The Old Man and the Sea

I read my first Hemingway novel at the recommendation of a friend. I didn’t expect to know him. The old man, I mean. But I do. I grew up with him.

The old man sat repairing his nets and watching me grow up. He saw the devastatingly bored child lying on the floor, he watched while I took apart things I could never repair. He listened while Granddaddy read me Bible stories, and later he watched as I plowed through dozens of books in a summer. He watched me watch my grandfather fall asleep in his chair every afternoon surrounded by his books.

10911331_10155046462875634_6360293463715648372_oAll my life the old man and his nets sat on a low table in my grandparents sitting room watching- a single string looped over his toe.

I never returned to my grandparents house after their death, so as far as I am concerned, there he will sit repairing his net, thinking of his great fish and me, for the rest of time.

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Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

I never read A Million Little Pieces… and I probably never will. (Although I really like the cover art…)

Bright Shiny Morning was loaned to me by a friend with good taste. The only reason I read it was because she told me to… I am  glad I did.

I tend to be one who it much more interested in story and plot than writing style. I love books, I love to read… but what I really, really love is a good story. This isn’t that. At least, not really.

This is a well written collection of snapshots of life in the greater Los Angeles area. Some of them are heartwarming. Most of them are depressing. (LA is nothing if not the City of Broken Dreams) All of them are interesting.

Just read it. Or, you know, don’t.

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

The Wounded Healer. I like that. I identify with that.

In our last Bible study book, The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith, in the chapter called ‘God Transforms’ the author shared a story about vulnerability:

Wanting to communicate the paradox of how we minister to others through our brokenness, he took a cardboard box and asked his students to “beat it up”. They punctured holes in the box, kicked it around and tore pieces off of it. Then he placed the box on the table in front of them all. Underneath the box was a light. He dimmed the house lights, and then turned on the light inside of the box. He didn’t need to say any more. They all understood. The light of Jesus shines clearly through our broken places.

The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith (page 163)

That passage illustration resonates with me. Most of the time I feel like I am walking through life with a broken leg and a bleeding heart- but, as Gayle Jonas told me, there is a purpose to the pain.

So I picked up The Wounded Healer. I love Nouwen and the title seems appropriate…

The Wounded Healer is broken up into four sections: Ministry in a Dislocated World, Ministry for a Rootless Generation, Ministry to a Hopeless Man and Ministry by a Lonely Minister. I was very tempted to jump straight to the last chapter- and I am really glad I didn’t. Each chapter got progressively better, and they built on each other (as one would expect).

Nouwen talks about the condition of modern man- how he is different than previous generations and how to minister to him effectively. He talks about the hopless man- the man who has no reason to live but does not want to die (I met many people in that predicament in Haiti), and he talks about the lonely minister (whom I can identify with more than is comfortable).

It’s a short and relatively simple book, but it’s profound. The way he simply walks the reader from point to point reminds me a but of CS Lewis’ apologetics, but it’s not nearly so dense.

What I’ve learned is that suffering is part of the human condition. There is no escaping it, but when we embrace our pain- when we look at it and see it as part of what makes us who we are and what makes us available to others and open to God it can be a beautiful thing. Or as Nouwen put it, “… the wound, which causes us to suffer now, will be revealed to us later as the place where God intimated His new creation.” (Conclusion, page 96)

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope. … A Christian community is therefore a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision.

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen (Page 93-34)

(Side note: I find it really difficult to express myself lately- I can’t quite get the words out right. I suppose this means I am not writing enough? I feel like my brain is dying. Sorry.)

The Gift of Pain by Dr. Paul Brand & Philip Yancy

We dare not allow our daily lives to become so comfortable that we are no longer challenged to grow, to seek adventure, to risk… In short, if I spend my life seeking pleasure through drugs, comfort, and luxury, it will probably elude me. Lasting pleasure is more apt to come as a surprising bonus from something I have invested myself in. Most likely that investment will include pain– it’s hard to imagine pleasure without it.  (Page 301)

 

The Gift of Pain was pretty different than what I expected. Late one night in the middle of a Haiti cry-fest last month I ordered this book from Amazon.com hoping it would provide some insight into dealing with a bleeding heart. Not so much, but I loved this book and it brought about a total shift in the way I perceive the pain in my daily life (steam burns, headaches, bumping my shin on a table, the usual hazards of being a total klutz).

The first two sections of the book are Dr Brands memoirs about his youth in India, his medical training during the Blitz in London and his path into leprosy (which causes painlessness- which, unchecked, leads to major disfigurement) in India. Fascinating. The third section of the book it called, ‘Learning to befriend Pain’. It discusses the three stages of pain and the role our mind plays in how we perceive pain.

I had a bad headache all morning at work today- but instead of throwing down some Tylenol with an Americano chaser first thing (which, to be fair, I did a little later when I couldn’t take it anymore), I listened to my body. What is it telling me with my frequent headaches? Not enough sleep? Too much stress? Probably.  When I burn my finger on the steam wand, I am grateful that the pain is a warning to pull my hand away- lepers don’t have that protection.

I highly recommend this book! It’s really interesting, well written, and I feel like I really took a lot away from it.

Joy

“Simply seek happiness, and you are not likely to find it. Seek to create and love without regard to your happiness, and you will likely be happy most of the time. Seeking joy in and of itself will not bring it to you. Do the work of creating community, and you will obtain it– although never exactly according to your schedule. Joy is an uncapturable yet utterly predictable side effect of genuine community.”

M. Scott Peck
(quoted in The Gift of Pain by Paul brand and Philip Yancy)