31 October 2011

Six Ways to Make Her Go Weak in the Knees, and Seven to Make Her Swoon

In the spirit of the mysterious, list-loving king Agur of Proverbs 30, who considered the way of a man with a maiden as knowledge too profound, I give you six, no... seven ways to make your lady swoon, all smuggled from the Song of Solomon, chapter 1, verses 2 to 9, which I've translated below.

2  If only he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
        For the taste of your lovemaking is better than wine.
3  Like the rumor of your smell,
        so fragrant is your name;
        and thus the girls adore you.
   4  Lead me after you and let us run!
If only the king would take me to his chambers.

We will celebrate and make merry over you;
        we will savor your love more than wine.

How right that they adore you!

    5  Dark am I but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem;
    dark as the tents of Qedar,
    lovely as the curtains of Solomon.

6  Do not stare at me because I am dark,
    for the sun has glared upon me.
    The sons of my mother burned against me;
    they made me the keeper of the vineyards.
    But my own vineyard I could not keep!

7  Tell me, O you whom my soul loves,
    Where do you shepherd your sheep?
    Where do you make them lay in the midday heat?
Lest I wander around
    by the flocks of your fellows.

   8  If you do not know, O most beautiful of women,
    set yourself on the path of my sheep,
    and pasture your lambs
    by the tents of the shepherds.

9  As a mare among the chariots of Pharaoh
    do I imagine you, my Lady-Love.

And now, for  

Six Ways to Make Her Go Weak in the Knees
 Seven to Make Her Swoon

1. Kiss her like you mean it.
Do you think the Lover of the Song made his Lady sing in 1:1, “If only he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” by giving her a total daily time count of 3 seconds of mouth to mouth contact, and that merely the facial handshake of the hello-goodbye kiss? Not. Likely. So reawaken your sense of romantic adventure; Kiss the girl, and kiss her like you mean it.

2. Tend to your smell.
No, not your body odor, as important as that is, but the smell of your reputation, which goes before you and announces who you are. Be a gentleman, and conduct yourself with virtue, both in your lady’s presence and apart, so that she may hear about you from others, and echo the words of the Lady of the Song in 1:3, “Like perfume poured out, so fragrant is your name.”

3. Lead your lady after you.
It’s what she really wants. Don’t be fooled by the pronouncements of the postmodern gender police, who insist that the only difference between men and women is in their plumbing. Not so. For within your lady’s heart, there sounds the call of 1:4, “Lead me after you and let us run!” Leading is never about the leader: it's always about those being led. So answer her call, chart out a course, and sweep her up into a shared adventure.

4. Deliver on your smell.
It’s one thing to play the gentleman in public, but quite another to pull it off in private. When the Lady of the Song sees her fellow maidens admiring her Lover, does she think this admiration is deserved? It's about being the same man everywhere you go. So next time you come home to your wife, pretend she has just been asked “Is it right that he is so admired?” Then go into the house and treat her in such a way that she can answer just like the Lady in 1:4. “How right they are to adore you!”

5. Become a connoisseur.
Every woman is unique, with a beauty all her own. Compared to the soft, powdered whiteness of the daughters of Jerusalem, the sun-darkened Lady of the Song seems a little out of place. But her Lover sees this as a distinctive of great worth, judging by his verbal caress in 1:8. “O most beautiful of women.” So take a cue from the Lover and develop a palate that is sensitive to your lady’s uniqueness, and begin to discover her as the most beautiful of women.

6. Arrange an oasis.
In her genius for romance, a lady will look for some way to diminish the hours spent apart, saying something like 1:7. “Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, where do you shepherd your sheep? Where do you lay them in the midday heat? Lest I wander around by the flocks of your fellows.” It is yours, my gentleman friends, to respond like the Lover: “Set yourself on the path of my sheep and pasture your lambs by the tents of the shepherds.” That is, “you needn’t go looking for me. I will arrange a place where I can find you.” So arrange a midweek oasis to meet with your own lady.

7. Own your admiration.
It may be that your lady can think of more complimentary comparisons than that which the Lover uses in 1:9. “As a mare among the chariots of Pharaoh, do I imagine you, my Lady-Love.” But dig a little deeper, and you’ll see what he’s getting at: “My Lady, you are so attractive that when you walk into a room full of men, it’s like someone has released a female horse on to a field of ready males: Goodbye composure; hello distraction.” Take a cue from the Lover and own your admiration. Speak to your Lady with creativity and honor her with complements that no others have received.

