Tag: contemplations

The True Meaning of Christmas

This Christmas season has not been an easy one for me. Here I am, Christmas Day, and I’m unemployed, with no idea when or whether I’ll find another job and barely enough money to get me through another month–and that’s after spending several weeks, a month or two ago, looking for work. Financially speaking, this has probably been the most difficult time of my life, and it hasn’t been terribly easy in other regards either: I’ve felt distant from loved ones often, have suffered a lot of fear and uncertainty about my future, and struggled against the crushing feeling that I am sinking back into a routine of life that is going nowhere and profiting me nothing. It has certainly not been a time of carefree joy and happy togetherness.

And yet, as all this has been going on, I have also been more deeply aware of the true meaning of Christmas than ever in my life before. “The true meaning of Christmas.” That’s a phrase that gets bandied about a lot nowadays, especially in those sappy “family films” that we all know and love (or hate, as the case may be). And yet, with all this talk, it seems that the meaning of Christmas is still surprisingly elusive. The modern world, by and large, takes that meaning to be as follows: Christmas is a time for giving, for being together with loved ones and reconciling your differences, for being magnanimous towards others and for spreading good cheer wherever you might find yourself. Then of course, there is the commercial side of it, fueled by that very spirit of giving but still all too often erupting into something unhealthy, dry, withered, and ugly. Those things are not bad things (not even commerce, if kept under control–after all, buying and selling brings prosperity!). Yet it seems to me that the secular modern (and all too often, even the religious) world’s understand of Christmas is like a person who looks at an empty house and mistakes it for a home. The soul is missing from the modern notion of Christmas.

So, what is the true meaning of Christmas? The things I listed before are not that meaning, but only its effects: they are a celebration for which the cause has been forgotten or pushed to the background. And that cause is the most profound event in history: that God Himself, the eternal, changeless being, the cause of all that is or ever shall be, the Infinite, Who know human can ever understand or comprehend, chose to become incarnate in human flesh; and what is more, in the flesh of a helpless baby, born of a human woman lowly in all respects save for the extraordinary graces that she was given. Let that sink in. God is infinite, immanent and yet transcendent; He took on a face. God is too vast to be named; He took on a name, and one as common as Jack or Bob, at that. God is all-powerful; he became a helpless baby, utterly dependent on His mother, so fragile that to be left alone for a day could have spelled His death. And He came so that we humans, the oath-breakers, who by right should be cast aside, might become adopted into God’s family and made brothers and sisters of Christ, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone.

That is the mystery that we celebrate, the great paradox, the incredibly wondrous event which is at the heart of all the joyful outer trappings of Christmas. Christmas as we know it, with all those things that have come to be misidentified as its “true meaning,” would not exist without the Incarnation. The festival has become so great only by the power of faith which has borne it up all through the years; and even though the soul has gone out of it in so many places, that ancient wonder is still there holding it up, and will surely continue to do so as long as it is remembered.

Back to the beginning: this Christmas season has been pretty tough for me. But even in the most difficult times, there is still beauty to be found, and I think it is very fitting that I have seen the beauty of Christmas more strongly than ever before in this, my most difficult Christmas season to date.

Merry Christmas!

~ Jared

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Musings on Writing

Lately, I have been considering in depth my place as a writer, what I want to write, the mark I want to leave on literature, the direction I want to take my storytelling–my “writing identity.” This is occasioned by the fact that my methods, aims, and storytelling interests have changed significantly in the past year or so, but my conception of who I am as a writer hasn’t changed with them. Before I was writing out of an intent to get published and be famous (in fact, my goal was to be published by the time I was 20. Look how that’s turned out!); I wrote very quickly and without much thought; my stories tended to be concerned with “big things” like saving the world and whatnot. My style tended to be abrupt and action-focused (though I do think I’ve usually had a fairly decent balance of description and interior exposition in my stories). But all those things are different now. I write because I enjoy it; because it’s good for me; out of the pure joy of creation; because sub-creation is a way of worship. Many of the ways in which writing is good for me I’ve outlined in my last writing-related post, and I’ll add here that it helps me to maintain a calm emotional center. I always get a little unhinged if I don’t write often enough. My writing process itself has slowed down considerably, as I’m generally inclined now to take frequent breaks and think about each sentence and paragraph, take time before and after a writing session to contemplate the scene I’m working on, take breaks of days or more in the middle of chapters to allow my subconscious to work on a difficult plot problem.The subject matter of my stories has become “smaller,” and I’m much more inclined now to write character-driven stories with strictly localized consequences. My style has become (I think) much deeper and more poetic, and I take much more time now to produce vibrant descriptions–but on the other hand, I also try, especially in my short fiction, to master the power of the unsaid, and imply just as much as I write explicitly.

 

At any rate, all that meant I needed to rethink a little bit, and the thought process and its implications seem worth sharing. It really didn’t take me long to come to a conclusion, and that conclusion was born out of this realization, which I’ll quote from my Facebook page, where I originally posted it.

It was fantasy and adventure stories that sowed the seeds of wonder and joy in my childhood, nourished and kept them alive during my dismal teen years, and, with the water of the writings of Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton, brought them forth to grow and blossom as I became an adult.

I want to add my own contributions, even if they’re very small, to that pool of wonder.

Those fantasy and adventure stories were mostly written for children or young adults. And ever since my childhood, whenever I have longed for a story, to escape this world and enter another, to go on an adventure, my mind always went back to that kind of story: to the children’s sci-fi/fantasy adventure and/or slice-of-life tale. The epitome of that style is what I most want to write, deep down in my soul, and generally what I most want to read. The merits of children’s spec-fic are many, and I won’t go into them all here. But in my opinion that genre is one of the best. It’s surprising, really, that I didn’t come to this realization of what I most want to write sooner. But at any rate, that’s where my heart is, and now my mind has caught up to it.

