09 November 2016

Wars and rumors of wars.

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 
-- Matthew 24:6

I’m reminded of one time on my mission, knocking doors in Buenos Aires in 2007. A lady answered the door, took one look at our Yankee faces, said “You guys are killing babies in Iraq!!”, and slammed the door on us. It really made me reconsider the phrase “wars and rumors of wars,” one of the signs we’re taught to expect in the last days. Thanks to mass media, this lady was able to know instantly about atrocities happening a world away. She wasn’t directly affected by the wars, but she was affected by the “rumors of wars” -- the anxiety and mistrust and uncertainty attendant on living in a world saturated by bad news. And she suffered by it. Her outrage was justified, but misdirected, and her despair blinded her to the merits of our invitation to do good within her sphere of influence.

I generally consume a lot of news, and I think it’s important to be an informed citizen. But lately I worry that my news consumption that goes beyond informing myself and starts to look like the worst kind of sports consumption. Obsessively following a contest I can do nothing to control, and letting my mood be dictated by it, is unhealthy and unproductive. Many of my most beloved thinkers, among them Marilynne Robinson and Annie Dillard, talk about attention as a sacred resource, the bestowal of which, when done well, sanctifies both giver and receiver. I want to be more deliberate about this bestowal. I’m done giving any more attention than absolutely necessary to someone elected on the strength of a preternatural talent for stealing it.

Here’s the silver lining I’m trying to weave out of this very dark cloud.

I’m heartbroken and astonished at what happened last night. Its impact on the globe, both material and symbolic, is likely to be immense and horrifying. But I’ve been thinking about the practical impact it will have on my day-to-day life. While it’s not negligible, the only control I have over that practical impact is how I choose to let it color my actions. I refuse to let it drive me toward either cynicism or tribalism. While I still want to be an informed citizen, I’m trying to view this catastrophe as an opportunity to reorient myself more locally. To me, this election paints a clear picture of two Americas in a state of utter mutual incomprehension. As members of Mormon congregations which include people of all social strata, we’re better situated than most to understand and build bridges with people who see the country in a fundamentally different way. I’m planning to unplug a little bit from the 24-hour news cycle, and plug into my community. For me, that might mean following local politics, tutoring refugees, being a more dedicated home teacher, and above all, communing with my family.

I can only pray, with my whole heart, that last night doesn’t presage more wars. But we can and will do our small part to make sure that the “rumors of wars” (and of other terrible things beyond our control) don’t divert our attention from the good we can do for those we can reach, including those whose cause for worry is more immediate and visceral than our own. The danger of being paralyzed by despair is countered by the opportunity to be catalyzed into action.

Sorry if this all sounds sanctimonious. And thank you to all of you for your words. This is a day of mourning, but reading this email thread sparks hope in me. We are comforting each other, who all stand in need of comfort. Let’s build on that, and strive to bear the burdens of those around us whose burdens are most likely to get heavier.

Heaven WILL help us, I’m confident. The end is not yet.

Love, W.

26 July 2016

That nature is a Heraclitean fire.

I went back! To Boston, this charmed corner of this beloved country that I so belove and that so charms me. Walking from Harvard Square across the Eliot bridge, nostalgia hit me hard. Here was the place where I had worked, the river where I had run, the bench where I had sat and agonized over the decision to move away. They were happy years, rich with good memories and dear friends. I stayed with one of those dear friends who still lives in the neighborhood I called home from 2012 to 2014. We reminisced about what a great time that was. He told me how it's still great, but it's not the same. I told him about how my new city isn't the same either.

I spent the last three weeks on vacation with my family, and I don't relish the prospect of going back to my solitary life. I miss this place where I'd felt such strong community. I know, I know: I recognize that nostalgia is unproductive, and the grass is always greener. Still, I'm meditating on loss and stasis and where abundance comes from.

Since I left Boston, two of my dearest friends there married one another. I visited them and met their child. Child! For the last 14 weeks, they have been building a world, and it's hard work, and they're tired. They're building a world for this tiny, mild, beautiful person with thick black hair, by whose eyes I was beheld and by whose smile I was graced.

I say 14 weeks, but no, it didn't start then. Nor did it start 9 months + 14 weeks ago. These good people have been building a world for this child their whole lives long. They were building it when they were camping and worshiping and talking economics with me. They were building it during my first nervous weeks in Boston, when each of them reached out to welcome me and make me feel at home. And when they did the same for countless other people here who were in some way new or different or uncertain or struggling. They've been hard at work on a world for a long time, and I think that tiny, thoughtful, black-haired human I held is lucky to live in it.

As I left their house, retracing familiar streets, the evening was warm and close without being sticky or oppressive. The air swaddled me. There was a lot in my heart; peace and melancholy. It was a sad and sweet day, but the sadness was hopeful and the sweetness was deep. It was a good day. It was a day that said, You can never go back, but this world's makers also did a pretty fine job. And they made it go forward.

08 September 2015

Buckle up, buttercup.

