Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Inevitability of Hearing the Voice for God

A couple of days ago I came across an article in The New York Times by a journalist, Sara Rimer, “Gatsby’s Green Light Beckons a New Set of Strivers.” Apparently, the novel, written over 80 years ago, is speaking to high school students now, particularly immigrants.

BOSTON — Jinzhao Wang, 14, who immigrated two years ago from China, has never seen anything like the huge mansions that loomed over Long Island Sound in glamorous 1920s New York. But F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, with its themes of possibility and aspiration, speaks to her.

She is inspired by the green light at the end of the dock, which for Jay Gatsby, the self-made millionaire from North Dakota, symbolizes the upper-class woman he longs for. “Green color always represents hope,” Jinzhao said.

“My green light?” said Jinzhao, who has been studying “Gatsby” in her sophomore English class at the Boston Latin School. “My green light is Harvard.”

Gatsby, of course, is the doomed dreamer in the novel who is obsessed with his love for Daisy, a woman he courted eight years previously, and now believes that he can repeat the past and win her love, again. When we first encounter him in the novel, he is staring at the green light at the end of her dock across the bay, symbolizing his romantic dream.

This article brought back memories for me because in March of 1965 I wrote a critical essay and lesson plan on The Great Gatsby, “A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Teaching from The University of Chicago.” Over the years, through all the moves from city to city, I managed to keep a copy of that essay. I found it yesterday and read it for the first time since I wrote it so long ago. Just holding it in my hands takes me back. It is a copy of the original that was submitted, a carbon copy, thin, yellowing paper with gray carriage marks of the typewriter, dark, shadowy columns running down each page. Sometimes letters are hard to read because I had used Whiteout to type corrections on the original. I had typed it on my portable Remington, a thoughtful and practical gift from by parents for my high school graduation.

This seventeen-page essay actually holds up quite well after all these years. I can see that my young, scholarly self took his task seriously. In preparation for writing it, I had read Fitzgerald’s other novels, his short stories, and a dozen books of literary criticism. My young self argued his thesis rather tenaciously.

Now, there is only one reason for this nostalgic look at this past event, and the word “nostalgic” is just right, because the word means “a longing for home,” from the Greek nostos, meaning "homecoming," and algos, "pain." The home I am referring to here is being Home in God.

This world you seem to live in is not home
to you. And somewhere in your mind you know

that this is true. A memory of home

keeps haunting you, as if there were a place

that called you to return, although you do

not recognize the voice, nor what it is

the Voice reminds you of. Yet still you feel

an alien here, from somewhere all unknown.

Nothing so definite that you could say

with certainty you are an exile here.

Just a persistent feeling, sometimes not

more than a tiny throb, at other times

hardly remembered, actively dismissed,

but surely to return to mind again.

W-p1.182.1


One of my favorite themes is that we are always being spoken to by this Voice, whether or not we hear it. It is inevitable as God’s Son that we hear His Voice, even though we are doing everything in our power to defend ourselves against hearing His Voice. In fact, hearing it is completely natural, and not hearing, or defending ourselves against it, is completely unnatural.

It is quite possible to listen to God's Voice all through the day without interrupting your regular activities in any way. The part of your mind in which truth abides is in constant communication with God, whether you are aware of it or not. W-p1.49.1:1-3

The part that is listening to the Voice for God is calm, always at rest and wholly certain. It is really the only part there is. 2:1,2

Sink deep into the peace that waits for you beyond the frantic, riotous thoughts and sights and sounds of this insane world. You do not live here. We are trying to reach your real home. We are trying to reach the place where you are truly welcome. We are trying to reach God. 4:4-8

Now back to writing my essay on the novel.

The thesis that I tenaciously articulated is a result of hearing the Voice in the form of an idea that struck me. Across the years this has remains a vivid memory for me.

I remember facing a deadline and sitting down at my typewriter on a Saturday night in my room where I lived in a house on Harper Avenue, a few blocks from the University of Chicago campus. I had worked on the paper for five hours. But when I finished, I was in despair because I knew it had not come together. It lacked a clear focus, I had begun rambling and, basically, summarized the chapters as I went through the novel. I stood up, grabbed the sheets of paper and tore them up.

It was midnight, and out of fear and depression and despair, I decided to take a walk along the nearby beach of Lake Michigan, just across Lake Shore Drive. Of course, my critical voice was attacking me, telling me that I wouldn’t be able to graduate; I wouldn’t be able to move on with a career; I would just be stuck.

