Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Running with Candles

At Princeton Seminary we have a tradition at Christmas.  After our Carols of Many Nations Concert--which ends in a stirring rendition of Silent Night sung while holding candles--we walk out into the main quad, candles still lit, and sing carols.  This is the trickiest part of the evening.  How do you walk dressed in a long choir robe, with a candle in one hand and a program with lyrics for carols in the other?  If you dash out into the night, especially a windy night, your candle will go out (and you might trip to boot).  If you hold your candle too close to your program you may light it on fire, but then how can you see what you're supposed to be singing (especially after they've changed all the hymns to be gender-neutral and you constantly forget to sing "God Rest Ye Merry Christians All" instead of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen")?  So, you must balance, walk carefully into that good night.  You must discipline your steps and keep your eye close on the flickering flame.  

This is where I am.  I'm running with candles.  I have talents, loves, passions.  Like tiny flames they light my way.  But I've decided to run with them, and soon they will flicker out.

Now is the time where you, faithful reader, may assume that I am bragging.  And I probably am, unintentionally.  Nevertheless, I think that in quite a few ways I've scooted through life, run through it without barriers.  School has never been gut-wrenchingly difficult for me.  I've miraculously run right into Graduate school with only a smattering of A- to my name.  I've even somehow received scholarships without interviews, positions without trouble.  Almost everything has gone my way.  And yet.  And yet I feel as if because of that I'm running with candles.

I'm certainly passionate about things: about reading and writing and the people of God.  But I realize that that passion is about to be winked out of existence in the backdraft of my headlong run through life.  Put succinctly: I have no discipline.  I can pass a test by skimming texts, study for two hours when it takes others ten.  I can write a six page paper in under an hour and still get more than a passing grade.  And so I've never steeled myself to discipline.  And in the end, I've given myself the short end of the stick.

I do remember things that I've read that I love, quotes that stick in my mind, but they are vague illusory ghosts, not striking images that shape me, not strong cornerstones of thought.  I do not read as deeply as I would like.  I do not write as often.  Even as I pledged in my last post to be more reckless in not editing myself overmuch, I now have to look at myself and wonder if I don't need to simultaneously be more disciplined.

I don't want to lose these things that I love.  I don't want to fall back into doing something, living something, being something that I don't love because of expediency.  I've seen too many good friends who feel lost and adrift because they lost their grip on the things that made them passionate, the talents that they had.  Instead of nurturing them, they ran wild into the wind, and their candles, their talents, their passions burned out.  

I want to write.  I want to read deeply, to memorize passages, to think again long hours into the night.  I don't want to domesticate myself.  I want to be reckless.  But I'm finding that, in order to be reckless, I must be disciplined.  If I want to read and write every day, I must set aside time to do so.  If I want to write songs again, I must set aside time to do so.  If I want to retain my sanity and protect my tiny light from the ravaging wind of my situation and my needs and the greed and pressure and force of the world, and academia, and the media and entertainment...really the harsh, cold, bitter wind of my own faults and wayward ways...I must have discipline.

So, reading my last two posts together, is there such a thing as Reckless Discipline?  Or a Passionate Routine?

Thanks for sticking with me, faithful reader.


Anonymous said...

I believe you know me well enough to realize that I strongly agree with both. (though I think perhaps Passionate Routine describes me best???) So... who am I? Love you! Thanks for blogging again.

Tim Florence said...


As one who has had to learn discipline (well I'm learning it), I would say that having a disciplined life while leaving yourself open to the Spirit's call is the best!

Faina said...

I really identify with what you said about not having discipline because things have always come relatively easy. While I've worked hard to get to where I am now (possibly poised on the precipice of grad school in the fall?), I know that I've let a lot of things slide because I'm capable of cranking out papers the night before and getting A's with minimal studying. I worry that that won't be enough.

In any case, keep updating. I'm interested in seeing how you live your life with reckless discipline.

Laurie said...

This is not the kind of comment you're looking for, but...

...gender neutral hymns?!?!