My friend Brian Brown sent a letter out to a small circle of friends a few weeks ago as a point of encouragement when many of us were staring down difficulties and dragons. I love what he shared with us so much I asked Brian if I could share it with Cultivating readers also, as many of us here are also facing difficulties and dragons as well. Brian’s words are true for you too, and I pray you will find a resonant note of courage and hope in them. (Lancia)
I sent a bit of this to one of you this morning, and then I realized many of us might need it. For the rest, I apologize for what may seem like uncharacteristic drama from an Anglican.
As a few of us have observed to each other in recent months, this quest we are on–the renewal of the Christian imagination–must indeed cross cherished territory for the Enemy, because anyone who gets too close to it gets hit with a sledgehammer. It has been different for each of us–clear assaults like breathtaking tragedies, financial collapses, and warring within our families; or more subtle incursions like overwhelming stress or depression or the constant attrition of busyness and other priorities. One way or another, it has taken its toll on many of us, and has left at least half a dozen of us beaten and bleeding on the ground, dazed and grappling with the questions: why are we doing this, how can we go on, and how can it possibly matter? Perhaps it is time to be realistic. Perhaps I need to focus on things closer to home. Perhaps I just need to put my head down and survive. And most insidious, perhaps this isn’t what God’s calling me to do.
I am one of those half-dozen, and I have gone through all those thoughts in the last few months. So I want to remind you all of two things.
I just finished The Green Ember
by S.D. Smith. Smith does a phenomenal job dramatizing in story and images C.S. Lewis’s “Learning in Wartime” sermon (and really, taking it a step further). He shows a people who, under threat of the imminent and inevitable destruction of their beloved woods, throw themselves into gardening and architecture and cooking; constructing holy places that will probably be torn down tomorrow, and savory meals that won’t survive the day. They do this because, as feeble, fleeting, and superfluous as such efforts may seem, they are the work of a people who more than anything want to be ready to live in a Mended Wood. They know manning the walls is not enough, for the enemy may breach them. They know minding their own business is no guarantee of safety, for there too the enemy may find them.
The reason we crazy people keep sticking our necks out in these “unnecessary” endeavors, things that don’t put food on the table or feed the poor or preach the Gospel on a street corner, is because, even when we’re trying to talk ourselves out of it, we know that building good and true and beautiful things is what we were made for. And in a world where too few people do it, doing it visibly, and inspiring others to do it, is perhaps the greatest offensive weapon the mortals on our side possess. What you are doing, however small or uncertain it might feel at the moment, is a powerful blow in a war that, thanks be to God, we cannot lose.
Which brings me to the second point:
You are indeed on the offensive. You are indeed far too deep into enemy territory (for his comfort at any rate). You are exposed, for you have risked everything. In a crowd of silent people, overshadowed by darkness, you have raised your head to sing. Some of you occasionally wonder if you really have to add such trouble to your already difficult lives. And others rightly feel as though the next song, the next short story, the next workshop, the next met deadline, could be the last you manage before your strength gives out or your circumstances swallow you up.
And this is the other impression I took away from Smith’s book. It won’t be any newer to you than it was to me, but it might be something we need just now as much as anyone. We ask how our tiny little strugglings could make a difference, or why God could possibly be allowing the darkness to close in so.
In such times, in such places,
It is precisely the people who sing that next song who are the heroes.
I know and love you all, and I had to remind you of that: you are heroes. Your story is not over today, for it is not your Story. I do not know the purpose of your present troubles, or my own, and I do not know if your individual roads will dip still further downward before they turn up (if they turn up at all). But you hold high ground in the Enemy’s territory, and you are not alone in defending it.
Fight on. Sing on.
With my sincere and deep thanks to Brian Brown, founder of the Anselm Society. He continues to be a source of wisdom, courage, laughter, and festive events – a wellspring of joy and an oasis in a cultural desert.
The C.S. Lewis essay, “Learning in Wartime,” along with 8 other addresses, is found in The Weight of Glory, I cannot recommend it highly enough to you.
Many blessings and every grace to you, friends!
Brian Brown is the founder and director of the Anselm Society, whose mission is a renaissance of the Christian imagination. He also serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Brian lives with his wife Christina and their two children in Colorado, where they mix cocktails, hunt for historic architecture, and see how many people they can squeeze into their house for scintillating conversation.