Saturday, October 30, 2010

#204-Hope. A citation about demons, Ouija boards, T.S. Eliot, and bumps in the night

Caption: Is this not the perfect embodiment of the eeriness of this time of year?!? It's a picture my mom took when I was two years old. If you can't tell, it's at least triple exposed (boy in pumpkin costume, barn, and outline of people at top of barn). 
Editor's Note: This one may be a bit different for a blog post. I struggled with it, because it was perhaps the least typical of all SAL Posts, but take it for what it is worth. Also, keep in mind, I am in the Midwest which more than most places has a very distinct Autumn flavor to it. If you are not familiar with the scene I am portraying, please make sure you get up to the rural lodges of Wisconsin/Illinois/Minnesota/Ohio/Pennsylvania/Minnesota at least once in your lifetime during the month of October. Point being: Excuse my romanticism for this time of year, but if you lived here, you would so be doing the same thing.


Hoping for Hope
If there is one shortcoming which I think supersedes all the rest in my generation and younger, it is that we struggle with hope. With the onset of technology and the internet, the world's ailments smack us in the face harder and faster than ever before. It becomes especially problematic when we dive into the history books and find out that in almost every generation for the past 500 years (with special intensity of this belief in the past 200 years) believed and were told that their generation would be the last because God was coming back. My pastor's generation was told that his generation would be the last and now we are told the same. What is there to hope for? Monetary success? We see it's limits. Jesus' return? Yeah, but we've heard it for so long and preached so loudly, that there is some doubt that this will happen in our lifetime (much of us don't even believe in the pre-tribulation rapture= here today, gone tomorrow theology to keep you on your toes). If we can recapture the hope for our generation, I think much of the concern for us and where we are going will be dampened. It would be our gravity to our tendency to drift.

As for me, I hope not, yet I am not hopeless. Rather I hope for the possibility of hope. I have not found hope but I dig amidst the muck all the more so to find it. And with this in mind...


I love October. The bonfires in the middle of nowhere. The chilly climate demanding the use of sweatshirts promoting your favorite college sports team. The Halloween decorations on front lawns (even if you are not a participant yourself). The grimness of the season, a foreshadowing of the cold, vengeful winter to come where the vegetation dies. Autumn and it's gloom with trees burning on fire and the leaf piles on the side of the road that will soon follow those fiery trees. The autumn, a celebration of the harvest collection that will sustain you in the hopeless dark winters. I seriously love this time of year. It reminds us the fun and festival of summer was but a season, when play seemed limitless. Fall announces the great inward turning into self and indoors, the places where sane men grow mad. 

Then there is Halloween (in our case, Harvest Parties). The Jack-o-Lanterns, and the monster costumes as the last hurrah laughing at us and our human inability to remain in the peaceful bliss of summer. As Nietzche says, 

"The Festival of peace is just a masked ball where in the back rooms, rage & resentment primp for their own grand entrance toward the end of the evening."

I can think of no better definition of October and Halloween...The waning minutes before the rage of winter. All we are left to do in this time is trick ourselves into a controlled fear in preparation for the death blows of winter and give a little candy to innocent and spoiled children along the way.

I write all this October romanticism as a self declared Mr.October. I thrive in it's dread and perhaps the most incremental part of living October for us is the scary stories that are bound to come about ever so subtly on these harrowing evenings every year. And don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. Either it's a horror movie on TV that gave you nightmares as a kid when you were up way past your bedtime or your storytelling relative telling you an urban legend at night around a bonfire that gave you so many goosebumps that you wondered if you were secretly a scaly reptile.

Or perhaps, when you think of October, you think about that fright night visiting friends up at Western Michigan University to party as a backslider 7 years ago when your pagan friends made you the designated driver for the evening and in retaliation that night, you forced them in their drunken buffoonery to go into a seemingly haunted and abandoned insane asylum (pictured here):

Upon entry on the third floor inside the building with your friends, you encounter the most paranormal encounter of your life complete with loud and thunderous footsteps racing up the staircase behind you and walking towards you in the hallway the group is facingThen there were the doors! The doors that inexplicably opened and slammed shut as you brave men walked that hallway waiting for the first person to confess they literally went to the bathroom in their pants. And no matter how hard you try to rationally explain away the experience you know you cannot take away the horror that occurred that night. (This so totally happened and I totally am cynical about it all  even though such cynicism is pure self deception so I can sleep well at night even though my friends and I who encountered the asylum that night could not sleep the entire night of the incident).

Or if you're Apostolic, October always means scary stories about Ouija Boards. Those stupid demon infested Ouija boards and the parents who encountered them before they were saved and the tales of those dreadful encounters they force onto our souls. Usually couches being lifted are involved in the Ouija story or things thrown across the room by demons are involved. We eat this stuff up. 

