Monthly Archives: July 2014

Eyes for the Unseen

In my day-to-day driving, my car could almost steer itself.   I tend to go to the same places on a regular basis.  At times, it feels like the family car nearly travels repeatedly on the same tracks.  However, there is an occasional day when I venture out with the kids further down the highway, not really sure of which lane to exit from.  In this case, I look for signs.  The only problem is my distance vision seems to be deteriorating.  Frequently, I squint and lean forward in the driver’s seat, simultaneously shouting to those in the back, “Is this the lane for north or south?”  When no one answers, I repeat, “North or South?  NORTH or SOUTH?!?!”  It’s not really a good way to navigate.

So I had my eyes checked last week.  It turns out my vision is 20/15.  Great.  But my eyes do have problems focusing.  It’s not only highway signs I need help with.  My spiritual vision is often out of focus.  The truth gets blurry.

Nature trails are easier to navigate.  My boys,  with their indefatigable energy and boundless curiosity, run paces ahead of me, eager to find something new around the next corner.  Or maybe they are just slowly pulling away, growing up, wanting to feel what it is like to possess even this tiny bit of independence.  Walking ahead.

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I watch them making their way further and further down trails until sometimes they are nothing more than bobbing shapes.  Their distance leaves me space to ruminate on what A’s awkwardness will one day transform itself into,  how S’s excessive frustrations may one day melt with the warmth of a sigh.  What future passions will carry G through his life?  I think about the aggravation I feel when they display a lack of empathy, responsibility or integrity.  It is so hard at times not to worry or panic when they don’t seem to be getting it right.  Have I neglected their character development?  Is there yet another deficit in their education?  G still hasn’t learned to speak calmly when he is disappointed.  Why does S seem so apathetic today?  And will A ever learn to take pride in his work, or to complete a task?

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9:36

Yet if I watch them from behind making progress down a tree-lined path, involved in casual conversation with one another, I just see how precious they are, what good friends they really are, and how wonderful brotherhood actually is.   I am able to focus.  Seeing with the eyes of God is clearer, less blurry.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we  fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

They will not always be so impetuous, irresponsible, impatient.  I am reminded that I have, indeed, been given the eyes of God.  His eyes are the ones that see me as perfect, though he sees through me perfectly.  The eyes of grace see not what is there, but what may be, what will be there.  Grace sharpens our vision.

[Grace] calls things that are not as though they were.

Romans 4:17b

Grace will be the only thing to navigate us home.

 

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TURKEY RUN – part 2 of Touring the Trees

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Turkey Run is a state park in western Indiana.  Founded in 1916, it covers over 2,300 acres and arguably boasts some of the state’s most breathtaking trails.  It is allegedly named after the wild turkeys which once thickly congregated in the warmer canyon bottoms.  The state park features an inn, cabins, campgrounds, historic sites, not to mention places for canoe rental and tubing.

Am I specifically advertising for the park?  No, but our family just recently spent an amazing day there picnicking and hiking.

G, trying to recall his last hiking adventure inquires,  “Mommy, do they have play equipment there?”

 

Suspension bridge
Suspension bridge

 

Rung ladders - good thing he had been practicing at play grounds all summer.
Rung ladders – good thing he had been practicing at play grounds all summer.

Lots of stairs and climbing on trail 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Punch Bowl-  "splash pad"
Punch Bowl- “splash pad”

The big brothers at Turkey Run

Just a little help to the car from a brother.
Just a little help to the car from a brother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, G, they do!

This is what happy looks like.

 

 

Touring the Trees

After the winter of continuously plummeting temperatures and persistent ice, came the message of the harbingers of doom for the summer: it would be unbearably hot and sticky.  And yet, the last few weeks have found the Midwest enjoying gorgeously mild temperatures and azure skies with only intermittent days of storms and rain.  Beautiful.  Gently breezy.  Lush with leaves.  Let me just walk into my flip flops and I am out the door.

Both with and without my children I have been on walking trails, about the city, in parks, through mature neighborhoods, and sightseeing about the town I now call home.  A tour of the trees.  Here are a few I share with you all.

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

-Willa Cather in O, Pioneers

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119. Trees

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain,

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

– Joyce Kilmer

Enjoy the various locales about the greater Indianapolis area through the trees.

Traders Point Creamery

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If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith!

– Luke 12:28

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The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.

-Proverbs 11:30

Holliday Park

Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky – up- up-up into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then, I’d just feel a prayer.

-L.M. Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables

 

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Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the LORD…

-Psalm 96:12-13

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Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?

– Walt Whitman

 

Grounds about the IMA (Indianapolis Museum of Art) and 100 Acres

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I couldn’t live where there were no trees- something vital in me would starve.

-L.M. Montgomery in Anne’s House of Dreams

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The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

-John Muir

Around my suburban trails

American Sycamore

That each day I may walk unceasingly on the banks of my water, that my soul may repose on the branches of the trees which I planted, that I may refresh myself under the shadow of my sycamore.

-Egyptian tomb inscription, circa 1400BCE

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 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

-Psalm 100:1

DSC_0086_2510Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

-Psalm 90:1

And for those ultra-local….

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Can you name this location on a windy road?

