November 17, 2012

What hath God wrought

This past Thursday and and Friday were two of the best days of my life.

They followed a very upsetting first part of my week - registration issues, starting to feel sick, hours spent waiting in New York - what seemed to give no respite.

Sunday, while singing with my choir at St. George's near Gramercy Park, the Scripture reading was from Psalm 127.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. 
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
I felt the vanity then, but still, I reasoned that I had wanted to do, and enjoyed, the things that made me rise up earlyl and go late to rest. But there were quizzes, assignments, a paper and test to complete within the next few days, Monday and Tuesday. I caught up with my choir director as she was leaving the service, and she prayed for me. "You might think that it'll take you so long to finish something, but God can just get it done!" She told me how she'd been an ambitious student, and that she understood.

I had a sort of break-down when I returned home that day, but my parents gave me perspective. Then I survived Monday and even had time on Tuesday for a very intriguing conversation about the six days of creation before my science test. Then I stayed up till midnight to register for the Spring, only to have the system to prevent me from registering (All the records of students who'd been advised before Sandy had been erased). And the rest of Wednesday I worked on homework, mostly.

On Thursday morning I left my cell-phone at home, but didn't realize until my train was pulling into the station. I was angry. I felt like so many things were unjustly assailing me, and let my frustration show. This fall, I grow in respect of my dad for his patience with the inconveniences of commuting. I don't enjoy the constraint on my freedom that all the multiple links of my commute require.

At school, I was able to talk to the registrar's office and sign up for my classes. I was encouraged to see my classmates and the girls in my House (the House system is like Harry Potter, apparently, if that clarifies). Later in the day, I read this commencement address. One paragraph in particular ministered to me:
It is in not seeking the Inner Rings that we will end up in a Ring of true significance. Our primary objective must be faithfulness in the little things, for our everyday actions are what influence society around us. The Apostle Paul prayed that we would “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work.” A Christian life of influence is a life of steady obedience. And it is here where our secondary objective, positions of influence, will come to fruition.
Faithfulness. Obedience. It really helped to hear these words from a student who evidently cares, like I do, about achieving. Her example about Corrie Ten Boom reinforced the idea that I do not have to directly seek influence. I suppose that I look at people who seem to have lived meaningful, God-honoring lives, and attribute part of their success to their fame, but Corrie didn't live to become famous.

To draw near to God, we must earnestly seek him; yet I can be content even while seeking. This is the biggest concept I've been struggling to understand.

On Friday, I spent a portion of the day reading about the anthropic principle, and the argument from the fine-tuned universe for intelligent design. Some people may look at the incredibly small odds that our universe could even be livable, and search for a law of physics that would compel the world to unfold this way. Or, like Samuel Morse, quoting Numbers 23 in the first telegram, we can marvel, "What hath God wrought!"

Near the end of the day, I finally realized, I am so happy to be going to school at King's. God is providing for my needs. He is answering my questions. Thank you, Father.

November 13, 2012

Fun Writing: Happiness

I've written a quote on the top of the pages in my planner for this week: "They have been allowed to assume that happiness is a goal, rather than a by-product."

It's taken from a quote from Hilda Neatby, as quoted in "The Unteachables: A Generation That Cannot Learn."
The bored “graduates” of elementary and high schools seem, in progressive language, to be “incompletely socialized.” Ignorant even of things that they might be expected to know, they do not care to learn. They lack an object in life, they are unaware of the joy of achievement. They have been allowed to assume that happiness is a goal, rather than a by-product.
 Neatby's critique of my generation strikes at a mindset that I find myself living. Is it wrong to view happiness as a goal?

"Why would I obey God unless it made me happy?" I asked A last June. C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, "No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it," and the entire book highlights the weight of the choices that we make. John Piper proposes Christian Hedonism, and titles an evangelistic pamphlet "For Your Joy."

These voices would suggest that joy (which is long-term happiness, after all) could be an end goal. But then over this I hear Socrates reasoning:
So we have to consider whether we are establishing the guardians looking to their having the most happiness. Or else, whether looking to this happiness for the city as a whole, we must see if it comes to be in the city, and must compel and persuade these auxiliaries and guardians to do the same, so that they'll be the best possible craftsmen at their jobs, and similarly for all the others, and, with the entire city growing thus and being fairly founded, we must let nature assign to each of the groups its share of happiness. (Republic, 421c)
Socrates' logic is that the city as a whole can only be happy if each part performs the role designated by its nature. Yesterday evening, S was telling me that one of the professors at King's interprets The Republic as entirely a metaphor for the soul. (Socrates himself explains that his purpose in discussing a city is to make the essence of justice more clear, 369a, though at this point in my reading I think his dialogue is meant to refer to real cities, too.)

So the individual parts of a happy soul won't necessarily be happy, not when their happiness injures the well-being of the whole organism. I think this accords with Neatby's observation. If I see happiness as an immediate goal, I'll lose the happiness that can only be earned. There are many things to be desired, but no satisfying short-cuts.