Ramblings on Manna, Milk, & Honey

Only God. Things are coming together in a way that can only be defined by the divine.

I opened the Bible today and started reading, listless and tired. The end of Leviticus was before me and, soon, Numbers. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” I jumped. This was the same verse mentioned in church on Sunday. One of the worship leaders had quoted this verse, explaining: “This idea of ‘being seen as a grasshopper’ was entirely in their head. They had come into the land as spies, and they were not caught. They hadn’t really been seen at all. Often the Enemy attempts to make us feel less than, to trap us in feelings of fear and inadequacy, until we become convinced that we are only a grasshopper and everyone else knows it too.” [paraphrased]

A mere paragraph before this, Numbers 13:27 reads: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!” Well, it’s pretty strange that my mentor and I literally decided today that we are meeting for a farewell lunch tomorrow at a restaurant called Milk and Honey?! It was the only restaurant in the vicinity I could find with a menu suited to my dietary restrictions, so, in a way, it is a promised land for me.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” My mom brought up this prayer from Numbers 6 recently, and we were trying to remember the exact wording… and I suddenly stumbled upon it in the text today. We also had a conversation over dinner a few days ago where I brought up the motif of the Lord hiding His face in the Old Testament when the Israelites disobey vs. the radiance His face brings. When the Lord hides his face, His people are abandoned and in darkness and cry out, as in the Psalms. In contrast, “My servant Moses… with him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.” However, intimacy and closeness with the Lord, like that of Moses, leads to abundant, undeniable light.

On Sunday morning, I did not want to leave my bed. I unlocked my phone, peering through bleary eyes, and opened Twitter, only to be instantly devastated by the news of the two latest shootings: 250 in the 215 days of 2019. I felt sick, stupefied, and unmoored. Now, as I write this, there have been 255 total recorded shootings in the United States. I wanted to cave inward and pull up my grey blanket to shut out the light. “I don’t want to go church.” I thought stubbornly. Even churches aren’t safe anymore. So many lives were just lost, have been lost, will be lost. How could prayers ever be enough? I just wanted to grieve, alone. “What better place to go now than to Church?” The Holy Spirit gently prodded. I rolled out of bed.

Toni Morrison died today, and I feel an ache deep in my soul. I feel an ache for so many things that are lost — the lives taken every day by gun violence, the innocence of the children sleeping on concrete floors in cages at the border, the humanity of our nation. In church, the sermon halted to let worship take over. How could it not? We were all searching, all wanting to find, all needing to be filled beyond our own strength in order to cope, to act, to be light in these times. People filled the aisles, getting down on their knees. Women wept. Men stood, arms outstretched to the sky in surrender. How could they not? I read an article recently about how the planet’s current condition is what it was not supposed to be until 2070. We are outliving our stay here, desecrating the gift we were tasked to steward. I don’t know if I want children anymore. How could I?

On Sunday, the pastor mentioned the Lord’s promise to heal the land, once His people turned in repentance and pledged themselves to Him. Leviticus 26:42 reinforces this, “I will remember my covenant… and I will remember the land.” Lord, we are believing this.  We can do nothing but believe this; in our turbulent present, please hold us fast to Your promises. Let our amen to Your will be deafening. Help us to collectively draw so near to You that we are blinding in these dark days. Empower us to create a new resonance — to pray and worship and abide as we call our senators, as we boldly stand up to corruption. The pursuit of holiness and the pursuit of justice are ever-intertwined.

I realized today for the first time that manna could have been anything. Why did God choose to send down manna, of all things, from heaven? It could have been any culinary wonder of His own creation. A new kind of fruit, perhaps.

Why manna? Simple sustenance. Daily bread. Communion fare.

I had something else that I was supposed to write, but these words were louder.

Rue for You

“I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly / As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands… / I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted / To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. / How free it is, you have no idea how free——”

Fragments of Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips” came to me today as I laid, supine, in the dim office, full of waiting. My body was humming. I became an itch. It was hard to breathe.
There was a vial in my left hand, and the other arm, outstretched, was draped like Ophelia’s. There must have been something to its geometry for I stopped, agog, heart quickening, when I noticed the likeness — transported back to the Tate Britain.
It was her portrait I lingered at the longest in the gallery dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelites, and I perched nearby with my eyes scarcely departing from her frame. I attempted to sketch her but could not do her justice. She was so vivid. It was a Millais.
I had written a paper on her suicide — well, on how it wasn’t really a suicide at all yet was, subconsciously — and Hamlet was fresh in my mind. I could still remember the symbolism behind all of the flowers and herbs in her garland. Daises, rue, rosemary, violets, fennel.

