Tag Archives: George MacDonald

Guess what you guys! We interrupt our regular schedule of not-posting-on-Thursdays to bring you this post over on Catholic Exchange. It’s really nice to be writing publicly as Joseph Prever again; I mean, it’s really nice for there to be only one of me.

It’s also nice to write stuff that isn’t about gayness in particular. Anyway, here’s an excerpt.

Is it safe to expose children to such dark images? I think so, or as safe as any real poetry can be; poetry is no tame lion. At that age, I had no categories in my mind for real darkness, and so the darkness couldn’t get in to do me damage. But the image stayed; which meant that when the reality showed up years later, I was not defenseless.

Maybe you could go over there and leave comments, so they’ll think I’m awesome and post my stuff all the time. Peace.

Is there anything more beautiful than the human face? Beautiful because it manifests the mystery of incarnation: meat made more than meat, flesh quickened by spirit, the breath of God made visible; the way the wind is made visible when it moves the trees.

Faces show love, show what it looks like, a visible image of the invisible. Think of Jesus’ face in Mark 10:21: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The loving is in the looking.

It is said1 that, just as the Son is the Word of the Father, so the Holy Spirit is the Look of love that the Father exchanges with the Son.

Or look again at the face of Charles de Foucauld: impossible to say where that Look resides: the mouth? the eyes? somewhere between? Wherever it is, the man’s face is lit from the inside.

But faces show other things besides love. Someone has said that, by the time he is forty, a man has the face he deserves;2 which is to say, our faces sometimes reveal things we would rather keep hidden. I have often noted that the wounded, those who have been particularly marked by suffering, wear a certain look, as definite and unmistakable as a taste on the tongue.

I’ve seen it in friends, I’ve seen it in family, I see it sometimes in a stranger walking down the street — a quick flash of something permeable, something naked, something crying for healing. I’ve even seen it in those who have made it their business to hide it. Nobody wants that kind of pain to be visible, but pain will out.3

I don’t mean that people’s souls are open books to me, far from it, but still: I know what I know.4 When you’ve known a particular pain from the inside, you can recognize it in others, the way Jadis descries the mark of a magician (however faint) in the face of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew.

I wonder if this is part of the secret to “gaydar.” Not every man with SSA wears the look of the wounded — and not everyone who wears the look has SSA — but it’s there often enough.

And even those who don’t know what it means sometimes react to it. Think of the face of the awkward boy in seventh grade, the one nobody liked, the one whose eyes always pleaded with you to laugh at his horrible, false jokes — and think of how you couldn’t bear that look, had to avert your eyes. It’s a look that can generate hatred as easily as compassion.

Looks of love, looks of pain. I wonder if the truly holy have the power to see the true looks behind all of our contrived ones, the way Curdie had the power to feel the true shape of a man’s hand in The Princess and Curdie.

And all of our looks, true and false, loving and pleading — I wonder how they look to God.

1 But by whom? Wish I could remember. Sounds like Von Balthasar, maybe.
2 I don’t know if that’s quite fair — and can’t remember who said this one either — but there’s something in it nevertheless.
3 People pushing harder / Up against themselves / Make their baggage sharper / Than their faces tell. Name the song — no googling!
3 And I’ll sing what I’ve said! (Name the song again.)

Caleb and I both have terrible senses of direction. We were driving together once, trying to find our friend J’s house. I knew where it was, or thought I knew, but we ended up on the opposite side of town, a good twenty minutes from where we were supposed to be. The worst part was that we had just left a house where J’s brother was working, which I knew, but I hadn’t asked directions, because — well, because I already knew!

When Caleb realized where we were, he exploded: “This is just like you!

That may have hurt a little bit, but more than that, it surprised me. It’s hard to think of yourself as being just like anything, because we see ourselves from the inside, and from the inside I don’t look like a coherent whole at all.1 I see the decisions I make from day to day, but seeing patterns is harder, or maybe impossible.

Walker Percy2 gets it:

One of the peculiar ironies of being a human self in the Cosmos: A stranger approaching you in the street will in a second’s glance see you whole, size you up, place you in a way in which you cannot and never will, even though you have spent a lifetime with yourself, live in the Century of the Self, and therefore ought to know yourself best of all.3

Well, this is one thing that friends are for. Friends see into the heart of you, see what you are, in a way that you never can. They know you; they name you.4

But there’s all the difference in the world between a name and a label. A name is the secret of who you are, the one thing that sums you up: it is your Word, the way the Son is the Word of the Father. A name is rich and full. A label flattens, simplifies, steamrolls.