So Kiss her like you mean it, tend to your smell, lead your lady after you, deliver on your smell, become a connoisseur, arrange an oasis, and own your admiration. See if your lady’s knees don’t go a little weak. See if she doesn’t swoon.

24 October 2011

Beneath the Bond Between Luke the Evangelist and Norman Rockwell

(Dedicated to my friend Skye, the doctor.)

Just the other day, I sat myself down and went paging through a collection of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. In that painted parade of American history, I met every sort of person, brush-captured from every station of life. For it wasn’t only caroling children and Coca-Cola-drinking Santa Clauses inhabiting those tableaus, but bed-ridden seniors and hotel maids as well, and all of them portrayed with such a stroke of fellow-feeling that it was as though the artist were winking and saying, "Yes, I know these people are imperfect, but still, oh, how delightful!"

It was in their eyes. In illustration after illustration, they positively glowed off the page, advertising that beneath whatever mischief their owner was into, there dwelt a self-aware soul. As I thought about it afterward, this collection of a lifetime’s worth of painting left me with a singular impression: Norman Rockwell loved people.

Some time later, I set that book aside and turned to the opening sentence from the Gospel of Luke in the original Greek, where I refreshed my acquaintance with the man whom Paul names in Colossians 4:14 as the beloved physician. Here’s a translation which keeps the good doctor’s 42-word opening sentence intact:

Inasmuch as many have taken it in hand to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, and just as they, who,  from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, also handed down to us, it seemed good also to me, having followed everything closely from the beginning, to write to you precisely and methodically, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may recognize something in the matters of which you were instructed: certainty.

The tricky thing about translating a text from one language to another is not in bringing out the original's bare message, but the author’s unique way of communicating that message: his voice. I have tried to do that here. And make no mistake: despite the common message shared between the four Gospels, Luke does have his own unique voice.
Mark was a fireside storyteller. John was an aphoristic sage. But Luke was a Greek physician: educated, thoughtful, and rooted to the evidence. All of this is reflected in a literary style that is careful, precise and more than a little verbose. You can see it in his use of the word eyewitnesses, which shows his respect for evidence, and the phrase, from the beginning, which shows his respect for method. You see, Luke is interested in grounding his understanding of reality not in superstition, nor in emotion, but in an inductively pursued investigation.

Take, for example, Luke’s description of the resurrected Jesus eating physical food; He is the only one of the four evangelists to do so, and the reason is clear: as an educated Greek, he is at pains to give evidence that our Lord’s resurrected body is neither illusion nor apparition: it is physical. Given his vocation, it isn’t surprising that our doctor should also write in greater detail about Jesus’ miraculous acts of healing, since he had the most extensive experience of such ailments. 

Like any man of healing, Luke would, in the course of his profession, have encountered all manner of infirmity, suffered by all manner of humanity.  

You can see it in his motley collage of men and women who encountered our Lord: from centurions and tax-collectors all the way down to lepers, widows, and the criminal on the cross. Reading through this Gospel, it is as though the doctor is saying, “this one too was beloved of our Lord; yes, this one too, and this one, and this one, and this one...” Taken together, the impression one gets of the doctor after reading his Gospel biography is rather the same as that of Norman Rockwell: Luke loved people.

Just feel the warmth coming off the page when he pens Jesus’ assurance to the man next to him on the cross: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” And that word, truly, brings me to my point, and indeed, to the point of Luke’s entire Gospel. Like any good doctor with compassion for his patients, our beloved physician has embedded a medicine in his Gospel, a cure-all for the rich and poor alike.

What is the name of this elixir? He gives it to us in his opening prescription’s final word. This is why he wrote, and this is why we read. So pick it up for yourself, read through this Greek physician’s Gospel, and see if the medicine doesn’t take. See if you don't find your mind set at ease by the good doctor's remedy, which he called certainty.

15 October 2011

How to Face the End Like a Man

She said it like it was a matter of fact. “No matter what we do, even if we started today, the environment will burn out inside fifty years.” I didn’t want to be hearing this at the moment; late afternoon is the low point of my biorhythmic day. My throat felt tight. My shoulders, tense. I was quiet for a bit. Fifty years? I thought. What does that mean?

“Really?” I said to my wife. “I’m not sure that’s credible. I mean, where did your friend get that from? There’s a lot of misinformation flying around nowadays.” It was true. From movies like 2012 to billboard predictions of Armageddon, we are well supplied with speculative certainties about our date of expiration.

