Weapon) 0, N Axe 10, N Knife 10, N Longbow 20, T Crossbow 10, T Dagger 20, J Dagger 10; 0; Axe 2 s, Crossbow 30 s, Dagger (Hand to Hand) 2 s, Fist 1 s, Halberd 8 s, Lance 15 s, Longbow 5 s, Longsword 5 s, Mace 7 s, Rapier 3 s, Shortsword 3 s, Two-Handed Sword 10 s; Hand to Hand de 1, sp 1, st 1 (Lance strength of mount), Missle de 1, sp 1 — Note: Hand to Hand and Missle are each generalizations of attack; if a character wishes to generalize to all weapons, the cost is dl 15 instead of 10.
Balance 0, J 20; 0; 1 s; ag 1
Biology 0, U 10; 0; in 1; 1 m; kn 1, me 1
Blacksmith 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Blind Action 0, Y 10, S 20, J 10; 0; pe 1 — if a check is made for blind action, an action may be taken blind at twice the normal difficulty.
Bowyer/Fletcher 0; 0; 1 d; de 1
Brewing 0; 0; 1 w; –
Building 0; 0; 5 w; de 1
Carving 0; 0; 30 m; de 1
Carpentry 0; 0; 1 w; de 1
Catch 0; 0; 1 s; de 1
Ceremonies 0, U 10; 0; 1 h; kn 1
Charioteering 0; 0; 5mc; ag 1
Chemistry 0, U 10, Y 10; 0; 30 m; in 1, kn 1, me 1
Climbing 0, J 10; 0; 1 m(c); ag 1, st 1 — this must be checked every 20 feet.
Clockwork Device Craftsmanship/Engineering 0, U 20; 0; 1 d; de 1, in 1
Cobbling 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Cooking 0; 0; 1 h; –
Cold Tolerance 0, N 20, C 10, J 10; 0; 1 wc; co 1
Cultures (specific culture) 0, U 5, J 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Dancing 0, U 10, Y 20, J 15; 0; 5 mc; ag 1
Dodge 0, Y 10, J 10; 0; 1 s; ag 1, sp 1 — if a character attempts to dodge in the middle of an action, that action is lost. Dodging may, of course, be executed concurrently with other actions with both actions at double difficulty. The difficulty of hitting a dodging creature is the difficulty of normally hitting the creature plus the creature’s dodge value.
Doublejointedness costs 5
Endurance 0, N 20, T 10, J 10; 0; 15mc; st 1, co 1 — if a character fails an endurance check after fifteen minutes of vigorous activity, he is exhausted and will have all actions at double difficulty until he has rested (not sleep necessarily — sitting or other inactivity) for twice the duration of the exercise. If a second endurance check is failed, all actions are at four times normal difficulty until aforementioned rest time is taken; if a third check is failed, the character falls asleep and sleeps for five times the duration of activity.
Engineering 0, U 10; 0; 1 h; in 1
Etiquette 0, U 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Farmer 0, C 20; 0; 1 y; kn 1
Fencing (specific weapon) 0, U rapier or possibly other weapon 20; 5; as per attack/parry (dodge); as per attack/parry (dodge)
Fire-Building 0; 0; 15 m; de 1
Fisher 0; 0; 1 h; pe 1
Gambling 0, U 10, Y 10; 0; 5 m; pe 1
Gardening 0, Y 20; 0; 5 w; –
Gem Cutting 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Geography 0, U 10, J 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Guess Actions — guess from looking at a person what he will do next. 0, U 10, Y 20; 0; 2 s; pe 1
Haggling 0; 0; 5 m; ch 1, pe 1
Hear Noises — hear almost silent noises. 0, Y 20; 0; 1 m; pe 1
Heat Tolerance 0, T 20, Y 10, S 20, J 10; 0; 1 w; co 1
Heraldry 0, U 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Herbalism 0, U 10, Y 15; 0; 15 m; kn 1
Hide 0, Y 10, J 10; 0; 10 s; ag 1, pe 1
History 0, U 10, J 5; 0; 5 m; kn 1
Hunting 0, N 20, T 20, Y 10; 10; 1 h; pe 1
Illusionism 0; 0; 1 m; de 1
Improvisation (Musical) 0, Y 20, J 10; 0; 5mc; in 1
Incense Making 0, Y 10; 0; 1d; –
Janra-Ball — incomprehensible to members of other races. -, J 20; 0; 10 mc; ag 1, al 1, de 1, in 1, me 1, pe 1, sp 1, st 1
Jewelry Work 0; 0; 1 d; de 1
Juggling -; 0; 1 mc; de 1
Jumping 0, J 10; 0; 2 s; ag 1, st 1
Jury-Rigging 0, J 10; 0; 5 m; in 1
Keen Eyesight 0, U 20, Y 10; 0; 5 s; pe 1
Languages (Specific Language(s)) 0, J 5; 0, U 10, C -10; 1 mc; kn 1 — of course, the language(s) the character grew up speaking are free with a native proficiency.
Leadership 0, U 10; 0; 1 d; ch 1
Leather Working 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Literature 10, U 20; 0; 15 m; kn 1
Mapmaking -; 0; 1 d; kn 1
Massage 0, Y 10, S 20; 0; 10 mc; de 1
Mathematics -, U 20; 0; 15 m; in 2
Mediation 0; 0; 1 h; ch 1, in 1, pe 1
Medicine 0, U 10, Y 10, J 10; 0; 10 m; kn 1
Mining 0; 0; 1 d; –
Move Silently 0, Y 10, S 10, J 10; 0; 1 mc; ag 1, pe 1
Musical Composition 0, Y 10; 0; 1h; in 1
Musical Instrument (Specific Instrument) 0, U 10 (one specific), Y 10 (one specific); 0; 5mc; de 1
Navigation 0; 0; 1 d; pe 1
Open Locks -; 0; 5 m; de 1, pe 1
Persuasion 0; 0; 30 m; ch 1, in 1
Philosophy 0, U 20; 0; 10 m; in 1, kn 1
Physics -, U 10; 0; 10 m; in 1
Poetry Composition 0; 0; 1 h; in 1
Pole Vault 0, J 10; 0; 10 s; ag 1
Pottery Making 0; 0; 10 m; de 1
Public Speaking 0, U 10, J 10; 0; 30 m; in 1, ch 1
Pyrotechnics -, U 10; 0; 1 h; in 1
Reading/Writing -, U 20; -10; 10 mc; in 1
Read Emotion 0, Y 10 (+5 to both Yedidia and non-Yedidia females); 0; 15 s; pe 1
Repair 0, U 10; 0; 30 m; in 1
Riding (Specific Animal) 0, U Horse 20, Y All 20; 0; 10 mc; ag 1
Rope Use 0; 0; 20 s; de 1
Sailing 0; 0; 1 d; –
Search 0; 0; 5 m; pe 1
Shouting — shout loudly and prolongedly without tiring vocal chords. 0, T 10; 0; 5 mc; –
Singing 10, Y 30; 0; 10 mc; ch 1
Smell Creature — smell what creatures are around and have passed by. 0, Y 10; 0; 10 s; pe 1
Sports 0, T 10, J 10; 0; 30 m; ag 1, st 1
Stonemasonry 0; 0; 1 d; –
Storytelling 0; 0; 1 h; ch 1, in 1
Strategy Games 0; 0; 1 h; in 1
Swimming 0, Y 10, S 10, J 20; 0; 15 mc; ag 1, st 1
Symbolic Lore 0, N 20, U 10, C 20; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Tactics 0, U 10; 0; 1; 10 m; in 1, pe 1
Tailoring 0; 10 1 d; de 1
Technology Identification 0, U 20, J 10; 0; 1m; in 1, kn 1
Technology Use 0, U 20, J 10; 0; 1 m; in 1, kn 1
Theology 10, U 20; 0; 10 m; in 1, kn 1
Throw 0; 0; 3 s; de 1
Tightrope Walking 0, J 20; 0; 10 sc; ag 1, sp 1
Tracking 0, T 10, Y 20; 0; 5 mc; pe 1
Trivia 0, U 20, J 20; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Ventriloquism -; 0; 15 sc; –
Weather Sense 0, Y 10; 0; 5 s; pe 1
Weaving 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Wilderness Survival 0, N 20, T 15, Y 20, J 10; 0; 1 dc; pe 1
Withdrawing/Meditation -, S 20; 1; 1 h; wi 1
Woodlore 0, Y 20, S 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1, wi 1
Wrestling 0, T 20, J 10; 0; 1 mc; ag 1, sp 1, st 1 — a wrestling match can have three states — neutral, one character has advantage, one character has pinned. It starts out neutral, and each minute it goes one increment in favor of the character who wins the check.


Section II E: Learning Differences


Learning differences are an optional rule which players may take advantage of to gain higher skills. Calculating every possible attribute is not necessary; players may simply use what they choose to look for and find in order to gain higher effective skills.

Below are lds for skills, in dictionary order. Unlisted pairs of skills have no ld except as possibly calculable through chains.

The format is skill, skill, ld.

Acquisition, Persuasion, 15
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Balance, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Climbing, 25
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Dancing, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Dodge, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Fencing, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Jumping, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Move Silently, 25
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Pole Vault, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Riding, 15
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Swimming, 15
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Tightrope Walking, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Wrestling, 10
Acting, Public Speaking, 10
Acting, Storytelling, 5
Anatomy, Massage, 15
Anatomy, Medicine, 10
Animal Handling, Animal Training, 15
Animal Lore, Wood Lore, 10
Anthropology, Cultures, 10
Attack, Attack (other weapon which is also hand-to-hand/also missle), 10
Attack, Balance, 10
Attack, Dancing, 10
Attack, Hunting, 15
Attack, Riding, 15
Attack, Tightrope Walking, 10
Attack, Wrestling 10
Balance, Charioteering, 10
Balance, Climbing, 15
Balance, Dancing, 15
Balance, Pole Vault, 15
Balance, Riding, 10
Balance, Tightrope Walking, 5
Balance, Wrestling, 15
Biology, Herbalism, 15
Biology, Medicine, 10
Blind Action, Hear Noises, 10
Bowyer/Fletcher, Carving, 15
Bowyer/Fletcher, Carpentry, 15
Building, Carpentry, 10
Building, Masonry, 10
Carving, Carpentry, 15
Catch, Juggling, 25
Ceremonies, Heraldry, 15
Chemistry, Herbalism, 10
Chemistry, Pyrotechnics, 10
Climbing, Dancing, 15
Clockwork Device Craftsmanship, Engineering, 10
Cultures, Languages, 35
Dancing, Dodge, 10
Dancing, Fencing, 10
Dodge, Wrestling 10
Engineering, Mathematics, 10
Etiquette, Heraldry, 15
Fencing, Balance, 10
Fencing, Riding, 15
Fencing, Tightrope Walking, 10
Fencing, Wrestling, 10
Fisher, Hunting, 25
Gambling, Guess Actions 10
Gambling, Strategy Games, 15
Gem Cutting, Jewelry Making, 15
Guess Actions, Haggling, 15
Guess Actions, Read Emotion, 5
Herbalism, Incense Making, 10
Herbalism, Medicine, 10
Hide, Hunting, 15
History, Literature, 15
History, Trivia, 10
Hunting, Move Silently, 15
Hunting, Tracking, 10
Hunting, Wilderness Survival, 15
Improvisation, Musical Composition, 10
Juggling, Throw, 25
Jury-Rigging, Repair, 15
Keen Eyesight, Search, 10
Map Making, Navigation, 15
Massage, Medicine, 15
Philosophy, Theology, 10
Public Speaking, Storytelling, 10
Search, Tracking, 10
Strategy Games, Tactics, 10
Tailoring, Weaving, 15


Section II F: Skill Levels and Sample Difficulties


An unadjusted skill is as follows:

Untrained: 0
Just beginning: 10
Dabbler: 20
Moderately skilled: 30
Proficient: 40
Expert: 50
Virtuoso: 60
Exceptional: 70
World Class: 80
Greatest Alive: 90
Greatest of All Time: 100

The following are examples of actions of specific difficulties for archery, hiding, languages, rope walking, and wilderness survival. They are intended to serve as a guide to setting general difficulties for actions. Common sense should be used to apply to other skills; throwing, for example, will not have anywhere near the range and accuracy of archery.

Very easy: -40
Archery: shooting a barrel 20 feet away.
Hiding: hiding in a darkened storeroom full of miscellaneous garbage, while clad in black.
Languages: “Hello.” Greetings, numbers, etc. Extremely thick accent.
Rope walking: walking across a plank a foot wide.
Wilderness survival: surviving in a Yedidia orchard.

Easy: -20
Archery: shooting a barrel 20 yards away.
Hiding: hiding in a darkened forest, while clad in black/brown/green.
Languages: “Where is the bathroom?” Basic phrases (phrase book style). Accent that can be moderately easily understood by someone used to dealing with foreigners.
Rope walking: walking across a plank half a foot wide.
Wilderness survival: surviving in a Yedidia forest, where fruitful trees and water are reasonably easy to come by, but there are no hostile inhabitants.

Moderate: 0
Archery: shooting an unsuspecting boar 20 yards away.
Hiding: hiding in a forest in normal daylight, while clad in black/brown/green.
Languages: “I don’t want this one. I want that one.” Short sentences using very simple vocabulary. Normal accent which does not hinder comprehension.
Rope walking: walking across a plank three inches wide.
Wilderness survival: surviving in a Jec forest, where there is nothing hostile, but food and water are not so easy to come by, and the forest may get cold at night.

Difficult: 40
Archery: shooting a running boar 20 feet away.
Hiding: hiding in a forest at dusk, while clad in clothing that does not blend in.
Languages: “I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better. Do you have any idea how the snake got into your house?” Slightly slowed normal sentences using words that would be in the vocabulary of a child. Accent which only shows itself occasionally, or is generally present but faint.
Rope Walking: walking across a tight rope.
Wilderness survival: surviving on the border of the Tuz forest, where the creatures are potentially hostile.

Very Difficult: 80
Archery: shooting a running boar 20 yards away.
Hiding: hiding in a forest in full daylight, while clad in clothing that does not blend in.
Languages: Free, accentless conversation as a native speaker would, using an adult’s vocabulary.
Rope walking: walking across a slack rope.
Wilderness survival: surviving in the heart of the Tuz forest, where creatures tend to be hostile and tough.

Extremely Difficult: 120
Archery: shooting a flying bird 20 yards away.
Hiding: hiding in a low cut field or a bare room, fully lit, wearing clothing that does not blend in. Concealing yourself where there aren’t any obvious hiding places.
Languages: Technical discussions using complex sentence structure, unusual grammatical features, and vocabulary that most adults wouldn’t know. Conversing with some Urvanovestilli philosophers.
Rope walking: sprinting across a tight rope.
Wilderness survival: Surviving in the Ice Peaks in the middle of winter, where the temperature is frigid and wild animals and other food is almost impossible to find.


Section II G: Experience Gains


The basic unit of adventure is the quest. Upon completion of a quest, each character will receive 2 experience points, adjusted as follows (minimum of 0) for role playing, skill use/adventuring competence/party helpfulness, and moral virtue:

Exceptionally poor: -2 Poor: -1 Normal: 0 Good: +1 Exceptionally good: +2

A bonus of 1 point is awarded for an action that solves a substantial part of the quest.

So a character who had role played well, used his skills clumsily, and had shown exceptional heroism and virtue would receive 2 + 1 – 1 + 2 = 4 ep for the quest.

(No animal may gain experience.)

Experience may be devoted to some small subfield of a specific skill: specialization. Learning a specialization costs half as much (has half the ldf (learning difficulty factor)) as/of learning the whole skill. Learning the rest of a skill, up to an area less than or equal to the level of specialization, costs half as much as learning from scratch. There are also generalizations of skill (for example, languages as a generalization of a specific language, or musical instruments as a generalization of a specific instrument), which have twice the ldf of the specific skill. A generalization of a skill already learned would cost half as much as learning the generalization from scratch, IE exactly as much as the skill cost. (This applies, of course, only to as many ep as were placed in the specific skill beforehand). A generalization must be a specific and closely related group of skills; a “combat skills” generalization which included anatomy, archery, dodge, horseback riding, and longsword would be inappropriate.

Experience points may be used to increase skills as follows: a current skill’s base skill’s exponent is looked up (see section II I). To raise a skill to a new level: look up the exponent of the desired new base skill. The experience point cost is the difference. For example, let’s say that a character has a current skill bs of 34 and 2 ep. The exponent of 34 is 11. He adds the 2 experience points, bringing the exponent to 13. The log of 13 is 37, so he has a new skill bs of 37. (It would have cost him 1 point to make the same increase for a specialization, or 4 points to do so for a generalization.)


Section II H: Starting experience


Initial experience is devoted with the character’s al adjusted for everything but age.

Age:		Child	Young Adult	Middle Aged	Old	Extremely Old
Points:		20	30		40		50	60

Here are starting experience allocations for the 10 roles outlined in the general description. 10 ep will be distributed; multiply by 2 for a child, 3 for a young adult, 4 for a middle aged person, 5 for someone who is old, and 6 for someone who is extremely old. If there is/are one or two races given for a role, the experience allocation assumes the untrained bases for that race(s). (A character may have experience devoted any way that is desired; this is an example.) Most starting characters will be young adults.Acrobatic Scout: Hear Noise 1.5, Hide 2, Move Silently 2, Open Locks 2, Rope Use .5, Search 2.

Archer: Archery 10.

Bard: Geography 1.5, Hero’s Tales 1, Mediation .5, Musical Instrument 2, Persuasion 2, Singing 1, Storytelling 1, Trivia 1.

Hunter: Attack (one missle weapon) 2, Hunting 5, Tracking 2, Woodlore 1.

Interpreter: Acquisition 1, Etiquette 1, Haggling 1, Languages 6, Persuasion 1.

Jack-of-All-Trades: Attack .4, Blind Action .4, Climb .4, Dodge .4, Endurance .4, Fire-Building .4, Guess Actions .4, Haggling .4, Hide .4, Hunting .4, Jump .4, Jury-Rig or Repair .4, Languages 2.4, Move Silently .4, Open Locks .4, Rope Handling .4, Search .4, Smell Creature .4, Tracking .4, Wilderness Survival .4.

MacGyver Chemistry 1, Engineering 1, Hide 1, Jury-Rig 5, Move Silently 1, Search 1.

Perceiver Blind Action 1, Guess Actions 3, Hear Noises 1, Keen Eyesight 1, Read Emotion 1, Search 1, Smell Creature 1, Tracking 1, Weather Sense 1.

Scholar Geography 3, History 3, Languages 3, Literature 1.

Wayfarer Acquisition .3, Attack (one weapon) .2, Blind Action .2, Climb .2, Dodge .2, Endurance .2, Etiquette .3, Fire-Building .2, Geography .5, Guess Actions .2, Haggling .4, Hero’s Tales .3, Hide .2, Hunting .2, Jump .2, Jury-Rig or Repair .2, Languages 2.4, Mediation .1, Move Silently .2, Musical Instrument .3, Open Locks .2, Persuasion 1, Rope Handling .2, Search .2, Singing .3, Smell Creature .2, Storytelling .2, Tracking .2, Trivia .3, Wilderness Survival .2.

Woodsman Animal Handling 1, Animal Training 1, Hunting 1, Tracking 1, Wilderness Survival 1, Woodlore 5.


Section II I: Dice and Basic Tables


The first table given will be the exponential table. The left column gives the (approximate) log of the right, and the right column gives the exponent of the left.

-	0

-50 .03 -49 .03 -48 .04 -47 .04 -46 .04 -45 .04 -44 .05 -43 .05 -42 .05 -41 .06 -40 .06 -39 .07 -38 .07 -37 .08 -36 .08 -35 .09 -34 .09 -33 .10 -32 .11 -31 .12 -30 .13 -29 .13 -28 .14 -27 .15 -26 .16 -25 .18 -24 .19 -23 .20 -22 .22 -21 .23 -20 .25 -19 .27 -18 .29 -17 .31 -16 .33 -15 .35 -14 .38 -13 .41 -12 .44 -11 .47 -10 .50 -9 .54 -8 .57 -7 .62 -6 .66 -5 .71 -4 .76 -3 .81 -2 .87 -1 .93 0 1.0 1 1.1 2 1.1 3 1.2 4 1.3 5 1.4 6 1.5 7 1.6 8 1.7 9 1.9 10 2.0 11 2.1 12 2.3 13 2.5 14 2.6 15 2.8 16 3.0 17 3.2 18 3.5 19 3.7 20 4.0 21 4.3 22 4.6 23 4.9 24 5.3 25 5.7 26 6.1 27 6.5 28 7.0 29 7.5 30 8.0 31 8.6 32 9.2 33 9.8 34 11 35 11 36 12 37 13 38 14 39 15 40 16 41 17 42 18 43 20 44 21 45 23 46 24 47 26 48 28 49 30 50 32 51 34 52 37 53 39 54 42 55 45 56 49 57 52 58 56 59 60 60 64 61 69 62 74 63 79 64 84 65 91 66 97 67 104 68 111 69 119 70 128 71 137 72 147 73 158 74 169 75 181 76 194 77 208 78 223 79 239 80 256 81 274 82 294 83 315 84 338 85 362 86 388 87 416 88 446 89 448 90 512 91 549 92 588 93 630 94 676 95 724 96 776 97 832 98 891 99 955 100 1024 101 1097 102 1176 103 1261 104 1351 105 1448 106 1552 107 1663 108 1783 109 1911 110 2048 111 2195 112 2353 113 2521 114 2702 115 2896 116 3104 117 3327 118 3566 119 3822 120 4096 121 4390 122 4705 123 5043 124 5405 125 5793 126 6208 127 6654 128 7132 129 7643 130 8192 131 8780 132 9410 133 10,086 134 10,809 135 11,585 136 12,417 137 13,308 138 14,263 139 15,287 140 16,384 141 17,560 142 18,820 143 20,171 144 21,619 145 23,170 146 24,834 147 26,616 148 28,526 149 30,573 150 32,768

Here is the basic check table. When a character attempts an action, the success index is calculated as the difficulty subtracted from his av, and the two dice (red and blue) are rolled. The check value is (6*r)+b: six times the number on the red die, plus the value on the blue die. The following table gives the minimum value this result must have for the character to succeed at the attempt.

For example, if a character with an av of 57 attempts a skill of difficulty 23, he has a success index of 34. The red die yields a 1 and the blue die yields a 6, so the check value is (6*1)+6 = 12, which by the table requires a minimum success index of 25. His success index is greater than or equal to what it needed to be, so he succeeds at the check.

Check Value	Success Index
7		Roll again, with success index 61 higher.
8		45
9		37
10		32
11		28
12		25
13		22
14		19
15		17
16		15
17		13
18		11
19		9
20		7
21		6
22		4
23		2
24		1
25		-1
26		-2
27		-4
28		-6
29		-7
30		-9
31		-11
32		-13
33		-15
34		-17
35		-19
36		-22
37		-25
38		-28
39		-32
40		-37
41		-45
42		Roll again, with success index 61 lower

Section II J: Combat


All characters* have a maximum health value of co+st+ag+an, where an is one half the character’s adjusted anatomy skill, rounded down. Skills and attributes of an injured creature function at a penalty equal to the difference between their maximum health value and their current health value. So, for example, an animal with a maximum health value of 55 and a current health value of 31 has skills functioning at a penalty of 24 points.

All creatures take damage as follows: the damage is looked up on the log/exponent table, and its exponent (the value that occurs to the right of the damage) is looked up. The same is done for the creature’s current health value. The exponent of the damage is subtracted from the exponent of the current health value. If the value is zero or less, the creature loses consciousness or dies at the game master’s discretion. If the value is more than zero, its log is taken and becomes the creature’s new health value (rounded up).

So, for example, if the animal mentioned with a current health value of 24 points takes an 8 point damage wound, the exponent of 24 is 5.3, and the exponent of 8 is 1.7. They are subtracted to yield 3.6; the log of 3.6 is 18, so the creature’s new health value is 18.

Damage* for a successful attack is inflicted at a value of r+st+wa+de+an+po, where r is the value show by rolling the red die, wa is the weapon addend of the weapon, and po is the poison value of the poison (if any) or other special attack. (Damage for a successful backstab, catching the target unaware, is r+st+wa+de+(2*an)+po.) If a creature is injured in the course of taking an action, it may complete the action at skill and attribute values for when the action was begun, and the injury will take effect on skills and attributes when the action is completed.

An injured creature will regenerate at a rate of -50+(2*co)+st+ms per day, where ms is the medical skill of the creature or other caretaker. The regeneration works as the exact opposite of a wound.

An unarmed character has a wa of -10.

* A creature which has no anatomy skill does not receive agility or anatomy adjustments to health value, or anatomy or dexterity adjustments to damage.


Section II K: Animals and Random Encounters


With many of the rolls, the number is a random number 1-10 or 1-100. Common sense should tell which is appropriate where. If 10-sided dice are not available, 1-10 can be generated with red and blue as will be given below; 1-100 can be generated using 1-10’s for each digit, or as below with an additional die, yellow (‘y’):

1-10: roll (6*r)+b-6:

1-10: read as is. 11-20: subtract 10. 21-30: subtract 20. 31-36: reroll.

1-100: roll (36*r)+(6*y)+b-42:

1-100: read as is. 101-200: subtract 100. 201-216: reroll.

In many cases, one of the possibilities indicated is “special”. Special means that either

1: the game master should decide something special, which is preferable, or 2: if the game master can’t or doesn’t want to, he should reroll for another outcome.

Roll for whether an encounter occurs, and what kind:

			N	T	U	Y	J	S
Encounter occurs	1	1-5	1-3	1-5	1-2	1-4
Encounter is	1	animal	animal	animal	animal	animal	animal
2			animal	animal	animal	animal	animal	animal
3			animal	animal	animal	animal	animal	animal
4			animal	animal	animal	animal	animal	person
5			animal	animal	animal	person	animal	person
6			animal	person	person	person	animal	person
7			person	person	person	person	person	person
8			geographical feature	geographical feature
9			weather	weather	weather	weather	weather	weather
10			special	special	special	special	special	special

Percentile Roll Chart for Random Animal Encounter (N designates the Nor’krin land, and so on):

				N	T	U	Y	J	S
1: Acid Slime Mold			1
2: Acid Spitter				2
3: Anteater				3	1-2	1-2		103
4: Bear					4-5			1
5: Behemoth				6
6: Boar					7	3-5	3	2-3
7: Bulette				8	6
8: Caribou			1-10				4-5
9: Carnivorous Log			9
10: Carnivorous Tree			10
11: Cobra				11
12: Colorspray						4-6	6	4-7
13: Crocodile				12-13
14: Cuddler					7	7-11	7	8-11
15: Deer			11-15	14	8-12	12-13	8-17
16: Dog					15	13	14	18
17: Duck					14	15-16	19-28	12-14
18: Fog Thing				16-17
19: Furred Serpent			18	15-16	17-18	29-30	15-16
20: Garter Snake				17	19-20	31	17
21: Giant Aphid				19
22: Giant Firefly			20		21-22
23: Giant Land Lobster			21
24: Giant Scorpion			22-23
25: Giant Viper				24
26: Giant Walking Stick			25
27: Giant Wasp				26
28: Giant Webthrower			27
29: Glower						23-25		18-20
30: Gorilla				28		26		21
31: Griffon				29	18		32
32: Hawk				30	19	27	33-34
33: Hedgehog				31	20-21	28-29	35	22-24
34: Hnakra				32
35: Horse			16-25	33-34	22-24	30-31	36-37
36: Hoverfeather			35	25-26	32	38	25
37: Hummingbird					27	33	39	26
38: Iceflyer			26-39
39: Icestriker			40-49
40: Ironram			50	36-37	28
41: Jewel Serpent			38	29
42: Jumpcling					30	34-35		27-30
43: Jumper				39-40	31	36	40	31
44: Kriit			51-41	41	32		41
45: Land Octopus			42		37		32-33
46: Lavishnatim				43	33	38-39		34
47: Leviathan				44
48: Mile Long Snake			45			42
49: Milshh					34	40-42		35-38
50: Mimic					35	43-46	43-44	39-42
51: Miroir					36-37	47		43
52: Mishraim				46-47		48	45-46	44-47
53: Monkey					38	49	47	48-49
54: Mouse					39	50	48-52	50
55: Muckdweller				48-49
56: Obstructor				50
57: Ostrich				51	40		53-55
58: Owl					52	41	51	56-58
59: Panther				53
60: Parrot					42	52	59-60	51-55
61: Platypus					43	53	60-61
62: Poison Quilled Porcupine		54-55
63: Porcupine				56	44	54-55	61-62
64: Prairie Dog					45	56	63
65: Rabbit			55-74		46-55	57	64-73	56-59
66: Ram					57-58	56-57	58	76-78
67: Ricochet				59	58	59	79
68: Roc					60
69: Rock Crusher			61
70: Rock Thrower			62
71: Rodent of Unusual Size		63-64	59		80
72: Sand Trapper			65
73: Sea Serpent				66
74: Shocker				67
75: Skunk					60-63	60	81	60
76: Sloth						61		61-70
77: Soft Rolling Stone				64-65	62	82-83	71-74
78: Sparrow					66	63	84	75-77
79: Spinstar				68	67	64		78
80: Stegosaurus				69-70
81: Stinging Insect			70-71
82: Stoneshell				72		65
83: Strider				73	68-71	66
84: Swamp Thing				74
85: Tail Spikethrower			75
86: Tar Baby				76
87: Terrask				77
88: Thousand Legged Roller		78	72-76	67	85	79-80
89: Ticklebug						68-72		81
90: Torpor Beast			79-80
91: Translucent Frog			81	77-79	73-74	86	82-83
92: Trin				82	80	75	87	84
93: Turtle				83-84	81	76	88-90	85-88
94: Tyrannosaurus Rex			85
95: Warm Fuzzy					82-83	77-80	91	89-92
96: Water Sprite					81
97: Wind Hummer				86	84-85
98: Wolf			75-84	87-88	86	82-83	92
99: Wyvern				89-90	87		93
100: Game Master's Creation	85-88	91	88	84-85	94	93-94
101: Nor'krin Encounter			92	89-90	86-87	95	95
102: Tuz Encounter		89-90		91-91	88-89	96	96
103: Urvanovestilli Encounter	91-92	93		90-92	97	97
104: Yedidia Encounter		93-94	94	92-93		98	98
105: Jec Encounter		95-96	95	94-95	93-95		99
106: Shal Encounter		97-98	96	96-97	96-97	99
107: Encounter, Doubled Attributes 99-100 97-100 98-100	98-100	100	100

Animal behavior at an encounter is as follows; a number generated in the range of 1-10 tells how it behaves (‘special’ indicating that the game master should either create a special behavior on the part of the animal, or else simply reroll):

#  Feisty	Herbivore	Pet		Predator	Small Predator
1: attack	attack		attack		attack		attack
2: attack	attack		curious		attack		curious
3: attack	curious		curious		attack		flee
4: attack	flee		flee		curious		flee
5: attack	flee		flee		flee		flee
6: curious	friendly	friendly	friendly	flee
7: flee		ignore		friendly	sneak attack	friendly
8: ignore	ignore		friendly	sneak attack	sneak attack
9: sneak attack	ignore		friendly	sneak attack	sneak attack
10: special	special		special		special		special

Animal age and sex are rolled separately: 1-2 child, 3-6 young, 7-8 middle aged, 9 old, 10 very old; 1-5 male, 6-10 female.

Animal Descriptions

All animals have the following skills: attack 30 (1 s; de 1, sp 1, st 1), blind action 20, dodge 30, hear noises 20, hide 30, move silently 30, and smell creature 20. All predators and small predators can hunt 30, smell creature 30, track 30. Name, attributes, behavior type (feisty, herbivore, pet, predator, small predator), descriptions, comments, and special abilities follow.

Constitution, in some cases, may not indicate exceptional health on the part of the creature, but rather some sort of natural armor.

The attributes are (no is number appearing, a * next to po represents a nonpoisonous special attack):

1: Acid Slime Mold
no	po	wa	ag	co	de	pe	sp	st
1	20*	0	20	10	10	10	20	10
Predator, 4-8' long, not injured by cutting or bludgeoning.  Special damage is
acid.  (It looks like a pale green blob)

2: Acid Spitter no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 20 20 20 10 10 30 Predator. 5′ high. This creature has a thick torso and head on four stumpy legs, and a tough black hide. Its special damage is acid.

3: Anteater no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. As in real life.

4: Bear no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 30 10 -10 0 40 Feisty. Grizzly in the Tuz land, polar in Nor’krin land, black elsewhere.

5: Behemoth no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 30 20 -10 -10 70 Herbivore. As in Job.

6: Boar no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 10 10 10 10 25 Feisty. As in real life.

7: Bulette no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 0 30 10 10 10 30 Predator. 8-10′ long. Land shark. A tough, sharklike creature that burrows through earth and has short, strong legs. The hide may be sold for 500 au.

8: Caribou no po wa ag co de pe sp st 30 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 30 Herbivore. As in real life.

9: Carnivorous Log no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 20 10 0 10 30 Predator. An animal that looks like a large fallen log. When stepped on, large tentacles will shoot out and drag towards teeth and jaws.

10: Carnivorous Tree no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 20 10 10 10 40 Predator. Like a carnivorous log, but uses branches instead of tentacles.

11: Cobra no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 -10 10 10 10 10 30 -10 Predator. As in real life.

