So Hanun seized David’s servants and shaved off half of each one’s beard. He cut the lower part of their robes off so that their buttocks were exposed, and then sent them away. 2 Samuel 10:4 NET
Wilfred Owen is best known for his WWI poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” (Latin for “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”) However, he also wrote the poem “Exposure,” which details exposure to the elements during a time of war.
When we write poems about war, we bear witness to what we feel and experience. War is not just kinetic. Our wounds can be inflicted by words or actions that are meant to shame and humiliate us.
King David’s army lost the battle, but they won the war. We win our battles by acknowledging the God who fights our war.
It is a fearsome thing to be dealt with by the heart of the Lord.
One recent weekend (I reserve weekends for guilt-free R&R), the Lord swung a punch to my psyche.
I profess no practical knowledge of the publishing industry. All I know is what I have read in books, online posts, and magazines. I do have experiential knowledge with blogging — my first weblog (an older, shortened term for web log) in the 90s was called My Hearthstone. My prodigal blog title returns home.
When I was writing my weblog – back before social media became popular – I was just proud that I was writing posts using HTML 3.2. I shared my views, one referring to Elton John song lyrics, another on Y2K. Technorati, a precursor to likes and follower counts, displayed popularity results for the world of weblogs.
Enter Twitter in 2006, the year I bought Twitter for Dummies and drove in.
Twitter, and a few others, paved the way for the interstate highway system of social media, bypassing American’s Main Street of weblogs. All the action entered the highway of social media, and our blogs became homing places. Our websites, our hearths, had been bypassed by social media companies that circumlocuted our blog posts with algorithms and AI. Wisdom congealed into building platforms first then writing books afterward.
A few weeks ago, the Lord, acting as a traffic cop, stopped me with the dastardly deed of AI and algorithms. In my human wisdom, I had gone looking for other writers to follow instead of working on my writing projects. I was looking for conversations, as limited as they are on social media, with other writers for some semblance of a give-and-take encouraging environment.
This behavior was outside the AI algorithms that Instagram had decided for me. I was locked out of my account immediately for suspicious activity and asked for a cell phone number to receive an SMS message containing a code to reenter. Which I don’t have.
Now mind you, I had 11 followers, mainly family and a few others who were interacting with me through my posts and comments. But they meant something to me. I had read and underlined a book about blogging on Instagram using captions. I shed a few tears.
He had been dealing with me for months to write first and demote social media platforms to a second-place priority. Telling me that my local isolation is a blessing in disguise so that I can concentrate on my writing. As Eudora Welty wrote in One Writer’s Beginnings, “My temperament and my instinct had told me alike that the author, who writes at his own emergency, remains and needs to remain at his private remove. I wished to be, not effaced, but invisible….”
Another lesson I believe the Lord wanted me to learn was to write steadily on a schedule and as Isak Dinesen said, “Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.”
But beyond the pain of losing what I was trying to build on a small level (for many followers would swamp me) was the pain of knowing I was not writing the way the Lord meant for me to write – a long Psalms 119 type poem and venturing to write longer, thoughtful blog posts. And I abandoned the joy of writing itself.
Writing is my God-ordained baptism. A dying to self in front of a blank page. I never would have thought the desire of my heart would be used this way.
I had a vision a few months ago: I was sitting down writing and had so much paper that it was floating all around me, no supply issues here. I know that meant my drought days of writer’s block would be over, but I can’t help but wonder if the vision did double duty and showed me how different the coming days would be regarding how we published our works. I don’t believe the paper in the vision meant an old-school return to book-only publishing, but I do think it might have signified a change.
On a national level, I see around the corner which we are turning now, as do many others, a total upheaval of our society. Social media and publishing companies are not exempt. Even though my Instagram account was taken out prematurely, I know it was a matter of time before censoring companies are taken down, regulated, or for all practical purposes boycotted.
