Come Whip the Earth!

Now as the world outside was flooding, there inside that house once called the Old Manor slept The Extra with his wife. She slept with her mouth open. Into her mouth and past her teeth, down her trachea, entering her left lung, as she took a breath, through the membrane of her alveoli, her bloodstream, a small arteriole, a sliver-of-a-river, down through the chambers of her heart until coming to the arteries that lead down to the placenta, that bright red leaf with its bulging latticework, past a layer of stratum spongiosum and into the hollow of the intervillous spaces that are filled continually like the basins of the deep with blood, diffusing through the sprigged fingers of the chorionic villi containing the umbilical vein entwined together with the umbilical arteries which carry off what has been received, flowing to the branch of the vein embedded inside the white gummy rubber, the Wharton’s jelly, of the umbilical cord near instantly traversing inch after inch until reaching the navel of his abdomen, bypassing other routes by poking up through the transverse fissure of his liver, entering the branch of the Arantius’ Duct, flowing into the vena cava, the right atrium of his heart, through the shunt that is called the foramen ovale into the left atrium, pumping into the aorta, up the carotid arteries until forking into the ophthalmic artery forking still to the central retinal artery that pierces near the optic nerve and spreads offshoots all across the surface of his retina, there is the organ through which the child, unable to sleep like his parents, senses his dark world for any light. There is no light inside that swollen cave he can tell in the fog of the fluid that wraps around his kicking limbs. He must content himself with his world as it is, the world swelled just so he could be inside it, just so he might have some place to grow. There is no picking and choosing for him now, there is no way for him to shape what has been already shaped out of the walls of his mother’s uterus. He is the one who has been shaped, he is the one who has only to rest. If he cannot rest, he is the one who must find some way to bide the time. Let them him jump on the pliant walls of the amniotic sac until he gets his mother’s attention. Then she could say, “See! He’s in there, he’s energetic and happy to be alive.” That would be a comfort.

But at that very moment, his mother’s dreams were dark. She dreamed of the life that she could have lived with her husband had the world not been destroyed. The extra and his girlfriend, Rachel, were in the same position that the child of the cave found himself in. The Old Manor is dark inside, wet. The only difference between her womb and the womb of that house is warmth. There is no comfort for them there in the cold, but sleep. They will throw off the questions they have about their new world until they wake up. They hear unconsciously the echo of the outer world’s sounds drift like dead shadows on the watery floors of the living room. These sounds influence what it is they dream of. It’s good they sleep. When they wake up they will call dreams dreams and life, life. For now, they dream about waves crunching light poles as they roll down city streets, shattering windows and lifting neat lawns. They dream about men out on oceans or lakes or ponds meeting towers that fall to devour their boats, bending bows to splinters and sides to hulks. The couple has no happy dreams that night, but they wake to the lie that their unhappy dreams were untrue.

If only they knew what price they buy the comfort of unhappy dreams at! It was not just in their dreams that the world met its end by water. Their sleeping hearts pieced together the truth long before their waking thirsts and worries could. Their sleeping hearts presented the truth inside their minds without any help from the two organs that assemble the fragments of the fractured world by the hands of a thousand saccades. The organ of our dreams is buried deep inside our guts. Like the eyes, it works only with fragments: scraps from our lives and rumors of our worst worries. Like the eyes, the organ of our dreams passes over these pieces, again and again, until it has come upon a settled picture. This is the picture it shows us. Many people, according to this narrator, give too much credence to the ability of the eyes to perform this task of grasping—and too little credence to our dreams. Why do we do this, when both give us the same service? It is because one organ works while we are awake to pass our own judgment upon its judgment, while the other works best when our hands are tied, our mouths shut, eyes bound. So we never see horrors with our eyes and take them as comforts, because we judge them as horrors. When we see horrors in our dreams, however, we wake and judge that it was only a dream. It was designed this way, so that we do not get a double portion of the horrors contained in this world. Instead, we get a half portion of mourning and a half portion of comfort, even though we saw more horrors than our eyes themselves revealed. Wise men take all the mourning and no comfort, because they know how it is.

Although the child could not see anything in his world, he could hear the muffled groans of his parents as they woke up to discover their own wombed world. They spoke to each other. It was the voice of his mother that he heard best. He felt it in his bird bones; it reverberated inside the amphitheater of his soft skull. His parents woke up and the child shifted his weight as she rose from the chair. His mother cried—but his father hugged her, pressing his stomach against hers, compressing the walls of his home. The child kicked back against him. They said something to each other and he felt his father’s hand on the wall. He kicked his father’s hand away and held fast with his fingers loosely around the cord that had him bound to his mother. He could not see a thing, but neither could his parents. All they could see was what they felt with their hands, like the blind. And like a blind old woman, his mother walked with her hands outstretched in the darkness of that night while her husband put his arm around her waist. Water slushed against their pants. They wished they could be as safe as their child, as care free. They heard sounds on the walls of the house, distant howls, screeching. None of these noises came to their waking attention.

“I’m hungry,” the extra said, “are you hungry?”

“I’m always hungry,” she said.

“You let me go into the kitchen, then. Stay here. I’ll see if I can find a flashlight and some food.”

She leaned against the railing of the stairs and said nothing, because she was going to be sick. She heaved and heaved until she vomited on the water. The image of three corpses floating on the water in the other room, bumping against her legs, came into her mind. As the extra was making noise inside the kitchen, opening and closing kitchen cabinets, another sound came from inside the house. The stairs creaked behind her, but not like someone was coming down them. They creaked as if they were being twisted. A light flashed on the water in the doorway of the kitchen. Two lines of shadow from the doorway scanned across the dancing diamonds of grey and dark blue, fitted like an ornament on the surface of the floorboards. He came to her and shed light on her. She turned to see what was happening, and behold, the stairs looked as if they were melting in heat. They were like metal that had just recently been plunged into the burning embers of a furnace, only to be pulled out and struck into shape on the anvil. The stairs of wood hammered together once sawn long ago gained the youthful looks of the trees that bore them. They had the look of white flesh once the bark has been peeled off a fresh, living stick. The stairs could bear no further delay and, as the soft flesh rose around them, plunged their finished edges into it and were swallowed. And those were now twigs that used to be called spindles in the railing. Neither of them could believe the miracle they witnessed and reached out their hands in disbelief to feel the surface. Where stairs used to be was now at the touch the soft inside of a tree. The extra stood at the bottom of the long-gone stairs. He directed the light up them. The stairwell grew rapidly upwards—as the hollow of a giant root. Those spindles, once twigs, had all too soon grown together and formed the sides of this root, on one side limpid, a hard bark on the other. This giant root pushed against the roof of the house, in order to puncture it, and the extra saw in a sudden moment what he thought would be the immediate death of his whole family. But instead of piercing the outer membrane of their safety, the root only carried on, high, higher up. The root was now racing off into the heights so far that the light could not find its end. The extra and his wife did not know why this happened, but they knew what it was: an offer. So they came to the bottom of that strange ascending well, and began scrambling up it. They found that the scrambling came easy, for the tissued walls of the root was kind on the feet and hands, nor was the incline too steep.

As they climbed, they came to a spot that they knew was well beyond the Old Manor down below, still sunken. They took a break here and heard the creaking of the root still expanding upwards, going before them to the world they had not yet met or seen. The hope overshadowed their hunger and thirst, but their exercise in hope only grew their desperation. There was no immediate answer to their appetites, which made it worse. They discussed whether or not to return to the Old Manor for the night, or to continue on until they came to the end. Neither seemed like a good idea. The extra shut off his flashlight.

He prayed in the darkness, his hands with her hands, “Please, if you can flood the world and give us a way out, bring us some food and water or show us what we are supposed to do to eat.”


Excerpt: Prince of the Couriers of the Air

When Malvin slept on the couch in the empty living room of the Bliss Homestead, he dreamt that he was really hanging in the dark room of the basement, the room where the cobwebs had piled up to the height of small children, where bones of deer lay scattered, where the leaves of the overgrown bushes pushed through the cracked window, where Malvin avoided. He was chained to the wall like a prisoner in a dungeon.