12: Colorspray no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0* -20 10 10 10 10 10 -10 Pet. A short, 2′ football shaped, multicolored creature with several orifices on its back. A very affectionate pet which will spray brightly colored paints on someone it likes.

13: Crocodile no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 30 10 10 10 30 Predator. As in real life.

14: Cuddler no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -40 10 0 10 10 0 -20 Pet. A soft, 1′ black, furred, round creature that cuddles like a Shal and will occasionally squirt water.

15: Deer no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 10 10 20 10 20 Herbivore. As in real life.

16: Dog no po wa ag co de pe sp st 10 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 20 Predator. As in real life.

17: Duck no po wa ag co de pe sp st 5 0 -20 10 10 10 10 10 -20 Herbivore. As in real life.

18: Fog-Thing no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 10 10 10 10 40 Predator. a 10′ tall beast which emits dense fog, obscuring vision in its vicinity.

19: Furred Serpent no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 0 Pet. 2-20′ long, with soft, sometimes brown fur.

20: Garder Snake no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -50 Pet. As in real life.

21: Giant Aphid no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 30 10 10 10 30 Predator. 8′ tall if unearthed, in a depressed sand trap hidden by a thin camouflaged cover.

22: Giant Firefly no po wa ag co de pe sp st 20 0 -30 10 10 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. 4′ tall, Fly 5.

23: Giant Land Lobster no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 50 10 0 -10 50 Feisty. 20-30′ long.

24: Giant Scorpion no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 10 10 30 10 10 10 20 Feisty. 5′ long.

25: Giant Viper no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 10 10 10 20 10 50 Predator. 50′-200′ long.

26: Giant Walking Stick no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 0 10 10 0 10 -10 Small Predator. 3′ long, 2′ tall. Poison does not cause damage, but hinders for one day as if damage had occurred.

27: Giant Wasp no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 Feisty. 18″ long.

28: Giant Webthrower no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 10 20 10 20 20 25 Predator. A 10′ long spider; special attack is throwing webs which do not injure but impair physical action as if injury had occurred.

29: Glower no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 20 10 20 Pet. A phosphorescent half sized bear.

30: Gorilla no po wa ag co de pe sp st 10 0 0 25 10 10 10 10 30 Herbivore. As in real life. Climb 10.

31: Griffon no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 25 20 10 20 20 30 Predator. 8′ long. Half eagle (Fly 10), half lion, loves horsemeat.

32: Hawk no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 10 10 0 Small Predator. As in real life.

33: Hedgehog no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -10 Herbivore. As in real life.

34: Hnakra no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 25 30 10 25 20 50 Predator. An aquatic creature (Swim 10), a great armored shark/sea serpent 50-100′ long. As in C.S. Lewis’s _Out_of_the_Silent_Planet_

35: Horse no po wa ag co de pe sp st 30 0 0 20 10 10 10 10 30 Herbivore. As in real life.

36: Hoverfeather no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 20 10 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. A 3′ ball of eyes and feathered wings (golden, black, brown, or white).

37: Hummingbird no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 30 10 20 25 40 -50 Herbivore. As in real life.

38: Iceflyer no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 10 10 0 Predator. A 6′ white arctic bird of prey (Fly 10).

39: Icestriker no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 10 10 25 20 10 10 Predator. A toothed, clawed 20′ acid spitting bird of prey (Fly 10).

40: Ironram no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 0 20 10 0 10 40 Feisty. A 15′ long, piglike furred beast that rams with its bony head.

41: Jewel Serpent no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 40 0 25 20 10 10 10 30 Predator. A red, 5-20′ serpent with an immense red jewel between its eyes which has a phosphorescent glow that lasts until an hour after its death. The gem is worth 5,000 gold, or 10,000 if it is still glowing.

42: Jumpcling no po wa ag co de pe sp st 2 0 0 10 20 20 30 10 -30 Pet. A 6″ beast with many paws that will jump and cling to a person.

43: Jumper no po wa ag co de pe sp st 20 0 -10 50 10 10 10 10 30 Herbivore. A 4′ long beam with two opposite feet that it jumps and bounces off with. (Jump 10)

44: Kriit no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 10 10 30 20 15 0 Predator. A 5′ tall, long-armed beast that spits acid from behind trees.

45: Land Octopus no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0* 0 10 10 10 10 10 20 Feisty. 8-20′ spread. Like an octopus, but squirts ink — can temporarily blind.

46: Lavishnatim no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -20 25 10 20 10 10 -10 Pet. An incredibly curious, 2′ rodentlike creature.

47: Leviathan no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 40* 0 20 40 10 -10 10 80 Feisty. As in Job. Special attack is breathe fire.

48: Mile Long Snake no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 80 Herbivore(-like). A 20′ high snake a mile long

49: Milshh no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -20 20 10 10 30 20 -20 Pet. A short, 18″, round, eyeless catlike creature with long, golden fur, and eight short legs ending in round paws.

50: Mimic no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 25 10 -20 Pet. A monkeylike creature that will follow and imitate a person.

51: Mirior no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 0 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. A humanoid form with mirrorlike skin.

52: Mishraim no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 0 10 30 Pet. Like a giant 5′ anteater, but with a shorter snout.

53: Monkey no po wa ag co de pe sp st 10 0 -30 20 10 20 10 10 -10 Herbivore. As in real life.

54: Mouse no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 10 10 -50 Herbivore. As in real life.

55: Muckdweller no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 10 10 10 10 30 Predator. A black, tentacled, four legged beast that waits in the muck and then draws things down in order to drown and/or eat.

56: Obstructor no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 20 20 20 0 50 Predator. A giant (20′) eight armed apelike creature which will use branches, rocks, etc. to form a barrier around prey before throwing rocks at it.

57: Ostrich no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 -10 0 0 0 30 25 Herbivore. As in real life.

58: Owl no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 10 10 0 Small Predator. As in real life.

59: Panther no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 10 20 30 10 30 Predator. Climb 5. As in real life.

60: Parrot no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 20 10 10 10 25 -30 Pet. Fly 5. As in real life.

61: Platypus no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -10 Herbivore. As in real life.

62: Poison Quilled Porcupine no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 10 10 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. Like a real porcupine, but three feet long, and, if struck hand-to-hand without appropriate armor, will automatically hit attacker. (When it attacks, its attack does not do poison damage.)

63: Porcupine no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -20 Herbivore. As in real life.

64: Prairie Dog no po wa ag co de pe sp st 10 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -15 Herbivore. As in real life.

65: Rabbit no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 20 10 10 20 25 -30 Herbivore. As in real life.

66: Ram no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 20 Herbivore. As in real life.

67: Ricochet no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 10 10 20 40 20 Herbivore. A fast, 12 legged (equally spaced) 1′ red-brown creature that quickly bounces off trees and everything else if threatened.

68: Roc no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 0 10 10 20 -20 70 Predator. 100′ tall. A giant bird of prey (Fly 10) that eats panthers.

69: Rock Crusher no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 -10 30 0 0 -20 80 Herbivore(-like). A giant (40′) creature with stony skin that sits and eats rocks.

70: Rock Thrower no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 20 20 10 20 Feisty. A beast with four legs alternated with four arms, throwing rocks.

71: Rodent of Unusual Size no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 300 10 10 20 25 10 Predator. As in The Princess Bride.

72: Sand Trapper no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 20 10 30 30 Predator. 10-15′ high. Lives in sand and shoots up a green tentacle to drag in prey.

73: Sea Serpent no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 20 10 10 0 40 Herbivore(-like). 20-40′ long, swim 10.

74: Shocker no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 40* 10 20 20 10 10 10 30 Predator. An immense (10′) deep green to blue lizard with slimy black tentacles that deliver a powerful electric shock, capable of throwing many creatures. Any creature hit by a shocker and taking over 10% damage will be disrupted in the action it was completing, drop what it was holding, and forget what it was doing/be momentarily disoriented. Thick clothing may function as armor against a shocker’s attack, as the electrical damage only takes place if electrical contact occurs.

75: Skunk no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0* -10 10 10 10 10 10 -20 Herbivore. As in real life. (Special attack, as in real life.)

76: Sloth no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -20 10 10 10 10 -20 -15 Pet. As in real life.

77: Soft Rolling Stone no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -30 0 20 0 -30 -10 -30 Pet. A rolling creature that looks like a round, mossy stone. Warm and friendly.

78: Sparrow no po wa ag co de pe sp st 20 0 -20 20 10 10 10 10 -50 Herbivore. As in real life (Fly 10).

79: Spinstar no po wa ag co de pe sp st 50 0 0 30 10 10 10 10 -30 Pet. A blue (tinged with red) 9″ land starfish which whitish feet at the end of each limb and a feeding orifice on one side. Moves by rolling.

80: Stegosaurus no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 0 40 -20 -30 -10 50 Herbivore. As in real life.

81: Stinging Insect no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1000 30 -50 25 25 10 25 20 -30 Feisty. A swarm as in real life.

82: Stoneshell no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 80 10 10 10 10 Herbivore. A creature with a stonehard shell, 10′ tall.

83: Strider no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 25 25 10 10 30 20 Predator. 7′ tall. A predator which moves incredibly quickly (85 mph). It is jet black, has long, strong, thin legs, and will try to run prey into trees.

84: Swamp Thing no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 10 10 10 10 50 Predator. A huge malodorous mass of beast. 20-50′

85: Tail Spikethrower no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20 0 10 20 20 10 10 30 Predator. 9′ long. Like a scorpion, but throws poisoned spikes.

86: Tar Baby no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 -30 30 10 10 0 10 Feisty. A black, tar-covered beast. Any weapon or limb which strikes it will stick and require an hour to free.

87: Terrask no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 80 10 10 10 100 Feisty. An immense, dinosaurian creature (200′ tall), pale grey to black at different spots.

88: Thousand Legged Roller no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 25 10 10 20 30 30 Herbivore. Great multi-colored 6′ ball covered with legs, by which it rolls.

89: Ticklebug no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 30 30 10 -30 Pet. A little, 6″ furry creature (white, gold, tan, orange, calico, grey, brown, red, or black) with long whiskers, fond of touching other creatures very lightly.

90: Torpor Beast no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 40* 0 10 10 10 10 10 10 Predator. A beast with four limbs and a spiked trunk — spikes inject a potent sleeping poison.

91: Translucent Frog no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 25 10 10 10 10 10 Herbivore. An animal such that you can see into its body to look at its inner workings.

92: Trin no po wa ag co de pe sp st 30 0 -20 30 10 10 10 10 -10 Herbivore. This beast is short, round, and flat, with tan fur.

93: Turtle no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 -10 60 0 0 -30 10 Herbivore. As in real life.

94: Tyrannosaurus Rex no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 -10 10 10 0 -10 60 Predator. As in real life.

95: Warm Fuzzy no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -30 10 10 10 30 0 -20 Pet. Same colors as a ticklebug, round, 8″, with very long, very soft fur. Can climb (Climb 2) very comfortably and snuggle for hours. Used like teddybears.

96: Water Sprite no po wa ag co de pe sp st 25 0 -20 50 10 10 10 10 -10 Herbivore. An extremely shy and beautiful form that comes out once a year to dance in the moonlight.

97: Wind Hummer no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 50 10 10 10 20 -40 Feisty. 1′ tall. A quick, translucent (Dodge 50, Fly 40), stinging creature.

98: Wolf no po wa ag co de pe sp st 20 0 0 10 10 20 10 10 20 Predator. As in real life.

99: Wyvern no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 20 20 10 10 10 25 Predator. A flying (10′, Fly 10), red-brown stinging reptilian predator.

100: Game Master’s Creation

Random Person Encounters:

In general, 1-10 people will be encountered. (Hermits will always be encountered alone.) Several factors/scales are given (race, profession, Myers-Briggs personality type, etc.); the GM need only generate as much information as he needs to get an idea of how to play it.

Random personal encounters are, in essence, an opportunity to role play social interaction, and should be played as such. While there are other possibilities, such as trading for equipment or information, the game master should focus on making the encounter an interaction with interesting people who will make play more interesting.

These tables are for encounters out in the wild — generally, parties of people who are mostly adventurers. Encounters in a city or village should be different.

Character race and roles	N	T	U	Y	J	S
1: Janra Acrobat		1	1	1	1	1	1
2: Janra Acrobatic Scout	2	2	2	2	2	2
3: Janra Actor			3	3	3	3	3	3
4: Janra Archer			4	4	4	4	4	4
5: Janra Bard			5	5	5	5	5	5
6: Janra Dancer			6	6	6	6	6	6
7: Janra Hermit			7	7	7	7	7	7
8: Janra Homemaker		8-12	8-12	8-12	8-12	8-12	8-12
9: Janra Hunter			13	13	13	13	13	13
10: Janra Idiot			14	14	14	14	14	14
11: Janra Interpreter		15	15	15	15	15	15
12: Janra Jack-of-all-Trades	16	16	16	16	16	16
13: Janra Juggler		17	17	17	17	17	17
14: Janra MacGyver		18	18	18	18	18	18
15: Janra Masseuse		19	19	19	19	19	19
16: Janra Perceiver		20	20	20	20	20	20
17: Janra Scholar		21	21	21	21	21	21
18: Janra Singer		22	22	22	22	22	22
19: Janra Storyteller		23	23	23	23	23	23
20: Janra Wayfarer		24	24	24	24	24	24
21: Janra Woodsman		25	25	25	25	25	25
22: Jec Archer			26	26	26	26	26	26
23: Jec Baker							27
24: Jec Bard			27	27	27	27	28	27
25: Jec Blacksmith						29
26: Jec Cobbler							30
27: Jec Farmer							31-35
28: Jec Fisherman						36-37
29: Jec Hermit							38
30: Jec Homemaker						39-48
31: Jec Hunter			28	28	28	28	49	28
32: Jec Idiot							50
33: Jec Merchant						51-52
34: Jec Sage							53
35: Jec Stonemason						54
36: Jec Storyteller						55
37: Jec Wayfarer		29	29	29	29	56	29
38: Jec Weaver							57
39: Jec Woodsman		30	30	30	30	58	30
40: Nor'krin Archer		31-33	31	31	31	59	31
41: Nor'krin Bard		34-36	32	32	32	60	32
42: Nor'krin Hermit		37
43: Nor'krin Homemaker		38-47
44: Nor'krin Hunter		48-50	33	33	33	61	33
45: Nor'krin Idiot		51
46: Nor'krin Wayfarer		52-53	34	34	34	62	34
47: Shal Bard				35	35	35	63	35
48: Shal Farmer						36		36-37
49: Shal Gardener					37		38-40
50: Shal Hermit								41
51: Shal Homemaker					38		42-51
52: Shal Idiot								52
53: Shal Masseuse					39		53
54: Shal Poet								54
55: Shal Sage						40		55-56
56: Shal Woodsman		54	36	36	41	64	57-59
57: Tuz Archer			55	37-39	37	42	65	60
58: Tuz Blacksmith			40-41
59: Tuz Hermit				42
60: Tuz Homemaker			43-52
61: Tuz Hunter			56	53-55	38	43	66	61
62: Tuz Idiot				56
63: Tuz Scout			57	57-58	38	43	66	61
64: Tuz Stonemason			59
65: Tuz Woodsman		58	60-62	40	48	68	63
66: Tuz Wrestler			63
67: Urvanovestilli Archer	59	64	41	49	69	64
68: Urvanovestilli Artist			42
69: Urvanovestilli Bard		60	65	43	50	70	65
70: Urvanovestilli Dancer			44
71: Urvanovestilli Dual Profession 61	66	45	51	71	66
	(roll twice, ignoring non-Urvanovestilli rolls.)
72: Urvanovestilli Goldsmith			46
73: Urvanovestilli Hermit			47
74: Urvanovestilli Homemaker			48-57
75: Urvanovestilli Hunter	62	67	58	52	72	67
76: Urvanovestilli Idiot			59
77: Urvanovestilli Interpreter	63	68	60	53	73	68
78: Urvanovestilli Jack-of-all-Trades 64 69	61	54	74	69
79: Urvanovestilli Noble			62
80: Urvanovestilli Renaissance Man 65	70	63	55	75	70
81: Urvanovestilli Repairman			64
82: Urvanovestilli Scholar	66	71	65	56	76	71
83: Urvanovestilli Servant			66
84: Urvanovestilli Specialist			67
85: Urvanovestilli Wayfarer	67	72	68	57	77	72
86: Urvanovestilli Weaver			69
87: Yedidia Animal Handler		73	70	58-59	78	73
88: Yedidia Bard		68-69	74	71	60-61	79	74
89: Yedidia Herbalist			75	72	62-63	80	75-76
90: Yedidia Hermit					64
91: Yedidia Homemaker				73	65-74		77
92: Yedidia Hunter		70	76	74	75-76	81	78
93: Yedidia Idiot					77
94: Yedidia Jack-of-all-Trades	71	77	75	78	82	79
95: Yedidia Masseuse				76	79		80
96: Yedidia Perceiver		72	78	77	78	82	79
97: Yedidia Singer				78	82		82
98: Yedidia Woodsman		73	79	79	83-84	84	83-84
99: Roll once to determine race, then a second time to determine profession
				74	80	80	85	85	85
100: Special			75-84	81-90	81-90	86-95	86-95	86-95
101: Nor'krin Encounter			91	91	96	96	95
102: Tuz Encounter		85-86		92-94	98	98	98
103: Urvanovestilli Encounter	87-91	91-94		98	98	98
104: Yedidia Encounter		92-93	95-97	95-97		99	99
105: Jec Encounter		94-99	98	98-99	99		100
106: Shal Encounter		100	99-100	100	100	100

Myers-Briggs Personality Type:
Shal: 1-3 Extrovert, 4-10 Introvert; Other: 1-7 Extrovert, 8-10 Introvert 1-6 Sensing, 7-10 INtuitive
Male: 1-6 Thinking, 7-10 Feeling; Female 1-4 Thinking, 5-10 Feeling. 1-5 Judging, 6-10 Perceiving

Handedness: Janra 01-75 left, 76-95 ambidexterous, 96-100 right; other 01-94 right, 95-99 left, 100 ambidexterous

Birth Order: 1-3 first, 4-6 middle, 7-9 last, 10 only


Section II L: Equipment, Devices, Chemicals, Herbs, and Money


In the monetary system, 1 gold sovereign (au) = 2 electrum sceptres (el) = 8 silver crowns (si) = 64 copper pennies (cu) = 256 iron tips (fe). Price is variable; a device could easily be sold for twice or half its listed cost here. All coins are of the same weight; 64 of them weigh a pound.

Adventuring equipment as a rule is scarce and difficult to acquire. The ad (acquirement difficulty) given for equipment is e (easy), m (moderate), d (difficult), vd (very difficult), and ed (extremely difficult). The races in whose homeland the items are easily found are designated by first initial (‘J’ denoting Jec rather than Janra, as the Janra have no homeland); items may be found in other lands, but at a difficulty one notch higher (so difficult becomes very difficult, etc.).

The following are illustrations of devices and equipment available. Other equipment in the same spirit (as described in the game master’s introduction, section IV) is encouraged with game master discretion. Each device is slightly different; they may well have modifications (such as a tiny hidden compartment). There should ideally be thousands of unique devices, of which the listed examples are but a tiny hint. Chemical prices, unless otherwise specified, are per fluid ounce, and herbs per ounce. Chemicals which temporarily affect attributes do *not* affect st and co contributions to health value.

Armor made not out of steel but out of special alloys may be found, at one notch higher ad and ten times the price, with all the protection but only half the penalties. When armor reduces damage by a fixed percentage, it should be read as the exponent of the damage which is reduced.

Animals (trained or otherwise friendly) may be acquired at a difficulty of the sum of the squares of their attributes, for half the ad if their behavior type is pet, ad for behavior type herbivore, twice the ad for behavior type small predator, three times the ad for behavior type predator, and four times the ad for behavior type feisty.

What is listed is specifically equipment which will be useful to adventurers. There are an infinitude of other objects which exist — clockwork devices which are built up to perform various tasks (such as play music or be a moving model of the solar system) much as a computer programmer assembles instructions to make a program; herbs which act as spices, or which, when drunk as a tea, have a mild narcotic effect (which herbs are carefully and temperately used, just like alcohol), or chemicals which, when mixed, turn a complex rainbow of scintillating colors — and they would take forever to list. Here is a simple example of what may be useful to adventurers, to give the game master a feel for the spirit of creation.

Devices and Equipment

Cost	ad	Name
5 au	m	Axe/Hatchet (wa 0) (N, T, U, Y, J, S)
3 au	d	Backpack (T, U, Y)
20 au	d	Belaying Device, automatic — a springloaded box with a harness
		at one end, a crank on the side, and which shoots out a
		grappling hook.  This device catches a climber who falls,
		preventing injury, and allowing him to try again if he slips a
		grip (thereby effectively doubling climbing skill).  (U)
4 au	d	Camouflage cloak — usually forest green, dark grey, or black,
		occasionally brown, these can lower the difficulty of hiding by
		one notch (T, U, Y, C)
8 au	d	Cat's Claw — an angled iron or steel clawed boot attachment
		and glove which is highly effective at attaching to climbing
		surfaces; someone wearing a Cat's Claw has a climbing skill
		increased by 10.  (T, U)
50 au	d	Chain Mail: -20 to sharp damage suffered, and -5 to blunt
		damage; 5-st penalty to ag, de, sp; -20 to Move Silently.  (U)
		(For instance, a character with st -5 would suffer a penalty of
		10 to ag, de, sp).
500 au	vd	Chain Mail, "feather": -15 to sharp damage and -3 to blunt
		damage; -10 to Move Silently.  (U)
5-20 au	m	Chest, Locked, Reinforced — size varies with price (T, U, J)
5 au	d	Cloth tape — 50 yards (U)
400 au	vd	Collapsible rowboat — skeleton of iron bars and joints, and
		oil skin surface, when taken apart and packed away, fit in a
		large back pack.  (U)
3 au	d	Compass (U)
10 au	m	Crossbow (wa 0 Urvanovestilli, 10 Tuz; strength difficulty to
		load 0 Urvanovestilli, 10 Tuz) (T, U)
200 au	vd	Crossbow, Pump-Action — a pumping action loads the next bolt
		so that the time to load and shoot is 5s instead of 30s.  (wa
		0, loading requires action of strength difficulty 0)
400 au	vd	Crossbow, Spray — a cup on the front of the bowstring holds
		20 bolts which, when fired, fan out in a spray.  wa 10, and
		effectively increases firer's skill/accuracy by 10.  (But
		cannot be gainfully used with a telescopic sight)
3 cu	m	Crossbow Bolt (T, U)
1 au	d	Crossbow Bolt, Exploding (+20 to wa) (U)
1 au	d	Crossbow Bolt, Harpoon — a fine wire or silk cord is coiled
		inside the shell, and an end can be attached to the crossbow or
		other anchor.
1 au	d	Crossbow Bolt, Poison Injecting (U)
5 au	d	Crowbar (T, U)
2 au	m	Dagger (wa 0 hand to hand, -10 thrown) (N, T, U, J)
80 au	vd	Dagger, Obsidian, Razor-edged (wa 5 hand to hand, -5 thrown)
		(U)
40 au	vd	Dagger, Poison Injecting (wa 0) (U)
60 au	vd	Directional mechanical listening device — a pair of binoculars
		for the ears.  It has a sight and a hard parabolic surface with
		a tube which goes to the ears at the focus — incoming sound
		from the direction it faces is echoed into the tube and heard
		with exceptional sensitivity.
15 au	d	Earhorn — effectively doubles hear noises skill
2000 au	ed	Firestar — a longsword with a hollow, insulated handle and a
		network of veins inside the blade leading to a porous surface
		which will be covered in burning oil (po 20, hotter oil doing
		more damage possibly available upon searching).
25 au	d	Fishing Rod, collapsible (U)
6 au	d	Goggles, Waterproof (U)
2 au	d	Grappling Hook (T, U)
1 el	d	Gunpowder (U)
30 au	d	Halberd (wa 15) (T, U)
200 au	d	Hang Glider (U)
600 au	vd	Hang Glider, Collapsible — can collapse to backpack size and
		pop out at the push of a button (U)
60 au	d	Herbal/Chemical Medicine kit — medicines allow an injured
		character to heal faster.  (Easy medical skill check to avoid
		causing damage (prevents healing that day), difficult medical
		skill check to double rate of healing) (U, Y)
3000 au	vd	Hot Air Baloon (U)
150 au	d	Hummer — a small device which emits a high and low pitched hum
		(inaudible to humans) which is 90% likely to repel wandering
		animals.  (U)
1000 au	vd	Jack/Rabbit Tool — This device has two hardened steel prongs,
		each shaped like a flattened chisel, and a crank which, when
		turned, will slowly (over the course of a few minutes) cause
		the prongs to push apart with very powerful force (100 times
		the strength of the using character), sufficient to easily
		force most doors and chests open.  (U)
10,000 au ed	Juggernaut — a movable room and armored vehicle, capable of
		going over all sorts of terrain at the average jog speed for
		the party inside, which seats 4-8.  A very good place to sleep
		in a Tuz forest.  (U)
1 au	e	Knife (wa -3 hand to hand, -8 thrown) (N, T, U, Y, J, S)
120 au	vd	Ladder, Collapsible — expands at the push of a button, and
		can be collapsed to an object 18"x8"x4".  (U)
40 au	d	Lance (wa 3) (T, U)
5 au	e	Lantern (T, U, J)
10 au	d	Lantern, parabolic mirror — beam of light comes out focused in
		one direction.  (U)
10 au	e	Leather Vest: -7 to sharp damage, -3 to blunt damage, no
		penalties (N, T)
5 au	d	Lighter — like a cigarette lighter, but with a wick and oil
		instead of butane.  (U)
30 au	d	Lock Picks (U)
10 au	m	Longbow (N, T, U)
1 si	m	Longbow Arrow (N, T, U)
10 au	d	Longsword (wa 10) (T, U)
5 au	d	Mace (wa 5) (T)
1000 au ed      Manual of Skill (specific skill) — A Manual of Skill contains
		instructions and insights into one particular skill, so that
		after a month's usage a character will gain five experience
		points in that skill.  Unless the game master explicitly
		specifies otherwise, all manuals of skill when found will be
		in extremely poor condition and will fall apart and be
		completely unusable after one character has used it once. (U)
80 au	d	Medical Kit — allows a character's medical skill to function
		in caring for the healing of another. (U)
10 au	d	Periscope (U)
2 au	m	Pickaxe (T, U, J)
100 au	d	Plate Armor, heavy: -30 to sharp damage, -20 to blunt damage,
		penalties 20-st to ag, de, sp; -20 to Move Silently.  (T, U)
200 au	vd	Plate Armor, light: -15 to sharp damage, -10 to blunt damage,
		5-st penalties to ag, de, sp; -20 to Move Silently.  (U)
50 au	vd	Pneumatic-Powered Liquid Sprayer, glass coated inside.  Some
		are powered by compressed gas cartridges; some are powered by
		pumping to build up pressure.  (U)
15 au	m	Rapier (wa 5) (U)
500 au	vd	Reference Manual (specific skill) — A reference manual, when
		consulted, allows a character to make a skill check as if he
		had five ep more (adjusted for gaa but not al) after one
		hour's consultation in preparation for that specific check,
		and as if he had ten ep more after one day's consultation.
1 au	d	Robe, many-pocketed (U, Y, J)
1 au    m       Rope, 50' (N, T, U, Y, C) 50
50 au   d       Rope, 50', silk (much thinner, smaller, and stronger than a
		normal rope).  (U)
350 au	vd	Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (U)
100 au	vd	Sewing Machine, portable (U)
10 au	d	Shield — its usage skill (block, works exactly like dodge) has
		dl .5.  (T, U)
3 au	m	Slide Rule (U)
3 au	d	Snorkel (U)
2	d	Soft cloth/leather boots/shoes — effectively increases
		wearer's move silently skill by 10.  (U, Y, S)
10,000 au ed    Spider Silk Robe: -30 sharp damage, -5 blunt damage; no
		associated penalties.  (U)
30 au	d	Springboard — with running start, doubles jump skill.  (U)
300 au  vd      Staff, Rocket Launching — launches rockets that explode in 5
		yard r+50-damage fireball)  (U)
50-200 au d	Swiss Army Knife (U)
1 au	vd	Syringe (U)
10 au   d       Telescope, 10x magnification (U)
100 au  64      Telescope, 100x magnification (U)
500 au  vd      Telescope, zoom, 10-250x magnification (U)
50 au   d       Telescopic Crossbow sight — allows for a shot taking twice the
		time and prone to have accuracy increased by 50 if installed on
		Urvanovestilli crossbow and adjusted with a difficult clockwork
		device craftsmanship/engineering check.  (U)
200 au	vd	Tent, framed — collapses to fit inside a moderately sized
		backpack.  (U)
1 au    e       Tinderbox (N, T, U, Y, J, S)
20 au	e	Tool Kit (U)
50 au   d       Two-handed sword (wa 20) (T, U)
10 au	m	Watch (U)
1 au	m	Waterskin (N, T, U, Y, C, S)
15 au	m	Winter Clothing — lowers cold tolerance difficulties one
		notch.  (N, U, C)
1	d	Wire, steel, 5 yards
10 au	d	Wire Saw (U)

Non-Herbal Chemicals

500 au	ed	Adrenaline serum.  One ounce of this hormone per hundred pounds
		of body weight will affect attributes with the following
		adjustments: ag+5, al+15, ch-10, de-5, kn-8, me-8, pe+8, sp+10,
		st+15, wi-15.  At the time of being injected, the injectee must
		make one constitution check, of difficulty equal to ten times
		the number of ounces of adrenaline injected per hundred pounds
		of body weight.  If this check is failed, then the hormone
		causes him to run in fear from any threat until it wears off.
		(Note that this reduces wisdom as quickly as it increases
		strength; a character with wisdom reduced to .1 or less is no
		longer under the control of the player.)  Also, adrenaline
		causes an injured creature (as long as it's still alive) to
		function as if not injured.
100 au	ed	Anabolic steroids.  One ounce of this, appropriately diluted
		and spread over a year with vigorous exercise, will increase
		strength by 2.  (After the year, no further steroid use of that
		level will bring increase.  Increased steroid use will act on
		the base strength, unadjusted by steroids).  The *cube* of the
		number of ounces is subtracted from constitution.
1 au	d	Docility Drug (po 10) — this and other drugs take effect when
		the drug "damage" combined with actual damage brings an animal
		below zero health value (U)
5 au	64	Docility Drug (po 20) (U)
25 au	vd	Docility Drug (po 30) (U)
125 au	1024	Docility Drug (po 40) (U)
625 au	ed	Docility Drug (po 50) (U)
1 si	d	Glue (U)
1 au	vd	Glue, exceptional strength (if allowed to set, is usually
		stronger than the materials it has bonded together) (U)
8 au	vd	Nitric Acid — comes in a glass container (one of few
		substances it will not eat through), with a tiny eyedropper.
		(U)
2 au	vd	Compressed Gas Cartridge (U)
1 cu	e	Lantern Oil (T, U, J)
1 el	d	Lantern Oil, Extra Bright — when burnt in a lantern, can
		illuminate a room as brightly as daylight. (U)
1 au	d	Poison (po 10) (U)
5 au	64	Poison (po 20) (U)
25 au	vd	Poison (po 30) (U)
125 au	1024	Poison (po 40) (U)
625 au	ed	Poison (po 50) (U)
2 au    d       Roman Candle (U)
1 au	d	Sleeping Drug (po 10) — this and other drugs take effect when
		the drug "damage" combined with actual damage brings an animal
		below zero health value (U)
5 au	64	Sleeping Drug (po 20) (U)
25 au	vd	Sleeping Drug (po 30) (U)
125 au	1024	Sleeping Drug (po 40) (U)
625 au	ed	Sleeping Drug (po 50) (U)
1 au    d       Smoke Bomb (U)
10 au	vd	Thermite — a mixture of powdered rust and aluminum which will
		when ignited with a magnesium fuse (generally available
		wherever thermite is available), burn through nearly anything
		— steel, sand, asbestos...).  (U)

Herbs and Herb Derivatives — some herb effects derived from the net.book on herbs. Herbs, in raw form, may be acquired using the herbalism or woodlore skills as well as acquisition, in which case they are obviously free.