I don’t want to see the Internet go down. I know that is primarily the only way my works are going to be read by those that God sends my way. And I know I am not alone in this. I want to see it cleansed.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing – variety is the spice of our literary lives. I chose Substack because of the melding of the social media aspect with the newsletter format (and because they don’t censor). My blog before h. renell’s Hearth was with WordPress because of the ability to have a community of followers. And my aforementioned Instagram account.
Many years ago I read Thomas Merton’s book Seven Storey Mountain. The Lord prompted me to revisit it. In the epilogue “Meditatio Pauperis In Solitudine.” Merton records the Lord’s message to him regarding his popular published poetry and his conflicting desire for solitude.
I will give you what you desire. I will lead you into solitude. I will lead you by the way you can not possibly understand, because I want it to be the quickest way…But you shall taste the true solitude of my anguish and my poverty and I shall lead you into the high places of my joy and you shall die in Me and find all things in my Mercy which has created you for this end…And your solitude will bear immense fruit in the souls of men you will never see on earth.
Building a literary life with God, me, and the eyes that God sends my way has become the joyful practice of my weekdays, done in His way. Writers usually don’t see most of the hearts that they touch. For the work is ours and the reach and glory are His.
It is because of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed, Because His [tender] compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22 AMP
When you think of poetry in the Bible, the Psalms usually come to mind. However, the book of Lamentations is a poetry of the psalms too — a poetry of grief, written by Jeremiah after Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 B.C.
Sometimes grief enters a national stage. Many poets over the centuries are known as national poets writing grief on a national scale. America’s poets from war-torn times include Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems and Philip Freneau’s Revolutionary poems.
Jeremiah, even in his lamentation, wrote a psalm of hope. Amidst all the doom and gloom, the poets also should be the counterweight of hope.
Just as with Ivo in Book One, Aelred, while holding a conversation with a group of monks, notices Walter is alone and need to talk privately. Ivo has gone to be with the Lord. Book Two introduces Walter and later Gratian. Giving homage to the fruit of their friendship beyond the grave, Aelred feels Ivo’s comforting presence in Walter’s and his midst.
Walter asks Aelred for his Spiritual Friendship notes on Book One. Aelred is a prolific writer and is loathe to share anything before he has a chance to edit notes. However, he does reluctantly, asking Walter not to make it public until it is edited. How many writers out there can relate?
In contrast to Aelred referring to spiritual friendship as sweetness, he calls someone not having this kind of friend a beast. They have no one to rejoice, sorrow, and lift up (Ecclesiastes 4:10). He also has no problem calling some in worldly friendships insane and “friendship’s poison.” He calls evil friendships non-existent because evil and friendship do not co-exist.
In this age of health issues, isolation, and disputes many may be friendless in some form. Lest you may think “Am I a beast?” John 15:15 Jesus counters with “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
For the ones who do have friendships, Aelred teaches Walter the perks of spiritual friendship.
You can tell your friend about your spiritual progress without fear of boasting because they know your heart. Aelred uses the term “unblushingly” which suggests a sense of humility.
You can tell your friend secrets, knowing they will not be repeated.
You can tell your friend anything without dread of the response when corrected.
Gratian Joins In
At this point, Gratian joins the conversation. The sarcastic banter between Walter and Gratian adds some comic relief to the seriousness of the subject. Walter is the antagonist to Gratian’s breezy style: Walter fears that Gratian does not take friendship seriously enough.
Despite this, they manage to focus on the lessons that Aelred has yet to teach them. Gratian calls their conversation a “spiritual banquet,” which brings to my mind Psalms 23:5a “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” In Book One, Aelred says that spiritual friendships were formed out of the fallen world caused by Adam and Eve.
How far should you go for a friend? Aelred answers with John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He addresses Adam’s sin with Eve, saying Adam should have told Eve she was presuming and told her no, instead of complying with her request. In Adam sparing Eve, he dishonored both himself and Eve and God’s imprint on humanity.
Walter states it is shameful to leave someone on their deathbed. Many with healthcare issues today are dealing with this possibility in our complex and divisive culture. This is one of the hardest moments in our modern history, if ever. Only God can give each person an individual answer.
