Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Die Without Being Dead

This week, in a discussion about Galatians 2:19, my Bible study was talking about the meaning of "through the law I died to the law" and how this verse fits into the concept of grace. The concept was foggy in my mind, to say the least. The main progression of thought had been as follows:
  • The law points out our sin, because we cannot keep the whole law as commanded. 
  • The law, because of its authority as an arbiter of justice, thus has a claim on us to exact appropriate punishment, so that justice can be served.
  • The law demands our death.
  • We can only be free from the law's claim if we can pay that penalty. 
The problem is how to die - thus escaping the law's demands - and not simply be dead, which is no good in terms of the overall objective of escaping the law. A quandary, if there ever was one.

One of the excellent benefits of being an English major and an avid reader is having a thousand ready illustrations. All of a sudden, a literary motif made perfect sense of the verse. Literary characters all across the spectrum have wrestled with this same dilemma. *Warning, spoilers.*

...Think of the original Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) in the movie The Mask of Zorro. He is imprisoned, albeit unjustly. There is no way out unless he is dead. 

...Think of Edmond Dantes in the book The Count of Monte Cristo. He is imprisoned, and no one leaves the Chateau D'If alive.

...Think of Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities. He is imprisoned in a place where the only exit was en route to the guillotine.

...Think of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He was convicted for breaking a minor point of the law, but which rendered him guilty nonetheless. He would bear the law's stamp (the convict's stamp on his passport) until he died.

The answer for each of these men came in an exchange or apparent death. 

A dead guard in The Mask of Zorro permitted Don Diego de la Vega to feign death and be carried out of the prison to be buried. The death of Edmond's friend Faria allowed Edmond to be carried out of the prison and thrown into the sea in a body bag. Even after his flight was discovered, he was presumed dead from the fall.  

Charles Darnay was given the clothes of his look-alike Sidney Carton and allowed to leave the prison as Carton, while Carton went to the guillotine in the likeness of Darnay. For Jean Valjean, re-imprisoned on the ship Orion, escape from the life of a convict came only when he fell into the sea and was reported drowned.

Feigning death allowed Valjean and Dantes to temporarily escape the physical representation of the law. But what about God's law, which is not fooled by disguises or pretenses, and under which all of us are condemned justly?

The only answer is that a real death has to take place. Someone has to die, so the law's demand is paid in full, not postponed. Enter Jesus.

What makes Jesus' sacrifice so much greater than Sidney Carton's is the fact of the resurrection. By paying the price of the law and then being raised to life again, Jesus broke the power of sin, which was to make death the end and the ultimate consequence.  

So what changes afterward? What is the new end consequence?

The effect of sacrificial death is that someone bears your sin (your being, your name) to the death you deserved. Edmond Dantes couldn't simply return to Paris and announce himself as Edmond Dantes, because "Edmond Dantes" was presumed dead. Jean Valjean couldn't re-establish himself as Jean Valjean, because "Jean Valjean" had died. 

Their new, free life had to come with a new name - a new persona. As a Christian, that new persona is just as integral.  "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).


There is nothing new, nothing revelatory, nothing ephiphanological (even if there was such a word) about my musings. 

It's like the tiny window of brilliant, crystalline colors in the sky right before the sun rises. It's impossible to capture in fabric or paint, but in that instant, I catch a glimpse of something amazing beyond the power of expression. 

So that's why I share, even knowing the inadequacy of words, especially mine. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Grad App Update

Three applications complete (minus recommendations and GRE scores) and out of my hands!  Four more to go in the definite-schools list.

It's truly amazing the sheer range of things they can find to charge you for...

*UPDATE 10/24/08*

Six applications complete, minus a writing sample, transcripts, recommendations, and GRE scores. 1 more to go on the definite-schools list!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

GRE Literature in English

It's over. 

Now if only I didn't have to wait 4-6 weeks to find out my score.  I've already calculated all the probabilities, and I hate waiting.

Why didn't I read more postmodern philosophers and dramatists?  Oh yes - I remember why.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Hit 50,000 miles on my car - exactly as I got home. What are the odds? (...anaphora, parataxis, litotes...) Test day tomorrow, and I'm far from ready but trying not to think about it that way. (...Jonson, Sidney, Donne...) Reading Beloved by Toni Morrison and listening to the audio tape of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (a re-read). (...Tristam Shandy, Anna Karenina, Faerie Queene...) Busy week with work and everything else. (...vilanelle, sonnet, ottava rima...) Next week, the application process starts for real. (...negative capability, dissociation of sensibility, objective correlative...) Not looking forward to all the fees, and thinking that schools really should refund your money if they reject you. (...Frye, Bloom, Arnold...) The way it is now, it just adds insult to injury.