“It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them / Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet… / The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. / Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.”

Ophelia did not know death was coming and yet, deep down, she sensed it all along. I am sure all of Shakespeare’s characters are haunted by that sense of perpetual morality, aware somehow that he could, in an instant, scratch their name from the script, blot their character out.
I didn’t know death was coming either and yet I did. I felt it deeply, primitively, fearfully.
I think that I always, to an extent, feel it, fear it. La même chose. And here it appears, garish, in the most unexpected of forms. Now I mourn the loss of the things
I did not cherish in their proper time, and the tears are bitter — full of Gatsby’s longing.
I think that his life will end tonight, but I pray that he does not leave this hollow world alone. I hope an inward part of him is soothed, guided, surrounded, comforted. Once of one stubborn mind, united in motion and quickness of being, in freedom and play, I mourn the death of an extension of myself. I hope he is able to greet the midnight hour when he quietly bids farewell.
Until then, the night is pregnant with untrodden paths and unspoken words, and,
alack, I drown, singing — desperate to fill the years of silence.

Summer 2019 Goals

As June quickly approaches, I have had these goals in mind for optimizing the rest of my summer. I am posting them for accountability purposes and because it was exceedingly beneficial as a first step to organize them here and articulate them in writing.

  • Write poetry daily.
  • Limit my social media time (collectively, on all apps) to an hour or less each day.
  • Prioritize reading books for fun in spare moments. (More books, less Netflix.)
  • Stay hydrated! Drink more water (and still lots of tea, of course).
  • Spend more intentional time with God.
  • Exercise consistently (gym 2x per week, skating 1x per week, and yoga/stretching/at-home exercises daily).
  • Attend NAET appointments 1-2x per week to (hopefully) knock out food allergies.
  • Maintain an A in all of my summer classes.
  • Research travel details for an exciting August trip.
  • Complete my internship work on the upcoming OSGEMEOS and Turner exhibitions.

Do you have any specific goals for this summer? Any books you’re dying to read or places you’re yearning to travel? Please feel free to comment below. I’d love to see!

Everyday Anthems

a woman sat atop the glossy bench,

and I averted my eyes like a wild thing,

glimpsed myself in a shopwindow

without a spark of recognition

until it all came rushing in,

there and back again

from that widening gyre where

synapses crackle and fly like fireworks

— oh, this is me, now.

ragged and composed, yes.

now, this is me. oh —

shining like some newly-minted anthem,

                                                                 (we fought for this)

                                                    fizzing like the sea of the flapper’s fluted glass

                                                                                                                              (we drink to this).

 

lapwing cacophony, a twiggy nest

in the branches initially beyond my reach.

sandwiches as sacraments; prayers like butterknives.

 

the crooked man with a limp

         rushes ahead to open the door wide,

                                          and i, fumbling, sashay inside.

                 the biography of a kindred spirit

                                                                                               is lonely, on clearance — $2.51.

 

coins jingle then nestle in my palm:

a shoddy imitation of the solar system.

the universe abounds in a teacup

but constrained, maimed.

Holy Week: Curious Communion

The wind skimmed over the lake and tousled our hair, tugging at our billowy clothes and uniting us all in a delicious shiver. There would have been the linger of a characteristic Chicago chill if there had been no sun, but, praise God, the sun made a triumphant appearance for the first time in ages, and we were eager sunbathers, spread out upon the soft picnic blanket like languid tortoises. Everything was adazzle — the concave landscape, the bottle of sparkling cider, the slim, mature glasses we borrowed and tried so very hard not to break, us. We were incandescently alive in the fullest springtime sense: doubled over with laugher and squinting amiably with uplifted hands to block the sun’s rays or wave at passing dogs tethered to their owners as we talked about the future in between fistfuls of ripe blueberries. We had all brought what we could, each person with something unique to offer; it was not much to behold, but it was a merry little feast, steeped in gratitude. It has been ever on my mind since — the preparation, the retrieval, the unfurling, the reveal. I had wrapped the delicate glasses tenderly in white cloth to prevent their clinking and rolling and the blueberries from leaking violet. As I carefully unwrapped these picnic treasures and set aside the unsullied white linens, I couldn’t help but think of Easter and the empty tomb and the risen Christ, of a broken body and broken bread. How fitting that it was a blissful Sunday afternoon when we so unwittingly partook of our curious communion. I recently read (and deeply enjoyed) Andre Dubus’ Meditations from a Movable Chair, in which he writes, “The Communion is with us and it is ordinary. To me, that is the essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky… The Communion with God is simple so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.”