1 sp m Aloe Vera — when rubbed over sunburnt skin, alleviates pain and causes healing to occur at four times the normal rate. 50 au ed Angel’s Hair — this herb, when dried, powdered, and mixed with water to make a viscous fluid, will, when drunk (one dose per day) reduce aging by 1/4. 1 sp m Coffee — one silver piece’s worth per hundred pounds body weight will bring adjust pe*1.1, sp*1.1, cube of silver piece’s worth per hundred pounds body weight will adjust de*.98, in*.98. Lasts one hour. (U) 1 au d Cofisa Tea — a tea with strong herbal extracts that focuses and intensifies nervous system impulses to the muscles. Adjusts st*1.1, cube adjusts pe*.98. Lasts 15 minutes. 4 au vd Desp — when an extract of this herb is injected, it causes the person to continue strenuous exercise for ten times the normal duration, after which he will fairly quickly fall asleep. 1 au d Docility Drug (po 10) — this and other drugs take effect when the drug “damage” combined with actual damage brings an animal below zero health value (Y) 4 au 64 Docility Drug (po 20) (Y) 16 au vd Docility Drug (po 30) (Y) 64 au 1024 Docility Drug (po 40) (Y) 256 au ed Docility Drug (po 50) (Y) 1 cu d Ficop — A liberal distribution of a paste made of this herb, held on with dressings, (one pound per square foot), will cause burns to heal at four times the normal rate. 1 au m Gentian Violet — this herbal extract, when applied to a bleeding wound, will cause it to rapidly slow, scabbing unless it is a major vessel. 1 au d Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract — this and other drugs take effect when the drug “damage” combined with the actual damage brings an animal below zero health value. An animal in combat who hallucinates has a 50% chance of being scared off by hallucinations, and, if not scared, has a 50% chance of attacking hallucinations rather than threats (po 10) (Y) 4 au 64 Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract (po 20) (Y) 16 au vd Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract (po 30) (Y) 64 au 1024 Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract (po 40) (Y) 256 au ed Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract (po 50) (Y) 2 sp d Hedisc — when rubbed on scars daily (one ounce can cover one square inch of scar for one week), causes scars to heal fully within a month (Y) 50 au d Herbal Medicine Kit (Y) 5 au vd Heslriana — when made into a tea and drunk, this adjusts pe+5 noncumulatively for ten minutes. (Y) 1 el d Hofiu — anti-nauseant (Y) 20 au vd Kedlidi — diminishes by half the effect of alcohol (non-cumulatively). (Y) 1 sp d Locriat Tea — This includes a variety of teas which, a day after drinking, will begin to color the drinker’s skin (and, in some cases, hair); the colors will wear off with discontinuation after about a month to half a year (depending on how much has been consumed); possible resultant colors may be described as any color which may be obtained by rubbing a non-opaque dye onto a person’s skin. (Y) 2 au m Nesrit — When burned in a fire, the resulting smoke will leave an odd scent in the air which will repel insects and snakes for one hour (Y). 3 au d Plei Kr’t Sha — this herb, when taken orally, will in ten minutes cause a person for an hour to be aware of painful stimuli but not feel them as pain, and not to be nauseated by grotesque sights or thoughts; used frequently in surgery (Y) 1 au d Poison (po 10) (Y) 4 au 64 Poison (po 20) (Y) 16 au vd Poison (po 30) (Y) 64 au 1024 Poison (po 40) (Y) 256 au ed Poison (po 50) (Y) 1 au d Poison Antidote — Poison antidotes are specific to the plant, and/or creature from which the poison originated. There are three or four common poisons of each strength and several uncommon poisons of each strength (price and ad up by a factor of four) (po 10) (Y) 4 au 64 Poison Antidote (po 20) (Y) 16 au vd Poison Antidote (po 30) (Y) 64 au 1024 Poison Antidote (po 40) (Y) 256 au ed Poison Antidote (po 50) (Y) 1 au d Sleeping Drug (po 10) — this and other drugs take effect when the drug “damage” combined with actual damage brings an animal below zero health value (Y) 5 au 64 Sleeping Drug (po 20) (Y) 25 au vd Sleeping Drug (po 30) (Y) 125 au 1024 Sleeping Drug (po 40) (Y) 625 au ed Sleeping Drug (po 50) (Y) 2 au d Solvi — causes internal blood clots to dissolve (Y) 2 au m Stiv Tea — causes neurons in the eye to fire once per photon detected instead of once every seven, thereby causing a person to be dazzled in bright light, see in dim light as if it were bright, and see in very weak light (moonless starlight, indirect candlelight) as if it were dim. 5 au d Talinor Tea — adjusts in+2, pe-1, sp-1, wears off in one hour (U, Y)


Section II M: Speed and Simultaneity


This section is optional:

The exponent of a creature’s speed is looked up in the log/exponent table, and actions are shortened in duration by that divisor. For example, a creature of speed 10 has an exponent of 2, so he does things twice as fast (he takes half as long to do things).

Creatures may voluntarily speed up or slow down actions, affecting the difficulty as follows: let’s say that a character wants to perform an action 4 times as fast. The log of 4 is looked up in the log/exponent table: 20. This number is added to the difficulty of the action: it is 20 points more difficult to perform the action at 4 times normal speed. Creatures can benefit from slowing down to perform actions, up to a difficulty 10 points lower by taking twice as long.

A character may perform n actions simultaneously with the difficulty for each increased by the log of n: 10 points for 2 actions, 20 points for 4, etc. Common sense should be applied to what can be done simultaneously; archery and horseback riding are sensible concurrent activities, while archery and juggling are not. Running while doing other activities does not require an ability check, but does count as a simultaneous activity (increasing the difficulty of the other activities performed).


Section III: A Quick Key to Abbreviations


Here is what each abbreviation means. It may be convenient to print out this page to have on hand until the abbreviations become familiar.

ad	acquirement difficulty
ag	agility
al	ability to learn
an	one half anatomy skill, rounded down
au	gold
av	adjusted value
b	number resulting from rolling the blue die
bs	base skill
ch	charisma
co	constitution
cu	copper
d	difficult
de	dexterity
dl	difficulty of learning
e	easy
ed	extremely difficult
el	electrum
ep	experience point(s)
fe	iron
gaa	governing attributes addend
in	intelligence
kn	knowledge
ld	learning difference
m	moderate
me	memory
ms	medical skill 
pe	perception
po	poison
r	number resulting from rolling the red die
si	silver
sp	speed
st	strength
ub	untrained base
vd	very difficult
wa	weapon adjustment
wi	wisdom

Section IV: A Sample Character Sheet


Here are parts of a sample character sheet being set up, in order to make the model perhaps easier to understand. I am demonstrating using my stopwatch as a ten-sided die (starting and stopping it, and then looking at the place for hundredths of seconds), and a simple four function calculator. The number of decimal places kept track of is somewhat arbitrary, but I will use two.

First, I decide the character’s race, age, and gender (young Yedidia female). We’ll call her Ocula. (We should also have an idea of what kind of skills she will have — I’ll say a perceiver, although her 30 ep may be devoted any way I want.) Second, I generate 36 numbers as r-b (I roll the red and blue dice, subtracting the value on the blue die from that on the red die — if the red says ‘3’ and the blue says ‘5’, then the number is 3-5, or -2):

n1: 4; n2: 3; n3: 2; n4: -1; n5: -3; n6: 0; n7: 3; n8: -2; n9: 1; n10: 0; n11: 4; n12: -3; n13: -1; n14: 5; n15: 2; n16: 2; n17: 3; n18: 0; n19: -1; n20: 1; n21: -1; n22: -1; n23: 0; n24: -5; n25: 1; n26: 2; n27: -1; n28: 4; n27: -2; n28: 1; n29: -3; n30: 4; n31: 1; n32: -1; n33: 0; n34: -1; n35: 0; n36: 2

Now, using those 36 random numbers, I calculate her attributes as given in section II A, and adjust them as given in section II B:

Attribute		Racial	Gender	Age	Adjusted
ag: 4+3+2-1-3=5		+0	+0	+5	10
al: 4+0+3-2+1=6		+0	+0	+5	11
ch: 4+0+0+4-3=5		+5	+0	+0	10
co: -1+5+2+2+3=11	+0	+0	+5	16
de: 4+3+2+0-1=8		+0	+2	+5	15
in: 4+0+3+1-1=7		+3	+0	+0	10
kn: 4+0+3-1+0=6		+0	+0	-4	2
me: 4+0+3-5+1=3		+0	+0	+0	3
pe: 4+3+2-1+4=12	+10	+5	+5	32
sp: 4+3-3+4+1=9		+0	+0	+5	14
st: -1+5-1+0+1=4	+0	-5	+5	4
wi: 4+0+3+0+2=9		+0	+0	+0	9

For all unadjusted attributes, 0 is average, and how far above or below 0 the character’s attribute is is how far above or below average the character is in that attribute.

Ocula is above average in virtually everything; this is unusual even for a heroine. (If the player does not like the first attributes generated, he may generate new ones — while Ocula is unusually gifted, heroes should be above average.) Ocula is, as compared to other young Yedidia women, mentally sharp, moves quickly, healthy, and exceptionally perceptive.

Now it is time to allocate initial experience. Ocula has 30 points to distribute on skills (above and beyond her untrained bases as a Yedidia female). Using one of the given roles, she will be a perceiver (her experience devoted, as listed in section II H, are blind action 3*1=3 ep, guess actions 3*3=9, etc.).

Now, for a daily encounter check. Will there be an encounter? 1. Encounter. What kind of encounter? 2. Animal. What animal? 19. Duck. How will it be/behave? 3. It is curious.

Upon seeing the duck, she will guess actions to see what it will do. Now we will calculate her guess actions skill.

Her untrained base for Guess Actions is 20. She has 9 ep devoted, so we calculate her bv as follows, consulting the log/exponent table: the exponent of 20 is 4. 4+9=13, so this is what her experience does. The log of 13 is 37, so she has a base skill of 37 for Guess Actions. Her al is added to this (11), and her gaa as well (32). Her av (adjusted value) for guess actions is 80.

Guessing actions for a person under normal circumstances would be of moderate difficulty; guessing the actions of a nonhuman animal is difficult (difficulty 40). Her success index is 80-40=40. The dice are rolled; red yields 4 and blue yields 1. (6*4)+1=25, and looking at the table, she needs a success index of at least -1. Ocula succeeds in guessing what the duck is going to do, namely try to figure out if she is going to attack and, if not, if she is safe to approach.

Later, a young Urvanovestilli man, in his wanderlust, comes through to visit. He has a pianoforte music box which entrances her. He is a bit of a maverick, and tells her that he will bet the music box against a well aged bottle of strawberry wine that he can beat her in a gambling game. She agrees.

He is a good gambler (gambling 30), and has an unadjusted perception of 3, adjusted 8. His al is 5, so his gambling skill is 43.

Ocula is not particularly skilled at gambling, but she can guess actions well — a skill closely related to gambling — and guess actions and gambling have an ld of 10, so she can gamble 70. Skill against skill; she has a success index of 27. Red rolls 5, blue rolls 2, for a roll of 32. She needed a success index of -11 or higher to win, so she won.

Ocula completes a quest, gaining two experience points. She decides to devote both of them to guessing actions. Her bv is 37, which has an exponent of 13. Adding the two experience points make it 15, which has a log of 39. With this two point increase, her new av is 82. (If she had trained with a tutor of sufficiently high av (84 or more — which would have been found on an acquisition skill check of difficulty 84), she would have gotten double benefit out of her experience, adding 4 to the exponent instead of 2, yielding 17 with a log of 41, so her new av would have been 84.)

Ocula’s initial character sheet (without experience from the quest) is as follow:

Ocula Yedidia Female Age: 33

Attribute		Racial	Gender	Age	Adjusted
ag: 4+3+2-1-3=5		+0	+0	+5	10
al: 4+0+3-2+1=6		+0	+0	+5	11
ch: 4+0+0+4-3=5		+5	+0	+0	10
co: -1+5+2+2+3=11	+0	+0	+5	16
de: 4+3+2+0-1=8		+0	+2	+5	15
in: 4+0+3+1-1=7		+3	+0	+0	10
kn: 4+0+3-1+0=6		+0	+0	-4	2
me: 4+0+3-5+1=3		+0	+0	+0	3
pe: 4+3+2-1+4=12	+10	+5	+5	32
sp: 4+3-3+4+1=9		+0	+0	+5	14
st: -1+5-1+0+1=4	+0	-5	+5	4
wi: 4+0+3+0+2=9		+0	+0	+0	9

Health Value: co+st+ag+an=48

Skill		ub	ep	bv	gaa	av
Anatomy		10	0	10	2	18
Animal Handling	20	0
Animal Lore	20	0
Blind Action	10	3
Dancing		20	0
Dodge		10	0
Endurance	0	0
Fire-Building	0	0
Gardening	10	0
Guess Actions	20	9	37	32	80
Haggling	0	0
Hear Noises	20	3
Herbalism	15	0
Hide		10	0
Hunting		10	0
Improvisation	20	0
Jumping		0	0
Massage		0	0
Medicine	10	0
Move Silently	10	0
Keen Eyesight	10	3
Musical Instrument (Recorder)	10	0
Navigation	0	0
Philosophy	0	0
Read Emotion	15	3
Search		0	3
Smell Creature	10	3
Theology	10	0
Weather Sense	10	3
Wilderness Survival	20	0
Woodlore	20	0

Inventory Herbal medicines Pet puma, young male, named Liki n1: 5; n2: 0; n3: 0; n4: -4; n5: 0; n6: 2; n13: 2; n14: 0; n15: 0; n16: -3; n17: 2; n18: 0; n19: 1; n26: -4; n27: -1; n28: 2; n29: 4; n30: 3; n31: 1; n32: 1; n33: 5; n34: -5 unadjusted species gender age adjusted ag: 5+0+0-4+0=1 30 0 5 36 co: 2+0+0-3+2=1 10 0 5 16 de: 5+0+0+0+1=6 20 0 5 31 pe: 5+2-4-1-2=0 30 0 5 35 sp: 5+0+4+3+1=13 10 0 5 28 st: 2+0+1+5-5=3 30 5 5 40 Health Value: 56 Damage: r+40 Skill Points gaa av Attack 30 99 129 Blind Action 20 35 55 Climb 20 76 96 Dodge 30 64 94 Hear Noises 20 35 55 Hide 30 71 101 Hunt 30 35 65 Move Silently 30 71 101 Track 30 35 65 Purse (4 silver pieces, 3 copper pieces, 8 iron tips) Recorder


Section V: Notes and Properties


These are my comments about the model — about properties that I see as desireable and undesireable, plus miscellaneous comments.

It is a discrete, integer, dice-oriented translation of a continuous, real-valued model having the following properties:

Miscellaneous: The model (or, more properly, the racial and age attribute adjustments and racial base skills) is not balanced. I intentionally placed realism above balance in model design.

Undesireable properties:

Desireable properties:

The model is continuous and real-valued.

Related attributes are correlated in value.

What attributes are, and their impact, is appropriate.

Adjustments take the form of multiplicands, rather than addends.

Adjustments make a substantial impact on individual checks, rather than just being a subtle and minute increment.

Attributes adjust skills.

Experience devoted to skills produces an appropriate law of diminishing returns — it takes a little while to learn a little, and a long while to become a virtuoso.

Related skills apply to each other.

The model is simple and unified — one model fits all — and can be easily programmed into a scientific calculator.

Once a character’s skills are calculated, there is no more calculation for a while.

I like the way it handles time and actions.

Having listed other little virtues that this model possesses, I wish to delineate one virtue which I consider cardinal.

This model is small and incomplete; it possesses a limited domain.

It is the wide concensus of gamers that r-o-l-e-play is infinitely superior to r-o-l-l-play; this model is a miniscule thing which governs a timy part of play, and calls for contrainte in use. It governs certain natural abilities and certain developped skills; I would like to point out two major areas of play that it doesn’t touch.

The first is something which is traditionally a part of play and which mathematical models are kept out of: tole play: who a character is, what his personality is, what makes him tick, what his spiritual state is. It is something which is governed by an understanding of how things are done that cannot be reduced to rules and algorithms. On this point, I don’t feel the need to explain further.

The second is something which is traditionally a part of play in some form or other and which is traditionally governed by mathematical models, much to the detriment of play. It consists of things like the motion and gifts of the Spirit, the prayer of faith, divine intervention, etc.

In D&D, a cleric’s prayer power is reduced to another form of mechanized spell casting: a cleric gets such and such many prayers of the following power levels per day, as a function of his wisdom and the number of creatures he has killed. Star Wars is no better: using the Force is just one more skill which happens to be accompanied by some more rules about conduct. Neither is GURPS.

God is good and he is reliable, but he is not safe and not tame, and certainly not predictable enough to reduce to a model. While God is not predictable, incorporating a great deal of randomness in a model won’t cut it. God, when listening to prayers, weighs the petitioner’s faith and motives, the situation, and then makes a decision that, while unpredictable, is governed by infinite love and wisdom. This is, if anything, less, not more, reducible to algorithms than personal interactions. This calls for the GM to pray, rely on the Spirit, and think. God’s action must be handled as the most challenging and delicate role to portray, and it takes a game master created in the image of God to do.

The Christmas Tales

CJSH.name/christmas_tales

The Christmas Tales
Read it on Kindle for $3!

Prologue

Another gale of laughter shook the table. “But it always seems like this,” Father Bill said. “The time for fasting has passed, and now we are ready to feast. People melt away from the parish hall to enjoy Christmas together, and there is finally one table. Outside, the snow is falling… falling… wow. That’s some heavy snowfall.”

Adam looked around. “Hmm… That car in the street is having trouble… Ok, it’s moving again. I wouldn’t want to be driving home in this snow.”

Mary smiled. “Why don’t we go around the circle, and each tell a story, or share something, or… something? I think we’re going to be here for a while.”

And so the stories began.

Innocent’s Tale: The Apostle

Adam’s Tale: The Pilgrimage

Mary’s Tale: Mary’s Treasures

Paul’s Tale: Another Kind of Mind

John’s Tale: The Holy Grail

Basil’s Tale: The Desert Fathers

Macrina’s Tale: The Communion Prayer

Barbara’s Tale: The Fairy Prince

Epilogue

Innocent’s Tale: The Apostle

Innocent said, “I was visiting with my nephew Jason, and he asked me, ‘Why are you called Innocent now, or Uncle Innocent, or whatever?’ I told him that I was named after one of the patron saints of America, called Apostle to America.

“He said, ‘Patron saint of America? I bet he wasn’t even an American! And I bet you’re going to tell me his boring life!’

“I smiled, and said, ‘Sit down, kid. I’m going to bore you to tears.'”

And this is how he tried to bore Jason to tears.


Where should I start? He was born just before 1800 into the family of a poor sexton. Stop laughing, Jason, that means a church’s janitor. The saint was reading the Bible in church at the age of six—the age he was orphaned at. He went to seminary, and aside from being the top pupil in everything from theology and rhetoric to languages, he was popular with the other seminarians because he invented a pocket sundial, and everybody wanted one. This wasn’t our time, you couldn’t buy a digital watch, and… I think that was cool. He loved to build things with his hands—later on, he built a church with his own hands, and he built a clock in the town hall of—I forget where, but it’s in Alaska, and it’s still working today. He would also teach people woodworking. So he was a tinkerer and an inventor. Among other things. Among many other things. At school, he learned, and learned, and learned—Slavonic, Latin, Greek, for instance, if you wanted to look at languages. At least that’s what he learned at school. That doesn’t count the dozen or two languages he learned when he got out into the world and started to travel—his version of courtesy seemed to include learning people’s languages when he traveled to their countries.

He was a bit of a Renaissance man. But he did more than languages. His biggest gifts were his humility, patience, and love for all people, but if we forget those, he had a spine of solid steel. He became a deacon and then a priest, and his wife broke down in tears when the bishop asked for someone to go to the terrifying and icy land of Alaska and he was the one volunteer for it. This man, who was not afraid of Siberia, was not afraid of Alaska either, and later on, when he became a bishop, he thought it was a bishop’s duty to visit all the parishes he was responsible for, and so would travel to all the parishes, by reindeer, by kayak, by dogsled. This wasn’t just cool that he could travel different ways. He would carry his little boat… and kayak up rivers of icewater… when he was 60. Yes, 60. This super hero was real.

He traveled a lot, and met peoples, and understood their languages and cultures. Back when Western missionaries were teaching Africans that they had to become European to be Christian, he came to people, learned their languages, and tried to model Christ’s incarnation by taking the flesh of their culture. There were some things he changed—he stopped child sacrifice—but, well, let me think. He did teach woodworking, and he gave the Aleuts a written language. But he never tried to make the people into copies of himself. And he was a very effective evangelist. He learned the dialects and languages of Aleutians, Koloshes, Kurils, Inuit, Kenai, Churgaches, Kamchadals, Oliutores, Negidates, Samogirs, Golds, Gulyaks, Koryaks, Tungus, Chukcha, Yakutians, and Kitians. And he wrote grammars for some of their languages, and his ethnographic, geographic, and linguistic works got him elected an honorary member of the Russian Geographical Society and Moscow Royal University.

What does this have to do with America? Jason, our country is bigger than just white people. Now we think of “bigger than white people” as recognizing how fortunate we are to have blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. But a lot of people in Alaska aren’t white. The first nations didn’t get exterminated. Saint Innocent is a large part of why the original Americans are to this day known to be over a third Orthodox. And Saint Innocent was elected Bishop of China—sorry, I forgot about that—and he also wanted a diocese for America, and wanted everything to be in English. He created written service books and translated part of the Bible for the Aleuts, and he had a sort of vision for an American Orthodox Church. If you don’t believe me that he has something to do with America, and you don’t count his extensive work in Alaska and beyond, you can at least take the U.S. Government’s word for it when they made him an honorary U.S. Citizen. What’s so special about that? Well, let me list all the other people in our nation’s history who’ve been granted that honor. There’s Winston Churchill, and the Marquis de LaFayette, and… as far as I know, that’s it. Jason, you know about the Congressional Medal of Honor? Being made an honorary citizen is much rarer than that!

After all these things, he was made Patriarch of Moscow—one of the top five bishops of the world, with huge responsibility. And after all he had done, and with the new responsibility that had been given to him… He was basically the Orthodox President of the United States, and he still kept an open door. Anyone, just anyone, could come and talk with him. And whoever it was, whatever the need was, he always did something so that the person walked out… taken care of. Now it’s not just amazing that there was one person who could do all of these things. It’s amazing that there was one person who could do any of these things.

Is your Mom here already? I haven’t talked about the humanitarian work he did, how when he came to power he worked hard to see that the poor and needy were cared for. I haven’t talked about what it was like for Russians to be at the Alaskan frontier—they called it, not West, but the utter East. And it attracted some pretty weird customers. I haven’t talked about the other saints he was working with—Saint Herman, for instance, who defended people against Russian frontiersmen who would kill them, and baked biscuits for children, and wore chains and dug a cave for himself with his hands, and… um… thanks for listening.

Just remember, this is one of the saints who brought Orthodoxy to America.

Adam’s Tale: The Pilgrimage

John said, “Adam, I haven’t heard you tell me about your summer vacation. You know, when you went to pick up the icons that our parish commissioned from St. Herman’s Monastery in Alaska. How was it?”

This is Adam’s story.


I probably already told you what happened this summer. It turned out to be somewhat exciting. I was going to drive from our parish, take my old car to my sister in L.A., and fly to the holy land of Alaska and buy icons from St. Herman’s Monastery.

I debated whether I needed to ask Father for a traveler’s blessing. When I went up and asked him how to best profit from a journey that looked too quiet, he said, “You do not know until tomorrow what tomorrow will bring.”

A day into the journey, I was passing through Chicago, intending to take a direct route through the south side of Chicago. I felt the voice of the Spirit saying, North side.

My stomach got tighter as I drove through the South Side, and got tighter until I was sitting at a red light, alone. The voice said quite urgently, Burn rubber.

I waited for a green light. Just a second before, six youths with guns surrounded the car. “Out of the car! Now!

I almost wet my pants. The voice moved gently in my heart and said, Open the window and talk about Monty Python.

“What?” I thought.

Open the window and talk about Monty Python.

I opened the window and started half-babbling. “Do you watch Monty Python? It’s a TV show, has some nudity, you should like it, and has a sketch about the man with a tape recorder up his nose. There’s a self-defense series where this man is teaching people how to defend themselves against various types of fruit—what do you do if someone attacks you with a passion fruit or a banana, for instance?”

Talk about the orange on the dashboard.

“For instance, what would you do if I attacked you with this orange?”

“Out!” the youth bellowed.

Tell him you have GPS alarms and security cameras.

I grumbled in my heart: that’s not true, and it’ll just make him madder.

Tell him you have GPS alarms and security cameras. And that he’s on candid camera.

“Did you know this car has a GPS alarm and security cameras hidden all over the place? Smile! You’re on candid camera.”

He grabbed my coat and put his gun to my head. “You can’t lie worth beep! Shut your blankety-blank hole and get out now!

I blinked, and listened to the still, small voice. “Did you know that my cousin works for the FBI? You can leave fingerprints on leather, like my jacket, if your glove slips the teensiest, weensiest bit—in fact, you’ve done so already. If you shoot me, you’ll have your fingerprints on a murder victim’s clothing, and in addition to having the Chicago Police Department after you, you’ll have a powerful FBI agent who hates your guts. Smile! You’re on candid camera.”

He looked down and saw that his glove had slipped when he grabbed my coat. He could see I was telling the truth.

Five seconds later, there wasn’t another soul in the place.

I pulled through the rest of Chicago uneventfully, drove into a super market parking lot, and sat down shaking for an hour.

From that point on it was a struggle. I was jumpy, like when you’ve drunk too much coffee. I jumped at every intersection, and prayed, “Lord, keep this car safe.” And it seemed odd. There seemed to be more people cutting me off, and driving as if they wanted an accident with me. Maybe that was my jumpy nerves, but this time I didn’t even notice the scenery changing. Finally, I came in sight of my sister’s suburbs, and prepared to get off. I relaxed, and told myself, “You’ve done it. You’ve arrived safely.”

A car cut me off and slammed on the brakes. I swerved to the right, barely missing it, but scraping off paint when I ran into the shoulder’s guardrail.

I turned my head to see what on earth that person was doing. And slammed into an abandoned Honda Accordion in front of me.

I was doing about 77 miles per hour when this started, and I totaled both cars. Thank God for airbags; I was completely unscathed. My cell phone still worked; I called the state troopers, and then told my sister what had happened. It seemed forever before the troopers came and filled out a report; I eventually called for a cab.

I arrived at my sister Abigail’s house, obviously looking like a wreck; we talked a bit, and she went up to bed. I could hear her snoring, and I wanted to read a bit before going down. I opened her Bible, when I realized something unpleasant. The basement door was open—I couldn’t see down the steps.

Her cat was at the top of the stairs, his back arched, every hair raised, hissing. I very slowly closed the Bible and—

Open the Bible.

I got up.

Sit down.

I stood all the way up.

Sit down.

I sat down, and a kind of spiritual seeing came as I followed.

Open the Bible to the concordance and look up ‘Emmanuel’.

I was trying hard not to get up and dial 9-1-1. That was nearly the only thought in my head, but I saw the references to Emmanuel. I immediately began flipping to the passage in Matthew, where Christmas tale has the prophecy of the virgin bearing a son, and… Not Matthew, but Isaiah. It was about all I could do not to get up immediately and dial 9-1-1. But I looked, and read… That’s the passage where the king of Israel is trembling before the kings of two neighboring powers, and God tells him that if he does not stand firm in his faith, he will not stand at all, and then—

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son… and before he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land of those two kings you dread will be desolate ruins.

I thanked the Lord for that reading, and got up, and sat down when my stomach got tighter, and finally made the decision to wait as long as the Spirit said, or not call 9-1-1 at all.

Call 9-1-1.

I raced over to the phone as quickly as I thought I could move quietly.

The operator exuded an air of calm and competency, and began telling me what the police were doing. “There are several police officers nearby. [pause] They’re coming onto your property. They see you’ve left the back door open, so they’re coming through your back door—”

She didn’t pause, but I saw four police officers moving very quickly and very quietly. All of them were wearing bulletproof vests. Three of them were big, burly men, with their guns drawn. One of them was a sweet-looking petite policewoman with both hands on a massive shotgun. These police were not messing around.

“They’re going through the house. They’re going down the basement—”

“Police! Freeze!” a voice barked.

Then I heard laughter.

How dare the police laugh in a situation like this? Did they not fear intruders?

One of the police officers came up, trying hard to maintain his composure.

He wasn’t succeeding.

My sister Abigail came down with a classic bedhead. “What’s going on?”

I heard a voice say, “Come on. Up the stairs you go.” The last police officer was dragging a large golden retriever, which had its snout in a leftover ravioli can and a food wrapper stuck to one of its paws, and looked none too dignified.

The first officer managed to compose himself. “I’m sorry. Your back door was left open, and someone’s dog was downstairs rummaging through your trash. This gentleman was concerned that it might have been an intruder.”

Abigail glared at the dog. “Jazzy! Bad dog!”

The dog dropped the can, put its tail between its legs, and backed up, whimpering.

The officer looked at her. “You know the dog?”

“Yes, Officer,” she said. “We can check her tags to be sure, but I think she belongs to a friend who is absolutely sick worrying about where the dog is. Is the number on the tags 723-5467? I’ll call her in a minute, and don’t worry, I can handle this lovable rascal. Can I get you anything to drink? I’ve got soy milk, apricot nectar, Coca-Cola, Perrier, Sobe, Red Bull, and probably some other energy drinks in the fridge.”

The officer now seemed to be having less difficulty composing himself. He looked at the dog’s tag, and said, “Thank you; that won’t be necessary.” He turned to me. “You did all the right things calling. If there’s something like this, you have every reason to dial 9-1-1. Thank you for calling us. Is there anything else we can do for you?”

“No; thank you, officers. It was very reassuring to have you come.” As the officers prepared to leave, Abigail looked at me and said, “Don’t worry about the car; it was still on insurance. I prepared a sleeping bag for you on the couch, and there’s Indian take-out in the fridge. Can you get to bed?”

I said, “It’ll probably take me a while. This has been an eventful day, and my heart is still thumping. Besides, I just saw you with your bedhead, and I’ll need extra time to recover from that.”

She threw a cushion at me.

When I finally did get to sleep, the words I had read kept running through my mind.

Get up, the voice said. “I’m waiting for my watch alarm,” I grumbled, or something like that, only much muddier. I wanted to sleep in. Then I looked at my watch.

When I saw the time, I was very suddenly awake. I threw my suitcase together, and shouted Abigail awake. In less than ten minutes we were on the road.

I waited for the fear to begin. And waited and waited. We hit every green light except two—only two red lights on the way to the airport, and on the way to the airport everything went smoothly. This was the fastest time I’d gotten through airport security in my life—at least since 9-11, and I got on to the airplane, and slept all the way. A stewardess had to shake me awake after we landed.

What can I say about Alaska? There’s so much that you miss about it if you think of it as another U.S. state. It belongs to its own country, almost its own world.

When I arrived, it was the time of the midnight sun, a time of unending light. It was rugged, and nobody seemed… This is a tough land, with tough people. And it’s a holy land, the land where saints struggled and first brought Orthodoxy to this continent. The first holy land was one where people struggled in searing heat. This holy land was one where people met unending light, unending darkness, warm summers and bitter winters, Heaven and Hell. Its chapels are like Russia still survived, like Russia wasn’t desacrated in 1917. There are poor and simple wooden chapels…

The best way I can describe it is to say that a veil has been lifted. We live in the shadow of the West, and we see with Western eyes. It’s so easy to believe that there is no spirit, that dead matter is all there is. Pentecostals today have exhortations to believe that Jesus still heals today; the people who asked for healing in the New Testament did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God; they just had the windows of their souls open enough to ask him for healing and believe it could happen. The West has closed our souls to believe that there is nothing a skeptic could deny, there is no chink for wind to blow. And that’s not how it is where I went. The veil was lifted; there were chinks for the wind, the Spirit to blow. When I walked into the wooden chapels and churches, they looked poor and crude and nothing like our perfectly machined churches with perfectly smooth, airtight walls, and the saints were there. I wasn’t looking at the icons; I was looking through them, to see Heaven. And I had a feeling that the saints were looking through the icons to see me.

The monks at the monastery received me as if I were a saint; it was one of the most humbling welcomes I’ve received. I hope someday that I’ll treat others as well as they treated me.

Before I left, I prayed before St. Herman’s remains, and I could almost reach out and touch him, he was so present. There were hardships on Alaska, hard beds and few luxuries and no Internet connection, but I don’t remember that. It was—

And then… I don’t know what to say. I didn’t want to leave. I prayed. You are needed back home. You cannot stop time. I left, with reverence.

It was back when I was sitting in my mass-produced office, when I realized that my heart had not left Alaska. It wasn’t just that I wished I was back there. There was something deeper. When I prayed before the icons I had brought back for our parish, I could feel the saints watching me and praying for me. Then other icons seemed to be more… alive as windows of Heaven. I left to Alaska and found that veil over the reality of spirit had been pulled aside. I left Alaska and believed that only in Alaska could that veil be pulled aside—that outside of Alaska, everything worked as a skeptic would predict. And I found to my surprise that I have never left Alaska. Temptations no longer seem to just happen. Neither do icons just seem boards with paint. It’s like I don’t see in black and white while straining to see color any more; I see color, or at least a little bit more in color. And it can be terrifying at times; visible demonic activity is more terrifying than things that is masked as just an unfortunate coincidence, whether it is a temptation or things going wrong, but…

I think that God sent me to Alaska so I could do a better job of serving him here.

Mary’s Tale: Mary’s Treasures

John finally spoke. “What’s that you’re humming, Mary? A penny for your thoughts.”

Mary continued humming for a moment, and then sung, in a far-off, dreamy, sing-song voice,

Raindrops on roses,
And whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles,
And warm woolen mittens,
Brown paper packages,
Tied up with strings…

“I was just thinking about what I have to be thankful for, about a few of my favorite things.”

Her husband Adam held out his hand. “What are they?”

She slipped her hand into his. “Well…”


I am thankful for my husband Adam, the love of my life. He is a servant to God, the best husband in the world to me, and the best father in the world to our daughter Barbara.

I am thankful for my mother. She is practical and wise. She is also beautiful. If you think I am pretty, you have seen nothing of the loveliness etched into her face, the treasure map of wrinkles around her kind, loving eyes. She taught me… I don’t know how to tell you all the things she taught me. And I am fortunate to have my mother and her mother alive.