All Three Wind It Up
Gratian brings their conversation to a close, praising Aelred for the summary so they could memorize what they had learned. Walter wants to return tomorrow, admonishing Gratian to be on time.
I need a break, just like Aelred did to attend to other matters, to work on my psalm. My fingers are curved around my pen to write a poem. I am a first write-on-paper person.
Some writers, past or present, have not found the subject matter they wanted to read and decided to write what they could not find. Aelred had read Cicero’s On Friendship, but could not find anything on Christian friendship. So he decided to write it himself.
The book is sectioned into three parts: Book One covers the theology of spiritual friendship, as discussed between Ivo and himself. He also lists two more worldly friendship types. Book Two and Book Three is another conversation between Aelred, Walter, and Gratian discussing practical points on forming and maintaining friendships.
Aelred doesn’t just jump into this theology, he sets the stage with how this conversation should be conducted between both parties.
He notices Ivo is silent in a group of talking monks and surmises that Ivo wants to talk privately. He tells Ivo he likes the fact that he is not an idle-talking monk, speaking only what is “useful and necessary.” For this reason, Aelred trusts Ivo to speak freely, knowing that time will not be wasted (on what I would call frou-frou). Aelred tells Ivo, he will be treated as an equal partner in the conversation.
Laying the foundation for their conversation, they agree to use Cicero’s definition of friendship as a starting point. “Friendship is mutual harmony in affairs human and divine coupled with benevolence and charity.” Ivo asks what the two terms mean and Aelred replies that benevolence means affection of the heart and charity means carrying out in deed. In other words, one is a feeling and the other is an action.
Ivo can’t see how true friendship can be lived with those who live without Christ. Aelred says though Cicero’s definition is imperfect for all types of friendships, you can get some idea of the nature of friendship.
He tells Ivo that he won’t teach what he doesn’t know. Aelred then proceeds to explain that a friend is a “guardian of our mutual love or the guardian of my spirit to preserve all its secrets in faithful silence, as far as he can, cure and endure such defects as he may observe.” In other words, protect your friend’s privacy, speak the truth in love when needed and wanted, and have patience.
Aelred does refer to spiritual friendship as being a “sweetness.” This counters Ivo’s argument of even trying if, as Cicero states, friendship is rare. And regardless of the outcome of any friendship, knowledge is gained.
He does define two other types of non-spiritual friendship. Both can turn into spiritual friendship.
Worldly – useful for getting money.
Carnal – useful for getting passionate desires met.
Aelred also references Adam and Eve in friendship. “How beautiful it is that the second human being was taken from the side of the first. So that nature might teach that human beings are equal…neither superior nor inferior, a characteristic of true friendship.” From beauty to ugliness, the fall of Adam and Eve corrupted charity and friendship. Once this happened, friendship remained among whom he refers to good, according to natural law.
For his final question, Ivo wants to know if wisdom can be abused through pleasing others through it, being prideful with it, or selling it. Aelred answers these are vices, so they are not an aspect of wisdom, so no.
True friendship is a trinity – Christ in the middle of two bound together for eternity.
When Aelred tells Ivo he can’t teach what he doesn’t know, he is showing humility and honesty towards Ivo. Servant leadership. I had a boss once who epitomized a true leader. One thing she hated was the small talk before business meetings. This is where I learned the term frou-frou. Seriously, though, agreeing on the terms of conversation dispels confusion later and keeps it steered in the right direction.
Aelred’s definition of friendship as each other’s guardians makes me think of the protection of each other and God’s protection of us in Psalms 91.
In the days ahead, as society is rebuilt with a godly foundation, true friends will be role models.
I looked up natural law. Divine timing – the next day after I wrote this, I heard a radio interview mention natural law and our Founding Fathers. Worth looking up.
At the end of Book One, Ivo doesn’t want to wait for another conversation, but he does this side of heaven. He dies before Book Two is written. We will have the practical aspects taught to us through Aelred’s conservation with Walter and Gratian.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.