In his dream, someone paced down the board stairs, someone whose face remained unseen. Malvin felt the approaching presence of death. This being came into the room, but the face remained hidden by necessity of dream logic. He knew that if he was able to see the face of this being, the features would be too much for him to bare, features grotesquely detailed. The entire face was really a textured map, with rivers colored blue streaking across the cheeks, with mountain ridges where eyes should be, popped up high, snow-capped, with cities of America labelled, but in all the wrong places, because the inhuman face was a map of some unknown geography, captured in an order that existed nowhere. Malvin knew that if he could see the face, if for one second he could catch a glimpse of the face, he would see small, mite-sized cars zooming down the highways on its temples. Malvin knew that if for one moment he could see that face which contained the entire known world in the dense detail of a spider’s abdomen, he would recognize in it all the memories that ever filled him with longing. In that terrible dream he had every night, Malvin made every attempt to picture the face before the being had come into that dark room.

If he could picture everything the face contained, the being would not do what it did every night to him. The being walked into the room slowly and Malvin was compelled to just keep his eyes on its feet. It was as if his head was forced down by some invisible hand from the sky to remain looking at the worlds of darkness the floor contained: dirt as hard as clay, uneven, that rats scampered around under Malvin’s hanging feet. When the being approached the room, he saw its feet stop in the doorway. The feet peeled off gently and water came forth from the roots of its legs. The currents of water carried away the hollow, shining feet. This water splashed and spilled from the towered legs like volcanoes bursting at the bottom of the ocean. All so soon, the rats that found their home in that basement would be swimming on the surface of the water, their small backs like rowboats navigating in senseless circles, tails like rows. The water climbed its way up Malvin’s body. First, his feet. Legs. Chest. The water was blacker than the walls of the dark room, for it picked everything up in the basement that had lain dormant or self-satisfied, whether it was the bones on the floor: cobwebs, spiders, rats, old toys, or rusted nails. All of these things kicked against Malvin as the dark water climbed up his body. Desperately, Malvin would seek to use his mental demand to picture that basin of the labyrinth, the face of the being, before the dark waters filled up the dark room…the dark water whose only means of escape was down Malvin’s throat and the shattered basement window. All that had been kicked up from the past, that had failed to be swept, would try to go down Malvin’s throat. The rats bit at his shirt, lips, eyes, toes, him, as if for the rats, Malvin was their means of escape. Malvin felt all the legs of the spiders on his skin, the cobwebs clinging to his fingers, the nails poking into his arm, then bounding back, coming back again, old fishing hooks nicking his legs, the binding of flayed books bobbing against him like loaves of bread on the water.

As Malvin’s eyes closed in that fervid water burying him, Malvin would still be seeking to picture the map on the face of the being. He was able to catch glimpses of what it contained. He could read the legend down its long neck of the strange symbols across the endless plains, ridges, valleys, fjords, glaciers, cliffs, hills, plateaus, desserts, deep woods. All of these were rendered in illuminated colors of pinks, the dark greens that splash out as leaves from buckling roots, tans of the ocean’s lining, azures you can only see when your eyes are shut against a dream sun, dazzling red that nature achieves in the pin-pricked polka dotted worlds contained within petals, and the warm gold that shimmers in the fins of coral fish. Malvin would sometimes see the densely intense snapshots of cities. These cities proved to be micro biomes. Though they were perhaps no larger than plant cells, they buzzed with activity. Particle people ascended particle elevators up skyscrapers that rose minutely from the surface of the face’s crust. What plenteous miniatures! Malvin felt protective of these infinite and insignificant lives. He witnessed these cities with desperation in his heart, knowing that just one scratch, one indecent scratch of the itch that these cities must have been on the eyeless, mouth-less face, would destroy them and all they had worked so hard to achieve. This being seemed unknowing to the crusted surface of its mapped face, or seemed to have no knowledge of that small world that filled Malvin with paternal love for even the sharp-pointed trees of its forests. This being seemed only interested, whenever it entered the room, to flood the room and drown Malvin. But so too the whole world! If those waters came up the neck of the being, if they covered its face, forever its world would be lost.

Intimations of Immortality in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’

Keats poem, Ode to a Nightingale, is about the longing for a mystic past. The portal to this past time is the song of a nightingale at night in the forest. Keats hears the bird and hears a whole world through its song. How do the poetic elements reveal this mystic longing?

There is no special significance in the fact that there are eighty lines and eight stanzas. The rhyme scheme, also, is not symbolic. What we can say, generally, about the poem is that it has a song-like quality to it and that each stanza, like a healthy prose paragraph, has its own purpose. Many stanzas have some rhyme interwoven through them. Take stanza IV, where ‘moon’ and ‘glooms’ together rhyme, although they are internal and four lines apart. Or, in stanza VII, there is ‘born’, ‘corn’, and ‘forlorn’. This internal rhyming sews up each stanza nicely. The progression of the poem is not just pulled along with rhyme. Keats uses a lot of assonance, the repetition of syllables within a line. It is quite clear in lines 25 (‘sad’ and ‘last’) and 41 (‘I cannot see what flowers are at my feet’), but also appears more subtly in lines 35 (‘Already with thee! Tender is the night’) and 72 (‘To toll me back from thee to my sole self’). We get some kind of more protracted assonance in stanza I with ‘numbness’, ‘numberless’, and ‘summer’. Keats also uses a bit of alliteration, but never quite goes beyond a two-word usage of it: ‘fade far’ (21), ‘mid-May’s’ (48), and ’sole self’ (72). From stanza to stanza, ideas seem to echo and return like the reverberations, perhaps, of the nightingale’s song—fade far comes back in 47 as fast fading and in 75 as plaintive anthem fades, but we first got the idea of fading in line 20.

Keats wants to fade away with the bird. Then he tells the bird to fade away. Next, we find that the violets are fast fading. Finally, the song of the bird fades back into the forest. This is the entire storyline of the poem. Keats wants to go away with the bird, because his world is one where violets—beauty—fades away. He is like the violets and he, too, will fade. The bird then leaves, but Keats is left high and dry. We find that Keats cannot go with the bird, because if he did, he would not have heard its song fade into the distance. The next thing we can expect, after the poem, is that Keats himself will fade. But the bird? The bird itself never fades. The bird was not born for death (61). Keats was (26). He wants to go where beauty might keep her lustrous eyes (29), but he cannot. This inability to go where the bird hails from fills him with a peculiarly mystic longing.

Keats longs for ‘a draught of vintage’, a metaphor comparing the memory of summer to a rich wine. We see this later in the stanza with the image of a ‘purple-stained mouth.’ The bird sings of summer ‘in full-throated ease’ (10) and it is this song that fills Keats with the craving of summer. This is not just a memory of summer, though, which is a mundane desire everyone has in the heart of winter. It is much, much more. This memory has been ‘cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth’ (12) and so it is an old, perhaps ancient, memory. In lines 2-8, he expands the idea of summer as an entire country (13), not only where people dwell and dance (14), but where Hippocrene is (16). Hippocrene is a pool that the Muses drank from and it filled them with the inspiration to imagine. At this point, Keats is saying that the bird’s song has filled him with a longing for poetic imagination. We at first thought it was just a longing for summer, because of a pretty song. And here, at the end of line 8, we find that the entire second stanza is set up in premise-conclusion form. The poem’s form lends itself well to this.

There are ten lines in each of the eight stanzas, broken into three clumps. The first two clumps are of four lines and then there is a final, two line ending. In stanza II, the first two sections begin with parallel summaries of the next three lines, respectively: ‘O, for a draught of vintage…O for a beaker full of warm South.’ The second summary is an expansion of the meaning in the first line. It is not a drink of old memory, but a pitcher of warmth. If the second section is building on the first, what is the necessary poetic conclusion? It is that Keats ‘might drink, and leave the world unseen’ (19). This only makes sense. Everything in stanza II is unseen and only the song of the bird has inspired Keats to produce it. But Keats has not seen ‘the country green’ or ‘beaded bubbles winking at the brim.’ The unseen world can be no other world than the world he has made with his poetry. And this world goes far beyond Keats. It is a world that comes upon him with the song of the bird. What else should Keats conclude, but that his poetry has accessed something beyond himself? He did not make his own heart ache. The bird did. Like Daedalus giving the idea of flight to Icarus, Keats only attempts poetic imagination because of the nightingale’s song. Like Daedalus and Icarus, Keats tries flying with the bird, but cannot sustain his flight of poetry. The bird flies on towards a new world—and Keats, having flown too high for a mortal, falls.