My grandmother… When I close my eyes, I can still smell her perfume. I can walk through her garden and see the ivy climbing on the trees, the wild flowers roosting. She thinks her garden has lost what she used to give it. I only see… I don’t know how to describe it.

I am thankful for my father. He was a gruff man with a heart of gold. I still remember how every Christmas, as long as he was alive, he gave me a present carved out of wood.

I am thankful for my daughter Barbara, the other love of my life. I remember how, it was only this year, she asked for some money to go shopping at school, where they have a little market where you can spend $2.00 for a bottle of perfume that smells… to put it delicately, it hints at a gas station. I gruffly said that there were better ways to spend money, and that if she really needed something, she had her allowance. That day I was cleaning her room, and saw her piggy bank empty. She came back after lunch and said, “I have a present for you.” I looked, and saw a bottle of perfume. That bottle is on the shelf for my best perfumes, because it’s too precious for me to wear when she doesn’t ask me to.

I am thankful for the flowers I can grow in my garden. Right now it looks nothing like my grandmother’s garden. I still hope I’ll learn to make a garden beautiful without neat little rows, but for now I work hard to see the flowers in neat little rows.

I am thankful for God, and for metanoia, repentance. There was something I was struggling with yesterday, a cutting word I spoke, and I was terrified of letting it go, then when I did… it was… Repenting is the most terrifying experience before and the most healing after. Before you’re terrified of what will happen if you let go of something you can’t do without, then you hold on to it and struggle and finally let go, and when you let go you realize you were holding onto a piece of Hell. I am thankful for a God who wants me to let go of Hell.

I’m thankful for wine. That one doesn’t need explaining.

I’m thankful for babies. It’s so nice to hold my friends’ babies in my arms.

I’m thankful for—if you go to the Orthodox Church in America website at oca.org and click on Feasts and Saints of the Church followed by Lives of the Saints, there are the lives of many saints. There’s a whole world to explore, and it’s fascinating to see all the women to look up to. I’m not saying I could measure up to any of them, but… it’s something to read, even if I couldn’t be like any of them.

I’m thankful for Beethoven’s moonlight sonata. Every time I hear it, it’s like a soft blue fog comes rolling in, and I’m in a stone hut in the woods lit by candlelight, and I can see the softness all around me. I can feel the fur of the slippers around my feet as I dance in the woods, and I can feel the arms of the one I love wrapped around me.

I’m thankful for all of my husband’s little kindnesses.

I’m thankful I didn’t run out of any office supplies this week.

I’m thankful our car hasn’t broken down this month. We’ve gotten more mileage out of it than we should have. but we can’t afford a new one.

I’m thankful that all of the people in my family, near and far, are in really good health.

I’m thankful that Adam screws the cap onto the toothpaste and always leaves the toilet seat down.

I’m thankful that April Fool’s Day only comes once a year. Believe me, in this family, once a year is plenty!

I’m glad that the Orthodox Church is alive and growing.

I’m thankful for all the dirty laundry I have to do. We have dirty laundry because we have enough clothes, and we have dirty dishes because we have food.

I’m glad that Barbara has helped me make bread and cookies ever since she was big enough to stand and drool into the mixing bowl.

I’m profoundly grateful my husband doesn’t make me read the books he likes.

I’m glad Adam always remembers to bring a half-gallon of milk home when I ask him, even if he’s had a busy day.

I’m glad that when Adam comes home, he asks me to tell him everything that happened in my day, so that I can help him concentrate on what he’s thinking about.

I’m thankful that Adam doesn’t criticize me when I know I’m wrong, and never humiliates me.

I’m glad that Adam doesn’t stick his thumb in my eye like he did when we were dating, and sometimes he doesn’t even step on my foot when we dance together… and sometimes he doesn’t even—Ow! Ok, ok! I won’t tell that one!

Let’s see. This is getting to be all about Adam. I really appreciate having confession, where you let go of sin and it is obliterated. I appreciate how the worship at church flows like a creek, now quick, now slow, now turning around in eddies. I appreciate that our parish is more than a social hub, but it’s a place I can connect with people. And I appreciate… let me take a breath…


Mary dimpled. “And…” She squeezed Adam’s hand. “There’s one more thing. Thank you for praying and keeping us in your prayers for well over a year. We’re expecting another child.” She blushed and looked down.

And Mary pondered all these treasures in her heart.

Paul’s Tale: Another Kind of Mind

Paul leaned forward and began to tell…


When I was younger, I had the nickname of “The Razor.” It seemed like my mind would cut into anything I applied it to. When my friends saw the movie Dungeons & Dragons, they were appalled when they asked me for my usual incendiary review and I said, “As far as historical fiction goes, it’s better than average.” It wasn’t just the line where a dwarf told an elf he needed to get a woman who weighed two hundred and fifty pounds and had a beard he could hang on to—that single line gave an encounter with another culture that is awfully rare in a classic like The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I had liked the beginning impassioned “How dare you fail to see that everybody’s equal?” Miss America-style “I get my opinions from Newsweek” speech about the evils of having a few elite magi rule. That was mercifully hitting you on the head with something that’s insidious in most historical fiction—namely, that the characters are turn-of-the-millennium secular people in armor, conceived without any empathy for the cultures they’re supposed to represent. It had the courtesy not to convince you that that’s how medievals thought. Plus the movie delivered magic, and impressive sights, and people who enjoyed the benefits of modern medicine and diet, a completely inappropriate abundance of wealth, and everything else we expect in historical fiction. The movie is clumsily done, and its connection to the medieval way of life is tenuous, but it has a pulse. It delivers an encounter that most viewers weren’t expecting. Namely, it provides an encounter how D&D is played—despite what some critics say, it’s not a botched version of “Hollywood does fantasy”, but a good rendering, even a nostalgic rendering, of a rather uninspired D&D session. And at least for that reason, it has a pulse where most historical fiction doesn’t. As far as a seed for discussion goes, I said I’d rather start with Dungeons & Dragons than with most of the historical fiction I know of.

I was known for using the term ‘assassin’s guild’ to refer to any organization that derived profit from causing people’s deaths. This meant not only a cigarette manufacturer like Phillip Morris, or Planned Parenthood, but included more respected organizations like Coca-Cola, which murdered South American unionizers, or department stores, where human blood was the price paid to offer items so cheap. I’m sure you’ve seen the email forward about what happened when a young man asked Nike to sell him a pair of shoes with the word “sweatshop” on the side. There are disturbingly many things like that that happen, and I was acute at picking them out.

So D&D and the assassin’s guild represent two of the things I could observe, and I observed a great deal of them. Wherever I placed the cynic’s razor, it would slice. I was adept at cutting. No one could really stand against me.

I still remember a conversation with one friend, Abigail. She said to me, “I don’t doubt that everything that you see is there.” Abigail paused, and said, “But is it good for you to look at all that?” I remembered then that I gave her a thousand reasons why her question was missing the point, and the only response she made: “Have you ever tried looking for good?”

I had no response to that, and I realized that the back edge of the razor was dull when I tried to look for good. I looked and I saw evil, but it was years of work before I could perceive the good I never looked for. Earlier I thought that politeness was in very large measure a socially acceptable place to deceive; now I saw that ordinary politeness, such as I used to scorn, had more layers consideration and kindness that I would have ever guessed.

Some years later, I met with an Orthodox priest, and we began to talk. It was Fr. Michael; you know him, and how he welcomes you. After some time, I said, “You don’t know how much better it is now that I am using my intellect to perceive good.” He looked at me and said, “What would you say if I told you that you don’t even know what your intellect is?”

I looked at him. “Um… I have no place to put that suggestion. What do you mean?”

He closed his eyes in thought. “You’re a bookish fellow. Have you read Descartes, or the Enlightenment’s enthronement of reason, or even the popularizations of science that good scientists wince at?”

I said, “A little.”

He said, “I think you mean yes.”

I tried not to smile.

He continued, “Read Plato for something that’s a little saner. Then read John Chrysostom and Maximus Confessor. Try on the difference between what they say about the mind.”

I said, “I’m sure I’ll find interesting nuances on the concept of mind.”

Before leaving, he said, “So long as you’ve found only nuances on a concept of mind, you have missed the point.”

That remark had my curiosity, if nothing else, and so I began to read. I began trying to understand what the different nuances were on the concept of mind, and… It was a bit like trying to mine out the subtle nuances between the word ‘Turkey’ when it means a country and ‘turkey’ when it meant a bird.

When someone like John Chrysostom or Maximus Confessor talks about the “intellect,” you’re setting yourself up not to understand if you read it as “what IQ is supposed to measure.” Intellect does mean mind, but in order to understand what that means, you have to let go of several things you don’t even know you assume about the mind.

If you look at the vortex surrounding Kant, you think that there’s a real outer world, and then we each have the private fantasies of our own minds. And the exact relation between the fixed outer world and the inner fantasy varies; modernism focuses on the real outer world and postmodernism on the private inner fantasy, but they both assume that when you say “inner” you must mean “private.”

But what Maximus Confessor, for instance, believed, was that the inner world was an inner world of spiritual realities—one could almost say, “not your inner world, not my inner world, but the inner world.” Certainly it would seem strange to say that my inner world is my most private possession, in a sense even stranger than saying, “My outer world is my most private possession.” And if you can sever the link between “inner” and “private,” you have the first chink between what the intellect could be besides another nuance on reason.

Out of several ways that one could define the intellect, one that cuts fairly close to the heart of it is, “Where one meets God.” The intellect is first and foremost the spiritual point of contact, where one meets God, and that flows into meeting spiritual realities. Thought is a matter of meeting these shared realities, not doing something in your mind’s private space. The intellect is mind, but most of us will have an easier time understanding it if we start from the spirit than if we start at our understanding of mind.

The understanding of knowledge is very different if you have a concept of the intellect versus having a concept of the reason. The intellect’s knowing is tied to the body and tied to experience. It has limitations the reason doesn’t have: with reason you can pick anything up that you have the cleverness for, without needing to have any particular character or experience. If you’re sharp, you can pick up a book and have the reason’s knowledge. But the intellect knows by sharing in something, knows by drinking. Someone suggested, “The difference between reason and intellect, as far as knowledge goes, is the difference between knowing about your wife and knowing your wife.” The reason knows about the things it knows; the intellect knows of things, by tasting, by meeting, by experiencing, by sharing, by loving.

And here I am comparing the intellect and the reason on reason’s grounds, which is the way to compare them as two distinct concepts but not to meet them with the deepest part of your being. We know Christ when we drink his body and blood. Something of the intellect’s knowing is why words for “know” are the main words for sexual union in the Bible: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife”, and things like that. While the reason puts things together,by reasoning from one thing to another, the intellect sees, and knows as the angels know, or as God knows.

And when I asked him, “When can I learn more of this?” Fr. Michael said, “Not from any book, at least not for now. Come, join our services, and they will show you what books cannot.” I was startled by the suggestion, but Orthodox worship, and the Orthodox Way, gave me something that Maximus Confessor’s confusing pages could not. The concept of the intellect does not appear as a bare and obscure theory in Orthodoxy any more than the concept of eating; people who have never heard of the ‘intellect’, under any of its names, are drawn to know the good by it. It’s like a hiker who sees beauty on a hike, strives to keep going, and might have no idea she’s getting exercise.

The lesson I’m now learning could be narrowly stated as “Theology is not philosophy whose subject-matter is God.” I pretended to listen politely when I heard that, but philosophy is reason-knowing and theology is intellect-knowing. It’s unfortunate that we use the same word, “know,” for both. Christ said, “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all these things shall be added to you.” Originally he was talking about food and drink, but I’ve come to taste that “all these things” means far more. I sought a knowledge of the good, and so I was trying to think it out. Since I’ve begun to walk the Orthodox Way, as how God wants me to seek the Kingdom of Heaven, I’ve tasted good in ways I would never have imagined. When I first spoke with Fr. Michael, I was hoping he would give me more ideas I could grasp with my reason. Instead he gave me an invitation to step into a whole world of wonder I didn’t know was open to me, and to enter not with my reason alone but with my whole life.

When we worship, we use incense. I am still only beginning to appreciate that, but there is prayer and incense ascending before God’s throne, and when we worship, it is a beginning of Heaven. When the priest swings the censer before each person, he recognizes the image of Christ in him. When we kiss icons, whether made of wood or flesh, our display of love and reverence reaches God. Our prayer is a participation in the life of the community, in the life of Heaven itself. We are given bread and wine, which are the body and blood of Christ, and we drink nothing less than the divine life from the fountain of immortality. Christ became what we are that we might become what he is. The Son of God became a Man and the Son of Man that men might become gods and the sons of God. And we live in a world that comprehends the visible and invisible, a world where spirit, soul, and matter interpenetrate, where we are created as men and women, where eternity breathes through time, and where every evil will be defeated and every good will be glorified.

And there is much more to say than that, but I can’t put it in words.

John’s Tale: The Holy Grail

Mary looked at John and said, “Have you read The da Vinci Code?” She paused, and said, “What did you think of it?”

John drew a deep breath.

Mary winced.

John said, “The Christians I know who have read The da Vinci Code have complained about what it presents as history. And most of the history is… well, only a couple of notches higher than those historians who claim the Holocaust didn’t happen. I personally find picking apart The da Vinci Code‘s historical inaccuracies to be distasteful, like picking apart a child’s toy. Furthermore, I think those responses are beside the point.”

Mary said, “So you think the history is sound?”

John said, “I think that a lot of people who think they’re convinced by the history in The da Vinci Code have been hoodwinked into thinking it’s the history that persuaded them. The da Vinci Code‘s author, Dan Brown, is a master storyteller and showman. The da Vinci Code isn’t a compelling book because someone stuck history lectures in a bestseller. The da Vinci Code is a compelling book because it sells wonder. Dan Brown is the kind of salesman who could sell shoes to a snake, and he writes a story where Jesus is an ordinary (if very good) man, is somehow more amazing of a claim that Jesus is the person where everything that was divine met everything that was human.

The da Vinci Code boils down to a single word, and that word is ‘wonder.’ Dan Brown, as the kind of person who can sell shoes to a snake, leaves the reader with the distinct impression that the ideas he is pushing are more exotic, alluring, and exciting than the Christianity which somehow can’t help coming across as a blob of dullness.”

Mary said, “But don’t you find it an exciting book? Something which can add a bit of spice to our lives?”

John said, “It is an excellent story—it gripped me more than any other recent bestseller I’ve read. It is captivating and well-written. It has a lot of excellent puzzles. And its claim is to add spice to our lives. That’s certainly what one would expect. But let’s look at what it dismisses as ho-hum. Let’s look at the Christianity that’s supposed to be boring and need a jolt of life from Brown.”

Mary said, “I certainly found what Brown said about Mary Magdalene to be an eye-opener. Certainly better than…”

John said, “If I found the relics of Mary Magdalene, I would fall before them in veneration. Mary Magdalene was equal to the twelve apostles—and this isn’t just my private opinion. The Orthodox Church has officially declared her to be equal to the twelve apostles. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all list her first among women who followed Christ to the cross, and John lists her as the one who first saw the secret of the resurrection. She has her own feast day, July 22, and it’s a big enough feast that we celebrate the Eucharist that day. Tradition credits her with miracles and bold missionary journeys. The story is told of her appearing before the Roman Emperor proclaiming the resurrection, and the Emperor said, ‘That’s impossible. For a man to rise from the dead is as impossible as for an egg to turn red!’ Mary Magdalene picked up an egg, and everyone could see it turn red. That why we still give each other eggs dyed red when we celebrate the Lord’s resurrection. There are some ancient Christian writings that call Mary Magdalene the Apostle to the Apostles, because it was she herself who told the Apostles the mystery of the resurrection.”

Mary said, “Wow.” She closed her eyes to take it in, and then said, “Then why did the Catholic Church mount such a smear campaign against her?”

John said, “I said I didn’t want to scrutinize The da Vinci Code‘s revision of history, but I will say that Brown distorts things, quite intentionally as far as I know. And he counts on you, the reader, to make a basic error. Brown is working hard to attack Catholicism—or at least any form of Catholicism that says something interesting to the modern world. Therefore (we are supposed to assume) Catholicism is duty-bound to resist whatever Brown is arguing for. Catholicism isn’t an attempt to keep its own faith alive. It’s just a reaction against Brown.

“Putting it that way makes Brown sound awfully egotistical. I don’t think Brown has reasoned it that consistently, or that he thought we might reason it that consistently, but Brown does come awfully close in thinking that if he’s pushing something, Rome opposes it. He extols Mary Magdalene, so Rome must be about tearing her down. He glorifies a mysterious place for the feminine, so Rome must be even more misogynistic than the stereotype would have it. I hate to speak for our neighbors at the Catholic parish down the street, but—”

Mary interrupted. “But don’t you find something romantic, at least, to think that Mary held the royal seed in her womb?”

John said, “The symbol of the chalice… the womb as a cup… I do find it romantic to say that Mary held the royal seed in her womb. And it’s truer than you think. I believe that Mary was the urn that held the bread from Heaven, that she was the volume in which the Word of Life was inscribed, that her womb is more spacious than the Heavens. Only it’s a different Mary than you think. I’m not sure how much you know about angels, but there are different ranks, and the highest ranks were created to gaze on the glory of God. The highest two ranks are the cherubim and seraphim, and the cherubim hold all manner of wisdom and insight, while the seraphim burn with the all-consuming fire of holiness. There is no angel holier than these. It is of this different Mary that we sing,

More honorable than the cherubim,
And more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim,
In virginity you bore God the Word;
True Mother of God, we magnify you.

“Her womb, we are told, is more spacious than the Heavens because it contained uncontainable God. It is the chalice which held something which is larger than the universe, and that is why it is more spacious than the Heavens.

“I reread The da Vinci Code, and I don’t remember if there was even a passing reference to the other Mary. This seems a little strange. If you’re interested in a womb that held something precious, if you’re interested in a woman who can be highly exalted, she would seem an obvious choice. I don’t think The da Vinci Code even raises her as an alternative to refute.

“Not even Dan Brown, however, can get away with saying that the Catholic Church ran a smear campaign against Our Lady. He may be able to sell shoes to snakes, but thanks in part to the Reformation’s concern that the Catholic Church was in fact worshipping Mary as God, that’s almost as tough a sell as stating that the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in God. We Orthodox give Mary a place higher than any angel, and it’s understandable for Protestants to say that must mean we give her God’s place—Protestants don’t have any place that high for a creature. The Catholic Church, like the Orthodox Church, has a cornucopia of saints, a glorious and resplendent plethora, a dazzling rainbow, and it’s possible not to know about the glory of Mary Magdalene. So Brown can sell the idea that the Catholic Church slandered one of her most glorious saints, and… um… quietly hope he’s distracted the reader from the one woman whom no one can accuse the Catholic Church of slandering.”

Mary looked at him. “There still seemed to be… There is a wonder that would be taken away by saying that Mary Magdalene was not the chalice that held the blood.”

John said, “What if I told you that that was a smokescreen, meant to distract you from the fact that wonder was being taken away?”

“Look at it. The da Vinci Code has a bit of a buildup before it comes to the ‘revelation’ that the Grail is Mary Magdalene.”

Mary said, “I was curious.”

John said, “As was I. I was wishing he would get out and say it instead of just building up and building up. There is a book I was reading—I won’t give the author, because I don’t want to advertise something that’s spiritually toxic—”

Mary smiled. “You seem to be doing that already.”

John groaned. “Shut up. I don’t think any of you haven’t had ads for The da Vinci Code rammed down your throat, nor do I think any of you are going to run and buy it to learn about pure and pristine Gnos— er… Christianity. So just shut up.”

Mary stuck out her tongue.

John poked her, and said, “Thank you for squeaking with me.

“Anyway, this book pointed out that the Holy Grail is not a solid thing. It is a shadow. It’s like the Cross: the Cross is significant, not just because it was an instrument of vile torture, but because it was taken up by the Storm who turned Hell itself upside-down. Literature has plenty of magic potions and cauldrons of plenty, but all of these pale in comparison with the Holy Grail. That is because the Holy Grail exists in the shadow of an even deeper mystery, a mystery that reversed an ancient curse. Untold ages ago, a serpent lied and said, ‘Take, eat. You will not die.’ Then the woman’s offspring who would crush the serpent’s head said, ‘Take, eat. You will live.’ And he was telling the truth, and he offered a life richer and deeper than anyone could imagine.

“And so there is a mystery, not only that those in an ancient time could eat the bread and body that is the bread from Heaven and drink the wine and blood that is the divine life, but that this mystery is repeated every time we celebrate it. We are blinded to the miracle of life because it is common; we are blinded to this sign because it is not a secret. And it is a great enough miracle that the chalice that held Christ’s blood is not one item among others; it is the Holy Grail.

“In the ancient world, the idea that God could take on a body was a tough pill to swallow. It still is; that God should take on our flesh boggles the mind. And there were a lot of people who tried to soften the blow. And one of the things they had to neutralize, in their barren spirituality, was the belief that Christ could give his flesh and blood. The legend of the Holy Grail is a testimony to the victory over that belief, the victory of God becoming human that we might become like him and that he might transform all of our humanity. It says that the cup of Christ, the cup which held Christ’s blood, is a treasure because Christ’s blood is a treasure, and the image is powerful enough that… We talk about ‘Holy Grail’s, as in ‘A theory that will do this is the Holy Grail of physics.’ That’s how powerful it is.

“I would say that there were people in the ancient world who didn’t get it. In a real sense, Dan Brown picks up where they left off. And part of what he needs to do is make Mary Magdalene, or some substitute, the Holy Grail, because we can’t actually have a cup that is the Holy Grail, because we can’t actually have a Table where Christ’s body and blood are given to all his brothers and sisters.

“And that is the meaning of Mary Magdalene as the Holy Grail. She is a beautiful diversion so we won’t see what is being taken away. She is a decoy, meant to keep our eyes from seeing that any place for the Eucharist is vanishing. And I’m sure Mary Magdalene is rolling over in her reliquary about this.

“But in fact the Eucharist is not vanishing. It’s here, and every time I receive it, I reverently kiss a chalice that is an image of the Holy Grail. What Dan Brown builds up to, as an exciting revelation, is that Jesus left behind his royal bloodline. This bloodline is alive today, and we see something special when Sophie wraps her arms around the brother she thought was dead. And that is truer than Dan Brown would ever have you guess.

“Jesus did leave behind his blood; we receive it every time we receive the Eucharist. And it courses through our veins. You’ve heard the saying, ‘You are what you eat.’ You do not become steak by eating steak, but you do become what Jesus is by eating his flesh. Augustine said, ‘See what you believe. Become what you behold.’ That’s part of the mystery. In part through the Eucharist, we carry Christ’s blood. It courses through our veins. And it’s not dilute beyond measure, as Dan Brown’s picture would have it. We are brothers and sisters to Christ and therefore to one another. There is an embrace of shared blood at the end of The da Vinci Code, and there is an embrace, between brothers and sisters who share something much deeper than physical blood, every time we share the holy kiss, or holy hug or whatever. Is the truth as wild as what Dan Brown says? It’s actually much wilder.”

Mary said, “I can’t help feeling that The da Vinci Code captures something that… their talk of knights and castles, a Priory that has guarded a secret for generations, a pagan era before the testosterone poisoning we now call Christianity…”

John smiled. “Yes. It had that effect on me too. These things speak of something more. When I was younger, one of my friends pointed out to me that when I said ‘medieval’, I was referring to something more than the Middle Ages. It was a more-than-literal symbol, something that resonated with the light behind the Middle Ages. And the same is happening with the golden age Brown evokes. All of us have a sense that there is an original good which was lost, or at least damaged, and the yearning Brown speaks to is a real yearning for a legitimate good. But as to the specific golden age… Wicca makes some very specific claims about being the Old Religion that Wiccans resume after the interruption of monotheism. Or at least it made them, and scholars devastated those claims. There are a few Wiccans who continue to insist that they represent the Old Religion instead of a modern Spiritualist’s concoction. But most acknowledge that the account isn’t literally true: they hold the idea of an ‘Old Religion’ as an inspiring tale, and use the pejorative term ‘Wiccan Fundamentalists’ for people who literally believe that Wicca is the Old Religion.

“And so we can yearn for a Golden Age when people believed the spirit of our own age… um… how can I explain this. People who yearn for an old age when men and women were in balance have done little research into the past. People who think the New Testament was reactionary have no idea of a historical setting that makes the New Testament look like it was written by flaming liberals. Someone who truly appreciated the misogyny in ancient paganism would understand that rape could not only be seen as permissible; quite often it was simply seen as a man’s prerogative. Trying to resurrect ancient paganism because Christian views on women bother you is like saying that your stomach is ill-treated by your parents’ mashed potatoes so you’re going to switch to eating sticks and gravel.

“But I’m getting into something I didn’t want to get into…

“There is something from beyond this world, something transcendent, that is shining through Brown’s writing. The Priory is haunting. The sacred feminine is haunting. There is something shining through. There is also something shining through in Orthodoxy. And that something is something that has shone through from the earliest times.

“In The da Vinci Code, knighthood is a relic of what it used to be. Or at least the knight they visit is a relic, more of a tip of the hat to ages past than a breathing tradition. The Knights Templar at least represent something alive and kicking. They’re a society that continues alive today and is at once medieval and modern. They bear the glory of the past, but they bear it today. In that sense they’re a glimmer of what the Church is—a society alike ancient and modern, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

“What I meant to be saying is that knighthood is more a tip of the hat than something alive. I’ve read the Grail legends in their medieval forms, and I’ve met knights and ladies in those pages. It takes some time to appreciate the medieval tradition—there is every reason for a modern reader to say that the texts are long and tedious, and I can’t quickly explain why that understandable reaction is missing something. The knights and ladies there aren’t a tip of the hat; they’re men and women and they kick and breathe. And they represent something that the medieval authors would never have realized because they had never been challenged. They represent the glory of what it means to be a man, and the glory of what it means to be a woman. We speak of the New Eve, Mary, as ‘the most blessed and glorious Lady;’ we are called to be a royal priesthood, and when we receive the Eucharist we are called ‘the servant of God Adam’ or ‘the handmaiden of God Eve’—which is also meant to be humble, but inescapably means the Knights and Ladies serving before the King of Kings.

“The Orthodox Church knows a great deal about how to be a knight and how to be a lady. It can be smeared, but it has a positive and distinctive place for both men and women. It may be a place that looks bad when we see it through prejudices we don’t realize, but there is a real place for it.”

“I know a lot of people who think it’s not gender-balanced,” Mary said.

John said, “What would they hold as being gender balanced?”

“I’m not sure any churches would be considered gender-balanced.”

John said, “All right, which churches come closest?”

Mary said, “Well, the most liberal ones, of course.”

John said, “That doesn’t mesh with the figures. Men feel out of place in a lot of churches. With Evangelicalism and Catholicism, men aren’t that much of a minority, about 45%. Go to the more liberal churches, and you’ll find a ratio of about two to one, up to about seven to one. Come to an Orthodox parish, on the other hand, and find men voluntarily attending services that aren’t considered mandatory—and the closest to a 50-50 balance in America.”

Mary said, “But why? I thought the liberal churches had…”

John interrupted. “What are you assuming?”

Mary answered, “Nothing. Liberal churches have had the most opportunity for women to draw things into a balance.”

John continued questioning. “What starting point are you assuming?”

Mary said, “Nothing. Just that things need to be balanced by women… um… just that men have defined the starting point…”

“And?” John said.

Mary continued: “And… um… that women haven’t contributed anything significant to the starting point.”

John paused. “Rather a dismal view of almost two millennia of contributions by women, don’t you think?”

Mary opened her mouth, and closed it. “I need some time to think.”

John said, “It took me almost four years to figure it out; I won’t fault you if you’re wise enough to take some time to ponder it. And I might also mention that the image of being knights and ladies is meant to help understand what it means to be man and woman—Vive la glorieuse difference!—and the many-layered mystery of masculinity and femininity, but an image nonetheless. All statements possess some truth, and all statements fall immeasurably short of the truth.”

Mary said, “Huh? Are all statements equally true?”

John said, “No. Not all statements are equally true; some come closer to the truth than others. No picture is perfect, but there is such a thing as a more or less complete image. And what I have said about knights and ladies, and many things that could be said about the Church as a society guarding a powerful truth, point to something beyond them. They are great and the truth is greater. There is something in the Priory and the Knights Templar that is poisoned, that infects people with a sweetly-coated pride that ends in a misery that can’t enjoy other people because it can’t appreciate them, or indeed respect anybody who’s not part of the self-same inner ring. That ‘inner ring’ is in the beginning as sweet as honey and in the end as bitter as gall and as sharp as a double-edged sword, so that struggling to achieve rank in the Priory is a difficult struggle with a bitter end. And in that sense the Priory is an image of the Church… it is a fellowship which has guarded an ancient truth, a truth that must not die, and has preserved it across the ages. But instead of being an inner ring achieved by pride, the Church beckons us to humility. This humility is unlike pride: it is unattractive to begin with, but when we bow we are taller and we find the secret of enjoying the whole universe.”

“What is this secret?” Mary asked.

John closed his eyes for a moment and said, “You can only enjoy what you appreciate, and you can only appreciate what you approach in humility. This is part of a larger truth. It takes sobriety to enjoy even drunkenness. If you want to see the one person who cannot enjoy drunkenness, look at an alcoholic. Virtue is the doorway to enjoying everything, even vice.

“There is a treacherous poison beckoning in ‘the inner ring’, of a secret that is hidden from outsiders one looks down on. The inner ring is a door to Hell.”

“You believe that Knights Templar will go to Hell?” Mary said.

John looked at her. “I believe that Knights Templar, and people in a thousand other inner rings, are in Hell already. I don’t know how Christ will judge them, but… In the end, some have remarked, there are only two kinds of people: those who tell God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God finally says, ‘Thy will be done.’ The gates of Hell are sealed, bolted, and barred from the inside, by men who have decided: ‘I would rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven!’ In one sense, Hell will never blast its full fury until the Judge returns. In another sense, Hell begins on earth, and the inner ring is one of its gates.”

Mary said, “Wow.”

John said, “And there is a final irony. What we are led to expect is that there is a great Western illusion. And Brown is going to help us see past it.”

Mary said, “And the truth?”

John said, “There is a great Western illusion, and Brown is keeping us from seeing past it.

“There’s a rather uncanny coincidence between Brown’s version of original, pristine paganism and the fashions feminism happens to take in our day. Our version of feminism is unusual, both in terms of history and in terms of cultures today. It’s part of the West that the Third World has difficulty understanding. And yet the real tradition, call it restored paganism or original Christianity or the Old Religion or what have you, turns out to coincide with all the idiosyncracies of our version of feminism. It’s kind of like saying that some 1970’s archaeologists exhumed an authentic pagan burial site, and it was so remarkably preserved that they could tell the corpses were all wearing bell-bottoms, which was the norm in the ancient world. If we made a statement like that about clothing, we’d need to back it up. And yet Brown does the same sort of thing in the realm of ideas, and it comes across as pointing out the obvious; most people wouldn’t think to question him. And this is without reading classical pagan texts about how marriage might lead a man to suicide because of feminine wrangling, and how any man who couldn’t deny his wife anything he chose was the lowest of slaves. Brown is a master of showmanship, at helping you see what he wants you to see and not see what he doesn’t want you to see.

“If we decline Brown’s assistance in seeing past illusions, it turns out that there’s another illusion he doesn’t help us see past. And, ironically, it is precisely related to symbol.

“Something profound happened in the Middle Ages, or started happening, that is still unfolding today. It is the disenchantment of the entire universe. There are several ways one could describe it. Up until a certain point, everyone took it for granted that horses, people, and colors were all things that weren’t originally created in our minds… wait, that was confusing. It’s easier to speak of the opposite. The opposite, which began to pick up steam almost a thousand years ago, was that we think up categories like horses and colors, but they don’t exist before we think of them. As it would develop, that was a departure from what most people believed. And a seed was planted that would take deeper and deeper root.

“That’s the philosophy way of putting it. The symbol’s way of putting it is that the departure, the new thinking, drove a wedge between a symbol and what that symbol represented. If you represented something, the symbol was connected to what it represented. That’s why, in The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits mention Sauron and Gandalf makes a tense remark of, ‘Don’t mention that name here!’

“Why is this? The name of Sauron was a symbol of Sauron which bore in an invisible way Sauron’s presence. When Gandalf told the Hobbits not to mention that name, he was telling them not to bring Sauron’s presence.”

Mary said, “That sounds rather far-fetched.”

John answered, “Would you care to guess why, when you say a friend’s name and she stops by, you always say, ‘Speak of the Devil!’?”

Mary shifted her position slightly.

John continued. “Those two things are for the same reason. Tolkein was a medievalist who commanded both an excellent understanding of the medieval world, and was steeped in paganism’s best heroic literature. He always put me to sleep, but aside from that, he understood the medieval as most modern fantasy authors do not. And when Gandalf commands the hobbits not to speak the name of Sauron, there is a dying glimmer of something that was killed when the West embraced the new way of life.”

“The name of something is a symbol that is connected to the reality. Or at least, a lot of people have believed that, even if it seems strange to us. If you read the Hebrew Prophets, you’ll find that ‘the name of the Lord’ is a synonym for ‘the Lord’ at times, and people write ‘the Lord’ instead of saying the Lord’s actual name: ‘the Lord’ is a title, like ‘the King’ or ‘the President’, not a name like ‘Jacob.’ People were at first cautious of saying the Lord’s name in the wrong way, and by the New Testament most Jews stopped saying the Lord’s name at all. This is because people believed a symbol was connected to the reality, and a failure to show proper reverence to the Lord’s name was in fact a failure to show proper reverence to the Lord.