At that time, of course, I had no idea that I could ask for help. I thought that I was totally alone in the universe. I didn’t have the slightest idea that I was God’s Son, no idea that I was anything except this wild illusion, frantic and distraught, but without reality of any kind, constantly distracted, disorganized and highly uncertain. W-p1.49.2:3

Nevertheless, walking along the beach, my hands in my pockets, my head down, I was suddenly struck with an idea in the form of a soft voice, telling me to focus the entire paper on the question of the reliability of the first-person narrator, Nick Carraway. This just seemed to click. "Eureka!" My despair lifted, I looked up at the stars and felt renewed.

The next day I woke up running the idea, the gift, through my mind, and it felt just right. Since the reader is seeing all of the events through Nick Carraway’s eyes, I could focus on him, his value structure, and how he evaluated the behavior of each of the characters. With this key firmly in mind, I sat down the next day, after a peaceful sleep, and rather easily typed the essay.

Here are some excerpts from the essay, demonstrating the implementation of the idea that came to me on the beach, a gift from the Voice for God.

Nick Carraway, our guide in the form of a first-person narrator, is deeply involved with the other characters. Participating in the action and evaluating events with knowledge of what preceded and what followed them, Nick proves to be a completely reliable narrator. When he describes Tom and adds that “There were men at New Haven who had hated his guts,” we accept this as a significant appraisal of Tom. When he steps back and openly reacts to a character after describing him or her, he helps the reader see the character more clearly. For example, after describing Jordan Baker, he says, “Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.” His response to Daisy, evident in his description of her, fixes her in the reader’s mind for the rest of the novel, “Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget.”

By gradually revealing more and more about Gatsby through Nick, whose judgments remain consistent with the reader’s, Fitzgerald manages to keep Gatsby unreal and mysterious. Had Fitzgerald revealed more about Gatsby in the beginning, this effect would have been lost. He had to maintain this effect to prepare the reader to accept Gatsby as the tragic dreamer who eventually “breaks up like glass against Tom’s hard malice.”


So there we are. In spite my limited self, I had heard the Holy Spirit speak to me. No mind training. No Bible training. No Transcendental Meditation. It is inevitable, meaning “something that is certain to happen,” from the Latin, inevitabilis, meaning “unavoidable.” It is completely natural. We are as God created us.

What am I?
I am God's Son, complete and healed and whole,
shining in the reflection of His Love.

In me is His creation sanctified

and guaranteed eternal life. In me

is love perfected, fear impossible,

and joy established without opposite.

I am the holy home of God Himself.
I am the Heaven where His Love resides.
I am His holy Sinlessness Itself,

for in my purity abides His Own.

W-p11.14.1

What is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit mediates between
illusions and the truth. Since He must bridge

the gap between reality and dreams,

perception leads to knowledge through the grace
that God has given Him, to be His gift to
everyone who turns to Him for truth.
Across the bridge that He provides are dreams

all carried to the truth, to be dispelled
before the light of knowledge. There are sights
and sounds forever laid aside. And where

they were perceived before, forgiveness has

made possible perception's tranquil end.

W-p11.7.1

So, I did graduate from the program, and my first job was teaching English in a junior high school in Westport, Connecticut. Pursuing my dream within a dream, my green light was to blend my passion for teaching with earning a living. Four years after I graduated from the Master’s Program, my Supervisor, Janet Emig, called me in Westport, telling me of a new opportunity at the University of Chicago. They were starting a new program called The Teaching of Teachers, and it led to a Ph.D. from the Education Department. She thought I would be a good candidate. And much to my surprise, she said that she found herself often using my critical essay as an example when she was assigning the paper to her students.

So, after four years of teaching in Westport, I continued pursuing my particular green light. I felt the nostalgia of returning to Chicago, and somehow the Voice on the beach and the writing of the essay and Janet’s remembering it and her call were all taking me home, in retropspect, taking me Home. In September of 1969, just after Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, my wife, Kim, and our two children, Lori (4) and Stephen (6 months) jumped into our ’65 Volkswagen Beetle, and I followed them in a U-Haul Truck, heading for Chicago.

It’s all good. In spite of ourselves, it is inevitable that we are going Home, a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed. T-8.VI.9:7

1 comment:

blkgrl said...

this is beautifully written...thank you for sharing!