Throughout history, there have been mystics obsessed with birds for this very reason. Mystics consider the bird as the perfect symbol of longing for an unseen world. Why? Because birds are from the world above and they come singing a beautiful and unintelligible language. It is that language that grants us intimations of immortality–provides us with glimpses of the divine. We cannot, however, maintain the moment of beauty. It flies and fades past us and we try to capture it, like Keats, ‘on the viewless wings of Poesy’ (33). We are filled with dissatisfaction, because it leaves us. The mystics are the ones who find themselves beset with a longing to hold beauty eternally. Mystics long for death—for mystics believe that this reality is a dream, a shade of the immortal beauty beyond.

We find all these elements in Keat’s poem Ode to a Nightingale. There is a bird, a ‘light-winged Dryad of the trees’ (7) and its beauty causes his heart to ache. His heart aches, because the bird teaches him of a world beyond his own, for ‘thou wast not made for death, immortal bird!’ He wants then to die, ‘I have been half in love with easeful Death.’ This encounter is fleeting and his mind cannot grasp the full meaning of the encounter. Keats is experiencing a moment of mystic longing…with one key difference. Instead of the bird being a messenger of the divine heavens, it is a symbol of the undying beauty in nature. This is the longing to reach beyond death and become immortal. ‘O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth’ (11-12). In the end, like a good mystic, Keats questions whether his entire life is the dream and whether by dying he might wake up into immortality.

The answer is yes.

The Young Man who Flees

The main question at hand was, “Did John Mark write the Gospel of Mark?” Most people who argue for the authorship of John Mark point to various testimonies in the Early Church after many decades had passed. Papias, Irenaeus, and Jerome all claim that Mark was using the eyewitness testimony of Peter. For evidence, some scholars will do in-depth analyses of the text itself, looking at places where the author comments on Peter’s internal thoughts. Other scholars have suggested that Mark put himself in the narrative, unidentified, as the young man who flees naked in the Garden of Gethsemane, recorded in 15:51-52. I grew up assuming this particular character was the evangelist himself and that he was just too embarrassed to mention his name. Surprisingly, it turns out that the character of Peter and the presence of this young man in the Garden of Gethsemane are connected—but it has nothing to do with the identity of the author. Whoever the author of Mark was (and I believe a compelling case could be made for John Mark), it seems clear that the Evangelist inserted real historical events—and omitted others—with purpose. The author was not inserting the event of the fleeing young man to reveal his personal character, but rather to reveal the character of the disciples.

From a brief scan over all the passages before the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples are a core group of followers that surrounded Jesus who are made distinct from other groups. This contrast is made early on in 3:7-21. There is πολὺ πλῆθος (τὸν ὂχλον) who follow Jesus as one great mass throughout many scenes and then there is the twelve disciples listed right afterwards in 3:16-19. These are ὰποστουλος, who Jesus called to send out in v. 14 (αποστελει). Right here at the very beginning of the Gospel, we are met with an expectation for who these people ought to be (ἱνα ἀποστελλῃ αὐτους κηρυσσειν καυ ἐχειν ἐξουσιαν εκβαλλειν τα δαιμονια). Sometimes, they do what they’re supposed to (6:13), sometimes they don’t (9:18, 9:28). This happens often in the text; as soon as Mark introduces an expectation for the disciples, that expectation is either met or failed. Another example of this is in 9:37 (Ὁς ἀν ἑν τῶν τοιουτων παιδιων δεξηται ἐπι τῷ ὀνοματι μου, ἐμε δεχεται), which the disciples firmly disobey in 10:13 (οἱ δὲ μαθηται ἐπετιμησαν αὐτοῖς). Again, in 9:35, Jesus says that his disciples must be the last of all. But in 10:35-40, James and John ask to be first of all in heaven! What are we supposed to make of this? Only that the disciples do not understand what it means to be a disciple, much less understand what Jesus is really doing (6:51-52, 8:4, 7:18, 8:14-21, 9:32). Instead of looking at those passages where the incomprehension of the disciples is clearly stated, I want to look at Jesus’ reply to James and John at 10:38. In reply to their obvious bad discipleship, Jesus asks them if they can join him in his Passion and he asks “δυνασθε πιεῖν το ποτηριον ὁ ἐγω πινω?” We get this same word, ποτηριον, in 14:36, when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane to God, asking that God will take away the very thing from him that James and John said they were able to drink in v. 39. And just a few verses later from 14:36, we get the young man, νεανισκος, fleeing and leaving behind his σινδων behind.

To understand how 14:51-52 is connected to the ensuing passion of Jesus, I want to take us back to the nature of the character ὀχλος. Remember I said that this group is quite distinct from the interior group of disciples. The ὀχλος are frequently the ones receiving the ministry of Christ and following him around, ἠκολουθησεν (3:7). The young man has this same relationship to Jesus in 14:51 (συνηκολουθει αυτῷ). Of course, his disciples have the same relationship to Jesus (6:1, ἀκολουθοῦσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηται αὐτοῦ). I want to suggest that the crowd, because they relate to Jesus in the same way as followers, are supposed to be compared and contrasted with the disciples. The disciples are the interior group of followers and are, therefore, supposed to understand (4:34), but the crowd seems to understand at times who Jesus is. We see this in the proclamation of 7:37, “Καλῶς παντα πεποιηκεν, και τους κωφους ποιεῖ ἀκουειν και ἀλαλους λαλεῖν.” However, this proclamation by the crowd might not demonstrate comprehension, either. Maybe we are to have these kinds of proclamations in mind when we read of Jesus quoting Isaiah in 4:12 as a warning. The quote from Isaiah in 7:6-7 might also be applied. Maybe, too, is the crowd’s amazement and pleasure with Jesus (12:37) to be compared with Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Christ (8:29). It might be noted that in the Gospel of Mark, Peter acts as the first of the disciples. His character seems diagnostic of the whole interior group. And Peter might perceive who Jesus is, but does he understand? We are left asking if just recognizing Jesus, as the crowd and Peter do, is all it means to be a disciple.

Right before Peter’s confession, we essentially see Jesus asking his disciples if they are just like the crowd. Jesus does this by referencing the same quote from Isaiah about perceiving and not understanding (8:17-21). That first Isaiah quote (4:12) was in reference to the crowd, because Jesus said, “ἐκεινοις δε τοῖς ἐξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τα παντα γινεται” and in 3:33-34 it says that Jesus only spoke to the crowd in parables. We are to conclude that the crowd is even more contrasted with the disciples in this way, as the ones who are outside and do not receive the special information. My main point here is this: even if Jesus explains things to the disciples, they remain just as confused as the crowd—and, therefore, perhaps just as unfaithful. This whole comparison between the crowd and the disciples goes to show that discipleship is about something else besides just receiving the right knowledge, the right name, the right word.

Jesus’ parable of the sower goes to show this point—and we even get Jesus to explain it for us. Up until the point of the Garden of Gethsemane, it is still uncertain whether the disciples have only heard the word, but will lose it as soon as tribulation comes (4:17). That is the question: when tribulation comes, will the disciples do what they are supposed to?

Remember that Jesus initially called them to himself, so that they might be sent out. What does it mean for them to be sent out? We are supposed to conclude that to be one of the disciples means to be sent out (3:14). But what does that mean? As you will see, it ultimately means following Jesus to his death. The real test of whether or not the word heard has taken root in your heart is if, when tribulation comes, you do not flee. Discipleship is the difference between ακολουθειν and εφυγειν. I find it interesting that when Jesus preaches on this in 8:34, he addresses both the disciples and the crowd, “And calling the crowd to himself with his disciples he said to them, ‘If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself and take his cross and follow me.’” Earlier, we saw that Jesus said that James and John will fulfill their discipleship by taking the ποτηριον he himself does not want (10:39). But so too will others, as Jesus predicts in 9:1.