“When the Bible says that we are created in the image of God, this is not just a statement that we resemble God in certain ways. It is a statement that God’s actual presence operates in each person, and what you do to other people, you cannot help doing to God. This understanding, too obvious to need saying to the earliest readers, is behind everything from Proverbs’ statement that he who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, to the chilling end of the parable in Matthew 25:

“When the King returns in glory… he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you who are damned, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, a stranger and you did not welcome me, lacking clothes and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or sick or in prison and did not care for you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘I solemnly tell you, insofar as you did not do it for the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do it for me.”

Mary thought, and asked, “Do you think that bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood?”

John said, “Yes. I believe they are symbols in the fullest possible sense: bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ, and are the body and blood of Christ. Blood itself is a symbol: the Hebrew Old Testament word for ‘blood’ means ‘life’, and throughout the Bible whenever a person says ‘shedding blood,’ he says, ‘taking life.’ Not only is wine a symbol of Christ’s blood, Christ’s blood is a symbol of the uncreated, divine life, and when we drink Christ’s blood, we receive the uncreated life that God himself lives. This is the life of which Jesus said, ‘Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you.’ So the wine, like the bread, is a symbol with multiple layers, Christ’s body and blood themselves being symbols, and it is for the sons of God to share in the divine life: to share in the divine life is to be divinized.

“Are these miracles? The question is actually quite deceptive. If by ‘miracle’ you mean something out of place in the natural order, a special exception to how things are meant to work, then the answer is ‘No.’

“The obvious way to try to incorporate these is as exceptions to how a dismembered world works: things are not basically connected, without symbolic resonance, with the special exceptions of the Eucharist and so on. But these are not exceptions. They are the crowning jewel of what orders creation.

“Things are connected; that is why when the Orthodox read the Bible, they see one tree in the original garden with its momentous fruit, and another tree that bore the Son of God as its fruit, and a final tree at the heart of the final Paradise, bearing fruit each season, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. This kind of resonance is almost as basic as the text’s literal meaning itself. Everything is connected in a way the West has lost—and by ‘lost’, I do not simply mean ‘does not have.’ People grasp on an intuitive level that symbols have mystic power, or at least should, and so we read about the Knights Templar with their exotic equal-armed crosses, flared at the ends, in red on white. Yes, I know, pretend you don’t know there’s the same kind of equal-armed cross, flared at the ends, on the backs of our priests and acolytes. The point we’re supposed to get is that we need to go to occult symbolism and magic if we are to recover that sense of symbol we sense we have lost, and fill the void.

“But the Orthodox Church is not a way to fill the void after real symbols have been destroyed. Orthodoxy does not need a Harvard ‘symbologist’ as a main character because it does not need to go to an exotic expert to recover the world of symbol. Orthodoxy in a very real sense has something better than a remedy for a wound it never received.

“To the Orthodox Church, symbols are far more than a code-book, they are the strands of an interconnected web. To the Church, symbols are not desparate escape routes drilled out of prison, but the wind that blows through a whole world that is open to explore.”

Mary pondered. “So we have a very deaf man who has said, ‘None of us can hear well, so come buy my hearing aid,’ and Orthodox Church as a woman who has never had hearing trouble and asks, ‘Why? What would I need one for?’

“And is there something deeper than symbol, even?”

John closed his eyes. “To answer that question, I’m having trouble doing better than paraphrasing Pseudo-Dionysius, and I wish we had his Symbolic Theology. ‘I presume this means something specific. I assume it means that everything, even the highest and holiest things that the eye, the heart… I mean mind… I mean intellect, the intellect which perceives those realities beyond the eye… I mean that everything they can perceive is merely the rationale that presupposes everything below the Transcendent One.’

“Yes, there is One who is deeper than all created symbols.”

Basil’s Tale: The Desert Fathers

Father Basil said, “When I read the introduction to Helen Waddell’s The Desert Fathers, I wasn’t disappointed yet. At least, that’s where I first met these people; Waddell gives one translation of an ancient collection, and if you search on the Web for The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, you can find them easily enough.

“The introduction led me to expect important historical documents in the life of the Church—you know, the sort of first try that’s good for you because it’s dull and uninteresting, kind of like driving a buggy so you can appreciate what a privilege it is to ride a car. Or like spending a year wasting time on your PC, reinstalling Windows and trying to recover after viruses wreak havoc on your computer, so that when you finally upgrade to a Mac, you appreciate it. Then I actually began to read the Desert Fathers, and…”

John asked, “Can you remember any of them? There’s…”

Father said, “Yes, certainly.”


An old monk planted a piece of dry wood next to a monk’s cell in the desert, and told the young monk to water it each day until… So the young monk began the heavy toil of carrying water to water the piece of wood for year after year. After three years, the wood sprouted leaves, and then branches. When it finally bore fruit, the old monk plucked the fruit and said, “Taste the fruit of obedience!”

Three old men came to an old monk, and the last old man had an evil reputation. And the first man told the monk, “Make me a fishing net,” but he refused. Then the second man said, “Make me a fishing net, so we will have a keepsake from you,” but he refused. Then the third man said, “Make me a fishing net, so I may have a blessing from your hands,” and the monk immediately said, “Yes.” After he made the net, the first two asked him, “Why did you make him a net and not us?” And he said, “You were not hurt, but if I had said no to him, he would thought I was rejecting him because of his evil reputation. So I made a net to take away his sadness.”

A monk fell into evil struggles in one monastery, and the monks cast him out. So he came to an old monk, who received him, and sent him back after some time. But the monks as the monastery wouldn’t receive him. Then he sent a message, saying, “A ship was wrecked, and lost all of its cargo, and at last the captain took the empty ship to land. Do you wish to sink on land the ship that was saved from the sea?” Then they received him.

An old monk said, “He who finds solitude and quiet will avoid hearing troublesome things, saying things that he will regret, and seeing temptations. But he will not escape the turmoil of his own heart.”

There was a young monk who struggled with lust and spoke to an older monk in desparation. The old monk tore into him, scathing him and saying he was vile and unworthy, and the young monk fled in despair. The young monk met another old monk who said, “My son, what is it?” and waited until the young monk told everything. Then the old monk prayed that the other monk, who had cruelly turned on the young monk, would be tempted. And he ran out of his cell, and the second old monk said, “You have judged cruelly, and you yourself are tempted, and what do you do? At least now you are worthy of the Devil’s attention.” And the monk repented, and prayed, and asked for a softer tongue.

Once a rich official became a monk, and the priest, knowing he had been delicately raised, sent him such nice gifts as the monastery had been given. As the years passed, he grew in contemplation and in prophetic spirit. Then a young monk came to him, hoping to see his severe ascetic discipline. And he was shocked at his bed, and his shoes, and his clothes. For he was not used to seeing other monks in luxury. The host cooked vegetables, and in the morning the monk went away scandalized. Then his host sent for him, and said, “What city are you from?” “I have never lived in a city.” “Before you were a monk, what did you do?” “I cared for animals.” “Where did you sleep?” “Under the stars.” “What did you eat, and what did you drink?” “I ate bread and had no wine.” “Could you take baths?” “No, but I could wash myself in the river.” Then the host said, “You toiled before becoming a monk; I was a wealthy official. I have a nicer bed than most monks now. I used to have beds covered with gold; now I have this much cruder bed. I used to have costly food; now I have herbs and a small cup of wine. I used to have many servants; now I have one monk who serves me out of the goodness of his heart. My clothing was once costly beyond price; now you see they are common fare. I used to have minstrels before me; now I sing psalms. I offer to God what poor and feeble service I can. Father, please do not be scandalized at my weakness.” Then his guest said, “Forgive me, for I have come from heavy toil into the ease of the monastic life, and you have come from richness into heavy toil. Forgive me for judging you.” And he left greatly edified, and would often come back to hear his friend’s Spirit-filled words.

A monk came to see a hermit, and when he was leaving, said, “Forgive me, brother, for making you break your monastic rule of solitude.” The hermit said, “My monastic rule is to welcome you hospitably and send you away in peace.”

Once a group of monks came to an old monk, and another old monk was with them. The host began to ask people, beginning with the youngest, what this or that word in Scripture meant, and each tried to answer well. Then he asked the other old monk, and the other monk said, “I do not know.” Then the host said, “Only he has found the road—the one who says, ‘I do not know.'”

One old monk went to see another old monk and said to him, “Father, as far as I can I say my handful of prayers, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards Heaven. His fingers blazed as ten lamps of fire and he said, “If you desire it, you can become a fire.”

A brother asked an old monk, “What is a good thing to do, that I may do it and live?” The old monk said, “God alone knows what is good. Yet I have heard that someone questioned a great monk, and asked, ‘What good work shall I do?’ And he answered, ‘There is no single good work. The Bible says that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him. And Elijah loved quiet, and God was with him. And David was humble, and God was with him. Therefore, find the desire God has placed in your heart, and do that, and guard your heart.”

Macrina’s Tale: The Communion Prayer

Mary looked at Macrina. “And I can see you’ve got something in your purse.”

Macrina smiled. “Here. I was just thinking what a blessing it is to have a prayer book. It is a powerful thing to raise your voice with a host of saints, and this version, the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius’s A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, is my favorite.” She flipped a few pages. “This prayer, and especially this version, has held a special place in my heart.

“And… I’m not sure how to put it. Westerners misunderstand us as being the past, but we are living now. But in the West, living now is about running from the past, trying to live in the future, and repeating the mistakes of the past. Ouch, that came out a lot harsher than I meant. Let me try again… in the East, living now leaves you free to enjoy the glory of the past. You can learn to use a computer today and still remember how to read books like you were taught as a child. And you are free to keep treasures like this prayer, from St. Simeon the New Theologian (“New” means he died in the 11th century):


From lips besmirched and heart impure,
From unclean tongue and soul sin-stained,
Receive my pleading, O my Christ,
Nor overlook my words, my way
Of speech, nor cry importunate:
Grant me with boldness to say all
That I have longed for, O my Christ,
But rather do thou teach me all
That it behoveth me to do and say.
More than the harlot have I sinned,
Who, learning where thou didst abide,
Brought myrrh, and boldly came therewith
And didst anoint thy feet, my Christ,
My Christ, my Master, and my God:
And as thou didst not cast her forth
Who came in eagerness of heart,
Abhor me not, O Word of God,
But yield, I pray, thy feet to me,
To my embrace, and to my kiss,
And with the torrent of my tears,
As with an ointment of great price,
Let me with boldness them anoint.
In mine own tears me purify,
And cleanse me with them, Word of God,
Remit my errors, pardon grant.
Thou knowest my multitude of sins,
Thou knowest, too, the wounds I bear;
Thou seest the bruises of my soul;
But yet thou knowest my faith, thou seest
My eager heart, and hear’st my sighs.
From thee, my God, Creator mine,
And my Redeemer, not one tear
Is hid, nor e’en the part of one.
Thine eyes mine imperfection know,
For in thy book enrolled ar found
What things are yet unfashioned.
Behold my lowliness, behold
My weariness, how great it is:
And then, O God of all the world,
Grant me release from all my sins,
That with clean heart and conscience filled
With holy fear and contrite soul
I may partake of thy most pure,
Thine holy spotless Mysteries.
Life and divinity hath each
Who eateth and who drinketh thee
Thereby in singleness of heart;
For thou hast said, O Master mine,
Each one that eateth of my Flesh,
And drinketh likewise of my Blood—
He doth indeed abide in me,
And I in him likewise am found.
Now wholly true this saying is
Of Christ, my Master and my God.
For he who shareth in these graces
Divine and deifying is
No wise alone, but is with thee,
O Christ, thou triply-radiant Light,
Who the whole world enlightenest.
Therefore, that I may ne’er abide,
Giver of Life, alone, apart
From thee, my breath, my life, my joy,
And the salvation of the world—
For this, thou seest, have I drawn nigh
To thee with tears and contrite soul;
My errors’ ransom to receive
I seek, and uncondemned to share
In thy life-giving Mysteries
Immaculate; that thou mayst dwell
With me, as thou hast promised,
Who am in triple wretchedness;
Lest the Deceiver, finding me
Removed from thy grace by guile
May seize me, and seducing lead
Astray from thy life-giving words.
Wherefore I fall before thy face,
And fervently I cry to thee,
As thou receiv’dst the Prodigal
And Harlot, when she came to thee,
So now my harlot self receive
And very Prodigal, who now
Cometh with contrite soul to thee.
I know, O Savior, none beside
Hath sinned against thee like as I,
Nor done the deeds which I have dared.
But yet again, I know this well,
That not the greatness of my sins,
Nor my transgressions’ multitude,
Exceeds my God’s forbearance great,
Nor his high love toward all men.
But those who fervently repent
Thou with the oil of lovingness
Dost cleanse, and causest them to shine,
And makest sharers of thy light,
And bounteously dost grant to be
Partakers of thy Divinity;
And though to angels and to minds
Of men alike ’tis a strange thing,
Thou dost converse with them ofttimes—
These thoughts do make me bold, these thoughts
Do give me pinions, O my Christ;
And thus confiding in thy rich
Good deeds toward us, I partake—
Rejoicing, trembling too, at once—
Who am but grass, of fire: and lo!
—A wonder strange!—I am refreshed
With dew, beyond all speech to tell;
E’en as in olden time the Bush
Burning with fire was unconsumed.
Therefore, thankful in mind and heart,
Thankful, indeed, in every limb,
With all my body, all my soul,
I worship thee, yea, magnify,
And glorify thee, O my God,
Both now and to all ages blest.

Barbara’s Tale: The Fairy Prince

Adam looked at his daughter and said, “Barbara, what do you have to share? I can hear you thinking.”

Barbara looked at her father and said, “You know what I’m thinking, Daddy. I’m thinking about the story you made for me, the story about the fairy prince.”

“Why don’t you tell it, Sweetie? You know it as well as I do.”

The child paused a moment, and said, “You tell it, Daddy.”

Here is the tale of the fairy prince.


Long ago and far away, the world was full of wonder. There were fairies in the flowers. People never knew a rift between the ordinary and the magical.

But that was not to last forever. The hearts of men are dark in many ways, and they soon raised their axe against the fairies and all that they stood for. The axe found a way to kill the dryad in a tree but leave the tree still standing—if indeed it was really a tree that was still standing. Thus begun the disenchantment of the entire universe.

Some time in, people realized their mistake. They tried to open their hearts to wonder, and bring the fairies back. They tried to raise the axe against disenchantment—but the axe they were wielding was cursed. You might as well use a sword to bring a dead man to life.

But this story is not about long ago and far away. It is about something that is recent and very near. Strange doings began when the son of the Fairy Queen looked on a world that was dying, where even song and dance and wine were mere spectres of what they had been. And so he disguised himself as a fool, and began to travel in the world of men.

The seeming fool came upon a group of men who were teasing a young woman: not the mirthful, merry teasing of friends, but a teasing of dark and bitter glee. He heard one say, “You are so ugly, you couldn’t pay a man enough to kiss you!” She ran away, weeping.

The prince stood before her and said, “Stop.” And she looked at him, startled.

He said, “Look at me.”

She looked into his eyes, and began to wonder. Her tears stopped.

He said, “Come here.”

She stood, and then began walking.

He said, “Would you like a kiss?”

Tears filled her eyes again.

He gave her his kiss.

She ran away, tears falling like hail from her eyes. Something had happened. Some people said they couldn’t see a single feature in her face that had changed. Others said that she was radiant. Others still said that whatever she had was better than gorgeous.

The prince went along his way, and he came to a very serious philosopher, and talked with him, and talked, and talked. The man said, “Don’t you see? You are cornered. What you are saying is not possible. Do you have any response?”

The prince said, “I do, but it comes not in words, but in an embrace. But you wouldn’t be interested in that, would you?”

For some reason, the man trusted him, and something changed for him too. He still read his books. But he would also dance with children. He would go into the forest, and he did not talk to the animals because he was listening to what the animals had to say.

The prince came upon a businessman, a man of the world with a nice car and a nice house, and after the fairy prince’s kiss the man sold everything and gave it away to the poor. He ate very little, eating the poorest fare he could find, and spent much time in silence, speaking little. One of his old friends said, “You have forsaken your treasures!”

He looked at his friend and said, “Forsaken my treasures? My dearest friend, you do not know the beginning of treasure.”

“You used to have much more than the beginning of treasure.”

“Perhaps, but now I have the greatest treasure of all.”

Sometimes the prince moved deftly. He spoke with a woman in the park, a pain-seared woman who decided to celebrate her fiftieth wedding anniversary—or what would have been the fiftieth anniversary of a long and blissful marriage, if her husband were still alive. She was poor, and had only one bottle of champagne which she had been saving for many years. She had many friends; she was a gracious woman. She invited the fairy prince, and it was only much later that her friends began to wonder that that the one small bottle of champagne had poured so amply for each of them.

The prince did many things, but not everybody liked it. Some people almost saw the prince in the fool. Others saw nothing but a fool. One time he went into a busy shopping mall, and made a crude altar, so people could offer their wares before the Almighty Dollar. When he was asked why, he simply said, “So people can understand the true meaning of Christmas. Some people are still confused and think it’s a religious holiday.” That was not well received.

Not long after, the woman whom he met in the park slept the sleep of angels, and he spoke at her funeral. People cried more than they cried at any other funeral. And their sides hurt. All of this was because they were laughing so hard, and the funny thing was that almost nobody could remember much afterwards. A great many people took offense at this fool. There was only one person who could begin to explain it. A very respected man looked down at a child and said, “Do you really think it is right to laugh so much after what happened to her?” And then, for just a moment, the child said, “He understood that. But if we really understood, laughter wouldn’t be enough.”

There were other things that he did that offended people, and those he offended sought to drive him away. And he returned to his home, the palace of the Fairy Queen.

But he had not really left. The fairy prince’s kiss was no ordinary kiss. It was a magic kiss. When he kissed you, he gave his spirit, his magic, his fairy blood. And the world looks very different when there is fairy blood coursing through your veins. You share the fairy prince’s kiss, and you can pass it on. And that pebble left behind an ever-expanding wave: we have magic, and wonder, and something deeper than either magic or wonder.

And that is how universe was re-enchanted.


Adam looked down at his daughter and said, “There, Sweetie. Have I told the story the way you like it?”

The child said, “Yes, Daddy, you have,” climbed into her father’s lap, and held up her mouth for a kiss.

Epilogue

No one spoke after that.

Finally, after a time, Barbara said, “Can we go outside, Daddy? I bet the snow’s real good now.”

Father Basil said, “Why don’t we all go out? Just a minute while I get my gloves. This is snowball making snow.”

Five minutes later, people stepped out on the virgin snow. Macrina said, “This is wonderful. It’s like a fairy wonderland.”

Paul said, “No. It’s much more wonderful than that.”

Then the snowballs flew, until Adam said, “See if you can hit that snowplough!”

And then it was time to go home.

Devotees of Fr. Cherubim (Jones) the Half-Converted Demand His Immediate Canonization and Full Recognition as “Equal to the Heirophants”

Satire / Humor Warning:

As the author, I have been told I have a very subtle sense of humor.

This page is a work of satire, inspired by the likes of The Onion and early incarnations of The Onion Dome.

It is not real news.

The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and his Axe-Wielding Western Converts
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Adamant devotees of Fr. Cherubim (Jones) the Half-Converted demand immediate canonization and full recognition as “Equal to the Heirophants”. They have stepped beside their usual tactics of demanding canonization whether or not Fr. Cherubim the Half-Converted should be canonized, and demanding that any problems be swept under the carpet, to insist that he be called, “Equal to the Heirophants.”

Much of the work in his wake was consolidated in the book, Christ the Eternal Doubt. Our devotee explained, “Blessed Cherubim Jones saw more than anything the spiritual toxicity of postmodernism. And he sensed, perhaps even more than he realized, that the proper rebuttal to postmodernism is to reconstruct modernism: indeed, there are powerful modernist currents in his thought even when he seems to condemn all Western trends. The great grandfather of modernism was René DesCartes, and Blessed Cherubim Jones uncovered layer after layer of this philosopher whose very name means ‘Born Again’ and whose Meditations put doubt on a pedestal and said, in essence, ‘Doubt what you can; what remains after doubt is unshakable.’ And Λογος or Logos is interchangeable, one might almost say homoousios, with logic and with doubt.” And to quench the ills of the postmodern world, Fr. Cherubim the Half-Converted mined a vein that would come together in the classic Christ the Eternal Doubt.

Fr. Cherubim the Half-Converted has left a considerable wake; the tip of the iceberg is in his contribution to a wave of committed Evangelicals deciding that being Orthodox is an indispensible aid to pursuing their cottage industry of reconstructing the ancient Church. The sycophant excitedly commented, “Yes; there was an article on this phenomenon in The Onion Dome. It was a bit like that article in The Onion, um, what was it… there was a woman, a strong woman, who overcame years of childhood abuse to become a successful porn star. And this is nothing next to what happened when he was the only fashionable Orthodoxy the communist East could listen to.”

Fr. Cherubim the Half-Converted was indeed very concerned that his version of the Fathers be adhered to. He pointed out that many Church Fathers, in giving the theology of the created world, absolutely denied that matter was made from atoms and molecules, but insisted that science properly interpreted proves that matter was made from the four elements: “earth, air, fire, and water.” And he drew a line in the sand here, and most of his devotees are extraordinarily suspicious about whether you can be Orthodox and believe anything like modern atheistic chemistry.

There is some slight controversy surrounding Fr. Cherubim the Half-Converted’s teaching on the phantom tollbooth. His position, as carried forth by others, is that practically every major element of The Phantom Tollbooth is already in the Fathers and is attested in quite ancient liturgy. Consequently, many argue, the book The Phantom Tollbooth is no mere imaginative children’s tale, but an entirely literal factual account describing life beyond the mundane.

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough

Evangelical Converts Striving to be Orthodox

QUICK! What’s your opinion about chemistry

What Makes Me Uneasy About Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and His Followers

“Profoundly Gifted Magazine” Interviews Maximos Planos

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Profoundly Gifted: You did some amazing things and some impressive actions when you were a child prodigy; have you been up to anything since then?

Maximos: Quite a lot, really; I’ve settled into work as a usability / user interface / user experience professional with a humble boss. And I’ve gotten married; my wife Mary and I have seven daughters, all of them with the middle name of Abigail, or “Father’s Joy.”

Profoundly Gifted: That’s it? You haven’t studied languages, for instance?

Maximos: Much water will not be able to quench love, and rivers shall not drown it; that is the important one, but yes; other languages are a bit like Scotch. One is just getting started; two is just about perfect; three is not nearly half enough.

Profoundly Gifted: So you’re not just a husband and father: you’re also a philologist—how many languages do you know?

Maximos: You are paying attention to trivialities if you gloss over my fatherhood to ask a question about my love of languages that I really can’t answer.

Profoundly Gifted:What can’t you answer about how many languages your love of languages includes?

Maximos: You aren’t a philologist when you speak two languages, or four, or twelve, or eight. You’re a philologist when someone asks you how many languages you know, and you have no idea how to answer.

Profoundly Gifted: Then what is it? What should I make of it?

Maximos: If I may shanghai an opportunity to follow the words, “If there is an elephant in the room, introduce him…”?

Profoundly Gifted: Yes?

Maximos: Asperger’s Syndrome.

Profoundly Gifted: It’s kind of like profound giftedness, no?

Maximos: Let me quietly count to ten… Ok…

I read David Pollock’s Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, and I said, “That’s me!” Then I read Edward Hallowell’s Driven to Distraction and it made sense. Then I read, on a medical practitioner’s advice, Tony Attwood’s The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, and my response was some more polite form of “Dude… pass me a toke of whatever it is that you’re smoking!

The root problem, which I will get to in a minute, is that when people who are happy to have an Asperger’s diagnosis and happy to offer half the people they know an Asperger’s diagnosis, there are superficial similarities between profound giftedness and Asperger’s traits, things that a competent diagnostician should see far past.

Early in the title, Attwood says that when he diagnoses someone with Asperger’s, he says, “Congratulations! You have Asperger’s!” But then it goes downhill. Atwood argues that the obvious social impairments one would associate with Asperger’s are guilty as charged; Asperger’s people don’t know (without counseling and / or training) how to hold an appropriate social conversation. However, the strengths one would associate with Asperger’s are all but eviscerated. Asperger’s children may have a monologue that sounds like a competent adult discussing the matter, but this “knowledge” is a hollow shell, without much of anything of the deeper competency one would associate with an adult capable of such monologue. The common stereotype of Asperger’s patients portrays a slightly odd combination of strengths and weaknesses; Attwood’s book is less generous and really only ascribes real weaknesses.

The standard symptoms of Asperger’s have a perhaps 50% overlap with standard symptoms of profound giftedness; while it is certainly possible to be a member of both demographics, the profoundly gifted characteristics resemble Asperger’s characters for quite unrelated reasons. The similarity may be compared to the common cold, on the one hand, in which there is an immune response to a harmful invader, and environmental allergies on the other hand, in which there is a harmful response to something otherwise harmless. Or for those who prefer an example from Charles Baudelaire, there is an image of two females, one an infant too young to have teeth or hair, and the other a woman too old to have teeth or hair. (The coincidence of features is close to being due to diametrically opposed reasons.)

Profoundly Gifted: Is the question “Asperger’s or profound giftedness?” the sort of question you’d rather un-ask than answer?

Maximos: It is indeed. Or at least I’m drawing a blank to see what a three-cornered discussion of normalcy, Asperger’s, and profound giftedness has to add to the older discussion of normalcy and profound giftedness. If we can overcome our chronological snobbishness says that only now could we say something worthwhile about XYZ and giftedness, Leta Hollingsworth decided as a counterbalance to a study of mental retardation a study of some who turned out to have an IQ of somewhere around 180 or higher. She wrote an insightful and descriptive, Children Above 180 IQ Stanford-Binet, much more insightful than the treatment of profoundly gifted scoring “Termites.”

Furthermore, and here I am less concerned with the relationship between profound giftedness and Asperger’s than improperly read research, there is a consistent finding that IQ-normal, autism-normal children do markedly better at what are unfortunately lumped together as “theory of other minds.”

A much better interpretation of Attwood’s data might come from splitting the theory of other minds into a separate theory of like minds, and also a theory of alien minds. A theory of like minds works with one’s homeys or peeps; hence someone IQ-normal and autism-normal surrounded by IQ-normal and autism-normal classmates will coast on a theory of like minds. But, except in how it may be refined by practice, a theory of like minds that comes virtually free to everyone isn’t in particular reserved to a majority of people (not) affected by XYZ condition. With some true exceptions like Tay-Sachs, everybody gets along with their peeps. Gifted and profoundly gifted click with their fellows; Asperger’s people click with their fellows; to pick a few many demographics, various geek subcultures, codependents, addicts, and various strains of queer should click just as well. Everybody gets a theory of like minds virtually free; the breadth of usefulness depends on how rarely or commonly one encounters like minds, and this heavily loads the dice for Attwood’s approach.

The comparison Attwood makes in interaction with autism-normal people loads the dice in a way that is totally unfair. The comparison is autism-normals’ theory of like minds to Asperger’s theory of alien minds; he never, ever tests autism-normals on their ability to relate to alien minds, nor does he ever test Asperger’s patients on their ability to relate to like minds. And while being unsure about how far this applies to IQ-normal Asperger’s patients, Asperger’s patients often make herculean and lifelong efforts to develop “theory of alien minds” aptitude, and the result is not just that they connect, perhaps clumsily, with people of the same age and socioeconomic status; they make very close connections across age, race, and gender, and for that matter animals who may start off by being afraid of them. The theory of alien minds is finely honed, even if it is not a valid substitute for a theory of like minds, and once it is honed, this theory of alien minds reaches much, much further than autism-normals resting on a theory of like minds.

Profoundly Gifted: So your parents’ policy of non-interference and the Law of the Jungle was too romantic to teach you to be safe?

Maximos: More romantic than real life, perhaps, and putting me into a regular kindergarten, sink or swim, is neither more nor less realistic as putting a rabbit in the midst of coyotes, sink or swim. There was a real solution, but it was more romantic, and I fear being misunderstood. I certainly found it by accident.

Profoundly Gifted: What is it?

Maximos: A woman has kept a goldfish for years longer than goldfish usually live, in a fishbowl, just by talking to it in Mommy-to-baby love. Years back, hospitals which were ever concerned with sanitation witnessed a dramatic drop in infant mortality when they took the “unsanitary” step of having old women cuddle them.

Profoundly Gifted: And how does this relate to bullying?

Maximos: Let me raise and address another question first. We raise and send constant signals which are often met with escalation. When we are angry with someone, or wish for a way out of our job, or anything else, we war against others in our thoughts. That warfare is powerful. Often it comes back amplified; we can feed a corrective to the loop by responding meekly and with meek thoughts to a blast of anger. Some martial artists have talked about how few people really want to fight; such people are much less common than people who want to be the unchallenged tough guy. It does happen that there are some people want to do wrong; however, much more common are people who are disarmed when all three claims in Anger slays even wise men; yet a submissive answer turns away wrath: but a grievous word stirs up anger. The submissive answer to domineering anger is difficult, but it is possible, and it is a route that a quest for life by the Law of the Jungle will never find.

And bullying isn’t just for in the classroom. It’s also in professional life. The top quality I search for in a boss is humility. There is something aggravating about high talent. It is common practice to have sent multiple C&D letters, or equivalent, when harassment has continued after being repeatedly told, “No.” This is unfortunate, but it is a non-negotiable feature of the landscape.

And, like other things that are never the victim’s fault, harassment is never the victim’s fault; no matter how good or bad a person’s social skills many be, it is never justified to continue harassment until the person being harassed says, “CEASE AND DESIST.”

It is possible, in good faith, to do one’s best work as the privilege of the inferior before the superior to be praised, in the purest thoughts of respect, and instead be met with anger and retaliation to a perceived challenge. But if this is a live danger if we meet our bosses with thoughts of peacefulness, what on earth is to be done when we throw down work with warfare in our thoughts?

Profoundly Gifted: But don’t we all do best to avoid needlessly stepping on other people’s feet, especially our bosses’?

Maximos: Yes and NO.

Profoundly Gifted: Yes and NO?

Maximos: Have you ever spent a winter in the Midwest, perhaps Illinois? And drove after a heavy snowfall, three to four inches of packing snow?

Profoundly Gifted: Yes; it was a bit harrowing, but I made a bit of extra effort and was overall pretty safe.

Maximos: What made you safe?

Profoundly Gifted: I drove slowly, left plenty of space, and made allowances for skidding. That was enough to have me relatively safe.

Maximos: Ever driven in that kind of snowstorm in Georgia and the US South? The same three or four inches?

Profoundly Gifted: Not really; it never snowed like that when I was there.

Maximos: Years back, Georgia responded to a snowstorm three or four inches deep, and decided, “We will not be caught off guard like this again.” And then the next snowstorm the slowplows were rusted to the point of being unusuable, and you would have been sharing the road with people who don’t have even an Illinois familiarity with driving under heavy snow. Would you consider yourself safe all the same, because you need to drive in snow?

Profoundly Gifted: Aah.

Maximos: Get used to driving in a blizzard with other people not used to driving in any snow, if you want to be profoundly gifted. The approach that is usually safe sharing the road with drivers who can handle snow, more or less, does not even compare to trying to be safe hanling a road with people who just don’t know how to drive heavy snow.

And it feels awfully good to be told more than once, “You are the most brilliant person I’ve ever met,” but suppose you are so bright that the average Oxford PhD has never met someone as talented as you? You may be trying to drive safely yourself at least, but you’re sharing the road with people who are driving on a complete snow-packed terra incognita to them.

Profoundly Gifted: This sounds like a lonely and sad life.

Maximos: That was not my point at all, but what life is sad and lonely when one is searching for humility?

But let me give another detail.

You know, probably ad nauseum, about Leta Hollingsworth’s conception of “socially optimum intelligence”. The top end of the range varies somewhat depending on who you ask, but it runs something like 120 to 150. At that point you have powers to speak of, but you’re still running on the same chassis. And people who are properly above the range are rare, enough to really be exotic or a purple squirrel or something else few people have seen. The powers that come seem almost magical, but the price tag is hefty; the real advantage and the real privilege is at the heart of the gifted range, not the upper extreme.

I found James Webb’s Guiding the Gifted Child to be a treasure chest and a gold mine. One part of it says that children with an IQ above 170 don’t have peeps; the way that the book says this is that “children with an IQ above 170 tend to feel like they don’t fit in anywhere…”

…But there is another shoe to drop. There is another level, exact IQ unknown, where people are able to make peeps out of anyone. They develop a theory of alien minds so far that the distinction between the theory of like minds and the theory of alien minds no longer matters so much…

…And that is how I have found employment as the local usability and user experience guru. One of the first things people are taught for usability research is “You are not a user,” meaning that however much theory-of-like-minds knowledge you have of how software is meant to be used, you need to grasp a theory-of-alien-minds understanding of how everybody but the software developers understands it…

…Maybe you think I should be doing something more exalted in academia, and maybe I should be, but a humble and gentle boss is a treasure worth gold, and turf wars are just a little less than with academic bullies. Right now I have my wife and our seven daughters, and a steady job, and godliness with contentment is great gain.

Profoundly Gifted: Well, that about says it.

Maximus: Or not.

Profoundly Gifted: Or not?

Maximos: Or not.

Sweet lord, I have played thee false.