In the same vain I offer the following fictional scary story that ends with corny but quite symbolically applicable ending:

Dry Salvages
As you know my descent into "emergent  subjective liberal communism" has left me feeling so alone. Unreachable from most. I left the fun costume party where bodies gather amongst each other to hide away from the dark night outside. I left because I knew in that glorious noise, I could not hear God within my self so should He speak to me. I set out into that dark night wherein I would encounter but a few souls whose wonderings into that into that treacherous country where each going into their own undefinable direction, each with pale-face, half-dead. The biting wind outside was so intense that communication impossible. If one were to speak the wind would carry it away outright so as to ever attempt any kind of conversation would be a futile attempt. The wondering souls then could only be dependent on self, and the confusion within. Head nods from the hollow faces then are the only kind of recognition one wondering soul can give to another. 

So I continue on into the chilly night. I even hear faint whispers of a human variety and I just tell myself it's the wind wrestling through the trees. Of course it's only the trees. Ghosts don't exist. Although I have goosebumps. And I can see the path that I am on only a few feet in front of me at each step. The moon is dimly lit tonight. I walk on trying to laugh at myself and the paranoia raging inside me of over-thinking every noise i hear. But then, the sound of cracking branches, coming from the the woods that run parallel to this path I am on. Cracking Branches! Someone is in the woods. Something is following me. It wants to devour my soul. It can see me and I can only hear it. It's only a critter probably. A squirrel or something. What is this path I am on? Where am I going? Where does this path even lead to? 

I could continue trying to write on about my walk on this path, talking continually, trying to pathetically portray the sense that I am getting the sense that I am being stalked by a specter or mauling beast, or both, but it would be monotonous and am now realizing how I have no idea how to write a scary story with mounting tension, so let's get to the main part....

Little Gidding 

This skinny path: It has a destination.

It's a wooden creepy shack that screams "THIS IS SO THE SITE OF A GOOD SCARY MOVIE!" Because it's in the middle of nowhere and there is a heap of trees surrounding it. The shack was even built on an old Indian burial grounds. And because I need a rest, this is where I will settle. The shack also has no electricity, meaning I can only see inside via the sole candle-lit hand lamp that is mysteriously lit once I walk inside. The entire shack is but one square room, with a dusty rotted desk, one wooden chair and one table which was supporting the hand lamp. On the walls are black and white dusty photos from the early 1900's of old people with stern looks judging you. They are portraits of people long dead in clothing so modest that it makes Apostolics look like hedonists in comparison. The various women pictured in the photographs are wearing dresses so broad they they could host an immigrant family underneath as proper shelter.

There is also a Footloose poster of a smiling Keving Bacon on the wall looking oh so youthful and handsome. When I see this poster, I know that me being in this shack is so right, right now.

I set the lamp on the desk and wait for God’s voice in the dark night. I pick up the book that was so conveniently left for me, T.S. Eliot’s 4 Quartets.

I stumble on stanzas like this (if you don't like poetry, feel free to skip):

   Where is there an end of it, the soundless wailing,
The silent withering of autumn flowers
Dropping their petals and remaining motionless;
Where is there and end to the drifting wreckage,
The prayer of the bone on the beach, the unprayable
Prayer at the calamitous annunciation?
    There is no end, but addition: the trailing
Consequence of further days and hours,
While emotion takes to itself the emotionless
Years of living among the breakage
Of what was believed in as the most reliable—
And therefore the fittest for renunciation.
    There is the final addition, the failing
Pride or resentment at failing powers,
The unattached devotion which might pass for devotionless,
In a drifting boat with a slow leakage,
The silent listening to the undeniable
Clamour of the bell of the last annunciation.

Suddenly I hear a noise. Outside. Some clamoring. Some more broken branches. The dark thing from the path has so followed me. My hands get clammy. I am not who I once was. Conclusions must be reached about the prowler outside so as to make sense of my plight. He is a serial killer. This is the only explanation. I look to the window and catch a glimpse of a shadowy human figure looking back at me with it’s hands cupped around it’s eyes against the window as if it’s trying to see me, but just as I glimpse it, it vanishes. I hurry to the window with a lamp because I am a horror movie idiot. Bouncing heart. Dread. My life will end tonight. Violent images going through my mind of what is to become of me. One of them resulting in me being impaled and my body left to rot for weeks on end as a testament to some obscure god of these haunted woods.

When I get to the window, I see the prowler lurking. It is so doing one of these numbers:

It so wants inside this place. Am I trespassing?

I lock door because there is also a rusted lock on the wooden door I forgot to mention.

And just as I lock the door, the door knob rattles and turns from the outside. I step back, and faint. Even though I am not the fainting type. I come to after God knows how long at the hard pounding of the prowler knocking at the door. The room is hazy because of the fainting spell as I am laid out on the floor. At this moment of solidarity I would rather be anywhere but here. The costume party sounds so good and comforting right now, where I can be free to ignore the horrors that lurk about in the night. But here alone, the things that haunt are haunting on me and I can’t tell anyone about it, because like every other good horror movie these days, I am getting no cell phone service on my phone.

The pounding on the door won’t stop. In my fear I utter the only word one can so sheepishly mutter during these times… “Jesus.” The knocking immediately stops. After the knocking ceases, I gather myself, stand up, grow tall in my pride reminding myself that through Him I can confront all things. Try to ignore the horror around me. I read Eliot again:

 There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,
No end to the withering of withered flowers,
To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,
To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,
The bone's prayer to Death its God.