Elsewhere, Percy says of a certain woman — I don’t have my copy of The Thanatos Syndrome handy, so I’m paraphrasing — “She had given up on the mystery of herself, she had taken another woman’s advice: be bold, be assertive.”

Although this probably applies to everybody, I think it especially applies to men with SSA. Growing up with SSA means, for many people, never knowing exactly what you are. Not fitting in — not only in the sense of being bullied or rejected, but not being able to identify with any group, not feeling at home anywhere. Feeling yourself to be not a man, maybe, but certainly not a woman, and androgynous least of all.

I wonder — I am about to speak out of ignorance but also sincerity, and I ask your forgiveness in advance if I offend — I wonder if this is what makes some men with SSA take on a gay identity, and take it on so deeply that they are swallowed whole, so that their own old friends stop recognizing them.

Taking on a pre-defined identity — something already warm, already ready to slip into — would be a relief for anybody. No longer having to work out, in fear and trembling, what I am, but having it all pre-fabricated, complete with taste and style and a welcoming community.

But it doesn’t solve the question of Selfhood. It only postpones.

This is one reason that, despite my sensitivity and musicality and slightness of build and tenderness of heart,5 I don’t know if I could ever be comfortable describing myself as gay. It’s not a bad word, but it is a label, not a name.

Oh, but as usual, George MacDonald says the whole thing better than I ever could.

1 Makes me think of a horoscope from The Onion: “Don’t worry: You’re more than just a collection of annoying, loosely bundled neuroses. There are some tightly wound and dangerous psychoses in there, too.”
2 I love Walker Percy, I lurve him. I would marry Walker Percy. If he weren’t married, male, old, and dead.
3 From the introduction to Lost in the Cosmos.
4 I am thinking of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, where “naming” someone is the opposite of “X-ing” them. To name someone is to fill the vacuum of their selfhood with love and intimate knowledge.To X is the opposite of that.
5 Although please bear in mind that I am also extremely badass.

Well, dear readers, I have been in a funk. I like the word “funk” because it doesn’t allow me to take it too seriously. DEPRESSION is something medical and serious, it’s a CONDITION. A funk, on the other hand, passes and then you go about your business. Just something that happens, like a summer cold.

Here’s a snippet from George MacDonald1 that sums things up:

They had a feeling, or a feeling had them, till another feeling came and took its place. When a feeling was there, they felt as if it would never go; when it was gone they felt as if it had never been; when it returned, they felt as if it had never gone.2

That’s the way, isn’t it? Moods come and go, and it’s foolish to take any one of them for the way life is. This is true of happy moods as well as sad ones.

Not that all joy is temporary; but all states of mind are temporary. The trick is having a solid foundation, something that lets you hold on to peace even in the middle of an emotional storm; so that, no matter how bad it gets, the bottom never drops out. That’s why the Psalmist is always calling God a rock: something solid, something that isn’t dislodged even when the sea is angry.

I was about to quote St. Paul about “the peace which surpasses all understanding”, but when I looked it up I found that the passage is even more relevant than I remembered:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.3

Rejoice! All the time! St. Paul isn’t saying “be in a happy mood all the time.” If he were, he would be asking the impossible. Telling a depressed person, “Cut it out and be happy!” is about as helpful as telling a poor person, “Be warm! Get fed!”4

But he isn’t doing that. There’s a kind of rejoicing which can be done in the middle of depression, and a kind of peace that lasts through storms.

It has something to do with “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving” — maybe especially the last part. Giving thanks for all of it: the good and the bad, the puppies and the fleas, the light and the shadow. If you can’t think of anything else, give thanks that you have toes and that the sky is blue. Once you get rolling, it gets easier.

Well. Easy enough to say. I’m working on it. Time for my evening prayers.

1 Do you know about George MacDonald?? My parents read me The Golden Key when I was very young, and it left a bigger impression on my imagination than any other 30 pages I can think of. It’s in the public domain, and the full text is here if you want it.
2 From George MacDonald: An Anthology, edited by my other hero, C. S. Lewis. It’s on Google Books here.
3 Philippians 4:4-7.
4 I’m thinking of James 2:16.