You don’t know how I was at a rich kids’ school, and the one and only chapel message I heard on theology of play was students who had gone through internships in third world nations, and theology of joy and play was writ large: a girl asked how you talk about germ theory to a runny-nosed little girl who offered you a lick of her lollipop. And really, how can you to people who are poor enough to be happy?

You do not know the time when I was deathly ill and was healed You do not know when I met every earthly betrayal and dishonor, and none to my own credit knew Heavenly honor next to which the summit of earthly honor is but pale and shadow. You do not know the sound of men weeping when the sleeper awakes, and the dreams are gone: the apprenticeship is finished and the godhead begins. You know I have felt sorrows above anything mentioned here, but they are not worth comparing with the glory to come, or even for the glory that exists here now in the the vast, vast open freedom of forgiveness, the utter nakedness of standing open before God, and the priceless vale of humility that is so low that no man can fall from it.

We, like social Gospel and the liberal left, believe in life before death. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which here now God worketh in hidden transcendent glory for those who love him.

The Damned Backswing

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Kaine: What do you mean and what is the “damned backswing”?

Vetus: Where to start? Are you familiar with category theory?

Kaine: I have heard the term; explain.

Vetus: Category theory is the name of a branch of mathematics, but on a meta level, so to speak. Algebraists study the things of algebra, and number theorists study the things of number theory—an arrangement that holds almost completely. But category theory studies common patterns in other branches of mathematics, and it is the atypical, rare branch of mathematics that studies all branches of mathematics. And, though this is not to my point exactly, it is abstract and difficult: one list of insults to give to pet languages is that you must understand category theory to write even the simplest of all programs.

The achievements of category theory should ideally be juxtaposed with Bourbaki, the pseudonym of a mathematician or group of mathematicians who tried to systamatize all of mathematics. What came out of their efforts is that trying to systematize mathematics is like trying to step on a water balloon and pin it down; mathematicians consider their discipline perhaps the most systematic of disciplines in academia, but the discipline itself cannot be systematized.

But the fact that Bourbaki’s work engendered a realization that you cannot completely systematize even the most systematic of disciplines does not mean that there are patterns and trends that one can observe, and the basic insight in category theory is that patterns recur and these patterns are not limited to any one branch of mathematics. Even if it does not represent a total success of doing what Bourbaki tried and failed to do, it is far from a total loss: category theory legitimately observes patterns and trends that transcend the confines of individual subdisciplines in mathematics.

Kaine: So the “damned backswing” is like something from category theory, cutting across disciplines?

Vetus: Yes.

Kaine: And why did you choose the term of a damned backswing?

Vetus: Let me comment on something first. C.S. Lewis, in a footnote in Mere Christianity, says that some people complained about his light swearing in referring to certain ideas as “damned nonsense.” And he explained that he did not intend to lightly swear at all; he meant that the ideas were incoherent and nonsense, and they and anyone who believed in them were damned or accursed. And I do not intend to swear lightly either; I intend to use the term “damned” in its proper sense. Instead there is a recurring trend, where some seemingly good things have quite the nasty backswing.

Kaine: And what would an example be?

Vetus: In the U.S., starting in the 1950’s there was an incredibly high standard of living; everything seemed to be getting better all the time. And now we are being cut by the backswing: the former great economic prosperity, and the present great and increasing economic meltdown, are cut from the same cloth; they are connected. There was a time of bait, and we sprung for it and are now experiencing the damned backswing.

Kaine: So the damned backswing begins with bait of sorts, and ends in misery? In the loss of much more than the former gain? Do you also mean like addiction to alcohol or street drugs?

Vetus: Yes, indeed; for a while drinking all the time seems an effective way to solve problems. But that is not the last word. The same goes from rationalism to any number of things.

Kaine: Do you see postmodern trends as the backswing of modern rationalism?

Vetus: All that and less.

Kaine: What do you mean by “and less”?

Vetus: The damned backswing did not start with Derrida. The understanding of “reason” that was held before the Enlightenment was a multifaceted thing that meant much more than logic; even as Reason was enthroned (or an actress/prostitute), Reason was pared down to a hollowed-out husk of what reason encompassed in the West before then. It would be like celebrating “cars”, but making it clear that when the rubber hits the road, the truly essential part of “a set of wheels” is the wheel—and enthroning the wheel while quietly, deftly stripping away the rest of the car, including not just the frame but engine, and seats. The Damned Backswing of rationalism was already at work in the Enlightenment stripping and enthroning reason. And the damned backswing was already at work in economic boom times in the West, saying that yes, indeed, man can live by bread alone.

And perhaps the strongest and most visible facet of the damned backswing occurs in technology. There are other areas: a country erected on freedoms moves towards despotism, just as Plato said in his list of governments, moving from the best to the worst. But in technology, we seem to be able to be so much more, but the matrix of technology we live in is, among other things, a surveillance system, and something we are dependent on, so that we are vulnerable if someone decides to shut things off. Man does not live by bread alone, but it is better for a man to try to live by bread alone than live by SecondWife alone, or any or all the array of techologies and gadgetry. The new reality man has created does not compare to the God-given reality we have spurned to embrace the new, and some have said that the end will come when we no longer make paths to our neighbors because we are entirely engrossed in technology and gadgetry.

Kaine: And are there other areas?

Vetus: There are other areas; but I would rather not belabor the point. Does this make sense?

Kaine: Yes, but may I say something strange?

Vetus: Yes.

Kaine: I believe in the damned backswing, and in full.

Vetus: You’re not telling me something.

Kaine: I believe in the damned backswing, but I do not believe that the fathers eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

Vetus: What? Do you mean that you partly believe in the damned backswing, and partly not? Do you believe in the damned backswing “is true, from a certain point of view”?

Kaine: I understand your concern but I reject the practice of agreeing with everyone to make them feel better. If I believed in the damned backswing up to a point, I would call it such.

Vetus: How do you believe it, if you reject that the fathers eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge?

Kaine: Let me ask: do Calvinists believe in the Sovereignty of God?

Vetus: Is the Pope Catholic? (I mean besides John XXIII.)

Kaine: Let me suggest that the Reformed view of Divine Sovereignty could go further than it actually does.

Vetus: How? They are the most adamant advocates of Divine Sovereignty, and write books like No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism.

Kaine: There’s an awfully strong clue in the title.

Vetus: That the author believes so strongly in the Divine Sovereignty that he cannot countenance creaturely freedom?

Kaine: Not quite.

Vetus: Then what is the clue? I don’t want to guess.

Kaine: The clue is that the author believes in the Divine Sovereignty so weakly that he cannot countenance creaturely freedom, and that if there is one iota of creaturely freedom, there is not one iota of Divine Sovereignty.

His is a fragile Divine Sovereignty, when in actual fact God’s Sovereignty is absolute, with the last word after every exercise of creaturely freedom. There is no exercise of freedom you can make that will impede the exercise of the Divine Sovereignty.

Vetus: I could sin. In fact, I do sin, and I keep on sinning.

Kaine: Yes, but God is still Sovereign and can have the last world where there is sin. To get back to Lewis for a second, “All of us, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Satan and Judas as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.” The Divine Sovereignty is the Alpha and the Omega, the Founder of the beginning, and works in and through all: “even Gollum may have something yet to do.”

Vetus: But what?

Kaine: “But what?”, you ask?

For starters, there is Christmas. Good slips in unnoticed. God slips in unnoticed. True, it will become one of the most celebrated holidays in the Western world, and true, the Western world will undertake the nonsensical task of keeping a warm, fuzzy Christmas without Christ or Christmas mentioned once. But us lay aside both Christian bloggers speaking in defense of a secularized Christmas, and bloggers telling retailers, “You need Christmas, but Christmas doesn’t need you.” You speak of the damned backswing coming from an unexpected place; this is nothing next to God slipping in unnoticed.

There will be a time when God will be noticed by all. At the first Christmas, angel hosts announced good news to a few shepherds. When Christ returns, he will be seen by all, riding on the clouds with rank upon rank of angels. At the first Christmas, a lone star heralded it to the Magi. When he returns, the sky will recede as a vanishing scroll. At the first Christmas, a few knees bowed. When he returns, every knee will bow. And the seed for this victory is planted in Christmas.

And the same seeds of glory are quietly planted in our lives. You are not wrong to see the damned backswing and see that it is real: but one would be wrong to see it and think it is most real. Open one eye, and you may see the damned backswing at work. Open both eyes wide, and you may see God at work, changing the game.

And God will work a new thing in you. Not, perhaps, by taking you out of your sufferings or other things that you may pray for; that is at his good pleasure. But you have heard the saying, “We want God to change our circumstances. God wants to use our circumstances to change us.” Whole worlds open up with forgiveness, or repentance, or any virtue. If you are moulded as clay in the potter’s hands, unsought goods come along the way. The Best Things in Life are Free, and what is hard to understand is that this is not just a friend’s smile, but suffering persecution for the sake of Christ. It was spiritual eyes wide open that left the apostles rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame [and violence] for Christ’s name. And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” This newness begins here and now, and it comes when in circumstances we would not choose God works to give us a larger share in the real world. We enter a larger world, or rather we become larger ourselves and more able to take in God’s reality. And all of this is like the first Christmas, a new thing and unexpected. We are summoned and do not dare disobey: Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord all the earth. And it is this whole world with angels, butterflies, the Church, dandylions, energetic work, friends, family, and forgiveness, the Gospel, holiness, the I that God has made, jewels, kairos, love, mothers, newborn babes, ostriches, preaching, repentance from sins, singing, technology, unquestioning obedience, variety, wit and wisdom, xylophones, youth and age, and zebras.

The damned Backswing is only a weak parody of the power of God the Gamechanger.

That Beautiful Strength

God the Game Changer

Plato: The Allegory of the… Flickering Screen?

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis

Journal of an Awakening

Tuesday 11/16/99
One week ago this day, something beautiful happened. I came alive spiritually. After some prayer and listening to the Spirit, I am endeavoring to write a journal of my experiences and lessons learned, perhaps to be of use to others who are at a time of dryness, or at least to be of use to myself when my love has grown cold. D.L. Moody said that he was like a leaky bucket, needing to be refilled again and again. In that regard, I believe he speaks for all of us, or at least me at any rate. There are times that I am very much spiritually alive, and times of being bleak and dull. (I don’t mean the long, dark night of the soul where we seem to be in a desert wasteland without finding the God we earnestly seek, but are very close to the God who seems so far; I mean times where our love has grown cold, where we do not sense God and do not particularly seek him. The latter is where I was.) This journal starts today, and I do not know where it will end — my guess is that it will taper off when I next begin to drift from God, and/or there will be some point when I realize that I have not written anything in a while and it is now a closed book. Before that point comes, however, I think I have a lot to write.

With that done, let me first tell how I have come to this infusion of spiritual life.


I was walking outside and met a friend, 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. I experienced it then. I also spent time worrying about the loss of the joy and peace, although I tried not to.


I am not sure how to begin; a lot has happened since then. My account will probably grow more linear and chronological as time moves on, but the account of the days before will probably be more by lessons learned and by theme.

The lessons I have learned have not in a sense been new lessons, in the sense of something I couldn’t have articulated before, but I have owned and experienced the knowledge more deeply.

The first lesson has to do with the bread from Heaven, manna. It was divine nourishment, and it required trust in God. You couldn’t gather extra for two days; it would spoil. However much you gathered, it was enough. These two principles I have found to apply to God’s presence, and spiritual nourishment.

I struggle with wanting to have things under control, to know ahead of time what to do with my time (in small part to avoid boredom, and in large part to continue to be nourished and grow close to God), and God doesn’t tell me. That is better for my learning to trust him, I think. God isn’t giving me a programme to follow. He’s giving me a relationship.

Wednesday 11/17/99
I’ve read that spiritual growth is slow and gradual, and I believe it is. Growth since that one mountaintop experience has been imperceptible. But here is a case of a sudden growth. I think that that is a matter of God working differently with different people, meeting each where he needs to be met. Perhaps next time his work with me will be entirely slow — I believe I am growing and changing, but God plans on a larger scale than one week.


Before that Tuesday, I was uniformly groggy. My emotions after then have been a little bit of a roller coaster — I’ve had some moments of bliss, and some moments of sadness. Now I am feeling groggy and perhaps a little depressed — although that’s probably because I didn’t get enough sleep. God has blessed me with emotions; now perhaps he is trying to wean me off of them. He saved me for himself, not for emotions. I hope that the good feelings won’t end yet, though; I need to heal from pain. I ask that I may first have him, and then after that enjoy him through emotional blessings.


I have been reminded of, and appreciating, the way of the heart described in Brent Curtis’s Less-Wild Lovers: Standing at the Crossroads of Desire, which I will summarize/condense here, and would highly encourage you to read:

There is within us a yearning for a sacred Romance, a haunting that won’t go away. Art, literature, music have explored this Romance and its loss. It uncontrollably haunts through natural beauty, telling of something lost with a promise to return.

If this were all there was to it, that would be great — but it’s not. The Romance has an enemy, the Message of the Arrows.

We once trusted in good because we had not known evil. Now we must trust in good, with full knowledge of evil. Our loss of innocence came through painful experiences we adapted to by wearing a false self.

The Romance appears through things — moonlight, a song — but those things will sear us if we think the Romance is in them. We can hurt ourselves by trying to capture the things through which Romance has shown, or we can hurt ourselves by trying to forget the Haunting, and resigning ourselves to the Romance’s loss. This resignation sees good as not startling, but only “nice”, and evil as normal.

In resignation we give up on the sacred Romance, but our heart will not give up, and we compromise. We become, and take, less-wild lovers.

God calls us to give up the less-wild lovers, embrace our nakedness, and trust in his goodness. We are at a fork in the road. The one path can only be seen for a short distance, and looks uncertain, unpredictable. Anxious, we have no good road map, but just snippets of travellers before: encouraging but frustratingly vague.

The other way looks straight and safe far as the eye can see, and signs promise success on the next leg if directions are precisely followed. We read one last note quaintly encouraging us to trust the goodness of the first path, and start on the route of discipline and duty.

We discover that we don’t feel much of anything, don’t connect with people. Our passions show themselves in inappropriate ways. Our heart is with us, journeying under protest. So we crush it with more activity — or let our heart have a secret life on the side. We arrive at Vanity Fair, peopled by deadness of spirit, lack of love, lust, pride, anger… We think this is as close to the Celestial City as we are going to get, and so set up shop and try to distract ourselves with the soul curiosities and anesthetics: Bible study, community service, religious seminars, hobbies… These are often good things, but misused to squelch our heart’s longings.

Most of us fall into two categories vis-a-vis these less-wild lovers. There are those who anesthetize their hearts via competence or order (a clean desk, stellar athletic skills, impressive dinner parties, massive amounts of time reading Scriptire), like a picture perfect wife who is always busy, admirably involved with the community, and is never really there to her husband. Her sadness says, “My heart is not available for anything that is not safe and tame. I am careful to avoid surprises that might upset my control, and if you were wise, you would, too.” She tries to keep away the pain of the Arrows by sealing off those compartments of the heart that have been wounded. She may have grown up in an atmosphere too delicate to handle the weight of her unedited soul.

Others choose a different kind of control: indulgence. They seek a taste of transcendence from non-transcendent sources: porn, obsession with sports, or living off our giftedness, which is like crack cocaine to our souls. They touch the heart-place made for transcendent communion without being transcendent, and shackle us: addiction.

Only unfallen communion will ever satisfy our desire, or allow it to drink freely without imprisoning it and us.

If God married to us experiences from the first group a legalistic controller, the second group is a harlot whose heart is seduced by every scent on the evening breeze. God says, “I love you and yet you betray me at the drop of a hat. Can’t you see we’re made for each other?”

God’s love became even more wild, but we become and take on lovers that are less wild. We give up on being in a relationship of heroic proportions, and take what is smaller but under our control.

The indulgence looks better than anesthesia, but the passion must be fed by worship or use of the other and so does ot leave us free to love. Its pleasure is part of the vanity of vanities.

The formulae that seem to control everything, do not offer wisdom about what to do with the depth of desire God has given us. If we try to anesthetize the desire, we become relational islands, and if we seek to indulge then familiarity breeds contempt and we must seek mystery elsewhere.

What, then, is the road less travelled, the way of the heart?

Perhaps, more than improving our habits, we are to invite Jesus into the aching abyss of our hearts. Internal discipline is valuable, but discipline imposed from the outside will be defeated. There comes a point when renewed religious activity is worthless. We must place our hand in God’s, and relate in a personal way to him. We are drawn to and fear this intimacy.

We are once again at the crossroads. There is a chasm between us and Christ, but he beckons and promises a bridge. We listen, but his words sound like many we should not have trusted. Some return to Vanity Fair, some close their eyes and take a step. We look in our valise, and pull words we disdained the last time we stood at a crossroads — now we see their truth. We see that good can be trusted in, and that God is good. We see that to be free, we must allow ourselves to be haunted, surprised by goodness we cannot hold.

We fear to really ask for such bold movement from the wild God, and sit down, honest with ourselves. Vanity Fair never really has felt like home. We are captured by our less-wild lovers. We take the step into freedom.

We are clueless as to how we will cross the abyss, but we are glad to be on our way.

Thursday 11/18/99
Before my awakening, I was in a state of lethargy, and now I have begun to do too much. If doing some things is a part of spiritual recovery, it is easy to believe that doing more will be better — easy to believe, and destructively wrong.

After a number of activities last night, I felt a beckoning from God to lie down and be with him. I lay down, and made being with him one more activity — I was trying to do something to accomplish being with him. I felt a prompting to stop, and did, with hesitation — trying to let go, and beginning to succeed.

The next thing I knew, I awoke from a nap, wonderfully refreshed and filled with his presence.


Discipline is essential to spiritual growth, and there are several things I am doing as a matter of discipline: Bible reading, e-mailing prayer requests to my friends and praying for their prayer requests, transcribing the lyrics to hymns into a collection, and this journal. But the disciplines are for faith, not faith for the disciplines, and I have felt a freedom to not be bound too tightly by the disciplines. Yesterday I did not enter a hymn, and it felt wonderful.


One of the questions or doubts I have concerns my professional future. I have a master’s degree in applied mathematics, with a computational science and engineering option, and want to work as a mathematician or at least a programmer. Use it or lose it skills are beginning to atrophy. I think it will be sad if I acquire this education and then never really use it — I am trying to hold that out, open to God to work with. It’s his domain, not mine.


Friday 11/19/99
I was angry and not in a state to write, because my brother Joseph was playing a computer game with a very annoying sound track right below me, and prayed a little, then slowly entered and sang “O the deep, deep love of Jesus”. That put me in the right state of mind to write again. (It reminds me of the passage in A Wind in the Door when Proginoskes tells Meg to recite the multiplication tables in order to get her thoughts straight to prepare for (or deal with, I don’t remember which) the Mr. Jenkins trial.)


I visited my friend Robin, a few days after we spoke and that first spark was lit, to see if there were any words of wisdom that he could share with me, any direction or advice. I asked him what he had been learning, and he said a number of things. Nearly all of them were things I had reasoned out theologically, but there is sometimes a difference between reasoning out a truth as a doctrinal proposition and coming to own it, to breathe it. The lesson above about manna, for instance, was one I had thought out before (and I do not wish in the least to denigrate learning something intellectually. I am served very well by my intellectual knowledge, and I am worshipping God when I reason things out). But there was one he mentioned that hit me. Although I had reasoned it out, I am not sure how well I’ve assimilated it.

That has to do with where your identity comes from. The Christian’s identity should come from Christ, and I realized that my identity in very large part comes from what Curtis would have referred to as competence — what I can do. I am very intelligent and have a number of talents, and when I think about myself… perhaps you could say that I have feet partly of iron and partly of clay. Being a Christian is a very large part of my identity, but so are the talents that I have. I realized a couple of days ago that many of my fantasies are about having some (usually odd) superhuman power, such as knowing the contents of all the books ever written, or speaking a thousand languages at a native proficiency. Those fantasies express something very revealing; they answer in some way the question of “What, in my heart of hearts, do I really believe would be an expression of who I would like to be?” Who you would like to be is usually an expression of who you are, a magnified and concentrated sense if you will. A hint of how this is, might be shown in that a black man’s fantasies will have him be a black man, and a white man’s fantasies will have him be a white man: a black man does not become more of the essence of a black man by becoming white, nor a white man become more of the essence of a white man by becoming black. (I realize that this isn’t the whole picture, but I don’t want to add all the nuances now.)

The importance of “Who do you understand yourself to be?” might be observed in a fact about the early Christian Church. The society they lived in was quite sharply divided and segregated by race, gender, and social status. Feelings of superiority and hatred were the norm; an organization like the KKK would not seem to people to be abnormal or disappointing.

In this context, there appeared what both itself and outsiders recognized as a new race: Christians. There really was not any longer Jew nor Greek nor barbarian, male nor female, slave nor free. People mingled across those boundaries, and a large part of this was because their identities were not “I am a free Jewish man,” but simply “I am a Christian.” (Martyr’s Mirror records some early martyrs who, when asked their names, simply answered, “Christian.”) People were still (for example) free African men, but the core of their identity, the core answer to the question, “Who am I?”, was Christian.

I am not at that point yet. A large part of my identity comes from speaking French and ranking 7th nationally in the 1989 MathCounts competition, for instance. It has been very difficult for me to not have, or be frustrated in applying, or slowly be losing, some of those abilities. Those things are to be enjoyed and used, and are blessings from God, but… My friend Robin was able to say that he had realized that if he were to lose (for example) his computer abilities, it would be an adjustment, but it would not be that difficult to go on; he would not have lost who he was. I’m not at that point yet. I think that (say) being paralyzed from the waist down would be an easier adjustment than having my intelligence move to an average level.

I think this is important, but I don’t know what to do about it. Pray and be open to God, perhaps; he’ll move on when he wants to, and maybe I’m not ready for that. God doesn’t try to do everything at once; we couldn’t take it. He works on us slowly and patiently; he isn’t in a hurry.


There were a few insights I had theologically, and I thought about including them, but decided not to. This is a journal of how I am doing spiritually, not primarily a theological writing. (I think some of the above may have shifted too much to writing a lecture for readers from writing a journal as I grow close to God. I’ll try to shift back.)

Saturday 11/20/99
I am starting to feel a bit burned out. I have been trying too hard to accomplish what is God’s to do. So today I am taking a sabbath — keeping up my spiritual disciplines and the normal things of the Christian walk, but ceasing the heroic efforts to draw close to God. And tomorrow, Sunday, I hope not to resume those efforts I keep falling into, but simply to wait, open to however God may or may not surprise me.


Today has been a good day. I had a good, long, and unplanned conversation with my 14 year old brother Joseph. Deep, open conversations are something I have wanted and not had for a while. I’ve had people willing to talk and listen, but when the time comes I haven’t found much to say. (That is frustrating — wanting to talk and having someone to talk with, but not to actually be able to say anything.)

I thought a bit about what Robin said — about being closer to God, and being more open to other people. I think the two are linked for him. I was able this time to be open to Joseph, to listen and engage when he was ready to talk.

One thing that I have been thinking with, out of this, is that I have been affected by the scientific method. The aspect of the method that is relevant here is that you reproduce initial conditions to bring about the same outcome — a matter in which the scientific method reflects human and even animal psychology. It runs deep in me, and it is something I have to let go of in this regard.

In spiritual life, I do not (at least on some scales) have an experimental apparatus before me to manipulate in order to get desired effects. The conversation I had with Joseph was a good conversation, but I know I can’t bring about another such conversation by repeating what I did before this one. The more immature side of me would also like to have over again the experience at the train tracks, but I know that I cannot cause that to be repeated. God can, but I can’t. These experiences are to be enjoyed, then cherished and let go of when they are over. God will grant fresh experiences, like writing this journal entry for me (I didn’t think I’d have anything to say after a day’s rest), but the manna must be fresh each day. The temptation is perennial to regard God as my personal genie — but he is not, and I cannot control what he does, not even by faithfully repeating whatever I did to which he responded with a blessing. He answers prayers, and even his unpredictability is part of his love. He is faithful, and responds to his people’s reaching up to him. He blesses people as they receive Communion. But there is something in spiritual life — or at least the speck of it I’m experiencing now — that is quite unpredictable, where God responds to us as he will and refuses to be manipulated by our doing what we did before a blessing.

Tomorrow after church, instead of seeking out people to listen to me, I’ll try to seek out someone I can listen to. I mean to ask, “How are you?” — slowly — and then wait and listen to the answer.

Sunday 11/21/99
What I first thought of writing today is that the spectacular feelings come first and often give way to deeper work — those feelings are a good, but not the only or the greatest good. And I am feeling slightly melancholy now. But there were three un-requested unexpected and delightful surprises that came today.

When I was growing up, I had a miniature collie named Goldie. (A miniature collie is a dog like Lassie on TV, only smaller.) She was a wonderful dog, a good breed to have with children. When I was a little boy, I covered her back with Vaseline. Then my brother Matthew (3 years younger) covered her back with peanut butter. Then we both covered her back with honey. Later and finally, Ben and Joe (10 years younger) covered her with honey. The poor dog hated baths. I have a lot of fond memories of her.

This morning, I looked out the family room window, and saw a miniature collie wandering through the back yard. It was good to stand and watch it.

Then, when I arrived late at church, I was looking at the bulletin cover. The bulletin covers vary in cover according to the liturgical year, and today’s bulletin cover was white. I slowly realized that the cover was not a pure white, but flecked with little specks of color — something that I had been trying to find for a Christmas gift but not been able to.

Finally, as I looked through the songs, I saw that the last communion song was “We will dance”, a beautiful song that I had been looking for the lyrics for and not found. The song goes:

Sing a song of celebration Lift up a shout of praise
For the Bridegroom will come, The glorious One
And Oh, we will look on his face
We’ll go to a much better place.

Dance with all your might Lift up your hands and clap for joy
The time’s drawing near, When He will appear
And Oh, we will stand by his side
A strong, pure, spotless bride

Chorus:
We will dance on the streets that are golden
The glorious bride and the great Son of Man
From every tongue and tribe and nation
We’ll join in the song of the Lamb

Sing aloud for the time of rejoicing is near
The risen King, our groom, is soon to appear
The wedding feast to come Is now near at hand
Lift up your voice, Proclaim the coming Lamb.

I said three blessings, but I remembered a fourth. I had become slightly depressed last Sunday after meeting a girl but not being able to talk with her. I was able to chat with her and a few other people today.

These blessings are interesting, because they are a kind of blessing I try not to focus on. The immature mind seeks to find happiness primarily by controlling the circumstances out there; the mature mind seeks to find happiness more by controlling the circumstances in here. These blessings are the sort of blessings that someone immature would ask for; therefore I wasn’t expecting them. I had forgotten them, and forgotten that, even if they are lesser blessings than a tranquil heart, they are still blessings. I hope that I have a few more such blessings.


A part of maturity comes in giving up a pleasure principle — in having joy and being able to appreciate pleasures, but not chasing after them in a primary sense. I have come to realize that there’s more of that pleasure seeking in me than I thought. It’s part of what I seek from God. I evaluate some of the blessings in part by what pleasure they give me. I don’t know when (if ever) I’ll outgrow it, but at least I’m aware of it now.


There is one more thing I remembered about the church service. As background for this, I wasn’t holding my bulletin at the time, and the musicians often repeat verses, so it can be hard to tell when a song will end:

As “We will dance” was being sung, there came a point when the music was winding down, and I said to myself, “I enjoyed that, but I don’t need it to go any longer.” I happily prepared to sit down. Then things sped up a little and the song continued on for a bit longer — at which I was delighted — but I did not wistfully desire for the song to linger on and on. I was able to enjoy it, cherish it, and then let it go.

(The background principle, if it would help to state explicitly, is that a person who is full doesn’t ask for more. Immoderation, finding something good, will try to have more and more of it, or finding a good moment, try to make that moment last forever. Moderation allows good things to pass from experiences to memories, capable of both holding on and letting go. The topic is explored beautifully in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet.)

Monday 11/22/99
Today, as I was singing in the shower, I came across a tune that left me astounded. To put it in a way that risks sounding narcissistic, it was the first time in a long while I have been entranced by the sound of my own voice — but it was not narcissistic. It was not my voice and myself that I was in awe of; it was the music that was coming through my voice. I was entranced by the music and sound, and at all not aware of myself.

The music is hauntingly beautiful, and speaks of a childlike, hushed awe and wonder. It is music that can be sung without breaking the stillness, the silence. The emotions that the piece, or its thought, evokes, are the ones I have surrounding Christmas carols in a minor key — which is what I decided to make of it. It tells of being a little boy in pyjamas, warm and out in the living room, drinking a cup of hot cocoa at night where it is wintry cold outside and warm inside, waiting for Christmas to come. (When I was a boy, Christmas was one of my favorite holidays because of all the presents I got, and I looked forward to that a great deal. Now it’s the presents I give.) (I’ve got the melody written down, and I have some words, but I’m not completely happy with them — except for the last four stanzas. They allow people to sing and listen to the music.) To me, there has been something special about music in minor keys, that I have difficulty explaining. Perhaps you could say that major keys are pretty, like a dandelion, and minor keys are beautiful, like a rose. I have heard people say that minor keys are sad, and there is some truth to that, but to say that and nothing more is to paint a very deceptive picture. A better word would be ‘bittersweet’, and music in a minor key can tell of a bittersweet beauty — which includes the haunting beauty of the Romance described above. Bittersweet waters run deep.

Here is the present version of the piece; I don’t know how to write sheet music in HTML, and for that matter I don’t know if there is any better way to do it than include a GIF of some sheet music, which is why the music is written as it is.

(As I have been writing this, I have been feeling the emotions I would feel if I were singing it.)

adagio, piano

a quarter
e quarter
e quarter
e quarter

f quarter
e eighth
d eighth
e quarter
e quarter

a quarter
e quarter
e quarter
e quarter

d quarter
c eighth
b eighth
a half

Once there was born a lit-tle ba-by,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Born out of the pure vir-gin Mary,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Sent from Hea-ven he ca-ame to ea-arth,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Al-le-lu-ia, Al-le-e-lu-ia,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Word of Cre-a-tion, found a-a-mong us,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Son of God, the Word ma-ade fle-esh,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

King of Kings and Lord o-of Lo-ords,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Al-le-lu-ia, Al-le-e-lu-ia,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.

Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah,
Aa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah.


I had coffee with a really cool friend tonight. His name’s Joel. At the beginning, I showed him something I’ve been working on for Christmas, and he cried; he has been in intense spiritual warfare, and what I wrote really touched him. (I was worried during the time he was reading, because his brow wrinkled and I thought he didn’t like it.) He is a seminary student, and asked permission to use parts of it when he returns to Mexico. During that time, I also decided to see if the church would use “In the Silence” around Christmastime. I’ll go to the church office tomorrow.

We had a good conversation, and I was able to encourage him, and talk and listen. We talked about different cultures (among other things), and he spoke of Mexican communication style: where an American would have a logical, outlined plan (premise, point 1, point 2, point 3, conclusion…), a Mexican will have one central point and then give many different pieces of supporting evidence. Joel mentioned that his wife sometimes got frustrated with this: “Get to the point! Get to the point!” I mentioned to him that I am interested in different cultural communication styles, and he was welcome to communicate with me in the Mexican style.

When I walked away, I realized that he had been communicating with me in the Mexican fashion, and I was listening to it with ease.

A month or two ago in church, I was thinking about Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which has as a premise a person of totally alien culture entering our world (roughly). As well as experiencing culture shock, he causes a great deal of culture shock. He violates expectations people didn’t know they had.

I was wanting to find some other piece of literature like that, something else like that to read. Such a theme would be hard to find — it’s not the sort of thing people generally write about. And then it suddenly dawned on me what other book would fit that description: theBible, with God in it as the stranger. “My thoughts are not like your thoughts, nor are my ways like your ways.” God is a totally alien intelligence, one not like a man. He does not have any culture, but uses people’s cultures to speak and work with them. He speaks all languages, and knows all cultures’ ways of thinking. He works with these things and meets people where they are, but is always more than they are, and beyond comprehension. He is not now an organism walking on earth, but is immaterial, in all places at all times. He is not bound even by time. He is par excellence the stranger in a strange land.

I remembered this in connection with my present experience because, for my years of faith and study of spiritual things, what is happening is very different from what I would have expected an awakening to be like. The first thing (the experience at the railroad tracks) is about the only thing that happened the way I could have expected. My unspoken attitude towards the blessings on Sunday was, “Thanks, God, these Christmas presents are nice, but would you please draw me close to you?” Whoops.

I’m so glad that God doesn’t give us what we want.


Oh, and I’ve gotten almost nothing out of what I’ve read of Thérèse de Lisieux’s autobiography. I was expecting to learn a lot from that.


After reading Less-Wild Lovers: Standing at the Crossroads of Desire, I began to think, “That article should be a book,” or more properly was wishing that I could find a book to read that would be like it, hold the same charm. The haunting beauty it tells of manifests itself in the article. There are a lot of books a little like that, but I only know of one that’s really like it: Peter Kreeft’s Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing, which I hope to reread. Then I realized something heartening: I may be writing a book like Less-Wild Lovers: Standing at the Crossroads of Desire. I might not be, of course, and I cannot tell if this writing will haunt others as Less-Wild Lovers: Standing at the Crossroads of Desire haunted me. If it does, though, that will be a beautiful thing.