I look to the window after reading that stanza and somehow there is dirtied blood smattered across it. Dirty, faded blood on the window. Good God Man!

A few moments later, I hear something slipped under the door. A note! I walk over to the note. Perhaps it’s a “cease fire” agreement? No. All it says is “WINDOW!”

At the next instant, a rock comes bursting through the window. Bloody shards of glass everywhere. I look to the rock. It too has a note attached to it tied by a rubber-band. I pick up the rock and read the note. It reads: “Open the door you coward! Better to die now than Later. LOL!”

LOL? This dude is so just messing with me at this point.

I run to the window which is now a vacuum or a giant wind tunnel to flood the shack. I see nothing.




And then I see him:

When I saw that image, I grow instantly scared again. I sit at desk. I proceed to Read this:

 Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)

The door is then pounded on again. The killer has an entry point now through the window and he’s still knocking? This is so messed up.

Somewhere the note runs through my head. Something was logical about it. The concept of not letting myself live like this. In such a misery waiting for my demise. Die now. Die Later.

But I wait.  I hesitate. I sigh deeply.

I walk to the door and unlock the lock. I open door. Accept the fate of what is on the other side.

And there He is. Staring .I stare back. He wasn’t so scary looking. Rather, a bit homely and thin. Also tanner than I would have expected for a serial killer. He also has a beard. Like me. Lonely me. This whole staring back and fourth between prowler and me, a bit awkward, let me tell you. He eases the tension by cracking a smile. I am so no returning the smile back. What a sick man to be smiling at a moment like this when he is about to kill me. There is nothing happy about this moment.

Also, I should mention that he is holding a flame thrower in his arms. A flame thrower? Couldn’t he have been more creative? But I must say, death by flamethrower is the way to go out!

I will die by fire. Consumed by that scary mans fire.

He looks at me some more. Elevates his weapon and aims it at me. This is so comedic, I know.

He smiles again, and says “thanks.”

Waits a second. Then says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him.”

My eyes get all big like “Wha?!?”

But all I utter is that one word you always say wen you are about to die by flamethrower: “Jesus.”

He says “Bingo.”

I Say “Good God Man!”

He says “You’ll thank me later.”

Trigger pulled.

I instantly am burning in flames. Dying as a ball of flames. I am trying to do that whole “stop, drop, and roll” thing to put the fire out and it’s so not working. I am squirming in such a stupid panic. I am on fire though, so I have an excuse.

(Fade out)

That verse he quoted about Jesus knocking and waiting for you to answer. What it fails to mention is the setting and time that He’s knocking. Most people look to hear the knocking at church on a Sunday Sunny Afternoon in the Summer. For me it’s in theses dark and dreadful nights in October in a metaphorical wooden shack all alone. Here is where I find him knocking. I thought all those knocks that I was hearing in the shack would be the death of me. So I hid and trembled in fear of what was on the other side of the door. I was half-right. The man knocking wanted my death. So he could give life.
I am so resuurected right now after being lit on fire by the Son of Man (told you this had a corny ending).

Now if only I could have the guts to open such a door that results in my death every day of my life. But I am too cowardly for that on some days so I shake in fear instead in fear of the loss o myself, because deep inside I want the preservation of what is most important to me: Myself.

Don’t you see? We see Jesus as this happy dude who saved my life and we can still live the rest of our lives in these mortal bodies rolling around in lilies with him telling everyone how great Jesus is. But, while this is a good aspect of Jesus, it distorts the reality that there is a dreadful weight to the message as well. Jesus: Life giver. But also a murderer  (of my flesh). One aspect of Jesus sounds absolutely spectacular and obvious. The other, not so much. Yet only when I face my demons that are telling me that I am too important to die today, and say “Jesus, you kill these thoughts too…”  it is here that I really begin to grasp the resurrection that is promised to us.

Our generation needs hope. It is, personally, what I lack. Christianity is just a waiting game for me. And I think it may be because I want to launch myself into the optimism of the Christian message and the lamb sleeping with lion in a field of lillies and stuff, but I can't figure out why, when I launch myself as so, the hope ends up empty. And perhaps it's because I/you are looking forward to something that we in our flesh cannot know of or take part of. The hope will only be found in the death, any other attempt to get at the hope without the continual struggle and battle is a self-deceiving counterfeit Christianity. I am still hoping to find hope one day. Sooner, hopefully than later.

1 comment:

  1. your best work of fiction to date if you ask me. i didn't "feel" the fear (as much as you can feel fear through the screen of a computer while you're safe in bed) until the clips started though. but when you get to the fear and loneliness, Eliot becomes almost a distraction and i just wanted to skim through him except that i thought he might turn out to be relevant so i read him. and maybe he was relevant, i don't know, but i totally left the party for this killer to follow me into a shack so whatever's in there, i'll read, only to pass time, just waiting for my killer to knock. ha! i hope for death! i hope in death.