From Station Island XII

Like a convalescent, I took the hand
stretched down from the jetty, sensed again
an alien comfort as I stepped on ground

to find the helping hand still gripping mine
fish-cold and bony, but whether to guide
or to be guided I could not be certain

for the tall man in step at my side
seemed blind, though he walked straight as a rush
upon his ashplant, his eyes fixed straight ahead.

Then I knew him in the flesh
out there on the tarmac among the cars,
wintered hard and sharp as a blackthorn bush.

His voice eddying with the vowels of all rivers
came back to me, though he did not speak yet,
a voice like a prosecutor’s or a singer’s

cunning, narcotic, mimic, definite
as a steel nib’s downstroke, quick and clean,
and suddenly he hit a litter basket

with his stick, saying, ‘Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’

It was as if I had stepped free into space
alone with nothing that I had not known
already. Raindrops blew in my face

as I came to and heard the harangue and jeers
going on and on. ‘The English language
belongs to us. You are raking at dead fires,

rehearsing the old whinges at your age.
That subject people stuff is a cod’s game,
infantile, like this peasant pilgrimage.

You lost more of yourself than you redeem
doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent.
When they make the circle wide, it’s time to swim

out on your own and fill the element
with signatures on your own frequency,
echo-soundings, searches, probes, allurements,

elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea.’
The shower broke in a cloudburst, the tarmac
fumed and sizzled. As he moved off quickly

the downpour loosed its screens round his straight walk.

— Seamus Heaney the poet, the Nobel laureate, the great. He died August 30, 2013. The world has felt his absence.

sullied flesh

Most people have, it seems, tiny bards in their heads, catching snips of songs and singing them on a loop all day. I have a poet in mine. He whispers words to me, little phrases heard here and there, in a rhythm as I bike and work and listen in class. Today’s line is from Hamlet*:

oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt

 

*

Oxford English Dictionary
/ˈsʌlɪd/
Soiled, polluted (lit. and fig.); made gloomy or dull.

*

Though the common theory is that Shakespeare actually meant “solid flesh,” I far prefer the literal translation of the original. I interpret this “sullied flesh” as Shakespearean language for “original sin.” Or, more specifically, for the way that the first sin burrowed into Adam’s DNA and passed into his son and his son’s son and so on, eventually down to me. All flesh is sullied–all faces, all souls, as long as people reproduce themselves. That’s right, I realize. That’s why my eyes are red and my head aches from too little sleep, and why my hands hurt from where climbing holds yanked the skin right off. That’s why I lust, why I’m lazy, why I eat too much sometimes. That’s why I hated myself when I woke this morning, frowning at the memories of what I said and didn’t say to him last night. My flesh is sullied.

I agree with Hamlet, who was not much older than I am: I wish this sullied flesh would melt. I wish this mortal coil would simply unravel, releasing me into some bright beyond where the longing, renewed soul is free from rot. And someday it will.

in the words of one of my favorites, Natalie Lloyd**,

happy weekending, lovelies,

ce

*I don’t even like Hamlet. I’ve read it three or four times, and I’ll have to read it twice more next semester, and I’m tired of hearing about how it’s the greatest thing ever written in English blah blah blah…
** She published her first novel this year, a middle-grade tale delightfully titled A Snicker of Magic. I haven’t read it yet, but I persuaded my mother to buy it for my little sister’s birthday, which is a roundabout way of getting it in the house so I can steal it to read this summer. Check it out here!

from Spurgeon’s “Between the Two Appearings”