Tuesday 11/23/99
It took me a while to get to sleep last night, and I am feeling rather tired. I would say “tired but happy,” but that has a bit different of a meaning than I intend. It is good to feel tired from running once in a while (and I have a feeling of having miles to go before I sleep — but I don’t know if I actually do), especially after not having enough to do.

Free time is a blessing in moderation. Having eight hours of free time a day is not eight times as good as having one hour of free time a day. I was very frustrated to have hours and hours of free time on my hands and have lost my creativity. Now it feels good, once in a while, to have been a bit busy.


At lunch today, I said something that I realized had broader application than its original context, and application to blessings from God.

It has to do with a difference between European and American attitudes towards alcohol and parties. In America, alcohol is the reason for the party. In Europe, alcohol is present and it is enjoyed, but it is not the reason for the party. It is given a subordinate role, a part of the enjoyment of the other people — and therefore probably enjoyed more.

A good party doesn’t need alcohol, but alcohol can add something to a party. C.S. Lewis said that nobody puts a bow on a baby’s head to hide how ugly she is. In the same spirit, alcohol is not what makes a party good, but neither is it something that has nothing to add. It adorns the goodness of a good party, just as a bow adorns a baby’s head.

Many things are like that — not needed, but they have something to add. Christmas gifts are like that to friendship and family — gifts cannot be the substance of the relationships (and it is perverse to try to buy love by giving gifts), and a good friendship needs no exchange of gifts — but they are none the less a beautiful adornment. The principle also applies to some of my attitude towards how God was working with me — I was thinking “Either I have community with God, or I have lesser things that are easier to want and harder to be satisfied with.” No — I can have both, with the lesser adorning the greater. A lesser good is still a good.


Up until recently, I was somewhat ashamed of my singing voice. Now, I have been able to listen and hear its beauty.

Relatedly… I am afraid of driving. I am slightly nervous when I drive, and more nervous when I’m not driving but thinking about it. My fear has been soothed a great deal by singing in the car.


Tuesday nights are Pooh’s Corner nights, meeting at 9:58 — one of the highlights of the week. Tonight I was waiting for it to start, and around 8:30 or 9:00 felt what seemed like a prompting to leave my house for Pooh’s Corner. Leave and do what? I wondered, as the only thing I could think of was to go to a little chapel on campus, and I expected half an hour or an hour of prayer to be too much, too boring. After some dallying, I went. The chapel was dark, with a little light filtering in through a stained glass window. I love darkness and semidarkness; I love starlight and moonlight. (My eyes are fairly sensitive in dim light.) And in there I sang; that is, I prayed twice. After a time of singing prayers and sitting in peaceful silence, I felt a prompting to leave. I looked at my watch; it was a bit early. So I dallied a bit, and then left, and on my way out found a Palestinian high school student with little brother, who was looking to see if the Stupe (Wheaton’s snack shop) was open. It was closed. We walked and talked for a little while; I started to take him to a nearby Starbucks, but found out that he was on a tight time schedule, and we parted ways.

I walked to Fischer, where Pooh’s corner meets, and found out that it’s not meeting — Thanksgiving weekend. I was not too disappointed, not as much as I would have been other times. I was then glad for the time in the chapel (which I approached with an attitude of rushing, as something to do while impatiently waiting for Pooh’s corner) and with the high schooler (who I enjoyed the opportunity to try to serve, looking with pleasure on an opportunity to serve Christ, thinking, “Pooh’s corner can wait,” and for that matter contemplating staying with them for coffee). I was able to watch and listen to a whole freight train crossing the tracks (something I enjoy). And I was able to get back in time to be able to get some sleep tonight — I would have been up even later if there had been Pooh’s corner, and I would have been tired for work (I was pleasantly surprised at how well rested I felt today).

I just, as I was writing, pieced together something that had been on my mind. I was at the church office today, and an acquaintance by the name of Andy brought in someone named David (I think; my memory’s hazy) who walked like someone with a bad case of cerebral palsy, made annoying noises when he breathed, was immature and mentally retarded, and couldn’t talk. I was annoyed, and I think I did a pretty good job of containing my annoyance and trying to think lovingly (which is not something that is stopped by feeling annoyed), but I couldn’t concentrate. Andy was talking with him, gently and patiently, and there was something in the manner in which he was talking that said that he very much enjoyed David’s company. “How can he do that?” I wondered. I was right in how I acted — there is nothing wrong with controlling yourself, nor with seeking to love when you don’t feel like it (indeed, loving when you don’t feel like it is valuable spiritual exercise). I was still in wonder at Andy, though.

Then when I was writing about the Palestinian student, I realized what it was.

Jesus, in one of his more chilling parables, tells us (Matt. 25:31-46, NJB):

When the Son of man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the upright will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, lacking clothes and clothe you? When did we find you sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink, I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, lacking clothes and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or lacking clothes, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it for me.” And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the upright to eternal life.

This parable is foundational in importance, and it needs to be digested. It affects your whole attitude towards people. It was the semiconscious backdrop to my attitude towards that Palestinian student — and the fact that I did not see him as an inconvenience or an interruption (interruptions can be the some of the most beautiful things; certain interruptions are to be seized), that I was happy to spend a few minutes with him and would have been happy to spend an hour over a cup of coffee and miss Pooh’s corner, that I had difficulty understanding his accent and had to ask him to repeat things, that I offered to lend him my coat when it was cold out and he did not have a coat… None of those things were done with gritting-my-teeth willpower, or offered as noble sacrifices. (The thought that they could be viewed as sacrifices didn’t even occur to me until I started writing.) They came out of a gift — the ability to do those things is a gift from God. That gift’s name is ‘love’, or ‘caritas’, or ‘agape’. Like some other gifts from God, it is a gift that grows with use — and Andy is a bit further along in that gift than I am. There is something special about that virtue that it hides itself, so that its presence may not even be recognized. When I asked myself, “How can he do that?”, I was really asking the question of “How can he summon the willpower to behave kindly when he is experiencing the same annoyance I feel?” That is a wrong question. The answer to the right question is, “It flows from God’s grace.”

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Wednesday 11/24/99
In about an hour I’m going to meet a friend named Carlos. I don’t know Carlos very well yet — I can recall talking with him a few times after church, and going out for coffee once, but not much more. I call him a friend rather than an acquaintance because in the interactions we’ve had, I’ve felt something much deeper than the usual shared interests. I hesitate to say that I ‘like’ him, for the same reason that I would hesitate to call a rose ‘pretty’. The words are too shallow. He’s the sort of quiet person who is easy to overlook, easy to ignore, and has a big heart that you’ll never forget once he’s touched you. Carlos is Hispanic, and his culture takes friendship very seriously — far moreso than American culture, where most of what are called friendships should really be called acquaintanceships. I’m pretty sure that if I were to ask of him, he would give me more than he could afford (be it of money, or time, or emotional energy, or something else).

As I was sitting, watching my little brothers play Monotony, and chatting with Matthew, who is studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and not around very often, I felt a prompting to look for a gift to give him. What gift could I pull up for him in an hour? Well, I reasoned, I have my creativity back, so I’ll probably be able to think of something. So I started thinking, and paced a bit (which is what I sometimes do when I’m thinking), and thought of this journal — and quickly dismissed the thought, for several reasons. It is the project I’m presently working on, and when I’m working on a creative project I want to tell the whole world — and so I send it to all sorts of people I know, including some who probably shouldn’t be bothered. (Sometimes I do it for the wrong reason; I am doing it less to share than for an emotional desire for the praise I receive.) I also sometimes give gifts, or big gifts I’ve put too much work into too quickly — before the relational context has been built up for a gift to have its proper meaning; it has somewhat of the same thing wrong as buying love. This journal-in-progress is not the sort of gift that is appropriate to give to an acquaintance whom you have only talked with for two hours.

I said that I dismissed the thought; it would be more accurate to say that I fought it with the same energy that is in defensiveness: Qui s’excuse, s’accuse. I fought it, and thought of another gift to give, a signed printout on nice paper of one of my poems. And I will give him that, too. But throughout the time, I had a feeling that I really should give him this journal. Finally came the words, “Think about who you are going to see.”

When we first met, Carlos paid for the coffee, and (when I was feeling guilty about not doing a better job of fighting for the check, something I do badly) he said something; I don’t remember the exact words, but he said that it tastes better if you don’t argue about who’s going to pay for it. Not fighting for the check can express a trust and acceptance of the other party’s generosity, and letting someone else be generous and pay for it is as kind as paying for it yourself. Before that point, I felt bad about not knowing how to fight for a check; after that conversation, I have had some doubts about that custom — it embodies some virtue, but doesn’t go all the way. Love should be generous and willing to pay; it should also honor others’ generosity. It is more blessed to give than to receive, and a holy heart should be willing to let others have the greater blessing. I might ask him to buy me a rice crispies treat when I get there.

Then I realized exactly what Carlos will do when he receives this. He will read it carefully and with interest — probably making time for it soon after he receives it. He will feel honored to receive it, love me more for it, and use what it says when he thinks about what to pray for when he is praying for me. (Carlos, could you pray that I grow closer to my brother Matthew?) And for a friend like Carlos, even if I’ve only talked with him for two hours, this gift is perfectly appropriate.

Thursday 11/25/99 (Thanksgiving)
My meeting with Carlos seemed a disappointment at first, but now I’m glad for it. He was interested in me, and asked questions about myself, but when I asked him questions about himself, he wasn’t very talkative. I was disappointed at that, as one of the main things I had been looking forwards to in the meeting.

Carlos was feeling sick after work, and almost called to cancel our meeting. That was why he didn’t say much; I caught him when he wasn’t doing well. He treated me to a good steak burrito and a bottle of guava Jarritos. (When he asked how the burrito was, I told him that it seemed good, but I’d need another one to be sure.) And he said that he was glad we met.

There was one C.S. Lewis short story where several people were at a colony in space. After a number of events, the story ended with a monk asking in prayer, “Can you forgive me, Father, for thinking I was sent here for my own spiritual convenience?”

I was thinking primarily of myself and my own spiritual growth when I asked Carlos to meet for coffee, which there was nothing wrong about. We should place a great emphasis on our own spiritual development: what does it profit a man to gain the entire world and lose his soul? Here, though, God was calling me to the next step: to meet Carlos not for my own benefit, but for his. It was good for me, though, but in a different way: another step in maturing.

It’ll be a good lesson to keep in mind as I see relatives today at Thanksgiving.


I prayed and went to bed early last night — more slowing down instead of always moving. I woke up today feeling relaxed and truly refreshed for the first time in a while. I’m in the family car, moving up, and plan to get some sleep now.


I am writing this on a laptop which I am quite fond of. I use it for programming, writing, and other things. I wrote the above entry, shut it down to sleep, and when I next tried to turn it on, it wouldn’t go on. My heart was placid; I expected a non-functional computer to be a disruption to what I do, but I wasn’t upset. I think that’s a good sign. I tried to turn it on just now, and it worked. I’m a little worried now, because of an intermittent failure, but I’m glad that this happened. I thought I was much more attached to this possession.


I think I might know what is wrong with the laptop; the switch may be bad. If so, that shouldn’t cost much to replace.


I have struggled, and felt guilt about, a dislike for the aged. For a while, I haven’t liked my grandmother, because her mind is going and she looks old. I remember some frustrating conversations in which I was unable to think of anything to ask or anything to say that would elicit a response which could appropriately be called normal adult conversation. I did not sin in having a dislike to deal with, and I do not think my guilty feelings were called for, but my displeasure at her presence and that of other seniors distressed me.

There is an element of beauty that is culture independent, but cultural conditioning can affect what is perceived as beautiful. Ideals of beauty vary from culture to culture. The American ideal of feminine beauty could be caricatured as a pre-pubescent boy with silicone implants. A healthy woman’s body will tend to have thicker legs and bigger hips than most women on TV, and the Venus de Milo looks almost flat next to them. Many cultures would find our supermodels to be sickly, and nowhere here would we find a comment like one made by Marco Polo in the Travels, that a nation’s women had breasts four times as large as those of normal women, and they were exceedingly ugly. Our culture’s icons of feminine beauty are also very young. There is no chance that someone the age of Patrick Stewart or Sean Connery would be voted the sexiest woman in America. When an older adult appears in advertising, he is usually portrayed disrespectfully; many of the disapproving adults in Tropicana Twister ads were elderly, far older than anyone shown heralding a product other than something like Depends undergarments. It is disturbing that one way of promoting a product is to show a wrinkled nun making a face that would curdle new milk saying “We don’t approve of Tropicana Twister.” Would such a thing be done with a bosomy young nymph? We have very little sense of what it means to revere the hoary head, or why someone would refer to the aged as ‘venerable’.

Tonight, amidst the fellowship, I was able for the first time in as long as I can remember to look at my grandmother and see her as truly beautiful. Yes, she is an octogenarian; yes, she is wrinkled, yes, she was sunken in her wheelchair. She still looked beautiful to me. And it was good, not only to be able to enjoy looking on her, but to realize that something had healed in me. It was something like what I realized as I wrote about Andy at the church office and my time with the Palestinian high schooler — good to see an unmerited, God-given grace.

At most family gatherings, I have not connected with the other people, not clicked, not jived. (I was once kicked out of a frat party for that reason.) At this gathering, I wandered around a bit, initiating a few conversations (I had a good talk with my uncle Doug; he’s a good listener), told a few jokes (Jenna had the most delicious expression on her face as she got them), and finally after sitting down with the adults talking realized that there was a relaxed synergy going; I had clicked, and was in the conversation. It felt a little like a campfire.

There was a poster I saw on the wall at Wheaton College’s Computing Services, that talked about becoming a Unix wizard. It was in the form of a miniature catechism, and had questions like, “How many kernels do I have to take apart?” and “What books should I read?” The last question was, “How will I know I know when I am a Unix wizard?” Its answer was profound: “Never mind about when you will become a wizard. Just walk along the path, and someday you will look over your shoulders and see that the mantle of the Unix wizard has lain upon your shoulders since you knew not when.”

That insight applies to many things in life; it offers a deep alternative to our habit of thinking of everything in terms of a sharp beginning and an end. Here, I would certainly not say that a great mantle has lain upon my shoulders since I knew not when; all the same, there is something similar: suddenly realizing a virtue I had hoped for but not had.


I mentioned “In the Silence” in a letter to Grandma, saying that I would sing it to her at Christmas. She has a broken hip, and probably won’t be around for that much longer. I hope that the expectation helps give her the strength to hold on, and that she will be able to hold on gracefully until then. She is very lonely in the nursing home, where she is to heal.

Friday 11/26/99
I have not had only blessings; I had to try over a dozen times to get my computer to boot this time, an old knee injury has been acting up (and keeping me out of martial arts), and there have been moments of sorrow, even at the gathering. Christianity does not on this earth promise escape from suffering, but rather joy in suffering. Does the thornbush have roses, or the rosebush have thorns? Before, I felt that the thornbush had a few roses; now, the rosebush has thorns.

My brother Ben just came in from outside and showed me a battered, dirty diver’s watch, asking me if I recognized it. It took me a second, but I recognized it as a watch I had worn a while back. It was still working. I was at that point trying to politely entertain an interruption I didn’t want. Then he pulled something else out and asked me if I recognized that. I looked at what he had pulled out, at first not recognizing it and then not believing what I saw.

It was my high school class ring.

I had worn it on the band of that watch for a time, and when a pin came loose and the watch fell off, the ring was lost with it. I looked all over the house for it, and today found out why I hadn’t located it — it was outside, next to the garage. This happened at least a year ago, and I was sad to see it go. My high school was very important to me, a formative influence, and I did not get rings for any of the three institutions of higher learning I attended. Having it back reminded me on a little level of the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-9, NASB):

Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully untill she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!

I took Ben to celebrate with me at The Popcorn Shop. The Popcorn Shop is a converted alleyway between two brick buildings, and has a wall lined with glass containers of all different kinds of candy, ranging in price from $1.00 to 1¢. It is the sort of place children’s dreams are made of. It is one of those places that is not polished and commercial in veneer, business as it may be, but instead has something that a child would find magical. It was good to take Ben there and spend some time talking with him, although I was cold. When I looked up the parable, I appreciated experientially Jesus’s explanation (Luke 15:10, NASB):

In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

After that, we went bowling, which was nice. I got my first strike in a while, followed by a spare; my total score was 66 for one of the games. During part of that, I began to realize something about myself. I have been an intense and passionate person; for an e-mail address, I chose nimbus(@ameritech.net), and in role play have spent a fair amount of time playing a character named Nimbus. ‘Nimbus’ is Latin for ‘storm’. Some people might have chosen the name Nimbus in a negative sense — with connotations of being dark, forboding, and destructive — but I chose it in a positive sense. From childhood I have loved being out in a storm, and I especially cherished the warm, wet rainstorms in Malaysia, and so I chose the name Nimbus in an entirely positive sense: it has a meaning of wild goodness, of energy, of life-giving water pouring out of Heaven, of play. Even the darkness I never associated with evil or forboding, but with colors that are rich, deep, and alive, and of the same sort of beauty I wrote of in describing the chapel.

Now, I am starting to feel, perhaps to become, something like the peace after a storm, when everything is still and fresh.

Possibly related to this, in a negative manner, is something else I have realized. For at least a few months, I have felt broken, in a sense similar to how a torturer breaks a man. It is not separately articulated in Less-Wild Lovers: Standing at the Crossroads of Desire, but it does seem to be related to (for example) how the article talks about people who have heard the Message of the Arrows giving up on being part of a romance of epic proportions. It is more than a breaking of will. It is a breaking of dreams.

It seems to have occurred through a couple of things. One of them, but a lesser and indirect one, has been being unemployed in the areas I would like to be working in: something that would be intensive in mathematics and computer science (two disciplines that are intermingled), work that would involve heavy brainpower and allow my own particular combination of abilities to shine. Another more severe one is having nothing to do for much of my time — and more severe still, and related to it, a loss of creativity and general dullness. Having a lot of time on my hands would have been a good thing if I had creativity to think of things to do, and now I am enjoying the time much more because I can work on projects.

Those projects are not just pass-time (and I have started not to write down theological insights if I would just be writing them to amuse myself), nor even just work, but Work. I’m not sure how to concisely describe it… ‘work’ is a dreary, menial, meaningless job that is taken in order to obtain money. ‘Work’ is spiritually ennobling activity that may not be immediately pleasant (such as an assistant in a hospital wiping patients’ butts), but which a person connects with, has a relation to human dignity (and Mother Theresa’s dignity was helped and not hindered by cleaning festering sores), and is done for the sake of getting work done. It may be paid or unpaid, and may occur in a number of contexts, both formal and institutionalized, and informal. At least in this country, people doing Work for their jobs are often making less than they could be making if they were to do whatever work paid the most money. My father is an associate professor of computer science and a top-notch information technology worker, and supports our family at a reasonable level; we have everything we need and a few things we don’t. He enjoys the contact with people and the opportunity to share the joy of his discipline with others. If he wanted money, he could fairly easily pursue consulting work and charge justified fees that would earn enough money to make us all miserable. I’m glad he has chosen his Work as a professor.

I was doing work but not Work, and… my father used the word ‘submerged’ in reference to how I was doing. These things — lots of time that I was unable to Work in, loss of my creativity and perhaps other cherished faculties, and a general narcosis-like state that could be described as dullness, being submerged, or a haze — seem to have been what caused a brokenness. Out of the Message of the Arrows came, not so much a defense of wearing a false self, but a weary brokenness that would not throw my whole self into things.

I was in my room wondering today, why God is giving me what seem like a lot of little things, but not some of the bigger things I want — among them a computer science job that I can Work in. As I was writing, I realized that maybe I’m not ready for that, that maybe he has to heal me first. A Bible story may be taken as an illustration (Luke 5:17-26, NAB):

One day as Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, and the power of the Lord was with him for healing. And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him and set [him] in his presence. But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles into the middle in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.” Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply, “What are you thinking in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He stood up immediately before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they sayd, “We have seen incredible things today.”

Jesus did care about the invalid’s body, and did eventually heal it. But he put first things first, and beforehand gave him something of infinitely greater value: he healed the man’s relationship with God. My sins are forgiven, but there are other wounds I bear that need to be healed, perhaps before I will be ready to get a job where I will really be exercising the talents God has given me.

I realized as I was writing the past few paragraphs that, since the night at the railroad tracks, I have not felt like saying, “I give up,” meaning a giving up on life (although I am not clear, besides suicide, on how exactly one might go about doing that). I had felt like that often before then. This doesn’t mean that I’m healed, but it probably does mean that healing is at work.

There is a possibility for one information technology job that has come across my door, a webmastering position at two hours a week. It’s not exactly what I would have envisioned (I would have thought of something half-time in programming), but it would be a good first step as well as my present job in manual labor half time to get into information technology work — and a good prospect at learning how to webmaster. I would like this possibility to become a reality, but strangely I am not clinging to it. I am a little better able to let God work with me, putting first things first and healing my broken spirit first, and let him work at whatever pace he chooses.

God’s way is not to delete evil, but take it and redeem it, producing something even better than things were before. Heaven will not simply be Eden restored; it will be something better, far better. We will share in the divine nature. In the Gospels, a woman’s bad reputation and many sins were taken and made not only into a restored person but a beautiful story (Mark 14:3-9, NASB):

And while He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head.

But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do them good; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for the burial. And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done will be spoken in memory of her.”

Perhaps Nimbus becoming Pax (and the fruit of the Spirit is peace) may how my brokenness is being redeemed. Perhaps my passion is coming back, albeit in a sublimated form. I don’t know. But I am trying to open my heart to the wind’s free play.

Saturday 11/27/99
When I met with Robin to see if I could learn anything from his being close with God, he was talking about how the intimacy was God’s pure gift, and not anything he’d done. He commented that he’d been lax in discipline, and hadn’t been reading the Bible much — just been close to God.

That surprised me a bit, as we both know the value of discipline — and he clarified later that he was not meaning to disparage Bible reading at all. But there is something in that. I think I understood it a little better today, when I realized that I hadn’t been reading theBible much for the past few days, and been no less close to God. It’s hard to put into words why — an approximation would be to say that God is in control, and he will orchestrate things as he chooses.

On Thanksgiving, my uncle Doug asked me if I was a coffee drinker, and (after a hesitant pause) the answer I gave was this: I enjoy coffee a great deal when I drink it, but I don’t drink it very often. I like to savor a crèeme de menthe espresso, but the thought of gulping down some sludge each morning to be jolted out of a stupor seems disgusting to me. As much as I enjoy it when I drink it, I just wouldn’t want it to become an everyday thing. (Today I went out with Joseph and purchased ice cream for him and another hazelnut mocha for myself. I should have gotten ice cream. The coffee, triple as it was, was nowhere near too much caffeine over time in a health sense, but it was trying to have a pleasure over again too quickly. As good as it was, I enjoyed the few bites I had of Joe’s ice cream more.)

I realized today that that attitude, apart from the possible snobbishness that can accompany a preference for gourmet coffees to American staple coffees (and I do not wish to suggest that drinking a cup of Maxwell House each morning is sinful — but I am not going to attempt to explain why this jives with the rest of what I am saying beyond saying that a line of moderation can legitimately be drawn in different places), is a manifestation of moderation. By this I mean that moderation goes further than stopping at a certain point and not going further. It, over time, will reach into a deeper orientation of attitudes, emotions, and desires, such that the desire to enjoy a blessing does not translate to a desire to have more and more of it. My dislike for the idea of drinking coffee every day is not moderation itself, but an effect and signal of moderation. An ability to enjoy blessings in an appropriate time and place without extending them to every time and place showed itself in wanting an occasional coffee while losing the desire to be drinking good coffee as often as possible. It is something that is not very much a part of American culture, not taught very much. (I think we lost a real understanding of what temperance was, about the time of the temperance movement.)

I also realized something else today, and was able to articulate something that had been implicit in what I wrote earlier, namely that virtue can take qualitatively different forms as it develops and matures. Andy’s graceful kindness with David, and my frustrating struggle to maintain a good attitude and not think ill of him, both came from the same virtue, from the highest of virtues in fact: agape, caritas, deiform love. The difference was a difference of maturity in the virtue’s formation: it flowed from him, but I could only remain in that virtue through difficult struggle. A similar difference may be seen in forms of moderation: at an early stage (and I am still at an early stage in other facets of moderation), it revolves around determination in cutting back your desire to have more, and at a later stage the virtue results in a realignment of desires so that the way you want to enjoy things is a way that can draw full benefit from doing something once, and not engage in a futile attempt to obtain from four or five what eluded you the first time. This kind of moderation means enjoying things more, not less; it enjoys things more in the fashion of a museum goer who spends a couple of hours and truly comprehends a few paintings, than failing to enjoy them in the fashion of a museum goer who rushes here and there, looks for a couple of seconds at hundreds of paintings, and at best manages to see that some of them are pretty.

In some ways the immature forms of virtue might even be more strongly commended than the mature forms, because they are more difficult and less enjoyable. A recovering alcoholic who strugglingly refuses to touch a single drop of liquor (rather than have just one drink, and then just one more, nad then just one more, adn than jest won more, andt hen jes tone mroe, antdh nej tonf qfr3…) is to be commended in a fashion that is not merited by a man who has no real propensity to alcoholism, and has two drinks and easily refuses a third. He puts far more effort into exercising virtue. But the more mature forms of virtue are more highly to be desired.

Thomas Aquinas did not regard self-control as a virtue, because who he understood to be a virtuous man would not be constantly needing to restrain his passions — kind of like saying that a family with parents who are good disciplinarians is not one where the parents are expert at stopping the children from fighting and throwing temper tantrums, but one where the parents do not need to stop the children from fighting and throwing temper tantrums. I would suggest rather that self-control is a virtue which has a much more prominent place where the person’s virtues are immature, than when the virtues have matured more. If parents adopt children who come from a rough background, then good disciplinarians as they may be, much of what they may find themselves doing at first is stopping fights and temper tantrums. Good discipline over time will mean that there are fewer and fewer fights and temper tantrums to stop, but that does not change the fact that the immediate form of good discipline will mean a restraint on the children’s unruliness.

After my creativity began to return, the first real creation I can remember making is the following poster:

 

I learned it all from Jesus.

A gift does not need to be costly in order to be big. A little child is worth God’s time. All who believe are brothers and sisters. Be thankful. Be the first to say, “I’m sorry,” and the first to forgive. Believing means clinging with your whole heart. Clothe yourself in prayer. Commune with God. Cry. Dance. Don’t judge. A respected pillar of the community can be two steps from Hell, and a prostitute can be two steps from Heaven. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Today has enough worries of its own. Every blade of grass, every twinkling star, every ticklish friend, is a blessing from God. Cherish them. Everything in the whole Creation tells us something about God. Give someone a gift today. God delights in you. God has a sense of humor. God is a friend who’ll never, never leave you. God is an artist. God is everywhere, from the highest star to inside your heart. There is nowhere you can go to escape his presence — or his love. God is found, not in earthquake nor fire nor mighty wind, but in a soft and gentle whisper. God is your Daddy. God watches over even the little sparrows. Heaven is very close. He is risen! He who sings, prays twice. He who dances, sings twice. He who laughs, dances twice. He who prays, laughs twice. Hug your friends. If you have to have everything under your control, trusting God may look as stable as a cow on ice skates. Trust him anyway. It’s worth it. If you want God to smile, tell him your prayers. If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans. It’s never too late to repent. Joy comes from suffering. Keep on forgiving. Laugh.Listen to other people’s stories. Listen to the silence. Love God with your whole being. Love one another. Love your enemies. Love your neighbor as yourself. Make every action a prayer. Make your prayers and your good deeds secret. Play with children. Prayers ascend like incense before God’s throne. Purity does not reside in the hands, but in the heart. Respect the aged. Rest. Serve. Sing. Take time to be alone with God. Tell God you love him. Tell your friends that you love them. The Heavens tell the glory of God.There are miracles all around. You just have to be able to see. Treasure God’s smallest blessings. We can bring little pieces of Heaven down to earth. What you do for the least, you do for God. Work is a blessing from God. You are God’s image.

 

Then, a few days after then, the Christmas carol “In the Silence” above was the first musical piece I had composed since the loss of creativity. Now, the above musing about virtue changing form is the first significant and new (to me) theological insight I have had since that point.

Sunday 11/26/99, 1st Sunday of Advent
Advent is a time of spiritual housecleaning to prepare for Christ’s coming. During church I realized that what is happening with me now is very much Advent — which was surprising to me, because usually what is happening with me does not line up with the dates on the church calendar. It is the same thing, only at a different time. Advent is a time like that before a guest comes; there is both expectation, and a cleaning preparation. God may have a wonderful Christmas in store for me.


Last night, I had some time before bed that I didn’t know what to do with. I felt let down and deserted; my emotions were of the same kind as when I had time and was unable to think of anything worthwhile. So I prayed.

The first thought that occurred to me was to clean my room. But I was reluctant to do that, and said in sincerity “I’m not ready for that now.” The next thought was of catching up on my New Testament reading (the one part out of four that I hadn’t caught up on yet), but I was Bibled out for the day. Then I cleaned up a couple of the larger items on my floor and paced a bit, and noticed on the piano a page of music that I had left out: a simple piano arrangement of Amazing Grace. I played that with pleasure, and when I was standing up to leave I noticed a splash of color: Roger van Oech’s Creative Whack Pack.

The Creative Whack Pack, which I had noticed earlier and forgotten to look at, is a deck of 64 cards, each one of which has a tip on how to function more creativity. It is quite good, especially for someone who doesn’t know how to use his creative faculties well or doesn’t have naturally flowing creative juices (another good resource is a book entitled Conceptual Blockbusting, written for engineers but valuable to all sorts of people). I slowly read through a few cards, trying to savor the experience rather than fly through and have the whole deck read before I knew it. Some were things I knew, a couple were surprises, and after hitting “Sell, sell, sell!”, I acknowledged an insight which I had been suppressing: some of aspects of the cards were questionable, or at least left another shoe to drop. Someone said, “Never mind about others stealing your ideas. If they’re really good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” The resistance suggested in that quote is akin to a resistance I had been putting up so well that I wasn’t even aware of it: that the authority (in this case, the deck) could be wrong. Once I admitted that idea, I had another idea for something to write: “The Other Side of the Coin,” which would give the other side of the coin for these cards. (I’m not going to share that writing, at least yet, for copyright reasons: at least the most obvious good way to write it would involve citing the entire text of the cards, and I’m not doing that without obtaining permission from Mr. von Oech.) It’s good to have something more to write.


I thought a small group meeting I was invited to, was going to be at 5:00, and was disappointed to find out that it’s not until 6:00 or 7:00 (I’m writing a bit before 6:00). I started reading through more of the Creative Whack Pack, and then set it down and noticed three pieces of framed Malaysian batik that are hanging on the wall (and just now, the play of the light). The batik is really beautiful, with flowing colors, and I hadn’t really noticed it when I came in. It’s a funny thing to realize after writing what I wrote about the two museum goers.


This journal is more of an outer journal — a journal of what I do and what happens to me — and less of an inner journal — a journal of what transpires within me and who I am — than I’d intended. I’m not sure what to make of that; perhaps it’s better that way. I don’t know.


I feel a certain trepidation towards going to work tomorrow. Especially after a long weekend, it’s hard to go back to work… the dread I feel is similar to that I feel towards driving a car, which can leave me lying in bed slightly nervous the night before, and similar to the trepidation I feel in anticipating a long block of time I can’t think of anything to do in. It is not an intense fear, but one that is vague, ill-defined, and discomforting. In it is some doubt — the little doubt is a doubt that I’ll have enough energy to keep going, and the big doubt is a doubt that it’ll be like the time I’ve spent with God over the weekend.

These emotions do not correspond entirely to my best rational judgments. I know in my head that God is quite as capable of meeting me as I am testing toy computers as he is of meeting me as I read something good or write this journal, and that the work day is only four hours, which I am ready for. I know in my head, but my heart doesn’t know, and I’m a bit scared.

I am taking this as a time to trust him, to (as the Mars Hill article says) embrace my nakedness and trust in God’s goodness.


Something else which I just realized (or, more properly, admitted to myself) as another place where soul work is required…

I am not at peace with being an American. I would much rather be a European.I cannot now say “I am an American,” with the same secure pleasure that I would say “Je suis un français,” were that true.

I am legitimately far more European in spirit than most Americans. I believe that there severe flaws in American culture, moreso than most fallen cultures — ranging from pragmatism that has no patience for things without immediately visible use (which turns out to mean many of the deepest and best things in life), to television, to a shallow and disposable concept of human relationships — and I know that Neil Postman in Technopoly certainly wasn’t grinding an axe against America when he named America the world’s first and (as of the book’s writing) only technocracy (a country which is ruled by technology). I enjoy a great many things about French and other European culture: the sound of the language, the idea of moderation in use of alcohol, the deeper friendships, the higher level of education and greater intellectual substance of the conversations people have (a group of French young people will discuss Balzac rather than the Bears), the old cities, the art, the architecture, the speaking multiple languages, the body language, the kisses, and many other things I cannot now name. After she spent a month in France, my ex-fiancée Rebecca commented that everything she saw there reminded her of me. I hold both differences with many of the peculiar features of American culture, and affinities to many aspects of European culture. That stated, there is still something in the picture that is wrong.

Perhaps a way to state it is that I not only embody certain European characteristics, but wistfully wish to be what I am not, and be further over. That doesn’t capture the latter part quite well… Another approximation would be to say that it’s like a child’s walking, dressing, and talking like a sports hero — appropriate in a boy, but not in a man. It may have something to do with a manifestation of reverse culture shock that I haven’t gotten over for some reason. A good description of the root problem would be to say that I’m not at peace with being an American.