 

There’s a reason I said “adventure and/or slice-of-life tale.” That’s because I think a slice-of-life element is crucial to creating a story that a person can really lose himself in. The best children’s spec-fic stories, Harry Potter, for example, almost always have some slice-of-life element. Getting to see the daily lives and achievements of the characters makes them seem so much more real and human. And beyond that, I think there is an important philosophical reason to show the small and mundane, and that is that normal life, simple and mundane things, regular emotions and institutions, are really extremely important, romantic, exciting, adventurous. This is illustrated in a simple and profound fashion by Christ in the Parable of the Mustard Seed:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. Matthew 13:31-32 (NKJV)

and also in a more complex fashion by G.K. Chesterton (one of my favorite writers, and one who has had a huge influence on my life) in many of his works, especially Orthodoxy. Whether or no a person happens to take the words of Christ to be authoritative, I don’t think anyone can deny that great things very often start from seemingly small and insignificant seeds. And I will take it a step further and say that the great things that start from small seeds often go in disguise as very mundane and normal things, when really they are quite fantastic. And the heart of slice-of-life is those things. One of the strengths of children’s literature in general is a tendency to have a stronger slice-of-life element, and that is something I want very much to carry through in my writing.

 

This view of the world which has sprung up in me in the past couple of years is integral to the shift in my writing. And that’s because, as I finally realized in the past few days, the way that someone tells a story is inextricably linked to the way that person sees the world! This is another realization that it seems I should’ve had much sooner. I suppose it was so obvious it went right over my head. The way that I process and think through stories, the way that I relate them and tell them, the aspects of story that I dwell on, the words I use to describe things–all of it is affected by a change in worldview. And perhaps this is why we like some authors more than others, and feel a subconscious connection to them; because the way they see the world is more in line with our way. At any rate, I see the world differently now; I see the importance of the small and mundane; I see the value in planting a spark of wonder in a person’s mind, itself something seemingly small, but with great consequences; and my writing has changed. 

 

How have personal growth and new realizations shaped your writing?

~ Jared

In Which I Return to Ramble about Life

Hello! Been forever since I last posted something. That’s partly because I’ve been busy with various things and partly because I just haven’t had much to post about. But there have been some fairly unconnected thoughts knocking about in my head and I figured I might as well write a post about them. So, here goes.

 

Thought number one: I don’t understand humans. I really don’t. The older I get and the more I see of life and what the world is like, the less I feel I understand about humanity. I cannot comprehend how people are able to commit the atrocities that they do. Tormenting others, taking lives, cruel words, raping and stealing and greed. I don’t understand what drives one person to say unspeakably cruel things about another who they have no emotional connection to. I don’t understand what drives some people to look at another and cast aspersions on his humanity because he has skin of a different color, or what gives anyone the gall to say that he is better than anyone else.

Lately, the weight of the exquisite preciousness of life has been pressing down on me. Life can be destroyed by cruel words as easily as it can by physical actions. It is so fragile, and yet it will always return to be beaten down again, fueled by a paradoxical strength. But I don’t understand why some people want to spread death and pain, or how most of the others can do so without realizing that they’re doing it. Life is so unspeakably precious. A human is an eternal being. Everyone you look at is a monster and a saint embattled for all time. Everyone you look at is as good as you, whether they have been born yet or no, whether they have your skin color or no, whether they speak your language, hold to your beliefs, follow your gods, whether or no they have the same level of riches as you. Why is that so hard to see?

The more I see of humans, the less I understand them. I feel like an alien. Of course, I suppose I am; a sojourner in the mortal realm, passing through my childhood of flesh before continuing on to my adulthood of spirit. But I always thought when I was younger that I would understand people more as I aged, not less. I don’t think I want to understand. I don’t think I need to understand every facet of the beast which drives people to commit atrocities; I don’t even know if I’m strong enough to understand it. It’s a good thing, then, that I don’t have to face it alone. God understands it and gives us the strength to fight it.

And that, I suppose, is all there is to it.

 

Thought number two: Everyday life is an unparalleled drama. This is connected with what I wrote a couple of paragraphs up, about the preciousness of life and the eternity of a human being. Humans are not just short-lived primates scuttling around on a world that will die in the incomprehensibly distant future. We are eternal souls, breathed to life and made in the image of the entity who created all things. Therefore, everything we do is important. The act of getting out of bed on that morning when you are crushed by the weight of lost love and do  not see how life could go on–that is an act worthy of song. The slow soldiering on through a world that seems meaningless, your only hope a distant and perhaps unattainable light, there is a story worth sagas. There is an awful solemnity to the love of a mother, who would give her life for her child; a terrible recklessness in the lovers who would give each other their fragile and eternally precious hearts. A divine joy suffuses the acts of imagination and sub-creation. There is no mistaking the gravity of life, but yet, as in all things, a paradox! Life is also full of joy! Glee and laughter can fill the darkest of times. A child’s silliness can bring a smile to the saddest of forlorn mothers–and isn’t that a heroic act in and of itself? Birds sing in the morning and drive you out of bed with their racket. Such outlandish creatures as sloths and okapis exist to wander the world’s jungles. Gold is there to glimmer; the rain is there to sing. There is an undercurrent of levity in the ocean’s resounding waves.

I suppose it is this consciousness I have lately been gaining of the massive importance of normal actions which has been making it harder for me to understand humans. I wish that everyone could see how glorious and wretched their lives are. How glorious to be an eternal soul–how wretched to have fallen–how precious to the one who made us. As a writer, I can say that even the silliest stories I wrote as a youngster are still held safe in my heart. How much more would an eternal God hold us, his words brought to life?

 

~ Jared