At this point, you might be wondering why I have even brought in a discussion of the crowd at all in this essay. Wouldn’t it have been enough to simply discuss how the disciples seem unprepared for the higher calling of following Jesus to the Passion? Yes, if I was writing an essay on the disciples. But, I am writing an essay on the young man who flees in 14:51-52. You are now prepared, I hope, to see how the young man who flees is related to the disciples.

We have seen how the crowd is what is called in literature a foil. A foil is a character whose purpose is to emphasize and contrast with another character, so that the foil itself is only relevant in the way it reveals key truths about the main character. In the case of the Gospel of Mark, the disciples are the main character and the main question is whether or not they will see their discipleship through to death. The crowd is the main foil, but occasionally out of the crowd emerges an individual figure. I will briefly mention two individual foils, foils who prepare us to understand the flight of the young man:

In 10:17-22, we get an unidentified wealthy man: “And getting himself ready for the way, someone ran up and knelt down at him…”  This wealthy man asks what he is supposed to do to be saved, and Jesus says he is to “ἀκολουθει μοι.” We know what the cost is, because Jesus just told us what it is in 8:35-36. This unidentified man knows that being a disciple means (basically) losing your life and he decides against it. We immediately see why Mark added in this scene of the wealthy man, because Mark told us what the expectations are for a disciple prior to the scene.

In Mark 10:46-52, we get the healing of Bartimaeus. This particular foil is especially lucid for us, because like the νεανισκος, he also casts off his cloak! ἀποβαλλων τὸ ἱματιον (10:50). The difference is that he is throwing off his cloak in joy, but the νεανισκος does it for some other reason. From the context, the casting off of his ἱματιον is nothing more than a gesture of strong emotion. He is clearly excited to see Jesus, because he cries out ‘κραζειν’ twice. In v. 52, we get this: “‘Go, your faith has saved you.’ And immediately he saw again and followed him (ἠκολουθει αὐτῷ) on the way.” Bartimaeus, unlike the foil before, has the right posture of a disciple.

Now, we get the last foil: νεανισκος. As we have seen, the foils in the Gospel work to show how either the disciples have succeeded or failed in meeting the expectations set for them by Jesus. What are the expectations for the disciples before 14:51-52? In 14:27, Jesus says, “Παντες σκανδαλισθησεσθε.” That is the same word (σκανδαλιζονται) used in the parable of the sower to describe those who will fall away in time of tribulation (4:17). Surely, here in 14:27, we get Jesus elucidating the point he made in that parable about what it means to fall away when διωγμος arises—he was talking about the disciples! Like every time before, we see the disciples encountering the expectation made for them. Their failure is in 14:50: και ἀφεντες αὐτον ἐφυγον παντες. Like every time before, we get a foil to the disciples. The flight of the young man goes to show that all the disciples had fallen away and failed to follow Christ into death. We know the young man is associated with the disciples (and all previous foils), because ‘συνηκολουθει αὐτῷ’. Perhaps there is no merit to this, but if the young man is associated with the crowd, then his flight shows that all have abandoned Jesus. It is as if the crowd all once worshipped Jesus, but in this moment of tribulation, that following crowd has now been whittled down to one, last unidentified character. And he, too, abandons Jesus.

One scholar I read suggested that this flight of the youth is a checkpoint on the way to Peter’s denial of Jesus in 14:66-72. At this point, we can see that this is not only possible, but likely. Peter, who once proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, now in a moment of διωγμος, does not let the word take root in him. Some scholars I read mocked a symbolic analysis of the text. Here, we cannot help ourselves. Embracing discipleship means embracing death, as Jesus taught, but the young man leaves behind a σινδων (14:52). This is the same kind of garment that is used as a burial cloth for Jesus (15:46). The only perfect disciple was Jesus, who did not shrink back from διωγμος, who was wrapped in a σινδων, and οὐκ εφυγεν τοῦ ποτηριοῦ.



Burkitt, F. Crawford. Historical Character of the Gospel of Mark. The American Journal of Theology, Vol. 15, No. 2 (April, 1911), 169-193. The University of Chicago Press.

De Witt Burton, Ernest. The Purpose and Plan of the Gospel of Mark. The Biblical World, Vol. 15, No. 4 (April, 1900), 250-255. The University of Chicago Press.

Harmon, G.M. Peter: The Man and the Epistles. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 17, No. 1 (1898), 31-39. The Society of Biblical Literature.

Hasan, Michael J. The Naked Young Man: A Historian’s Hypothesis on Mark 14:51-52. Biblical, Vol. 79, No. 4 (1998), 525-531. Peeters Publishers.

Jackson, Howard. Why the Youth Shed His Cloak and Fled Naked: The Meaning and Purpose of Mark 14:51-52. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 116, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), 273-289. The Society of Biblical Literature.

Matera, Frank J. The Incomprehension of the Disciples and Peter’s Confession (Mark 6:15-8:30). Biblical, Vol. 70, No. 2 (1989), 153-172. Peeters Publishers.

Muddiman, John. Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark. Newsletter (National Conference on Literature and Religion), No. 9 (October, 1986), 2-3. Oxford University Press.

Sanderson, Barbara. Gethsemane: The Missing Witness. Biblica, Vol. 70, No. 2 (1989), 224-233. Peeters Publishers.

The Ghost of My Twelve Year Old Self

One muggy night this summer I stayed up late on my computer, sifting through old files I had made as a twelve year old. It was fun: I found old journal entries, story ideas, drawings. I caught a glimpse into a world I had left behind years ago. It was like cutting my own trunk open and seeing a whole tree ring of being, a year of my life that had long been overgrown by the many burnt bark years of puberty.

Among the stories were a small set of tales I had told about the Tails Doll. Now, the Tails Doll was this one-off asset from an obscure Sonic the Hedgehog game, a fairly unsettling puppet version of one of the main characters, Tails, who was your average young talking fox. But memes will be memes and people started telling scary stories about the Tails Doll appearing to gamers and cursing them or killing them or whatever. I don’t remember a single one of those stories, but I must have been excited enough by the idea to write out a few of my own.

So, what was there to say about the literary aspirations of my pubescent self? Each story in its own way reminded one of an archipelago; that is, each story had about a paragraph or two (the big islands) where the real ‘meat’ of the story happened, with some solitary lines (the little islands) scattered throughout to make the transitions very dramatic.

The transitions were very dramatic.

We’ll be kind to my younger self and say that I just hadn’t figured out how to get a story going. The plot of each story more or less involved a young boy, usually in his bedroom, who accidentally invoked the feared beast by humming its cursed theme song, or playing its cursed video game. In a few of the stories, the narration was in first person. In a few others, the main character had names like ‘Zach’ or ‘Mark’ or ‘Jared Anderson.’  Hm.

Interestingly enough, when I was the protagonist, the Tails Doll would never successfully kill me, but he did manage to kill all of the third-person protagonists. At the end of one episode, I was being hunted down in the suburbs by the creature but then rescued by a mysterious young man who banished it with stabs and then recruited me into his organization dedicated to fighting the menace. After that point, I began to record interviews of other young boys who were brought into the organization after having harrowing experiences with the dreaded Tails Doll.

The style was interesting. There were moments when I took a stab at humor and it didn’t work. There were also moments when I used words like ‘bilge’, ‘baffled’, and ‘patu paraoa’, which one wouldn’t necessarily expect from a young person. But most of all, it was just very boring. My young self had not understand the necessity of pacing, or detailed description, or interesting character interactions. It’s more like I had been listing what happened than truly telling a story. Again, we have to be kind to my younger self and realize that I had just started to make those awkward wing flaps that are the beginning of flight. Indeed, reading those stories was about as uncomfortable an experience as it would have been to watch myself, naked and fresh from the egg, wildly flailing my stubby arms at the keyboard and expecting to somehow get a good story out of it.

It all made me paranoid, though. Not that I might suddenly bring the wrath of an old creepypasta upon me, but rather paranoid that I hadn’t grown as a writer in the past seven or more years. Had I learned to pace well? To give detailed description? Did I have interesting character interactions?