March 18: Israel

And so we return as Cyrus decreed,

creeping forth on bended knee,

seeking a once-home robbed of all hospitality

and ground devoid of fertile recompense.

 

We are the lost and aimless ones,

displaced, sent on mission of grace,

chosen, cast away, chosen again,

thrice-whipped and humbled.

 

We speak not

but carry sanctuary stones

on our aching backs.

March 5: Eve

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’’ ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”        -Genesis 3:1-6 (NIV)

You were so lithe, so small.

We shared an elegance, you and I —

an acuity I did not find in Adam.

So I viewed us, vowed us, fastened as friends

for nothing ever seemed amiss in the garden —

all was emerald, juniper, moonstone awake,

a shining under the sun that dazzled without blinding.

 

For God was like that

when He walked among us,

so tender-softly you could not hear the

blades of grass bend beneath His feet.

You were just as quiet, but not soft.

You came with your violent geometry,

all diamonds and angles and sin,

and from A to B

 

                                                           we fell.

An Experiment in Midrash

Inspired by the beautiful words of Amy Bornman (https://www.amybornman.com/) of All Well Workshop and Marie Howe, I decided to design a project for myself in the month of March to allow for consistent moments in my days dedicated to rest, renewal, prayer, and quiet meditation. I had the opportunity to participate in an unforgettable poetry seminar last semester that nurtured my ardent love of the art and exposed me to Marie Howe’s Magdalene and her Mary persona poems in The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. As I furthered my search in this genre, I encountered similar captivating poetry by Madeleine L’Engle, and it astonished me that, even with a tale told over and over like the birth of Christ, there was still so much content left to be creatively explored. As members of the Church, we know all about the manger and the angels and the frankincense and myrrh… but what about Mary? What were her excitements and doubts and fears and dreams? We sing together at Christmas, “Mary, did you know?” and I think she knew. I think she knew and felt so much about who her son was destined to be, though we never explicitly discover this. We are simply told that she “treasured up all of these things in her heart.” Midrash allows us to ponder what Mary pondered.

I am now one week into “Midrash March” — a poetic experiment intended to motivate me to delve into passages of Old Testament Scripture, derive new meaning there, and seek to give a voice to the (often minimized) women of the Bible through poetry. My goal is to write one midrash poem per day on a different biblical passage throughout March. In my Old Testament class, I have been struck by the sheer amount of women mentioned in the selections we are assigned. Yet many are present merely as the mothers of sons or as the wives of husbands, and their own thoughts and desires are seldom expressed. Midrash serves as liberation for these women from the constraints of a patriarchal society that often commodified them. Now, you may be wondering what exactly “midrash” is. It is a traditionally Jewish practice focused on attempts to interpret and apply the texts of the Torah/Old Testament to our modern age. These efforts may be literary, musical, or artistic in nature — often reconciling the holy with the mundane. By engaging with a sacred text and wrestling with its implications, we thereby affirm its sanctity and relevance in our lives. Midrash is a task to be undergone with awe for we stand in the presence of a living, active God who has proven to be faithful throughout the ages.

Chatsworth House: A Rendezvous with Mr. Darcy

For those of you who know me well, you know that one of my absolute favorite films is the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley. Now, before anyone starts an uproar, I also enjoy the 1995 BBC mini-series. However, considering its total length of nearly 6 hours, I often find myself gravitating to the newer rendition instead with its dazzling cinematography and enchanting score (which I often listen to whilst studying). For those unawares, Chatsworth House was used for filming the scenes at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, in the 2005 film.

Everything about the estate is extravagant, even from the start. Lush. Decadent. Gilded. Its simultaneous magnitude and emphasis on minute intricate detail is altogether breathtaking. Chatsworth belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. The history of Chatsworth began with Elizabeth Talbot, known as the Countess of Shrewsbury or Bess of Hardwick. A native of Derbyshire, she married four times and became the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England (after the Queen, of course). It was in partnership with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, that she bought Chatsworth in 1549.

Visitors at Chatsworth today can view magnificent works of art that span 4,000 years — ancient Roman and Egyptian sculptures, masterpieces by Rembrandt, and work by modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal, and David Nash. The statue seen above (which you may remember from the 2005 film) is “A Veiled Vestal Virgin” by Raffaelle Monti — ordered by the sixth Duke of Devonshire after a visit to the artist’s studio in Milan, Italy. Other treasures include an extensive geological collection and the library’s early copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America and a prayer book that once belonged to Henry VII and then Margaret Tudor. (The library also possesses many volumes of poetry, perhaps partially due to the influence of Georgiana, the fifth Duchess of Devonshire, who dabbled as a poet herself. She is portrayed by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess, which was also filmed at Chatsworth.)