In college, I wrote a cynical book entitled Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary: A Free Online (Satire) Dictionary. All of the problems I described in that book are real problems, but it was still written in the wrong spirit. I wrote in a way that took pleasure from pointing out what was wrong, and that should never be. As I let go of that, I realized that one of the tests of love is to see everything a cynic sees, and still not be a cynic. I don’t want to stop seeing all of the problems in American culture, nor do I want to stop being somewhat European in spirit, nor do I want to stop seeing how beautiful French culture is. What I do want is the analogue of still not being a cynic: to be at peace with being an American. Living in France was a great blessing for a certain period of time, and it will always be a sweet memory, but it is not a blessing I have now, and perhaps a blessing I may never again have this side of heaven. I still may not fit in very well among typical Americans, and that does not bother me. I do want to stop looking down on my homeland — and really hold it to be my homeland — and take that culture as a basis for interacting with other cultures.

This is a less-wild lover to give up.

Monday, 11/29/99
I have been granted a reprieve, in the form of a bug that’s been floating around. What I have is fairly mild, and I would go, but a 20 minute drive when you have diarrhea is risky.

(But the reprieve hasn’t been as exciting as I’d hoped.)


I just realized something that I don’t know exactly what to do with.

In the early stages of a friendship, it is easy to share things about yourself with your friend, because you don’t know each other very well. As time passes, that becomes more difficult; it’s harder to think of something to share. I was expecting something similar to appear with this journal. It may well kick in at a later date (I’ve only been writing for about two weeks) — but I am surprised at the pace I’ve been able to keep up with. (I have been looking forward to the slowing up, in order to write a less gargantuan epistle, leaving something behind that will let people see the crystallized essence of my journey.)


I acquired a Dilbert poster that listed several definitions to terms in information technology jargon. Among the definitions new to me was ‘brain dump’, defined as “The act of telling someone everything one knows about a particular topic or project. Typically used when someone is going to let a new party utilize and maintain a piece of programming code.” That struck me as a really cool phrase, in part because I am familiar with the Unix term ‘core dump’ from which it would appear to have come. It’s a beautiful metaphor.

I was looking for an opportunity to use it, and today I realized that what I am writing is a brain dump of an awakening. I thought for a bit about changing the title of this document to “Brain Dump of an Awakening,” but the term’s really too obscure to use in a title… unless it’s something that would acquire meaning as its definition is encountered in the document… not for the moment, at least.


When I first heard about Y2k, I basically ignored it, or more properly did not seriously think about it. I am not much given to alarmist pictures.

In my job search, I talked with some consultants who are involved in selling Y2k merchandise, who painted a doomsday picture and then gave me a couple of URLs to look at. I looked at them and others; with others since then, I’ve seen expert opinion varying from hiccup to doomsday. What is disturbing is that the thinking of the doomsday experts seems eminently rational; with my knowledge of the realities of software maintenance, the argument I’ve seen for why the power grid should be expected to go dark makes perfect sense. I haven’t seen rebuttals to the arguments for things going wrong. Now, I’m not sure either way; I haven’t seen evidence to persuade in another direction, but either outcome tendency seems plausible. I would say that there is at least a 30% chance of something going severely wrong: the grid going black, or distribution logistics breaking because of defective code (and fixing that stuff involves finding several needles in a haystack), or chaos because of public panic, or some stock market crash for these or other reasons. If some of those things happen, I will probably die.

One thing that I observed in people talking about how to prepare for Y2k was that there was a lot of talk about preparation for physical needs (food, water, heat, money…), and almost no talk about mental, emotional, and spiritual preparation. This seemed to make no sense to me, as (for example) being snowbound generally offers no severe physical threats, but causes people to go batty (“cabin fever”). Disasters seem to be at least as much a mental stress as a physical threat, and being properly prepared at least as much psychologically as physically. I asked in a couple of newsgroups about this. Apart from “I’ve noticed this, too; please tell me what you find,” I got basically three responses: (1) Get books, games, contraceptives, etc. to pass the time, (2) you could study a martial art, as the discipline will help you, and (3) draw close to the Lord.

Many people have been helped by faith in traumatic situations, such as being held hostage and prisoner by terrorists. I was a bit disappointed by the answers I got, because I was hoping for something I didn’t know or couldn’t have guessed at, but especially with the third one… I do not see this awakening in terms of Y2k (I did not make a connection before today), but if I were primarily concerned with spiritual preparation for Y2k, I would not choose much differently from what I am doing now.

Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew that the Lord were returning the next day. His answer? “Plant a tree.”

Monday 11/30/99
Today as I was lying in bed, the Haunting came to me again. It came to me in the form of an aching desire to visit the West Indies — or, more specifically, the image of the West Indies that is portrayed in the movie Cutthroat Island.

Before I continue, let me make an aside and say that my evaluation of certain things, and the impression I take away from them, differs from that of many people. In books, the titles I have most benefitted from have not typically been the most classic of what I read; I learned far more from G.K. Chesterton’s biography of Francis of Assisi than I did from Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. (I’m sure that Aquinas would gently smile at this, happy that I could learn about God from some source, and that Chesterton would positively wince.) My observations usually don’t directly conflict with other people’s, but I observe a different part and draw different conclusions. The three movies I have held in highest regard, only one of which I would want to see now, are The Game, Labyrinth, and Titanic.

In the reviews I read, Cutthroat Island got slammed again and again: it forced 20th century politically correct feminism onto another era, some things were ludicrously unrealistic, and so on and so forth — criticisms which were entirely valid. But I liked it. Why? Part of it probably has something to do with the fact that I drank two shots of spiced rum as I watched it, but I think there’s more to it than that. What I liked about the movie was that it captured a certain beauty, a certain romance. When children are playing pirate, they are capturing a certain feeling, a certain impression. It’s the same sort of thing a Disneyland ride does well that a Six Flags ride does badly if at all. That’s what Cutthroat Island did. The visual scenery was beautiful. That movie can be enjoyed in the same spirit as Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

It was the visual effect that haunted me, and from which I felt a desire to visit the rich, white side of the colonial West Indies that was in some sense portrayed — and it ached all the more because it is a place I cannot go, a place that perhaps never really existed (and I do not mean to suggest that I take Cutthroat Island as serious historical fiction), a place that I can only go in my dreams (if ever — and I have returned to Paris in my dreams). A haunting to go back to Paris is one that may quite possibly come true — I expect to go to California to be with my father’s side of the family for Christmas, and that was not something I expected until my parents started talking about it recently; Paris would not be that stranger of a windfall, and for that matter one of my uncles and one of my cousins will be in Paris soon for layovers going to and from Mali, where they will be translating. A haunting to go and participate in Carnevale in Italy is something I do not regard as probable, but would quite probably come true (including sharpening my Italian to a basic conversational proficiency) if I threw my weight into it. But a yearning to visit a place that no longer exists… The trip to California will be bittersweet, as my grandparents will shortly thereafter be selling their house, a house that holds a lot of fond memories for me (such as the time that Matthew and me, as little boys, climbed up in their treehouse and couldn’t figure out how to get down). The visit to the house will hold the bittersweet knowledge that I can enjoy it as I visit it, but I’ll never see it again. And soon my occasional remiscences of that place will be yearnings to visit a place that can I can never visit again. To get back on track, a haunting to visit a place which no longer exists is more painful than one to visit a place I may well return to, or one that I will probably will never see, but still could if I put my mind to it.

For all the ache, it was a special and pleasurable moment, a sign of life.


When I first looked at Wheaton, I felt that there was something wrong with its Pledge, but signed it anyway. (The Pledge is a document that all community members are required to sign, and tries to outline a Christian life and then prohibits activities such as drinking and dancing.) During my time there, I found myself running away from my conscience over this issue, and at one point decided to stop running, did a massive search of Scripture, my conscience, and the perspectives of other people, and came to a conclusion. I wrote the following letter to the editor, which one of the philosophy professors said was the best treatment of the issue he’d seen in eight years of being a professor there:

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Pledge

If the name of this letter hasn’t nettled you, then something is wrong. If what it refers to hasn’t nettled you more, then something is very wrong.

At the heart of Christianity are many things. I will not name and elaborate each one here, but there is one which seems forgotten to some: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

When Christ came, he fulfilled and completed the Law. The Law was not a bad thing, but it was incomplete – not as a matter of God being a spiteful bully, but because it was the most complete form that could be before the Messiah. Now has come the one about whom Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Luke 14:26, NIV). Throughout Galatians, Paul corrected those who were trying to live under law and rejecting the Spirit: “How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? … But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (4:9, 5:18, NIV).

While the Law has some very important commands (love God, love your neighbor, maintain sexual purity, worship God alone, care for the poor…), it does not have the Spirit and consequent freedom. When you take away the Spirit, then there is a replacement of freedom with written codes that restrict in situations where they are not useful: don’t eat any bacon, don’t wear clothing made of two different fabrics, don’t consume any alcohol, don’t dance.

Now, you may say, there is a difference between the Mosaic Law and the Pledge. Of course there is: God himself composed the Law and handed it over to one of the greatest prophets of all time, before Christ.

The Pledge’s restrictions, pragmatically speaking, do not constitute more than a mild annoyance to me. Missing a dance every couple of months does not annoy me nearly as much as if (for example) my dorm had only one laundry room, off in a far corner of the basement. Theologically speaking, however, there is a much more major concern. The Pledge is a perfect fit for a castrated Christianity without the Holy Spirit: despite its many words and enumerations, nowhere does it mention the Holy Spirit, and parts of the end (…in order to establish a Christian community…) implicitly require the heretical notion that the Holy Spirit either doesn’t exist, or cannot be a basis for such a community.

The joy of my life would not be destroyed if all pig products left my diet for pragmatic reasons (the local grocery store doesn’t carry them, it’s too expensive, I don’t want to clean up the grease splatters from cooking bacon…), but if a present day Judaizer were to imply that it is unclean to consume what Christ has declared clean, or that that would aid the establishment of a Christian academic community in a way that the Holy Spirit cannot, then that would badly need correction. Likewise, I dislike the taste of alcohol, but am deeply offended that, in order to teach here, my professors cannot enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.

Satan’s way of working in this world is often to twist good things that God has created. The things that the Pledge “goes beyond what is written” (I Cor. 4:6, NIV) to prohibit are, in some cases, good things that God has ordained for the benefit and enjoyment of humans, which Satan often likes to twist into deadly poison. The solution is not to completely disallow these things for all members of the community, but rather (as per Romans 14-15) to use judgment and the Spirit to avoid what will cause you to fall into sin, and to avoid what will cause fellow believers to fall into sin.

If you haven’t done so lately, please read Romans 14-15, Galatians, and Colossians. And think – about letter, about freedom, and about the Spirit.

C.J.S. Hayward
CPO 1202, x6751

I requested a conscientious exemption from the Pledge, and when that was denied, I transferred out of Wheaton. It was one of the most painful decisions of my life.

Now, George Poynor, one of the people in charge of Wheaton College’s Computing Services, is trying to line up what would be an excellent job and opportunity in almost all respects. My father was explaining this to me, and commented that George was trying to see if he could get independent contractor status for me (which would not be considered community membership and therefore not require signing of the Pledge), and if that didn’t work out, “it’s only six months.” When I told him, “I can’t do that,” it became evident that he is considering trying to force me to sign the Pledge, and that he does not understand my “No” to mean “No.” His mind’s not made up on that, but it is possible that he will try to make me sign the Pledge. I can’t do that in good conscience. Much of my will may be broken, but not that part; when I left Wheaton, I made a very firm decision never to make that mistake again, never again to swallow my conscience like that. If my father throws his weight into insisting that I sign it, the conflict will be long, drawn-out, and exquisitely painful.

I feel angry, truly angry, for the first time in a long while.

Wednesday, 12/1/99
Last night, I visited Robin and then went to Pooh’s corner. I showed him two things I had brought to give to the people there — the “I learned it all from Jesus” poster, and sheet music for “In the Silence” — and Robin, after reading the poster, suggested that I put it up on the forum wall.

The forum wall is one piece of local color at Wheaton; it’s a section of brick wall where people tape things up, write on the things taped, etc. When we arrived, Robin drew my attention to one piece that was up on the wall:

WANT TO KNOW IF YOU ARE A WHEATON CYNIC?

“In sexual love the cynic perceives lust; in sacrifice and dedication, guilt; in charity, condescension; in political skills, manipulation; in the powers of the mind, rationalization; in peacefulness, ennui; in neighborliness, self-interest; in friendship, opportunism. The vitality of the old is pathetic; the exuberance of the young is immature; the steadiness of the middle-aged is boredom.

“And yet, even for the most disillusioned cynic, an aching longing remains for something true, good, or beautiful.” (so there is hope for you yet)

Brennan Manning

He started moving other posts to make space, and suggested that I put it up next to this post. I was puzzled, as I had been when he suggested I read it, and asked, “As a rebuttal? A joke?” He said, “No,” and pointed me towards the bottom of the post.

It wasn’t until we got back to his apartment that I got it — and realized that he had selected the perfect place to put it.

I have been feeling depressed.


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.

Thursday 12/2/99
At work today, I caught myself thinking in a grandiose manner. There is a girl I met shortly after Pooh’s Corner (she was playing on the piano, and I gave her a copy of “In the Silence”; she commented something to the effect of how it would be nice to be able to compose — I don’t remember the exact words, but they conveyed a humble respect and openness that are the exact sort of thing that makes you want to meet someone a second time), and I realized that I was thinking of ways to impress her with how awesome my musical talent was.


I also realized in my walking on Tuesday that I really do know myself, and that that is a good starting point for relating with people. It was a pleasant thing to realize, after a feeling of clumsiness and not really knowing how to relate to other people — not that I now feel perfect at relating to other people, but I feel that I have a good start.


In the car going to work today, I suddenly realized a couple of things: (1) I had forgotten to sing, and (2) I was not afraid, either in the car or before then. I felt some fear after realizing this (perhaps I had simply forgotten to be afraid), but it was good to realize.


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 he present?

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, 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 long 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.

For further information, click here.

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: Death. What 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.

A home without television is like a slice of chocolate cake without tartar sauce.

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. 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. 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 there now, 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 Destroying Asian Philosophy 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 freight 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 a very good kyther.

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.


I look for books that are filled with the Romance; they come to me in the strangest of ways, but they are impossible to find. I started this journal thinking it was not very good… I have realized that I may be writing a book filled with the Romance, a scrapbook of the beautiful. It is not something that I could have even approached if I had tried.

Sunday, 12/5/99
I haven’t been writing in the main part of the journal for a couple of days, because I have been concentrating my creative energies on the kything entry. I haven’t really had a singular event to prompt a journal entry, but I wanted to put something in as an update on how I’m doing.

When I thought about what to write, I realized something. All is well with my soul. Of course I should not get cocky (“He who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall.”), and this isn’t the end of the growth God wants for me. But I am close to God. I am spiritually awake. It is in a way that would surprise me; I am doing ordinary things, and enjoying working on my creations. Ecclesiastes, even if it is the most pessimistic book of the Bible, says (2:24, 9:7, NRSV):

There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This, also, is from the hand of God.

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do.

I am doing these things, and enjoying their blessings. It is nothing spectacular, at least not in the Hollywood sense, but Hollywood can be quite blind. I am worshipping God in the ordinary things that are not very ordinary at all, and I see in them what Baudelaire cannot.

Here ends the Journal of an Awakening. It ends, not for the reasons I anticipated at the beginning, but because the awakening has reached its proper end (both finis and telos): I am awake. I mean to continue to journal, but this journal has reached its logical conclusion.

Please pray for me, that I remain steadfast in the abundant life God has given me.

JSH

soli deo gloria
 

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

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

The Spectacles

Within the Steel Orb

The Law of Attraction: A Dialogue with an Eastern Orthodox Christian Mystic

Paidion: I found some really interesting stuff about the Law of Attraction.

Aneer: What is it that you have found?

Paidion: This wonderful secret, the Law of Attraction, is a secret where if you understand how you attract what you think about… then you have the key to happiness!

Aneer: Have you seen what else the Law of Attraction could be?

Paidion: You mean the Law of Attraction could be more?

Aneer: Let me think about how to explain this…

Paidion: Did the Church Fathers say anything about the Law of Attraction? Or did the Bible?

Aneer: Where to start, where to start—the Law of Attraction says our thoughts are important, and that is true. Not just a little bit true, but deeper than a whale can dive. The Apostle writes:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Paidion: And there is something about “ask, seek, knock?”

Aneer: Yes, indeed:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

It is part of the Sermon on the Mount. But there is something that you may be missing about what is in the Sermon on the Mount, and something you may be missing about the Law of Attraction.

Paidion: Why? Is there anything relevant besides the Sermon on the Mount?

Aneer: Yes indeed, from the first pages of Genesis:

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, “Yea, hath God said, “Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'”

And the woman said unto the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”

And the serpent said unto the woman, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat,

The Law of Attraction is here. The very heart of the Law of Attraction is here. Have you read The Magician’s Nephew?

Paidion: It is one of my favorite books.

Aneer: Do you remember what Jadis stole?

Paidion: How could Jadis steal anything? She was a queen!

Aneer: Then you have forgotten the verse when Jadis met a garden enclosed:

“Come in by the gold gates or not at all,
Take of my fruit for others or forbear,
For those who steal or those who climb my wall
Shall find their heart’s desire and find despair.”

The story gives a glimpse of the Queen Jadis finding her heart’s desire: undying years, and undying strength. She found everything the Law of Attraction promises. If the Law of Attraction does anything, you can see it unfold in Eve choosing to be attracted to the fruit, or Jadis.

But undying strength was not the only thing in the picture. When Jadis ate that apple, she might never age or die, but neither could she ever live again. She cheated death, perhaps, but at the expense of Life. Which is to say that she didn’t really cheat Death at all. And she damned herself to a “living” death that was hollow compared to her previous life she so eagerly threw away.

Paidion: So you think Eve was like Jadis? Halfway to being a vampire?

Aneer: Paidion, you’re big on imagining. I want you to imagine the Garden of Eden for just a moment. Adam and Eve have been created immortal, glorious, lord and lady of all nature, and Eve tastes an exhilirating rush that has something very vampiric about it: a moment passed, and the woman who had never known pain found the seed of death deep inside her. And in a flash of insight, she realized something.

Paidion: What is it she realized?

Aneer: She had the seed of death eating away at her. Nothing could stop her from dying. And her deathless husband would watch her die.

Paidion: A sad end to the story.

Aneer: What do you mean?

Paidion: But it’s a tragedy!

Aneer: It may be tragic, but how is it an end to Adam’s story?

Adam was still deathless. He would live on; did you assume he would be celibate, or that Eve envisioned God to never provide him a wife to share in blessed happiness?

Paidion: Look, this is all very impressive, but is any of this really part of the ancient story?

Aneer: I cut off the story before its usual end. The end goes surprisingly fast:

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Paidion: Why? Is this just Eve’s… solution… to… the… problem… of… Adam’s… [shudder]

Aneer: Do you think your generation is the first to invent jealousy?

Paidion: But can’t the Law of Attraction be used for good?

Aneer: When people speak of the Law of Attraction, it always sounds like the unearthing of the key to happiness.

Paidion: But what else could it be once we are attracting the right thoughts?

Aneer: What, exactly, are the right thoughts might be something interesting to discuss someday. But for now let me suggest that the Law of Attraction might be something very different, at its core, from the key to happiness: it could be the bait to a trap.

The Sermon on the Mount truly does say,

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

but only after saying something that is cut from the same cloth:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

The Sermon on the Mount finds it unworthy of the children of a loving and providing God to chase after food and clothing—or cars and iPods or whatever—as if they have to do so because their Heavenly Father has forgotten their needs. God knows our needs before we begin to ask, and it’s a distraction for us to be so terribly concerned about the things that will be added to us if we put first things first and last things last.

Paidion: But what is wrong with wanting abundance?

Aneer: Have you read Plato’s Republic?

Paidion: No.

Aneer: Did you know that royalty do not touch money?

Paidion: Why not? It would seem that a king should have the most right to touch money.

Aneer: Well, let us leave discussion of rights for another day. But there’s something in the Republic where Plato knows something about gold, and it is the reason why royalty do not touch money.

Paidion: And that is?

Aneer: Plato is describing the guardians, the highest rulers of an ideal city. And what he says about them is that they have true gold in their character: they have a truer gold than gold itself, and they are set apart for something high enough that they would only be distracted by handling the kind of gold that is dug up from the earth like something dead.

Paidion: But kings have palaces and jewels and such!

Aneer: Not in Plato’s Republic they don’t. The life of a ruler, of a king, in Plato is something like the life of a monk. It’s not about having palaces of gold any more than being President is all about being able to watch cartoons all day!

Paidion: Ok, but for the rest of us who may not be royalty, can’t we at least want abundance as a consolation prize?

Aneer: “The rest of us who may not be royalty?”

What can you possibly mean?

Paidion: Um…

Aneer: All of us bear the royal bloodline of Lord Adam and Lady Eve. All of us are created in the divine image, made to grow into the likeness of Christ and—

Paidion: So we are all made to rule as kings?

Aneer: Read the Fathers and you will find that the real rule of royalty is when we rule over God’s creation as royal emblems, as the image of God. For people to rule other people is not just not the only kind of royal rule: it’s almost like a necessary evil. Do you know of the ritual anointing of kings? In the Bible, a man is made king when he is anointed with oil. Such anointing still takes place in England, for instance. And when a person receives the responsibility for sacred work in the Orthodox Church, he is anointed—chrismated—and in this anointing, the Orthodox Church has always seen the sacred anointing of prophet, priest, and king.

Paidion: But this is just for priests, right?

Aneer: Paidion, every one of us is created for spiritual priesthood. Perhaps I wasn’t clear: the anointing of prophet, priest, and king is for every faithful member of the Church, not just a few spiritual Marines. Chrismation, or royal anointing, is administered alongside baptism to all the faithful.

Paidion: And it’s part of this royal dignity not to touch money?

Aneer: There is a very real sense in which Christians may not touch money. Not literally, perhaps; many Christians touch coins or other items, and so on and so forth. But there is a real sense in which Christians never have what you search for in abundance, because they have something better.

Paidion: Are you saying half a loaf is better than an abundance of loaves?

Aneer: I know a number of people who have found that an abundance of loaves is not the solution to all of life’s problems. Easy access to an abundance of loaves can lead to weight issues, or worse.

May I suggest what it is that you fear losing? It isn’t exactly abundance, even if you think it is.

Paidion: So am I mistaken when I think I want shrimp and lobster as often as I wish?

Aneer: Maybe you are right that you want shrimp and lobster, but you don’t only want shrimp and lobster. You want to be able to choose.

Remember in Star Wars, how Luke and Ben Kenobi are travelling in the Millenium Falcoln, and Kenobi puts a helmet on Luke’s head that has a large shield completely blocking his eyesight? And Luke protests and says, “With the blast shield down, I can’t even see. How am I supposed to fight?” And then something happens, and Luke starts to learn that he can fight even without seeing what was in front of him, and Kenobi says, “You have taken your first step into a larger world.”?

What you want is to have your ducks in a row and be able to see that you can have shrimp and lobster as often as you want.

What the Sermon on the Mount says is better than a way to do a better job of having your next meal right where you can see it. It says to put the blast shield down…

And take your first step into a larger world.

Paidion: I’m sure for a man of faith like you—

Aneer: Why call me a man of faith? I may not have all my ducks lined up in a row, but I have always known where my next meal is coming from.

Paidion: Well sure, but that’s

Aneer: Maybe everybody you know has that privilege, but a great many people in the world do not.

Paidion: That may be, but I still want abundance.

Aneer: May I suggest that you are reaching for abundance on a higher plane?

Paidion: Like what? What is this larger world?

Aneer: When you have the blast shield down over your eyes, what you receive is part of a life of communion with God. When you don’t see where your next meal is coming from, and God still feeds you, you get a gift covered with God’s fingerprints. You’re living part of a dance and you are beckoned to reach for much deeper treasures. If you are asked to let go of treasures on earth, it is so your hands can open all the wider to grasp treasures in Heaven.

Paidion: Maybe for super-spiritual people like you, but when I’ve tried anything like that, I’ve only met disappointments.

Aneer: I’ve had a lot of disappointments. Like marriage, for instance.

Paidion: You? You’ve always seemed—

Aneer: My wife and I are very happily married. We’ve been married for years, and as the years turn into decades we are more happily married—more in love. But our marriage has been a disappointment on any number of counts.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The marriage succeeds because the honeymoon fails.” Part of our marriage is that it’s not just a honeymoon; my wife is not some bit of putty I can inflate to the contours of my fantasies about the perfect wife; she is a real person with real desires and real needs and real virtues and real flaws and a real story. She is infinitely more than some figment of my imagination. She has disappointed me time and time again—thank God!—and God has given me something much better in her than if she was some piece of putty that somehow fit my imagination perfectly. By giving me a real woman—what a woman!—God is challenging me to dig deeper into being a real man.

Paidion: So all disappointments make for a happy marriage? Because…

Aneer: I’m not completely sure how to answer that. We miss something about life if we think we can only have a happy marriage when we don’t get any disappointments. Read the Gospel and it seems that Christ himself dealt with disappointments; his life on earth built to the disappointment of the Cross which he could not escape no matter how hard he prayed. But the Apostle Paul wrote about this disappointment:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It is part of his glory.

If you have a disappointment, you have one problem. If you have a disappointment and you think that with such a disappointment you can’t really be where you should be, you have two problems. Disappointments sting like ninety, but they can be drawn into something deeper and a richer life.

Paidion: So you’d rather be disappointed in life than get your way.

Aneer: Yes.

When I haven’t gotten my way, that has been a stepping stone for a refinement on more than one level, a refinement in what I sought and what I wanted. I’ve gotten better things than if I always had a magic key that gave me what I thought I wanted. St. Paul said, “When I became a man, I put childish things behind me.”

Paidion: Am I being childish if I wish the Law of Attraction could get me what I want? If I dream?

Aneer: What the Law of Attraction is a way to satisfy the kind of things childish people set their hearts on. Always getting your way is not an unattainable dream. Always getting your way is not a dream at all. Always getting your way is a nightmare. It is the nightmare of succeeding at being a spoiled brat where others have grown up in all the disappointments you hope to dodge.

Paidion: Is virtue its own reward?

Or is it just the consolation prize when you do the right thing even if you don’t get a real reward?

Aneer: Let us return to Plato again.

Elsewhere in the Republic, some people say some questionable things about goodness. Someone says, for instance, that what is good is whatever the stronger group wants, or something like that. And so someone asks if there’s anything a good man has that the evil man does not.

Actually, the question is put much more strongly than that. We are asked to suppose that an evil man has every worldly benefit—a good name, wealth, good children, everything in life going his way. And let us suppose that the good man gets quite the opposite: he is slandered and betrayed, loses everything, is tortured, and is finally crucified. Can we still say that the good man has anything the evil one does not?

Paidion: If that is the case, it’s hard to see that the good man has anything valuable that the evil man does not.

Aneer: He has goodness.

Paidion: Well, yes, but besides

Aneer: Paidion, how would you like to have all of the wealth in the world and the health with which to spend it?

Paidion: No thanks!

Aneer: Meaning that on those terms, no man in his right mind would choose any amount of wealth!

Paidion: Sure, if you have to spend all the money on doctor bills…

Aneer: All right.

Let’s suppose you don’t have to spend any of it on doctor bills. Suppose you’re a billionaire with all kinds of free medical care, and with your billions of dollars comes the worst of health and the most atrocious suffering for the rest of your mercifully short life. Billions of dollars must be worth that, right?

Paidion: Does this relate to Plato?

Aneer: Yes—

Paidion: Are you saying that the evil man had bad health? You didn’t mention that at first.

Aneer: Well, that depends on what you mean by health. Externally, he had the best of health, I suppose, and the good man had terrible diseases. But the condition of being evil is the spiritual condition of being diseased, twisted, and shrunken. Even our English words like “twisted” and “sick” are signs of ancient recognition of evil as a spiritual disease. The evil man with worldly glory is the man who has all of the wealth in the world and the health with which to spend it—and the good man is the man who has nothing but his health. He has the one thing the evil man does not: his health!

Paidion: Is this about Heaven and Hell? Because however impressive they may be, we aren’t there yet.

Aneer: Wrong. Heaven and Hell begin in this life. The eternal tree that forever stands in Heaven or Hell is planted and nourished in this life. The connection between this life and the next is a closer connection than you can imagine.

Paidion: All this sounds very wonderful, and I could wish it were true. For people like you who have faith, at least. I don’t…

Aneer: Paidion, there was something that happened in The Magician’s Nephew, before Queen Jadis attracted to her the deathless strength that she desired. Something happened before then. Do you remember what?

Paidion: I’m not sure what.

Aneer: It’s quite memorable, and it has quite a lot to do with the Law of Attraction.

Paidion: I am afraid to ask.

Aneer: Let me quote the Queen, then.

…That was the secret of secrets. It had long been known to the great kings of our race that there was a word which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it. But the ancient kings were weak and soft-hearted and bound themselves and all who should come after them with great oaths never even to seek after the knowledge of that word. But I learned it in a secret place and paid a terrible price to learn it. I did not use it until she forced me to it. I fought to overcome her by every other means. I poured out the blood of my armies like water…

The last great battle raged for three days here in Charn itself. For three days I looked down upon it from this very spot. I did not use my power till the last of my soldiers had fallen, and the accursed woman, my sister, at the head of her rebels was halfway up those great stairs that led up from the city to the terrace. Then I waited till we were so close that we could not see one another’s faces. She flashed her horrible, wicked eyes upon me and said, “Victory.” “Yes,” said I, “Victory, but not yours.” Then I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun.

Paidion: Are you saying that the Law of Attraction is like the Deplorable Word?

Aneer: The Law of Attraction is described in glowing terms but what is described so glowingly is that there’s you, your thoughts, and a giant mirror called the universe… and that’s it. Everything else is killed. Not literally, perhaps, but in a still very real sense. The reason you have not succeeded at getting what you want couldn’t be because a powerful man, with his own thoughts and motives, is refusing something you want, much less that God loves you and knows that what you want isn’t really in your best interests. The powerful man is just part of the great mirror, as is God, if there is anything to God besides you. The only possible reason for you to not have something, the only thing that is not killed, is your thoughts.

And how I wish you could enter a vast, vast world which is not a mirror focused on you, where even the people who meet and know you have many other concerns besides thinking about you, who have their own thoughts and wishes and which is ruled by an infinitely transcendent God who is infinitely more than you even if you were made for the entire purpose of becoming divine, and perhaps even more divine than if you are the only thing you do not lump into the great mirror reflecting your thoughts.

Paidion: But how shall I then live? It seemed, for a moment, like things got better when I paid attention to my thoughts, and things in my life—

Aneer: If you think it seems like your thoughts matter, perhaps that’s because your thoughts really are important, possibly more important than you can even dream of. Perhaps there are other things going on in the world, but it is your thoughts that stand at the root of everything you contribute to the tree that will stand eternally in Heaven or as Hell. I don’t know how to tell you how important it is to attend to your thoughts, nor how to tell you that what you think of as morality is something which all the wise go upstream and deal with at the source, in the unseen warfare of vigilant attention to one’s thoughts. Little thoughts build to big thoughts and big thoughts build to actions, and spiritual discipline or “ascesis” moves from the hard battle of actions to the harder battle of thoughts. And thoughts aren’t just about concepts; when I’ve had trouble getting a thought of doing something I shouldn’t out of my head, sometimes I’ve reminded myself that what is not truly desired doesn’t really last long. The Philokalia there, my point is that it is a lifetime’s endeavor to learn how to pay proper attention to one’s thoughts.

Paidion: Um… uh… did you say I was made to be divine? Did you mean it?

Aneer: Paidion, if being divine just means that there isn’t anything that much bigger than us, then that’s a rather pathetic idea of the divine, and I wouldn’t give twopence for it. But if we really and truly understand how utterly God dwarfs us, if we understand what it means that God is the Creator and we are his creatures, and the infinite chasm between Creator and creature is then transcended so that we his creatures can become by grace what God is by nature—then that is really something and I would give my life for that way of being divine!

There is a hymn, of ancient age, that says, “Adam, wanting to be divine, failed to be divine. Christ became man that he might make Adam divine.” Christ’s life is an example of what it means to be divine: as a child he was a refugee, then grew up as a blue-collar worker, then lived as a homeless man, and died a slave’s death so vile its name was a curse word. This is a tremendous clue-by-four about what true glory is. This is a divine clue-by-four about what Adam missed when he decided that reigning as immortal king and lord of paradise and following only one simple rule wasn’t good enough for him.

And it is in this messy life we live, with so many situations beyond our control and so many things we would not choose, that God can transform us so that we become by grace what he is by nature.

Paidion: Aneer, can I ever enter the vast world you live in? It seems I have, well…

Aneer: Well?

Paidion: Chosen to live in an awfully small world, thinking I was doing something big.

Aneer: All of us have. It’s called sin. Not a popular word today, but realizing you are in sin is Heaven’s best-kept secret. Before you repent, you are afraid to let go of something that seems, like the Ring to Gollum, “my precious.” Afterwards you find that what you dropped was torment and Hell, and you are awakening to a larger world.

Paidion: But when can I do something this deep? My schedule this week is pretty full, and little of it meshes well with—

Aneer: The only time you can ever repent is now.

  
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