Now, it’s important you understand the layout of my room. My desk is in my closet, and at the top of the closet is a small portal into the attic, covered with some cheap semiwooden board that, though duct taped to the portal, does a terrible job of keeping the warmth in my bedroom in winter. This, I swear, is the unadulterated architectural truth. In the summer I can feel the roiling black heat of the attic trying to leak onto my head as I sit in various hunched and contorted positions over my softly whistling laptop. I will probably have tremendous back problems when I am older. I only wish I could get a job in the circus: give me a laptop and I would be able to sprawl in such ungainly and unnatural fashions that Aunt Fanny’d lose the stuffing in her parlor seat, that’s for sure.

All in all, with such a spooky set-up, I can’t believe I thought I was going to get away with reading all of those old cursed stories. Sure enough, after reading all of them, I heard a screeching sound above my head. The attic board was being removed. Then, in the muggy darkness above appeared the little fox face of the Tails Doll.

I waved to it awkwardly, not sure of what I should say. It descended as if it were a spider on a silken string. I rolled my chair away across the room and let the Tails Doll rest itself on my laptop keyboard. I hoped that it wouldn’t try to mess with my hard drive in anyway. I’ve got a lot of important stuff on there, after all. It would suck if all my journal entries got cursed and turned to virtual mush.

The Tails Doll sat limply for a while, so I decided to man up and break the ice.

‘Hey man, it’s been a long time.’

‘Too long, Mike, too long.’

‘You’re not here to collect my soul or anything, right? I mean, I don’t remember selling it or anything and it would kind of suck if I arbitrarily had to be damned forever because I wrote some crappy stories about you in middle school.’

‘Don’t worry about it, man. Water under the bridge.’ Tails Doll was being reticent, I could tell. It had meant to confront me about something, but was now freezing up. I didn’t blame it; I’m pretty bad at thinking on the spot myself.

‘Well, welcome back to my bedroom. As you can see I’ve got, uh, a Pikachu doll on top of my bookshelf, I don’t know if you’re into that or whatever, and there’s a Sonic the Hedgehog t-shirt right next to you in the closet there. You know Sonic, right? I’m pretty sure I just read in the journal that I wrote as a 12 year old about getting that very t-shirt at Wal-Mart.’

‘You wrote a whole entry in your journal about getting a Sonic the Hedgehog t-shirt at Wal-Mart?’

‘I… yeah. I had a boring childhood! Or youth, or whatever.’

‘Tell me about it!’ I misunderstood this a first. I thought Tails Doll was just expressing casual sympathy, but then realized that he was curious: he genuinely wanted me to tell him about my childhood.

‘Gee, I don’t know. I stayed inside a lot. I was homeschooled. I mostly met all my friends online until I got to high school.’

‘Go on.’ Tails Doll’s jewel was bouncing back and forth in the air like bait in the lake. I felt like I was the one being fished for.

‘I played a lot of video games and read a lot of books. I wasn’t very curious and didn’t want to learn or go to school or go outside. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a writer for a long time, and I kept a journal of my story ideas. I wrote about ideas all the time, but I never actually wrote stories. Honestly, I think the most I ever wrote when I was young… was about you. Yikes, that hurts to say. I mean, sorry, it’s nothing against you, it’s just…’

‘You wish you’d written more than bad creepypastas and one page fanfics that never went anywhere. I get it.’

‘Yeah, exactly. When I look through my old journals or my old stories… on the one hand, I’m really grateful. I’m glad I was earnest and had friends online that I talked with. Without all those ideas, silly and immature as they might be, I wouldn’t be who I am today and I wouldn’t have had some of the ideas that I really love, the ones that I’m really proud to bear and hope to share with others someday. Okay, so, I still love all those internet friends that I had and I wish them well. But I can’t help but think that there’s something wrong with me because I spent so much of my time growing up interacting with people in a really shallow way. Internet friendship is great but it’s so cold and disembodied. You can tell when you read my journals. On the one hand, my vocabulary and awareness of narrative concepts might have been higher than the average twelve year old. But the way that I connect those ideas and talk about them is so immature. I’m just not interested in good things or writing good things: I just want to consume interesting entertainment and then replicate it in the pages of my journal. And part of that is excusable because I was young and hadn’t fully developed: that’s the earnest, childlike side of things that I appreciate. But part of that isn’t excusable: part of that was just wrong and has always been wrong, and has always been dragging my soul down. I was a fat, vapid child who only wanted to please himself and didn’t want to work for it. I hated learning. I hated poetry. I hated both my English composition class and my Latin language class. And most of all, I hated talking with real humans. As many as I can name of the subjects and activities that would make one a better writer, these were the things that I reviled–except for reading, and thinking, and sitting on my ass.’

‘Do you feel like any of that has changed?’

‘Oh, for sure. I love having the chance to study English, Latin, and poetry. And I treasure getting to talk to people. But those moments seem to be so rare, and when they come upon me like a sudden wave I’m knocked off my feet. I don’t know what to do. I keep telling myself that each time I talk with someone I am talking with an immortal being, full of experiences and learning and words and powers that I will never grasp but can always admire… but then I don’t know what to do in a conversation besides strive to be the least awkward I can be. That always becomes the number one priority. I want to be as kind and as encouraging as I can, not to mention funny or imaginative or even wisely opening myself up to be inspired by others’ words. But talking happens so fast. I can’t control the pacing the same way that I can online, in a chat or messaging or texting. I can’t stop and think about it like I can with a book. Not without making the other person really uncomfortable.’

‘Do you feel like talking with people is a large influence on your writing?’

‘That’s what writing is! It’s just a different way of talking with people. That’s why I love reading books. It’s a way of having a conversation with a great man, preferably one who’s dead. And so I want to write stories, so that I can enter into that centuries long form of the conversation, and have people in their own century respond to me. But I feel like my imagination, my words, my tongue of fire is still in bondage because of the pride I had as a twelve year old. I will speak and I will write because that is just the burning of one end of the fire of the soul to the other. But I want my words to be a sacred fire on the altar, ready to deliver sacrifices to God, not some wildfire that sets the state alight and fills all the eyes of the fall season with smoke.’

‘I wish I could help, Mike. But I’m just a bad creepypasta.’

‘Me too, dude. Me too.’


Highly-Paraphrased-Collage-Prayer-Exegesis from Luke, Song of Solomon, Matthew, Proverbs, Genesis, Ephesians, 1 Peter, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 1 John, Hebrews, Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Revelation