Yet it was too late; I was already doing the math. The sound of our boys laughing in the playground faded away. How old would our little ones be in 50 years? Would I be a grandfather? A great-grandfather? If this were true, would I still be here to hold my sons’ hands when everything goes dark? And what about now? What does it mean to live fifty years before the end of the world?

It means that my generation is the last to live into old age. It means that I am raising my boys... to die. How much better to have been born in an earlier time, say, the 1920’s, when you could know that your kids would have the chance to live out their lives after you! Or, better yet, the 1600’s, when there was still so much time to think and explore and create, when Bach was learning the fugue and Galileo was discovering Jupiter’s moons, when a few centuries of open air still remained before the lid on the box would slam shut.

No, better still to have lived in the age of the Greeks, the seed of civilization’s flowering, from which there would sprout poetry and philosophy and athletics, like the petals of a lotus. This was a time when a man could place his hand on the smooth, cool bark of a sycamore tree, and know that even the children of that tree would have time enough to live.

But it was no good. There is no escaping the end. No matter how far back into the centuries I may fling myself, the irresistible gravity of time will pull me back into this moment and beyond, spiraling toward some future end. How, then, shall I live?

“I guess I can forget about doing something that will be remembered through the ages,” I said to myself. I hadn’t suspected such a thing was important to me, but here I was, crossing it off my list of viable motivations.

What then? I glanced at my wife, loving how the sun brings out her freckles. The boys were on the teeter-totter. And something occurred to me. People. That’s what’s worth caring about and living for in these moments that are left.

Can I use these moments to make my sons smile, to make love to my wife, to give her a massage, even when I don’t feel like it? Can I give the same kindnesses that were given by my Lord before his candle was blown out? He was afraid, just like I am. But he resisted despair and sought strength from his Father. He stayed fixed on the particulars: healing the ear of Malchus, taking the thief’s confession, providing for his mother.

Can I do this? Can I step into the present with my eyes on the particulars: the son that needs wrestling, the wife that needs talking, the friend that needs praying? Can I face the end like a man? Can I live the way that I should have been living, even if the world’s time and mine were infinite? Of course I can. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. And so can you.

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08 October 2011

Biblica Britannica

Take a moment’s rest from your forward walk along the footpath of history and turn your head back toward 5th century Britain. Strain your eyes through that temporal mist, and you will make out the hazy outline of a figure named Arthur. Who was the flesh and blood original behind this heroic specter? Our most erudite historians can offer little more than speculation on this question, but that need not trouble us, for our concern is not with the reality behind the legend, but the legend itself.

When I taste the Pendragon myth with the palate of imagination, the flavor I encounter is decidedly earthy; That is, it holds within it the unmistakable character of Logrian soil: British earth.

Picture a warrior who is so rooted to the land of his birth that when he stands within its borders, he is stronger than he would otherwise be. He draws its nourishment up through his toes, feet, and thighs. He is connected to this Britain, and Britain makes him stronger.

The Bible is the godly man’s Britain. You may travel to other lands and profit much from the sights you take in, but plant your feet on the native soil of your spiritual birth, and you will begin to feel like Arthur standing in Logres.

One autumn night, I left my house to walk beneath the dark arches of trees that line the neighborhood streets. I brought my mp3 player and began listening to an audiobook, which opened with these lines:

Midway upon the road of our life, I found myself within a dark wood. For the right way had been missed...

It wasn’t long before the lost poet met up with a guide, the venerated Virgil, whom the poet describes thus:

Art thou then that Virgil and that fount which poureth forth so large a stream of speech? ...Thou alone art he from whom I took the fair style that hath done me honor.

As I listened to this poetic praise, I felt something happening: I felt my heart bending toward the pursuit of poetic style, twisting toward the attainment of literary fame. I stopped. The street was quiet but for the dry leaves rustling in the gutter. I changed tracks on the mp3 player and began to listen to something else:

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.
In the way of sinners he does not stand.
In the seat of scoffers he does not sit.

But in the law of the LORD is his delight.
And on His law he meditates both day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water.
He yields his fruit in its season,
and his leaf does not wither,
and all that he does prospers.
 (Psalm 1, Authors Translation)

And then, in that moment’s return to this spiritual soil, I felt my heart uncurl and straighten in its desire toward something true, good, and strong.

There are many lands to wander in this literary universe, and all of them have their virtues, but I know of no other land that feeds the soul of man like the land which bears the earth of God’s word. Test it for yourself. Plant your feet in the soil of scripture, and see if you don’t feel like Arthur standing in Britain, with its nourishing energy rising through the limbs of your soul.