On the flight from Provo to LAX, a scrawny redheaded gal in a hot pink hoodie that said “Buckle Up Buttercup / You Just Flipped My Bitch Switch” was also wearing a tattoo on the left side of the back of her neck. “Faith,” it said in a flowy script, then below and at right angles, “Jeremiah 29:11.”

I looked up Jeremiah 29:11 on my phone. Here it is:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
I don't even know why I found that neck tattoo so comforting. Christ plays in ten thousand places. Thanks, redhead.

25 October 2014


When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace.  What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it? 
O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
        He comes to brood and sit.

- GMH.

07 March 2014

Ash Wednesday.

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me?  Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause.  See, banks and breaks
Now leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds buildbut not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

- GMH.
My boots are falling apart.  On the day after Christmas 2011, my whole family went to Modern Shoe down on Center Street and picked out hiking boots.  I found a pair of waterproof Merrells that felt like old friends from the moment I tried them on.  That same week, I took them on their maiden voyage with Nate through the snow and mud on Little Squaw Peak.  They accompanied me all year as I wandered with brothers and sister and parents and cousins all over the patient, wise, matriarchal mountains that rule benevolently over Utah Valley.  Timp's foothills.  Cascade's Toes.  Little Rock Canyon.  G Mountain.  The Camel.  Windy Pass.  The best view in Provo, I discovered, is from the top of Y Mountain, looking east.  That's where I hope to be when I see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

For Christmas 2012, I wore these boots on my family's surreal pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.  Over five days they faithfully took me over Salkantay Pass at 15,000 feet and through an actual thing called the Cloud Forest.  When we reached the ruins, it was rainy and we were all sick but Nate had come this far and was not about to turn back before summiting Huayna Picchu, and I will ever be grateful he convinced me to man up and go with him.  Up narrow steep staircases and past sheer precipices, my boot-clad feet were as sure as a goat's.  Sitting on top of Huayna Picchu with my brother -- the Urubamba River burbling far below, Machu Picchu alternately obscured and revealed by the mist -- was sublime, mystical, godly.

This is what my boots are capable of.  But lately they carry me thanklessly from my house to the bus stop and from the bus stop to work, day in, day out, as the winter in Boston goes from long to interminable.  They follow me uncomplainingly through snow laced with ice-melting salt; the salt builds up and stains.  Somehow I never remember to clean them -- there is always a more pressing worry, and in the general cacophony of my life they're just one in a chorus of needs I'm constantly neglecting.  The salt eats away at the leather and rubber and glue, until one morning I noticed that these boots which have scoffed at Wasatch mud and Andean streams are now powerless against the dirty puddles in Harvard Square.  All day my feet stayed damp.  When I finally took a wet rag to my boots today after work, I found scars and gashes I hadn't even noticed in a half dozen places.

Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.  I went to an Ash Wednesday service yesterday at the Old South Church in Copley Square.  The ministers spoke about how our need for mercy is constant and how we are not God.  In the small, spartan chapel at the back of the church, to listeners seated on wicker chairs, they lamented that the havoc of evil is in us all, and confessed our sneer at grace.  The first hymn was set to Bach's achingly penitent Passion Chorale, the tune known in the Mormon hymnal as "O Savior Thou Who Wearest A Crown".

62 Chorale-Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden- by Johann Sebastian on Grooveshark

And yet.  Because every day is short, the preacher said, every day is shot through with import.  What gets me every time about that tune is how its frank acknowledgment of sin and loss is the dark backdrop to a tiny point of brilliant hope in the last line's resolution.  There is power in deep and abject humility; the kind one does not seek but is forced to; the kind at the edge of the mind's sheer cliffs.  The scripture reading underlined the spiritual force of naked need.  Psalm 51David pleading for forgiveness.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness;
that the bones which thou has broken may rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
I had been one of the last to arrive, and the only seating left was on the front row.  So I was the first in line to get an ashen cross painted on my forehead by this bright-eyed lady priest, who told me "Remember, mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  But for today, you live.  May God grant you the power to do all you need to do, and then some."  As I returned to my seat, I heard her saying the same words to everyone else.  But it felt like the Spirit was dictating to her a personal admonition just for me.

From the front of the program: "Today, we begin a forty-day journey through the wilderness of Lent and into newness of life."  I love the wilderness, but lately I'm plagued with doubt about the journey.  I'm in the middle of my life's season of abundance of rejection letters from PhD programs.  They are ripening and falling off the trees all around me.  I second-guess the gifts I thought I had, choices I might have made, things I should have learned.  More than usual, my desert wanderings feel aimless and meaningless.

But Lent, like the Passion Chorale, like winter, holds the promise that He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.  Lent is the chance -- the decision, really -- to consecrate loss and failure, compost it with the dust of mortality and grow something beautiful.  To go hiking in the wilderness, deliberately, trustingly.  To step calmly into the flames of nature's Heraclitean fire and to find God there.

Bring on the locusts.  Bring on the wild honey.

07 January 2014

Annus Mirabilis.

Slept like a rock on the red-eye back from Salt Lake.  Came home to a letter from a girl I might love.  Went running in a clear 18° F.

The Charles is frozen over and it's finally 2014 and I love everything.