My days are passing away like a fog over town.
Day and night I go about hungry and anxious. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh (P102).
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. Day and night your breath was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin (P32).
I groan and sigh all day long. All my years pass me like a sigh. Who am I that you are mindful of me, O Most High?
I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places.
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
I wither away like the the lilies of the lawn. (P102)
All flesh is a grass lawn, and all its beauty is like the lilies of the lawn. The lawn withers, the lily fades when you blow on it with your breath, Lord; surely I am like this lawn. The lawn withers, the lily fades, but your word will stand forever. (Isaiah)
For in the beginning was this word, and the word was with you, and the word was you.
But you have broken my strength in midcourse, you have shortened my days. “O my God!” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days—you whose years endure throughout all generations.”
I said in my heart that you are testing me that I may see that I nothing more than an animal. For what happens to me and what happens to an animal is the same; as I die, so dies an owl or a sparrow. I have the same breath, and I have no advantage over a bird, for all is a fog. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether my spirit goes upward and the sparrow’s soul goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that I should rejoice in my work.
Of old you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain—they will all wear out like a garment, for they are bodies that are perishable.
Whatever you do endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. (ecclesiastes)
So if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (revelation)
You have done it, so that I fear before you. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and you seek whoever has been driven away. (ecclesiastes)
Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. (revelation)
After all, what man, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” (luke)
I have seen the business that you have given me to be busy with. You have made everything beautiful in its time. Also, you have put eternity into my heart, yet so that I cannot find out what you have done from the beginning to the end. I see that there is nothing better for me than to be joyful and to do good as long as I live; also that I should eat and drink and rejoice in my toil—this is you gift to me. (ecclesiastes)
There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (luke)
For the path of the righteous is like the light of the day’s dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (proverbs)
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter)
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. (proverbs)
So, having purified my soul by obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, I should love others earnestly from a pure heart, since I have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through your living and abiding word. (peter)
And you have meant for the heavens and the earth to have bodies that are imperishable, too, so you will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. What was once perishable, and sown, will be raised imperishable. (corinthians)
One thing I have asked of you, that will I seek after: I want to dwell in your house all the days of my life, to gaze upon your beauty and inquire in your temple.
For you will hide me in your shelter in the day of trouble; you will conceal me under the cover of your tent; you will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up! Oh, what glory father. You will lift up my head above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in your tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to you, O Lord, for I am the one sinner come home.
Hear, O lord, when I cry aloud—give me direction! Put me back on the path and be gracious to me and answer me when I pray this.
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart said to you, “I seek it.” (psalms)
For you, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” have shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 corinthians)
Hide not, therefore, this face from me, for I long for satisfaction and in my inward bones I crave to be filled with glory.
Day and night I go about hungry. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. I groan and sigh all day long. All my years pass me like a sigh. Who can bring me to see what will be after me, as I pass my years rejoicing in the toil of seeking your face in the lost? (psalms)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, you spoke to my fathers by the prophets, but in these last days you have spoken to me by your Son, whom you appointed the heir of all things, through whom also you laid the foundations of the world. Jesus Christ is the radiance of your glory and the exact imprint of your nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
This universe is your temple, your dwelling place, your house, your shelter.
Who am I that you are mindful of me, O Most High, and would let me dwell as a lily in your temple of the lawn?
Surely you have blessed me in Christ even as you chose me in him before the foundation of the world, that I should be holy and blameless before you. In love you predestined me for adoption to you as a son through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of your will, to the praise of your glorious grace, with which you have blessed me in the Beloved.
The Beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am the Beloved’s and the beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies of the lawn.
Consider those lilies of the lawn, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet you have told me that even the prophets long ago in all their glory were not arrayed like one of these. But if you so clothe the lilies of the lawn, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will you not much more clothe me, an animal of little faith?
I see the sparrows and the owls in the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet you, Father, feed them. Surely I am of more value then the sparrows and the owls. And when I am so anxious that my bones cling to my flesh and I lie awake on my bed, can I add a single hour to my span of life, a thing that passes like the fog over town?
For why should I be anxious, when I have redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of my trespasses, according to the riches of your grace, which you lavished upon me, in all your word making known to me the mystery of your will, according to your purpose, set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth?
Lord, by this word you founded the earth and by this word you established the heavens; by your word the deeps broke open and the clouds drop down the dew, making a fog over town.
By this word you said, “Let there be light.” (proverbs)
That which was from the beginning, which I have heard, which I have seen with my eyes, which I looked upon and have touched with my hands, concerning the word of life…I proclaim also to everyone (as a record for generations to come), so that they too may have fellowship with me; and indeed my fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And I am writing these things so that my joy may be complete. 
If I say that I have fellowship with him while I walk in darkness, I lie and do not practice the truth. But if I walk in the light, as he is in the light, I have fellowship with the brothers, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses me from all sin. If I say I have no sin, I deceive myself, and the truth is not in me. If I confess my sin, he is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. (1 John)
For Peter did not follow cleverly devised myths when he made known to me the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but he was an eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when Christ received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” Peter himself heard this very voice borne from heaven, for he was with Jesus on the holy mountain. (2 Peter)
Lord God Almighty, you are the temple and so is the Lamb. And this universe has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for your glory gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter here, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false (for they all walk in darkness and how can what is dark remain in the light?), but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the universe by the gates.

A Thoroughly Modern Novel

That Hideous Strength is not without its virtues. There are good ideas: power hungry modernism is bad. Men and women are different. Places are important. Surrealism is dangerous. There are also good elements: a boss who practices astral projection. Lunar sex bots. Merlin in the modern day. A bloody banquet overrun by beasts.

However, I shouldn’t have had to read 400 pages of people talking about these things in order to experience them. It’s really that simple. For all he rails about the danger of grand ideas eclipsing nature, the nature of the book conveys the story dead on arrival and pickled in Lewis’s own conceptual juices. He himself fails to fully convey the rich abundance of the nature that he praises. There are shadows of brilliant moments, such as the banquet. But that should have been when all the characters and movements converged, though they don’t. There was not much movement to begin with, just talking. There wasn’t much character to begin with, either, just talk-pieces. The enemies are dealt with anti-climatically and impersonally, although that one scene with all the naked men covered in blood was surprising.

I think that people who enjoy That Hideous Strength are understandable but misguided. They are the sort of people who agree with C.S. Lewis and are dazzled by his ideas. I, too, appreciate his ideas. But Lewis in so many ways fails his own standard. He spouts so many good, thoughtful ideas about life and nature, but never makes those ideas come to life. He never tells a story.

It’s hard to appreciate some of the ideas because I am seventy years downstream of them, and have either indirectly gotten them from people influenced by Lewis or just stumbled upon them myself. However, there were some personally challenging insights. For example, at one point a main character is placed in a room full of alienating, surreal, and quite funny pictures. They depict such vagaries as a woman with a mouth full of hair, a mantis eating another mantis playing the fiddle, beetles crawling under the table at the Lord’s Supper, fun stuff like that.

These are normally things that I would be greatly amused by, things that I would be pleased to create or propagate. But in context, the paintings are being used by the evil scientists to brainwash the character, to alienate him from the idea that art can be meaningful. This was contrasted with the growing conviction that the main character had of a reality which was Normal and Good and Straight. Without analyzing 20th century art movements, which I still think are valuable to contemplate and simply don’t know enough about to judge, this moment in the book struck a chord with me. I find in myself a growing distaste for the bizarre, one that runs contrary with the custom of my teenage years. Am I slowly becoming normcore? Hm. Maybe I’m just realizing how boring I really am, after all.

Or, maybe I’m bored by the perverse and how long I’ve been occupied by it. By pursuing the interesting (that which delights the eyes) for so long, I’ve become a very boring, slippery person. Hard to talk to. I think there’s something unpleasant about the nonsensical in the way that it can be so easily manufactured and presented delightfully in a given story, and then put on t-shirts at Hot Topic. What does the quirky have to do with pursuing The Ultimate Good? I don’t want to spend my whole life collecting interesting tidbits and images to adorn my head. I’ve already spent my whole life doing that, and I’m tired.

And yet, I am still delighted by a film like a Mood Indigo. Absurdity is not bad. The deep silliness of something like Mood Indigo, though, is still meaningful. Though often nonsensical in the particulars, it is always very relatable to the very straightforward romance taking place, unhindered by the fantastical amusements taking place around it. Though perhaps that is a problem in of itself: if all these odd elements are being depicted onscreen, why do they have zero effect on the characters? Hm.

In the past I wrote a theological defense of the weird. Reading it over, I see that I anticipated a lot of what I’m feeling now and responded to it. But I don’t know if I responded to it well enough. Quirkiness is (much of the time) very shallow, and it’s a way for clever guys to get away with being lazy or effeminate. But, when it goes beyond just signals, it can be the means for something new and healthy and creative coming about. I don’t want to be just a quirky, effeminate man. But I do want to offer something new, healthy, and creative. I refuse to go down the aesthetic road of middle-aged, midwestern bankers that so many say is Normal and Good and Straight.

I suppose I don’t see any way for me NOT to be quirky and effeminate in my day to day life. Where are the trees for me to chop down? Where are the seas for me to sail? Where are the women for me to court? Ah, anyway, if I saw a real tree, sea, or woman, I’d run and hide. I have, and I did.

One thing that immediately rises to the mind is a defense of the mysterious and the arcane, something that is naturally disliked by the mainstream world, secular and evangelical. This would also be opposed to the shallowly surreal or absurd; the mysterious is deeply meaningful and personal and intimate, just not fully understood. The absurd (or attempted absurdity, let’s say), I find to my great disappointment, can often be understood quite well, and divvied up and sold too easily. What can’t be sold? That would be a rare and precious thing, and far from here, and if I did see such a thing I’d run and hide.