The gardens and grounds of Chatsworth are no less exceptional than the interior of the manor, featuring a Victorian rock garden, a labyrinthine yew maze (which I proudly navigated in record time), a waterfall, and acres of other wonders. There are over five miles of walking trails and impressive gravity-fed waterworks abound, such as the 300-year-old Cascade seen above on the left. There is a prominent focus on sustainability that can be especially seen in features such as the Kitchen Garden, which supplies fruit, vegetables, and herbs for the manor house and has done so for years. 20 gardeners total are necessary to keep the estate pristine.

The greenhouses at Chatsworth are acclaimed throughout Britain. However, some grander elements have been lost. During and after the World War I (1914-18), there was not enough coal to heat the conservatories and, therefore, many plants, especially of tropical varieties, died. Because of the expense of restoring, maintaining, and heating, the property’s renowned Great Conservatory built by Joseph Paxton, the largest glass building in England of its time, was demolished in 1920. Still, horticulture is very much alive at Chatsworth. When we visited, the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show was in full swing, which is quite the affair. We declined visiting its separate encampment of vast white tents (think The Great British Baking Show multiplied by five), begonias, and ferns as admission is separate and ranges upwards of £34.00 per person. Tickets are now on sale for the next flower show, June 5-9, 2019, if you’re interested.

Visiting Chatsworth House was one of my favorite memories from my trip to the UK! As I strolled around the gardens and it began to softly rain, I couldn’t help but think about the appeal of moving to some little cottage in Bakewell and being able to pop over to Chatsworth for picnics in the summer or their cozy Christmas market in the winter. As you exit the manor through the gift shop (oh, how clever), you come face-to-face with a bust of Matthew Macfayden (the anointed Mr. Darcy of 2005) — a lingering prop from the film. A cheeky sign underneath reads, “Please do not kiss.” Or perhaps it isn’t so cheeky; maybe, in the past, this has been a real issue. Of that I cannot be sure, dear readers. Regardless, when I saw the likeness, I could not help but recall the iconic scene shot in Chatsworth’s sculpture gallery:

“Do you not think him a handsome man, miss?” “Yes. Yes, I dare say he is.”

A Year in Pages: 2018 (II: May-December)

At the beginning of 2018, in celebration, I read eight books! (see this blog post) The spring semester of my freshman year was a busy one, so I was unable to read recreationally until the summer (when I had a copious amount of time to do so in England on trains or the Tube). Listed below are the twenty other books that I read this year! A grand total of 28 books in 2018!

The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Fascinating. Engaging. Beautiful. Enlightening. Informative.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dark. Thrilling. Intense.

Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Sympathetic. Vivid. Dazzling. Tragic.

The Popular Girl  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Decadent. Eloquent. Entertaining. Memorable. Brilliant.

The Rich Boy  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Dynamic. Unexpected. Satisfying. Concise.

Sidney Chambers  &  The Shadow of Death (Grantchester #1) by James Runcie  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Suspenseful. Metaphysical. Heartwarming.

Emily Brontë: Poems by Emily Brontë  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Melancholic. Vain. Existential.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Stirring. Revealing. Moving. Candid.

You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are by Rebekah Lyons  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Life-giving. Insightful. Wise. Fruitful. Inspiring.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Horrifying. Sharp. Haunting. Unsettling.

Ada’s Algorithm: Lord Byron’s Daughter Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Mathematical. Intriguing. Unembellished. Illuminating.

The Distaff Side by Elizabeth Palmer  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dramatic. Predictable. Cliché.

Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Riveting. Sympathetic. Imaginative. Captivating. Fresh.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Intriguing. Mysterious. Disappointing.

The Art of Losing by Kevin Young  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Relevant. Striking. Thoughtful. Beautiful. Sorrowful.

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Simple. Refreshing. Encouraging. Lovely.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Breathtaking. Wise. Creative. Faithful. Candid.

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Revolutionary. Truthful. Fascinating. Insightful. Tragic.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Witty. Brilliant. Genuine. Impassioned. Succinct.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Startling. Raw. Political. Realistic.

 

What novels did you most enjoy reading this year, friends?

I’d love to add them to my 2019 to-read list, so please comment below!