Tag Archives: Evelyn Waugh

Confession: I’m sad, I’m really sad. I’ve been sad for nearly two months. Ain’t that sad?

It’s like Julia Flyte says about living in sin: “Living in it, with it, every hour, every day…feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial1 if it’s fretful. Always the same, like an idiot child carefully nursed, guarded from the world. ‘Poor Steve,’ they say, ‘he can’t go out. He’s got to take care of his sadness.’”

Yarr, I hate being like this: it makes me want to make pirate noises, like Yarr. No, that’s exactly what it doesn’t do. It makes me want to never make pirate noises again, because WHAT IS THE POINT OF PIRATE NOISES when you are SO SAD.

I didn’t want to tell you about it because you’ll be all like “Oh Steve, have you tried giving your life to the Lord and then he will tell you how much he loves you and it will be fine?” and I’ll be all like “Yes, but it DIDN’T HELP VERY MUCH.” And you’ll say “Well but have you tried taking some pills” and I’ll say “Only St. John’s Wort because at least St. John’s Wort is a plant,” and you’ll say “What good are plants when you can have chemicals!!” and I’ll say “I don’t want any chemicals in my brain, just plants!!!”

And then you will go on about exercise and eating right and getting out of the house and having a Support Network and being with friends and thinking positive thoughts, and possibly not believe me when I tell you I have done all those things and am still doing them, but that the sadness still sticks around, like some kind of parasite whose preferred places of residence are the spaces behind your eyes and way up under your ribcage and way down in the pit of your stomach.

I want to kill it, drown it in a bucket of water like a puppy, if I were the kind of person who drowned puppies even when there was a very good reason, which I assume I am not, although I have never had occasion to find out. I want to rip it out from where it lives and grind it into the dirt, like Uma Thurman grinds Daryl Hannah’s eyeball in Kill Bill, even though that was a really gross scene. Take that, eyeball, take that, sadness!

Yech. So, for the advice-prone among you, you should know: this is, for once, not about Having the Proper Perspective or Giving Thanks for the Small Things or Not Throwing a Pity Party or any of those things. Sure, those things are good, and I’m working on all of them, and actually I think I’m pretty good at them by now.

This is something else, because I’m not sad because of being depressed, if you see what I mean. I’m sad because I’m in a rotten situation, and it’s one I can’t tell you about, at least not yet, and it’s one I can’t get out of, at least not immediately. Oh, how I’m trying to get out of it. You’ll just have to take my word that I’m doing the best I can. I don’t know when it’ll be over, and I don’t know how long it’ll take me to recover after it is over, and it’s hard not to know those things.

Meanwhile, all I’ve got is trust in the Lord. Also disgusting metaphors about eyeballs and puppies. Well, that’s something. Oh, actually, I’m feeling much better now.

1 I’m assuming that “Dial” does not mean soap, because that does not seem like a very helpful thing to do to a baby, even if it is antibacterial. I mean the soap, not the baby.

“‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ‘It’s going to rain’, would that be bound to happen?’
‘Oh, yes, Father.’
‘But supposing it didn’t?’
He thought a moment and said, “I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’”1

How many times have you prayed and actually expected an answer?

“For peace among all the nations, we pray to the Lord. –Lord, hear our prayer.” Yeah, right, we in the pews are thinking, and I’d like a pony, too. Stop our wars! Cure our cancer! Get my brother-in-law a job! But please, don’t bother if it’s too much trouble.

Prayer is supposed to be a conversation with another Person, and we pretend that it is, but more often it’s really a kind of wishful monologue, an airing of vague desires. We should be saying, Please won’t you do this? But more often we’re really saying: Wouldn’t it be nice if that were possible.

That’s not prayer, it’s wishful thinking. I call it wishful thinking, not because it’s unrealistic to expect God to answer our prayers, but because we don’t expect anything of the kind. We manage our expectations, like a cancer patient waiting for the results of his latest test. Because we secretly suspect that God either doesn’t exist, or just doesn’t care. Or maybe, we tell ourselves, he’ll answer our prayers “in a spiritual sense” — which is to say, not at all.

It’s like a man who won’t try to walk after spinal surgery: Maybe my legs will work and maybe they won’t, but if I stay in this wheelchair then I can’t be disappointed.

Last Sunday I went to Adoration angry. I didn’t know why I was angry, didn’t even notice the storm building until it was already a typhoon. I went to give God half an hour, but five minutes in I realized it wouldn’t be enough, and told him so: No, you’re not getting off that easy. You tell me what this is about. I’ve got all evening, and I’m not leaving until you say something.

He said something, all right. He showed me a memory,2 an old unhealed wound from 15 years ago. Okay, I said, so why did you let it happen? Why did you let me get hurt that way? Where were you? I was almost surprised when he answered that question, too, and answered it to my satisfaction.

Sorry, readers, you don’t get to know the answer. I don’t think it would mean anything to you even if I told you; you’ll have to ask Jesus for your own answers. But what he said to me made me sob and shake like a toddler in his father’s arms.

Which is exactly where I was, and where I remain.

1 Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited.
2 This, and what comes after, has very much to do with the book I’m reading — Crisis in Masculinity, by Leanne Payne. The book talks about something called the healing of memories, which is exactly what happened here. Do take a look!

“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“Can’t I?”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes. I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”
“But I do. That’s how I believe.”1

One of my favorite things about being a Christian is the fact that there’s no such thing as “too good to be true.” The phrase is a contradiction: being Christian means knowing that the good and the true are the same. The truer a thing is, the more good it is, and vice versa.

I know the Brideshead quotation sounds like pure naïveté. In one sense it is. Anybody who lives in the world knows that true things, facts, are very often not good and not beautiful. You just have to read the news. Forget that, you just have to walk down the street: every time I walk out of the Y, the same junkies are sitting on the curb, too drugged out even to know how miserable they are.2

Forget even walking down the street, you just have to grow up in the 21st century, in your own family. I don’t care how wonderful your family is; whenever you get any group of people together there will be bitterness, misunderstanding, and even cruelty. That’s not what people are at heart, but it’s what sin does to the world.

Christianity doesn’t deny any of those things. On the contrary, I don’t know of any system of thought that takes suffering more seriously: even after Jesus rose from the dead in glory, there were still nail wounds in his hands.

Christianity doesn’t even say, “Yes, the world’s dreadful but if you just wait long enough you’ll die and then you’ll get to be happy!” To be Christian isn’t to ignore suffering or to wait for it to be over, but to “accept and use suffering as Christ did: that is, as a creative, redemptive act.”3 To make suffering the tool of love.

Christianity says this: the best things are also the truest things, and the most beautiful. Beautiful things are beautiful because they are true. That’s what beauty is: it is what truth does to us. We are built to be drawn to truth, to love it like a mole loves dirt, like meat loves salt.4

Being a Christian means never having to decide between what’s true and what you love. It’s just that figuring out what you love, and what love is, takes time, and learning how to strip away everything else.

1 From Brideshead Revisited.
2 Okay, so I’m trying to make the place I live sound a little more badass than it is. Mainly it’s just Main Street that’s like that.
3 Archbishop Chaput’s Render Unto Caesar, p. 47.
4 I forget whether the meat-and-salt thing is from King Lear or Cap-o’-Rushes, maybe both. But about that: I was at the beach recently with my older sister. Her kids found these strange little crab-things that live just under the surface, where the waves meet the beach. When you dig them up, they burrow back into the sand so quickly it’s like they’re moving through melted butter. My sister said, It’s like that story about the Zen disciple who wanted to see God: that’s how they must feel, they want to get into that sand so bad. I have a cool sister.