To be true to your sex, that is, to be a manly man or womanly woman, you really just have to be faithful in any given garden you’ve been placed in. You have to know your body and what ought to be done with it–to it! Faithfulness and open eyes, I think, will lead one past the quirky and past the boring and quite suddenly into the mysterious, arcane, and beautiful.

With That Hideous Strength, Lewis may not have been faithful to the nature of storytelling. But I think he was faithful to his calling as a man of letters. He thought great thoughts and shared them, and I am grateful to have read them.

Playthings are good. Weird conceptual chimeras can be very fun. I don’t think I need to force myself to stop enjoying the bizarre; it’s worth playing with and contemplating! It can lead to beautiful visions and new insights about natures. But I have played and played and played for so long. I want something Real. I want something Good. Do I need to work for that? I don’t need to work for my salvation, after all. Maybe I am being offered a work that I am unwilling to receive.

On Solitude


Ah, here is the final affliction I must bear. Greetings, solitude.

Dear solitude, what have you come here to teach me? Before in my life, I have always chosen you. Now you have chosen me, you have singled me out, and the lessons seem too hard to learn. My first flirt with you was in high school, when I isolated myself from my mother and my father and my little sister. I lived in the basement of that house on 1st Street in Geneva, Illinois, and I took you into my arms like a woman I have lived with for a decade and have come to rely on for warmth.

Now you stare at me and it is you who have chosen me. I don’t think I want to welcome you back, but there you are, standing out in the street, and I hasten to welcome you in. I’ve found that I’ve become lonely. I didn’t know it could be like this, I didn’t know I would ever be able to understand the ache of wanting to hold so badly my nephew’s hand. I didn’t know it could be this cold, I didn’t know I would hold onto that discordant note of a Jackson Browne song for so boldly long.

I have hoped to discover who I am when I have been given all the time alone in the world and I find that I am someone stripped of his friends. They are here and there, in their own lonely states, all very many phone calls or weeks away, all very many emails that we are both failing at replying to, all very dead, all very changed, all very someone else, all very very much in Europe.

In July, I turn thirty. I would like to reflect on a journal entry I wrote ten years ago this night to shed light on how I am feeling now. It was the first time I turned to books as friends. That night, I invited a friend over to my apartment to write papers together. The window was open and a great noise was coming from far away. None of us agreed about where it might be coming from and we tried ignoring it, but failed. We were two weeks out from graduation—no, twelve days—and we were both having a hard time of focusing on the papers at hand. I was writing a paper on Greek exegesis of the young man who sheds his cloak in the Garden of Gethsemane. The main point I wanted to make was that he shed his cloak, because he did not want to embrace the Passion of Jesus with him. He shed the same death cloak that Jesus’ dead corpse would be covered with. I see now how I have very much been that young man these past ten years. Maybe this young man, whoever he was, shed his cloak in such an emotional rush, because he realized the disparity between what he had planned for his life and the life that did not present itself to whoever might follow Jesus. I know I have felt this disparity in my bones many times. I break out in a cold sweat. Lord, let it not be me! I will be the first to shed my jacket, at the tug of fate on my sleeve. At the first tug of time on my sleeve.

I have been shed of the jacket of my friends, the outer garment of my friends. And I have run away naked, I know, and here I am standing on the edge of Gethsemane, looking into the darkness, the flickering torches disappearing down the hill and towards Jerusalem, but my toes are on the edge of the outer city limits. And I look on at that entourage of fate that passed me by and I find myself, naked, covering myself, and the disciples of Jesus—here is Peter, James, and John—coming towards me with my jacket.

“Here,” Peter says to me, “You left this.”

I see in Peter’s eyes that he knows he is just like me. He knows that he is guilty of not understanding the way. We have our own ways of going about misunderstanding. And there we find one another, both having shed our closest friends.

But that night, ten years ago, my friend and my two roommates (what a strange time in my life!) went out to go find the great noise coming from outside. I chose not to go with, thinking that maybe I could find some other friends to spend my time with, or else devote myself to finishing that paper. I called a few people, I roamed about, I poked into my neighbor’s apartment. No one was anywhere. It was just me, I realized. My brother, who I thought surely might be in town, was in Seattle. And my other friend, Evan, turned out being in Indiana of all places. You see, someone was dying.

Now as I realized my plight, that tingling feeling began emanating in the core of my being. It was that feeling of solitude that so rarely creeps up on me. It is usually a feeling that I go out and get and reject, leave behind, shed my friends and all others. But here I was, having been torn away from my outer garment. And what did I do? Well, what could I do? All the sudden, I wanted to do and feel everything I possibly could. I was full of the desire to get married, but just as much was I filled with a desire to go out and drive very fast in a car, but also cry—no, weep—and call my mother, or my dad, speak to someone who knows me intimately, take hallucinogenic drugs, sympathize with the dying, reach out and grasp on for something, whether it be a cigar or many drinks, get drunk, read the Bible, pray, be taken back in time, go forward, write a journal entry about myself ten years in the future, write my book finally, avoid my paper—but also write it—read as much as I could, fall asleep, steal flowers, work out, learn how to bake bread, prophesy and dream dreams and go to church and then to a bar and dance, roam the streets at night, knock on the doors of strangers, watch a movie, play video games, listen to all the music I have ever loved, stare at myself for hours in the mirror, strike a pose, burn all my clothes and start over, cook a great soup, despise myself for not having accomplished enough, fix a friend’s life, not die, die, become all men at the all times, understand…but the one thing I desperately did not want was to have solitude choose me.

This is what happens every time that solitude chooses you. Solitude is that force that pushes you everywhere where it does not dig in. Solitude breeds in us every desire, no matter how divorced those directions might be from one another. You refuse to accept it and you will accept anything else, as long as it is not solitude. Solitude bares all its teeth, and each tooth is a different canine desire. And you refuse to enter into that empty, hollow silence inside the stomach of its heart.

I am so surprised that I have made it this far in life. At twenty, I did not believe I would ever make it to twenty-one. And now, I just might make it out of my twenties. Who am I? Am I all that I have done? If that’s the case, I haven’t done enough. Why did I choose to be alone? I sacrificed everything on the altar of projects, on books, on visions and ambition, but no one has ever given me any money. And heck, why should they? No one has ever read any of my books.

But this journal entry, looking back at the past thirty years of my life, could be a pessimistic one. Instead, I have no reason to be pessimistic about what God has done with me. Or, I should say, how he has held me. At sixteen, I was overcome with imagination. At seventeen, image. At eighteen, ambition. At nineteen, death. At twenty, fear. And that was the year that God broke me, the year I submitted. My life has not been the same ever since and I am still learning what it means to be holy, but I know that there is no other way I would rather live my life. Yes, people do not know about my books—but did God ever want that? God has blessed me immeasurably, he has rescued me from every pit and false machination I could ever have devised for myself. And now when the old devils come roaring back, I point at them and say, “I know who you are, I know who you are! You are the one who tried destroying me!” And he points at me and says, “What were you going to do with me, Caleb of Illinois?” And I say to him, “Be silent. I will not let you speak.” And he is quiet and God takes the demon out of me. The past decade has been the decade of exorcisms. Praise the Lord. I have not died yet.

Perelandra Imperiled

Or not, because nothing much happens.

There are a few wonderful images in this book. First, the main character spends the entirety of the story naked, which is great. I wish more books went like that. Secondly, the ever-shifting floating islands of Perelandra have to be one of the most interesting world mechanics I’ve encountered in a long time. I love the planet itself, its islands and golden dome of a sky. The third image that sticks out is the moment when Ransom is forced to mercy kill an alien crab. Not only is that a disturbing moment, but it is effective foreshadowing for an even more disturbing and powerful scene. To what ends would you go to protect Eve from being tempted and plunging the entire world into sin?

However, with that paragraph, I’ve just about summed up everything worthwhile about the story. The rest is either a lot of needless bloviating or a lot of cosmic/spiritual speculation that would be interesting if it was anything more than speculation. The book could have easily been a hundred pages shorter, and I could have saved an hour or more. I’d love to make an abridged version some time.