 

Isaiah Berlin and Muriel Barbery on Tolstoy and Truth: a juxtaposition

“The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  This is the opening of the essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox” by philosopher-critic Isaiah Berlin.  Remembering these words was what prompted me to pick up Muriel Barbery’s second novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog in a local bookstore about five years ago.

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I was instantly reminded of Tolstoy.  Yet when I read the synopisis on the back cover, I was disappointed.  No mention of Tolstoy, nor Berlin.  The premise still intrigued me, yet it was not until last month that I actually read the novel.  Indeed, there are references to the great Russian writer.  The story takes places in Paris, concentrating on characters who reside in a high-end apartment building.  The main character, Renee Michel, owns a cat, not coincidentally, named Leo.  Later, she is stunned to discover her new neighbor’s two felines are called Kitty and Levin (p. 150).  These are, of course, specific references to Tolstoy’s characters in Anna Karenina.  Renee, though a humble, formally uneducated concierge, loves philosophy, Japanese art films, and War and Peace.

The novel makes no mention of Isaiah Berlin, nor his essay.  The true Tolstoy connection, however, is the one that is unspoken, assumed in everything.    Renee describes herself as “short, ugly and plump” (p. 19).   It is this unassuming elegance, however, which eventually attracts the attention of Kakuro Ozu, the mysterious, new Japanese resident in her building.

“She’s not what we think.” Ozu confides in twelve-year-old Paloma, a fellow resident and philosopher.  “She radiates intelligence…Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the simple refinement of the hedgehog; a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary-  and terribly elegant.”

Indeed.  Awkward externally.  Internally a searcher of beauty and one single truth.  Recalling a camellia growing  against moss, she defines her focus for us as the “contemplation of beauty within the very moment of life.” (p. 101).

Defining Renee as a hedgehog has further implications.  Not only is she a peculiar mix of beautiful and awkward, but she is single-minded, focused.  In short, she is Berlin’s interpretation of how the Greek poet Archilochus depicts the hedgehog.

“one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general.  For there exists a great chasm between those on one side who relate everything to a single central vision…and on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory” (Berlin).  Berlin continues to name Dante as a hedgehog (having one central vision), but Shakespeare as a fox (pursuing many ends “with no moral or aesthetic principle”).  According to Berlin, foxes would be Aristotle, Erasmus, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac and Joyce.  Hedgehogs are Plato, Pascal, Dostoevsky, Ibsen and Proust.  DSC_0044_2465The remainder of Berlin’s essay proves to his readers how Tolstoy, an intuitive fox, strives to transform himself, and thoroughly believes in being a hedgehog.

This single-minded focus is even mirrored in the precocious Paloma, the neighbor who at twelve years old has despaired of a purpose to life and has determined to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday.  Paloma still retains a sense of sweetness even while arrogantly demeaning her family and neighbors in the journals she faithfully maintains.

As she is pulled in by her father to watch a rugby match, she describes the Maori player during his haka, or “warrior chant.”  She writes, “What makes the strength of a soldier isn’t the energy he uses trying to intimidate the other guy…it’s the strength he’s able to concentrate within himself by staying centered.  That Maori player was like a tree, a great indestructible oak with deep roots and a powerful radiance – everyone could feel it…giving his strength to the group.” (p. 40-41)

A single central vision.  A hedgehog.

We begin to see the struggle of hedgehog and fox surface in an early comment which Renee delivers to fellow-resident Bernard Grelier.  “War and Peace is the staging of a determinist vision of  history.” (p. 49).  Again, this drives us back to Berlin’s interpretation of Tolstoy as a conflicted hedgehog.  According to Berlin, Tolstoy fought to believe in “great men” determining their own destiny, but succumbed to the mere illusion of free will.  Tolstoy’s preoccupation with history led him to wrestle with the appearance of a free will and “first causes” of events.  He tried to create a “unifying pattern of the world for a monistic vision of life on the part of a fox bitterly intent upon seeing in the manner of a hedgehog.”   It was a search for meaning, a single over-arching purpose in life.  For a sharp contrast, for example, one might juxtapose Tolstoy’s War and Peace with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in order to examine their differing views on free will and fate.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog revolves largely around the blossoming friendship of Renee Michel and Kakuro Ozu.  Renee learns to discuss the qualities of Dutch and Italian painting, her favorite Japanese films, as well as her troubled, neglected past with Kakuro in an easy fashion.  Even so, the emphasis is on the “contemplation of beauty.”

Renee discovers from her one friend Manuela that Kakuro has decorated his apartment with elegant, assymetrical designs.  One lamp of a kind.  One singular table.  Nothing is the same.  Nothing matches.  Renee’s reaction is noteworthy: “I’ve never thought about it.  But it’s true that we tend to decorate our interiors with superfluous things.” (p. 161)  Manuela does not seem to comprehend.  Indeed, I am not sure I do either.  It is as if she were speaking of her soul, and not merely her living quarters.

Muriel Barbery has written a book in which the reader can appreciate the delicate flavors of zaru ramen and Jasmine tea, alongside the quiet beauty of a camellia.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a beautiful book on the possibilities of unlikely friendship and on finding the one truth and beauty in life.