On [Christ’s] first appearing fix your thoughts; for the like of it will never be seen again. In the bosom of the Father he lay concealed as God; as the second person of the divine Trinity in Unity he could not be seen, for “no man hath seen God at any time.” It is true that “without him was not anything made that was made”; and thus his hand was seen in his works; but as to himself, he was still hidden; revealed in type and prophecy, but yet in fact concealed. Jesus was not manifest to the sons of men, until one midnight an angel hastened from the skies, and bade the shepherds know that unto them was born in Bethlehem a Saviour, that is Christ the Lord. Then the rest of the angelic host, discovering that one of their number had gone before them on so wonderful an errand, were swift to overtake him; and in one mass of glittering glory they filled the midnight skies with heavenly harmony as they sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Well might they sing; for the Son of God now appeared. In the manger he might be seen with the eyes, and looked upon, and handled; for there the Word was made flesh, and God was incarnate. He whom the ages could not contain, the glorious One who dwelt with the Father for ever unseen, now appeared within the bounds of time and space, and humble shepherds saw him, and adored. By Gentiles he was seen; for wise men from the East beheld and worshipped him whose star had led them. As he grew up, the children of Nazareth beheld him as a child obedient to his parents; and by-and-by he was made manifest to men by the witness of John and the descent of the Holy Ghost upon him at his baptism. God bore him witness as he went up and down the hills of Palestine preaching the kingdom and proclaiming salvation to the sons of men. Men saw him; for he spake among them openly, and walked in their midst. His was not the seclusion of dignity, but the manifestation of sympathy. “He went about doing good.” He was seen of angels, for they came and ministered unto him; and he was seen of devils, for they trembled at his word. He dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory: he was the revelation of God to men, so that he could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” He was made still more manifest by his death; for in his crucifixion he was lifted up from the earth, that all might behold him. He was exalted upon the cross, even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, on purpose that whosoever looked to him might live. There and then he opened those four conspicuous founts of cleansing blood which were made to flow by the nails. See how it flows from hands and feet! There, too, he laid bare his side, and set his heart abroach for dying men, and forthwith there flowed forth blood and water. Thus we may look into his inmost heart. High on the cross the Saviour hung, without veil or curtain to conceal him. “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared.” I know of no appearance that could have been more complete, more unreserved. He moved in the midst of crowds, he spake to men and women one by one. He was on the mountain, and by the sea; he was in the desert, and by the river; he was both in house and in temple; he was everywhere accessible; in the fullest sense “once in the end of the world hath he appeared.” Oh, the glory of this gracious epiphany! This is the greatest event in history: the invisible God has appeared in human form.

—Charles Spurgeon, “Between the Two Appearings”

reboot

In my reverse culture shock upon returning from India, I abandoned my blog. But now I’ve returned, making some small tweaks here and there. I’m still not sure that the changes I’ve made bring this fully into line with my (still ephemeral) vision, so don’t be surprised if more changes come in the coming weeks. But the address will stay the same, so come on over and visit with me again.

Grace and peace,

CE

roots

Today was our last day atop the mountains. My soul has rooted a bit to the rocks. The leaving will rip a hole in my soul but will not hurt the rock. It must be wonderful and terrible to be a mountain, so high and impervious even to love. I will weep, but the hole in my soul will heal, and I’ll wander on to the next beautiful thing in my path.

*     *     *

Today I walked a thousandish steps up to a blue apartment building draped with tattered prayer flags, tiptoed into a small, bluer studio with white hot lights, and interviewed a woman at the head of the “voice for the voiceless.” She is the editor of the Voice of Tibet, a shortwave radio broadcast sent into Tibet and China, where speech is not free. She talked of her education, her work, her beliefs; I wonder about her life. Over her traditional Tibetan dress she wore a striped marriage apron: is she still in love with her husband? Does she have children, or want them? What does she like to read? How does she get along with her neighbors? What does she do on lazy weekend mornings? Does she like tea or coffee?

I fear that even to those on the TEXT program, Tibetans can be two dimensional figures. They have breath and pain, so we wave our flags and fists and shriek until our faces are red and lungs are blue so that they can keep their breath and lose their pain—but what about their love? Do we forget that they are souls like us as well? They are not just a nation but a sea of faces, each beautiful and strong, each hiding a heart more different than the same. I can empathize with a hurting nation, but I can sympathize with a hurting heart. Where are their souls rooted to? What do they love? If I knew, my bond would tighten fast and I could work and pray with all I’ve got to see them loving freely. Perhaps I can find out. For now, I’ll work and pray as best I can for the sea of beautiful faces rooted in the “roof of the world,” their beautiful homeland,

Tibet.

 

P.S. I’ll write more about the interview itself later. It was great!

“The most impor…

“The most important thing to teach children is to take care of others, and that must be taught not through discourse or discussion, but through example.”

