Thunker’s Weblog


Keep the Change

Robert Wheadon-126x150

“…had been so terrible that none of them ever spoke of it now, but the bitter steel had sheared into their hearts, leaving scars that would not heal,” (Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel.)

I am a big fan of Thomas Wolfe’s novels.  His kneading and molding of the English language is a joy to read.  He paints rural America in the late 19th to early 20th centuries with a full palette of adjectival colors and images.  Some readers find Wolfe’s characters too morose or depressing due to their impoverished conditions.  I find them true to their time and condition, desperately trying to claw their way out of poverty or totally crushed by their conditions.

Much of his fiction portrays characters shackled in poverty, but possessing dazzling personalities of erudition and emotion.  In his novel, “Look Homeward, Angel,” we are introduced to the family clan father, Oliver Gant, who lives his life in the small, rural town of Altamont.  He pursues his trade of being the town’s sculptor of headstones, but without ambition.  His wife, Eliza, possesses a more ambitious acumen.  According to Eliza, Oliver’s business is not successful because people don’t die quick enough.  It’s not a volume business.  In Eliza’s pursuit of wealth, possession of property  and more property is the path to a comfortable, genteel and respectable life.

Oliver is a tortured soul.  He regularly rails and revolts against what he perceives to be the inequities of life.  Getting blindingly drunk, he raves at the cosmos, his wife, and a seemingly deaf, uncommunicative God.  Frustrated in his world of Fate’s chains that bar him from greatness, Gant devolves into the town drunk.  His whiskey-fueled temper is held in fear by his wife and pity by the townsfolk, who support him home when he passes into unconsciousness in the street.

Oliver’s life, in Oliver’s view, is a long series of offenses against him, like a poor hand of cards that is continuously, eternally dealt him.  It’s a game he cannot deal himself out of.  He has been scarred by his life and unable to forgive Fate.  For the reader, Fate in this situation is really consequence.  Oliver’s manner of living has produced many of his woes.  Blaming Fate is much easier, though, and requires much less soul-searching.  To quote a staff journalist in a recent issue of the National Review, “Character is Fate.”

However, character is not something formed in concrete, unchangeable and solid.  We often think of character as being just that:  it’s who I am.  The truth, though, is quite the opposite.  Our traits are malleable, changeable and improvable.  And God, with great purpose and mercy, made it that way.  The change process is called repentance and is one of the most profound gifts we have from Jesus Christ through His atonement.

For those whose hearts search for, reach for, and are “pointing our souls to him,” (Jacob 4:5), repentance is what God has given us to achieve “a change of heart,” (Helaman 15:7).

We focus so much on what we are not, we many times fail to understand what we are becoming.  As followers of Christ, the path is strait and narrow.  It is also long.  In our frenetic daily efforts, we concentrate on immediate results, where God is taking the long view of eternity with us.  He not only sees us as we are, but also as we are becoming.  That is why I consistently ask myself, “Which direction am I facing today?”  Am I making a thoughtful effort to turn towards God today?  If not, why not?

Our process of becoming like Christ is not merely the cessation of sin, but the conversion of the heart.  It is not merely the eradication of the world’s influences, but the replacement of those influences with the bits of heaven we encounter along the path that assist our souls in becoming purer, our intentions more holy and our actions more charitable.

Repentance, motivated by faith in Christ, is the process given us to not merely return to heaven, but it is the process to change us so we are comfortable when we get there.

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Repentance is not easy.  It’s not supposed to be.  Changing our character is a process that can take us to the depths, yet with the promise of raising us to the heights of our soul’s potential.  Don’t be discouraged with daily stumbles.  Like a toddler learning to walk, our daily stumbles and continued efforts will eventually enable us to walk clearly in God’s path.

Garrison Keillor, the American radio story-teller and folklorist, closes his broadcasts with a simple benediction.  When I hear it, I can hear God giving us the same counsel.  He says:  “Be well.  Do good work.  Stay in touch.”  Let’s do that.

 

 

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