Posted by: jevcat | October 9, 2010

Here There Be Dragons

I’ve been thinking about dragons a lot lately, maybe because of the building around the corner from where I’ve had some freelance work.  The entire façade is covered with amazingly ornate terra cotta work, making it resemble a medieval reliquary of carved ivory.  I’m particularly fond of a pair of wonderful crowned dragons that guard the door.

In today’s world, we’ve “cutesy”-fied dragons, Disney-fied them, until they’ve lost all their majesty and awe-full-ness – we’ve tamed them.  Basically every culture has had them, and dragons were something to fear.  They could be benevolent or evil, but they were always to be approached with caution and at least some degree of trepidation.  I think I like them better that way.  Maybe that’s just more suited to my mood, which has sometimes been Dantean lately:  “In the middle of my life, I found myself lost in a dark wood.”

I’ve just past the one-year anniversary of being laid off, every prospect for a full-time job has fallen through (not that there have been many), and, in spite of some freelance work and the sometimes sacrificial generosity of friends, we are now on the last of what was meant to be the retirement money.  It’s hard to see where we go from here, and the woods these days sometimes seem very dark and full of dragons, the road ahead murky.  And yet.

It is said medieval maps sometimes labeled terra incognita “hic sunt dracones”:  “Here there be dragons.”  But when Europeans finally explored those places, for good or ill there were no dragons, only “new worlds” of beauty and danger and opportunity.

The current issue of one of my favorite publications, Weavings:  A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, which has as its theme “Do Not Be Anxious About Tomorrow,” has been something of a beacon in this dark.  Always meaningful, this issue is especially so.  In one of the pieces, “When the Stars Begin to Fall,” author Flora Slosson Wuellner says, “The moment of our greatest fear, that moment when the ground shakes beneath our feet, is the very moment of God’s deepest presence and power within us.  It is the moment of our new beginning.”  Having spent much time in the last year praying for guidance, to be shown the way, I was also struck by a passage shortly after that one, where she quotes a story from 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins:  “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’  And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.’ ”

So maybe that’s been my problem:  I want light, a known way, a good map, and clear directions.  It appears I’m not going to get them, but, come to think of it, I’m notoriously bad with maps and directions anyway (ask anyone who’s ever driven with me!).  And I’ve suddenly thought of what a priest friend years ago said about a sermon he’d just given that everyone was enthusing about:  “Well, I sat down waited for the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t come.  Finally, I just started writing, and somewhere in the middle, he joined me.”  I’m starting to think that’s, if not the answer, at least the beginning of one.  As Marilyn Chandler McEntyre says in “Where the Path Narrows,” in the previous issue of Weavings, “ … ‘Do not be afraid’ is an invitation:  Step out of your fear.  Receive the gift of unlikely confidence…The way of the Lord, it seems, is a path that runs straight through the heart of fear.”

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