~ Namdol Tashi, administrator of Tibetan Children’s Village in upper Dharamsala

this

 

 

 

 

Image

This is what we call a mountain range—the Himalayan kind. I’m on the front side of the foothills, sort of in the middle of the photo. So I can’t actually see the Himalayas, even though I’m practically in them. The “baby” mountains we’re staying on are still incredibly beautiful. It settles my soul just to be here…

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This is (a fairly terrible photo of) the cutest baby in the world; he’s also the youngest child at the Tibetan Children’s Village school/orphanage just down the road from us…

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This is the baby monkey who grabbed the back of my shoe…

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And this is Bhuchung Sonam, a well-known Tibetan writer whom we interviewed this morning. (Isn’t his goatee fantastic?) His interview, conducted by my professor, Dr. Sidney Burris, was one of my favorites so far. Mr. Sonam speaks and writes in both Tibetan and English, so his answers to Dr. Burris’ questions were both fluent and eloquent. I can’t wrestle meaning out of it just yet, but I was mesmerized by him and the way he spoke about his displaced nation. Here is a man who has done what I long to do—take the struggles and treasures of your world and transpose them into words that not only inform their readers of a cause but also a fire, diffusing some of it to them along the way. My cause—that of Christ and His glory—is wholly different from Sonam’s, but in some ways we are the same. We are exiles living in a world familiar and yet strange, longing for a homeland far away and filmy with hopes and dreams deferred.

My motivation for coming on this project is multifaceted at best and fractal-branched at worst. I don’t have one reason for coming, I have twenty, if not thirty. But one that resounds through them all is a curiosity and desire to learn the positive aspects of globalization: that is, becoming familiar with another culture in order to better understand my own. I’ll be performing my own interview sometime in the next day or two, and from there I will hopefully go on to write a series of essays for my honors thesis that will examine the relationship between young Tibetans and young Westerners, exploring perceptions of cultures versus their realities. Americans perceive Tibetans a certain way, Tibetans perceive Americans a certain way, the rest of the world perceives us both in varying ways—how do they converge or stand distinct? What do they mean? What do they reveal about our human connections and sense of identity?

I don’t know yet. I’m here to start finding out. Mountains, babies, and monkeys may or may not be necessary elements in the process.

(My thoughts would be much more coherent if I wrote before it’s time to sleep. My apologies, world.)

Note: You can read some of Bhuchung Sonam’s work at Tibet Writes; he has also written a book of poetry, Dandelions of Tibet, and a recently published collection of essays titled Yak Horns.

it’s raining buckets of tea*

* This is my feeble attempt to combine lots of rain, bucket showers, and a million cups of chai tea into a post title. I could drag you along with me on a touch-and-go tour of where I’ve been and … Continue reading

at first glance: New Delhi

A short Tibetan man with smiling eyes greeted me in Hindi (namaste) and Tibetan (tashi delek) and a pretty girl beside him threw a filmy white scarf around my neck. Welcome to India. I mumbled, “Namaste, thank you,” and hoped my smile conveyed the rest. I followed the group toward the customs gate. As we rounded the corner, my eyes widened fractionally in surprise. I nodded respectfully toward the soldier and the automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, then walked into New Delhi.

The air conditioning from the Indira Gandhi International Airport is strong enough to give off a cool shield that extends approximately five feet outside its doors. But at five feet, you encounter a tangible wall of heat that is almost sentient in its force. Normal descriptors for heat’s movement are flimsy and insufficient. India’s heat does not “envelop you” or “wrap around you” or even “hit you”—”bodyslams you” or “headlocks you” would be more appropriate. And this was at midnight. But I didn’t mind. In fact it broadened my smile, because even the heat was grander than what my imagination had prepared.

However, “grand” is not a word I would use to describe New Delhi. My American, upper-middle-class mind struggles to understand and come to terms with all that New Delhi is. To Western sensibilities, she is a ghetto, or to mask the denigration more, “developing.” A layer of dirt coats every road and fence and house; trash and rubble are piled along the sidewalks even in front of more reputable places. The chips and cracks on every building make her seem old, old as her dust. The sun cannot pierce the thick, white haze of pollution hanging heavy for miles. As we drove to our hotel last night, the city’s homeless were asleep, curled into fetal positions on the highway median and the tops of parked buses. When we arrived in Majnu Ka Tilla, New Delhi’s Tibetan refugee camp, we found our hotel by wandering through dark alleys filled with starving dogs and dripping water and staring eyes. This morning at breakfast, a bug-eyed woman with a baby and a fascinated little boy stood outside our window with her hand to her smiling mouth, begging, unwilling to accept our sad frowns and shaking heads. We ought not walk alone.

