I suspect that I am not alone among bloggers in that my blog has not turned out to be anything like what I had imagined it would be at the outset. You can see here on this front page – in the upper right-hand corner – that I had originally intended to write about home repairs, guitar music and bible studies. Except for the first few posts – which were about my work on the foundation drain of this very old house of mine – I don’t recall posting a single paragraph about any one of these subjects. Instead, this blog has consisted in the main of my efforts at poetry. Before this evolution, I would have laughed at the idea that I would ever have started a poetry blog. I am not sure exactly how this happened. Most of it, probably, is due to the fact that my time for giving attention to this blog is very limited. What I often do, then, is dash off a poem in the early morning and post it before my inner critic has had a chance to convince me that it is of no value. Sometimes I do the same in the afternoon. More often than not, these compositions take shape in only a few minutes. I never get tired of pressing that “Publish” button and knowing that my thoughts – however imperfect they may be – are out there for the world to see.
Another factor in the mix is the reaction of readers. I have found, to my surprise and delight, that there are actually people out there who read these efforts of mine, some of whom are actually moved to press the “like” button and give me some evidence that I am striking a chord. For an aspiring writer who has experienced his share of rejection and disappointment, this immediate, positive feedback is like a drug.
But today is an exception. This afternoon I began a long holiday weekend. I am at home right now, on my comfy back porch, listening to the cardinals and mockingbirds in my trees and to Pablo Casals on my Pandora App. I had planned to mow the lawn on this early afternoon. We’ve had nearly daily rain here for weeks and my yard is out of control. But it rained yet again, preventing me from even trying to make a dent in it, so I am, happily, sequestered under the veranda roof with my books and laptop and the luxury of time to write something a bit more substantial than usual.
I don’t want to reveal much in the way of personal information. That’s never been part of my idea here, but this much is necessary for an understanding of what is to come in the next few paragraphs: I am, as they say on television, of a certain age. Not decrepit, mind you (I did see the Rolling Stones in concert a few days ago. They still rock, and they are quite a bit older than me). But I admit this here only to let you know that I am in a position now to look back on life. What I see is not always comforting. I have been blessed far beyond my deserving, no doubt about that, and I do enjoy domestic happiness and good health.
But my accomplishments are modest and it is easy to convince myself that they are not at all what they ought to have been or would have been if only I had been wiser, braver or more energetic. If you are anywhere near my age, you probably know the drill.
Early this morning I was meditating on this theme and had made the issue a part of my morning prayers.
For some time it has also been one part of my morning ritual to read a few pages in the Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. He has influenced me more than any other modern writer. I’m fascinated with his style. You may disagree with what he is saying, but he will not let you misunderstand him. He is to the point and has the ability to make complicated and nuanced matters very clear. More importantly, he takes on the big questions; the ones that always dogged me about religion and morality, and he comes up with wonderful, satisfying answers.
I read his letters in this way because they are one of the few of his non-scholarly works that I have not already read and because you can read them in small bites, day by day. Many of the letters are not all that interesting. In some he is telling his editors where he wants punctuation. Some letters are short responses to friends arranging travel or dinners.
But often enough he engages a subject or question in his inimitable way, getting right to the heart of some matter in only a paragraph or two. And on this morning, when I was discomfited about my own shortcomings, I happened to read a response he wrote to someone who had inquired about “stable sentiments” and “adjustment to life.” Here is Lewis’s sober and clear-eyed response:
As to your other question, I wonder whether you are on the right track in expecting ‘stable sentiments’ and ‘successful adjustment to life’. This is the language of modern psychology rather than of religion or even common experience, and I sometimes think that when the psychologists speak of adjustment to life they really mean perfect happiness and unbroken good fortune! Not to get – or, worse still, not to be – what one wants is not a disease that can be cured, but the normal condition of man. To feel guilty, when one is guilty, and to realise, not without pain, one’s moral and intellectual inadequacy, is not a disease, but commonsense. To find that one’s emotions do not ‘come to heel’ and line up as stable sentiments in perfect conformity with one’s convictions is simply the facts of being a fallen, and still imperfectly redeemed, man.