Apparently an opera was written based off this book. I would love to see it. You can listen to some audio clips here:

One thing that’s worth noting is the high density of double entendre. I’d love to see a Freudian analysis of the work. I won’t name any specific lines, but I’m sure you could find a few suggestive moments yourself if you just flip through a few chapters. I know that some of the innuendo had to be intentional, it being the planet Venus and all, but with a lot of it I’m just not sure…

(pillars of burning blood)
As funny as I find all of it, there’s a sort of perversity that I don’t want to be encouraging, that sort of salacious pleasure that some people get out of obsessive homoerotic readings of such texts. So I’m sorry if I’ve crossed a line by suggesting anything close to that and offended anyone’s conscience.

All in all, the book gives me hope. For one, it shows that someone can start off as a highly conceptual and pompous writer but then end up writing works as well plotted and exciting as the Chronicles of Narnia. Secondly, it shows that with just a few cool images and a lot of philosophy, you can convince someone to write an opera for you. I don’t claim to be as smart as C.S. Lewis, but being in my own writing similarly conceptual, pompous, and bad at having story elements actually interact with each other, I come away from his work with hope.

an essay that will most surely disappoint you, on the fear of death and sleeping masks and my total, abject failure to reference the GREAT SIGNIFICANCE that surely resides in the symbol of the sleeping mask and its relation to my fear of death, OR: an excoriation, a vituperation if you will, of a certain form of Caleb who needs to get smashed to bits.

The idea of a sleeping mask became pretty appealing to me after I tore the shades out of my bedroom window. I made this rash decision, because they were very dusty, chipped, and looked bad. I couldn’t stand looking at them—and they were all lopsided and spiders loved to make their little pasty homes in the corners of the window behind the shades. And the shades reminded me of the terrible shades in a house I once grew up in, shades that always housed a buzzing wasp. I’ve been using a sleeping mask to sleep for the past few nights. This has been the biggest decision in my life. Joking! The biggest decision in my life was not to plan too much for the future. Now, all I have to do is decide this every day for the rest of my life. I will not consider the end specifically. I will consider my end each day, as it presents in the day. There is nothing tragic about my life, because every time I renounce myself and give myself freely, I have learned that the rewards always far outweigh the rewards I get when I hoard, plan, am careful, try to write out the foundations of the world in my essays and fiction. Ha! What a joke! Haha! Trying to make sense of things, trying to say the words most fittest placed, most fittest than all the other fit words, is about as futile as going to McDonald’s at midnight and expecting to wake up feeling satisfied at 6am the next day. Thanks, Hans von Ur Balthasar—you’ve reminded me of this eternal truth. Establishing myself=futility of McDonald’s.

Ah yes, but this is an essay about my fear of death, right. And my solution to it! But I cannot really bear on how, exactly, I fear death and how, exactly, I have just been moved not more than forty-six minutes ago after reading a chapter from a book I borrowed from an acquaintance. I don’t want to tell you what the name of the book is, because I feel like keeping you wondering about it, craving it, might put me in a position of superiority. And the higher ground is, after all, what I have taken here with you. Thanks for coming.

Ah, maybe I’m too emotional, or sentimental. Actually, I know this for certain. The overly sentimental person is the one who thinks the unique texture of his memories are deliverable without them first being translated into a different set of textures unique to the receiver (check out <<that<< thought I just had that I won’t understand tomorrow). I can drone on and on with such sincerity about the self-inflicted burden of nostalgia. I can color the picture with flowery language about time and how it’s a heavy burden, but it’s all been done before—and besides, if you really want to know how I should feel, you might as well just pick up the book of Ecclesiastes. Anyway, I cannot really write an essay about my fear of death without first apologizing to all my friends who might be reading. They are painfully aware of this in me, especially recently. But a few months ago, back in October, it manifested itself as a strange tightness in the throat, an intense nausea that sometimes drove me to the violent solitude of emeticism, and a fear of driving in the car. I also could not stand, for months, being in a hot room. What brought the feeling on, it seemed, was coffee! No, wait, it was milk! Yes, milk, surely, milk it must have been, yes. No, wait, here we go…migraines in my abdomen. But…what is this throbbing in my right knee? Does my right knee feel hot to you? It does? Oh, good God, it’s not just in my head!

Friends, forgive me! I promise that if you have come here to enjoy a good one-sided conversation with me (like usual), about me (like usual), I can guarantee you that I also hate what I have let myself become. I have become reduced to a small size, like all the aging in my life has chosen to concentrate itself in this year of Our Sluggard, 20. The only things I am capable of talking about these days is my fiction and my fear of death. The secret is out, though; I talk more about my fiction than I live it and my fiction I have been using as the medicine to my resistance of being in the flow of time and love within me. Instead, I ought to be profligate.

I want to ensure you all, that I am writing here so that I can demonstrate to everyone watching what it is I would like to leave behind and what, it is, that I would like to take up again. I want to leave behind that fear of all death, suffering, and disease. It’s quite simple, really! Now that I know what has been causing my physical ailments (whether *actually* or not), I am now free to set it aside. Gentlemen, it’s been anxiety. Anxiety, gentleman—and behold, the box I’ll put it in. I will put the address of your home on the top of this box, tape it right *here*, and I will not provide a return address. Thanks for taking it off my hands, suckers!

The entire thing that I have overlooked in this fixation on death, this constant awareness of the end (“A Biblical principle!” you cry!) is that Time and my dwelling in it is exactly as it should be. My body, Brother Ass, usually discovers truth before me. My body, though I refused to let it be known, made it quite plain to me that I was suffering from the constant impulse of hoarding, trying desperately to clear out the brush, to establish myself in time, to write my book (If I can just write this book, I will establish myself!), to always be compelled not to make the most immediate movement, but constantly the best one. I am a harsh taskmaster and I am his eagerly lazy slave. What does this produce? This produces guilt with a religious pallor. It comes up to me in the form of the Giant Get-Some-Writing-Done-You-Slug, and says, “God says you’re nothing if you don’t write! If you don’t make headway into the production of that Great Statue of Your Future Self! That glorious idol, you are not who you believe yourself to be! O, beautiful persona of Caleb, let it be known that I have always been a fan, that I have been so in awe of your work, that I am extremely compelled to usher you into the court of kings, Great, Beautiful Future Caleb, you are so good at saving money, you are so good at writing when you need to—and how is your writing oh-so insightful? And you live with such confidence and courage. You, when someone asks you why you believe what you believe, you, you are the one that blows their mind with understatements! Your face never gets red! You are so good at not believing people when they compliment you, you have amazing powers of avoiding your image in the mirror, you dress such causally—oh, but you’re such smartly clothes! And, dearest Caleb, tell me how you conquered death? How did you overcome that final enemy? Oh, to hell with it! Enough of this revelation! It’s a revelation of a point of yourself in time and none of it is always true—just give me your autograph!”

I kind of lost track of where I was going.

And that’s—the point! Don’t you see? Because I don’t really. Uh, let’s see here. *Shifts hands through papers* *cough*

So, the point of this essay is something about death and how I’ve learned to deal with it. Let’s just get some general-profound-sounding conclusions out of the way here, because I want to go and hang out with people—when I am afraid of losing something, whether it is an idea I get before bed, or an insight, or a word fitly placed, or a possibly good story not yet written, or good health, or a mental space, or a memory, I can rest assured that it has all already been lost. So, whenever you fear losing something, know that you have lost it already. You live in time, don’t you? The assurance in this is not how true it is, how brutally true it is, but that whenever you have lost something before, or given it away, you cannot easily say that the loss was without any gains. Some people are capable of seeing no gains, but others who see the world as it ought to be seen, see in all losses eternal gains. These gains don’t just happen afterwards, after life. Death is, of course, the greatest loss—but our bodies know before us, know intuitively, that there are gains in loss. But before death, we are prepared for it, because to be in time is to lose, to always be slipping from one place to the next. And we cannot rebel against this, because it is us. We go from one moment to the next and if we are in love, we delight in it. So, I will lose all that I have ever gained, I will lean into it, and happily I will die.

I have never been more alive. It is the greatest decision I have ever made.