Monday, November 14, 2011

A Good Day: Seeing The Dogs is Like Living Well

Living a day well is akin to paying attention to our dogs. Little Ike and Coen, the last two of a litter of puppies left at the shelter when my wife rescued them. They were so helpless and loveable she couldn’t just pick one. She had to bring home two to surprise me for a Valentine’s Day present four year ago this next February. We figure Ike was picked over because he was the runt with a definitively oversized portion of the “little man syndrome,” meaning that if he isn’t being coddled he can be quite the grump. Coen was picked over because even though he is quite handsome and well proportioned, he is skittish and afraid of silly things like smooth floor tile, heat vents and gutters. We loved these two little fur balls for two years and then somehow in the third year we got distracted. Then we had a baby and now they are always here, ready and eager for our attention if only we had the patience and clarity of heart and mind to give it them. Now living a day well doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve given love to dogs, but it means that we are in a better posture to.

Prayer must certainly be like this and art and love too. How many gorgeous things surround me that I cannot attend to because I’m busy, self consumed, self important, blind dumb and numb? Again, Annie Dillard. I believe it’s chapter two of Pilgrim At a Tinker Creek. She begins, “I’ve been thinking about seeing.” She tells the story of hiding pennies in crevices and crooks of old trees and along sidewalks as a little girl. She drew arrows on the sidewalk with the words, “treasure this way!” Her point is that there are hidden pennies everywhere in life and creation with arrows and maps pointing the way to treasures but sadly, as she says in her essay “Total Eclipse” in Teaching Stones to Talk, “we are born and bored in a stroke.”

Somehow I got caught up in all this talk about the arts. Lets champion the artist, the misunderstood, the marginalized and fringe, the bohemian, the crafty creative person because (again Dillard) ours is a God who loves pizazz. Sure I love the arts. I just spent an hour reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna to my wife until she fell asleep. We’ve been into the latest season of the TV series Damages with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne. It is exciting and somewhat redeemable, a titillating expose of white-collar crime and it’s no small feat to make white collar crime mysterious and riveting. Yet as Susanna began to yawn and apologize for having to ask me to stop reading we had a brief discussion about how much nicer it is to finish the evening with a book rather than a TV show. Definitely. We love the arts. We love Kingsolver’s prose. She makes me want to travel south of the border again soon for pollo frito fresh squeezed juice and la playa. Yet is this really all that much about art itself or it is about being a better human and living a day well?

I say its time we stop talking so much about the arts and begin talking about talking about how to live a day well, how to live better, how to be better humans, and yes this will require the arts but not art as an end in itself but as a means, a kind of training in how to see better. 

Kingsolver makes me want to travel south of the border for a proper margarita and carnitas and she makes me want to pay attention to my dogs more. How did they become so boring to me? If my dogs can become boring, then is it possible for me to let my work, my art, my marriage and even my beautiful son become boring too? Yes. Please God forgive us all our boredom. Oh ennui, the noonday demon.

Kate Kooyman gave a beautiful message tonight at the Gathering on sin and forgiveness. In the first third of her message, she unpacked the difference between sin and immorality and how we confuse the latter for the former. Being a sinner isn’t just about specific acts but about an overall dispassion of being turned inward toward self-worship. I’ll add that sin is fundamentally being cut off from the life of God. It is living without the right redemptive perspective of forgiveness and hope, of love and light. Sinfulness is living in the gutter of the darkness of the self.

So art plus redemption can lead us to seeing better? Yep. True, however art by itself will shape and change us but it cannot save us. Art by itself becomes its own idolatrous end; its own party; its own scene that alienates and separates those who get it and those who don’t. The in and the out. But redemptive human creativity is essential to becoming a Christian. My dogs are beautiful little guys. People stop me and remark when I’m with them on a walk. Wow, what beautiful or amazing or cute little dogs! And inside I’m hoping just to get them to poop so we can get back to the house and on to more important things, to my things, to my agenda. I’m a sinner self-consumed. I’m ignoring the blazing colors of the Fall leaves, the ones remaining on the branch and those scattered on the ground. I’m blind to the subtle changes in wind and temperature, the joy of pulling my scarf tighter. I don’t reflect on the month past, the summer past, the winter ahead. I walk a straight boring line from point A to point B to get the job done, to go back inside and be boring again.

This is not all true. I’m being a good Midwestern boy with a guilt complex. I can see. Yesterday I cut our the burning bushes that line the front of our house back so far that they are little bitty stumps of potentiality—that is if I didn’t kill them (they were getting so huge and everything I could find on the mighty internet said burning bushes are resilient). Behind the bushes was a large planters box eight feet long sitting underneath the front windows. Until yesterday you couldn’t see that its paint was peeling away or that the box itself was almost rotted out, a liability I could have left of the spring? The two hour job turned into six. I was forced outside a bit longer. The dogs tied to the railing on our front steps and wow was Ike grumpy with the cats and dogs and children running freely and flagrantly in front of his tied up self. I cut back the bushes. I raked leaves. I removed the flower box. I scraped the flaking paint behind it. I repainted the shake shingles. I raked some more and the sun set. It got colder. We went inside and made French toast with bananas and honey. Then I pet my dogs with Casper. He chased them around the kitchen island a bit. I could see it.

Oh please God, help me see tomorrow.


Tamara Murphy said...

Another beautifully written reflection. Thank you! I'm saying yes and amen to the whole post, but wanted to say it a little extra loudly on this statement: "I say its time we stop talking so much about the arts and begin talking about talking about how to live a day well, how to live better, how to be better humans, and yes this will require the arts but not art as an end in itself but as a means, a kind of training in how to see better."

Jacob said...

Thank you, Josh. True encouragement.