Yet, existing simultaneously alongside and within these things is beauty. Even in the darkness last night I saw that the buildings and trucks along the road were painted with colors brilliant despite the fading sun and dust. The streets are lined with strange, broad trees and flowers so that even in the middle of the city the world is lush. The people dress handsomely: the men in pleated pants and ironed button-ups, the women in their patterned, jeweled saris or tunics with glittering ornaments dripping from noses, ears, and hands. The children robe themselves in smiles and laughter. Prayer flags are strung over all of Majnu Ka Tilla in dense clusters, symbols of a cry for freedom that flutter even in the oppressive heat. Monuments, temples, and street vendors alike are laden rich with India. She herself makes her possessions beautiful.

On the taxi ride last night, I scribbled a phrase: “world turned upside down.” At the time I merely meant details like trucks that read “honk please” and the fact that diesel is cheaper than gasoline. But I think it strikes to the heart of an American’s confusion with New Delhi. Our world is turned upside down here. The poverty is unwieldy and incurable—no government programs or education can help them here. Your social status is usually fixed for life. The cleanliness that matters is not your bathroom or your street, it’s your soul and your presentation of yourself. And being American means something. I’m still wrestling with that one. I am frustrated with my country for a hundred reasons, and the list is always growing. However, it’s hard to keep that mindset when Indian teenagers ask you, a complete stranger, “please, madam, one picture?” All they want you to do is stand next to them and smile for the camera. Your name, your age, your religion, your reason for being in India do not matter: all that matters is that you are American. Why? I don’t understand. I don’t expect the trip will change it, but the journey is turning my world upside down.

*     *     *

This hasn’t been the half of my reactions to and reflections on New Delhi. Tomorrow we fly to Goa. I’m not sure if I’ll have wifi there, but I’m taking good notes on everything! If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can come up with for an answer.

Namaste. May the God of peace be with you always.

oh, hello / oh, goodbye

I, Clara Emaline, have had the seedling idea for a blog for some time, but it was not until this week—the week I set off on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the lush and pulsing subcontinent of India—that I set the thing in soil. For various reasons, this coincidence may turn out to be rather unfortunate, but we shall see.

Here, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the date is June 6 and the time is, rather miserably, 12:45am. In New Delhi, where I will be in a mere 48 hours, it is also June 6, but 11:15am. (Whoever heard of a half-hour time zone? India, apparently.)

For the new faces (or old ones who haven’t caught up with me in a while), I am studying abroad for three weeks in India with the University of Arkansas’ TEXT Program. “TEXT” stands for “Tibetans in Exile Today.” (For an insufficient summary of the Tibetan political dilemma, go [here].) My team is made up of nineteen souls: fifteen students, one grad student, one English professor, one Tibetan Buddhist monk, and me. Along with large cases of clothing and Germ-X, we are toting bags of cameras, microphones, headphones, tripods, a boom pole, and a fat binder filled with information on the Tibetans that we will interview for TEXT’s oral history project on Tibetans living in exile in India. Along the way, we’ll befriend Buddhist monks, wander through a jungle, and stare at a really old place called the Taj Mahal. Also, there is a distinct possibility that we may board an elephant. Stay tuned.

It’s not a normal trip, and my posts about it won’t be normal study abroad posts, because I’m not a normal person and this isn’t a normal blog. I have one goal in life, and that is to point forever toward the brilliant beauty of my Savior, Jesus Christ, and how real it is in life. I have secondary goals, like learn things, see new places, become acquainted with different cultures, and make friends; all of those things will come into play here, but I repeat, they are secondary. This blog will not be my personal prayer journal, but I won’t flinch from talking openly about the interaction between my faith and my journey, whether writing about my experiences in India or Fayetteville. I hope and pray that my struggles, thoughts, prayers, and lessons can be of encouragement, inspiration, and use to others.