Imagining what freedom will feel like...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Greater Expectations

Only one week stands between me and the GRE subject test in Literature in English, which I have been dreading for the past two months.  Unlike the creator of the study site I have been using (Vade Mecum), I did not study for fifteen hours a week for five months.  Two months will have to do, ready or not.

On Tuesday, I took the full-length practice test sent to me by the Educational Testing Service. When I finished scoring my 2+ hrs of effort, I had to face a number that was good, but still lower than I had hoped. I had expectations, and I was not able to meet them.

Of course, since then, I have been studying harder than ever, and I hope the test next Saturday will show some of that effort. But nonetheless, not measuring up to my own standards was a blow.

This weekend, I have been hit by another example of how powerful expectations can be.

On Thursday, my family's twelve-year-old Dalmatien, Pepper, had to be put down.  His legs had been getting weaker for several months, and he was finally unable to stand up at all and was in pain most of the time.  

In the back of my mind, I knew he was getting old, and that he might not make it much longer. I didn't expect it to happen so soon.  I still expect to hear him bark when I get home and have to fumble for my house key.  I still expect to step over him when I start a load of laundry.  I have expectations, and they are not fulfilled.

Of course, since then, I have been digging up more memories than ever: when he used to drag me around as a skinny eleven-year-old, when he ran through the snow using his nose as a snow plow, when he stood on the doggie gate and tapped me on the shoulder with his paw to remind me to pet him. But nonetheless, not seeing him when I walk in the door is a blow.

Expectations can be powerful - and painful.  I am beginning to realize that I have a lot of expectations, like those about my dog, that I am not aware of having until they are not met.  I expected to get into grad school last year.  I expect God to answer my prayers the way I want Him to, not the way He knows is best.  I expect life to make sense.  And when it doesn't, I get disappointed, discouraged, or angry.

One of the hardest lessons I am learning this year is to recognize that my expectations do not fail because they are too high, but because in God's grand picture, they are pitifully small.  I am like the woman at the well in John 4, so caught in the idea of physical water ("you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep" vs. 11) that she could not see what Jesus was offering her.  

He did not meet her expectations. He exceeded them. 

As I wrestle with my unmet expectations, especially this week, I am driven to think about the people who plant seeds for giant, shaped gardens like this one.  All they see is a few misshapen, shrivelled grains of life being buried, when in reality, it is the foundation for something beautiful.

Image (c) International Peace Gardens, North Dakota.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Back from a 4-day weekend for homecoming.  So much fun to see friends, camp out, chat with professors, wander around campus enjoying the autumn leaves, and just relax.  Ah. 

Now back to the grind.  Several bigger projects starting with work--a much needed increase in hours.  GRE subject test approaching t-minus 10 days.  Took the official, full-length practice test today.  More studying needed.  Still finalizing list of grad schools, and getting ready to send out information to references so they can write letters.  Actual applications to be compiled following the subject test.  

Still working on Merry Wives of WindsorAntony and Cleopatra, and Inferno. Finished reading A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card.  A very bizarre and philosophical story, with interesting and vague commentary on religion and nationalism.  Anyone read it?  Thoughts?

So that's life, plus peeling 4 pounds of apples to make homemade applesauce.  Smells great cooking, but ends up with so little sauce for so many apples.  Sounds like the start of a great analogy, but I don't have the energy right now.

Real post to follow...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Lots of dancing last weekend - contra, then swing, then ballroom - equals sore feet but happy person.  Homecoming this weekend!!!!!  In the meantime, finished reading Will in the World, Pericles, and Titus Andronicus. Now into Merry Wives of Windsor and Antony & Cleopatra, as well as Dante's Inferno.  Also read The Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult (see review here).  

Two and a half weeks until the big test. I'm now reviewing poetry, prose, and drama terms like "chiasmus," "epithalamium," "pararhyme," and "hamartia."  Brushing up on allusions to Greek epics and drama.  Who cares about his Homer guy, right?  Finishing personal statements and moving on to writing samples.  Finalizing "to apply to" lists and getting ready to dole out application fees.  Whew!  I almost feel like a student again, except with only one class! lol.  

That's life in a nutshell.