Well, here I am at the Elbow Room, working on homework.
I was incredibly discouraged earlier today. I had planned on leaving work, eating a quick lunch, and traveling to the library to work for hours and hours and accomplish so many things. Instead, I ate, then napped. I was so tired. Then I woke up to an e-mail from my literature professor that made me fear my essay was not the greatest. I now am under the impression that it wasn’t perhaps as bad as I’d feared, but I don’t know for sure.
I was in my sweatpants at home, all stressed out and feeling totally worthless and like I’d wasted so much time, so I got dressed and drove myself out here to the Elbow Room. It’s quiet – I’m the only person here other than the barista, and it’s really nice. I’m sitting in one of their beautiful bay windows, and the restaurant across the street is lit up with white Christmas lights, like it is all year long.
I feel much better than I did earlier. Maybe it’s because I can smell the Butterscotch Toffee Cream coffee, or maybe it’s because the introverted side of me is getting some much needed alone time, but I feel good.
The paper I turned in to my Milton and Spenser professor was not my best. I don’t know my grade for it yet, but I feel like I just hit a wall with the paper. I have been realizing more and more that I am just not good at academic writing. I’ve almost always been able to get by, blowing off the academic because I was going to be a creative writer. Now that things in my life are changing, now that I’m considering going into academic research and teaching, I’m realizing that I can no longer afford to scrape by with my ability to spit out a bunch of intelligent sounding nonsense. I need to learn to communicate my ideas in a much less casual way, which is proving more difficult. In high school, we were always taught that academic writing was supposed to be void of sparkle and wit; it wasn’t allowed to have personality. So from that point on, I learned to intelligently regurgitate information I had consumed in a way that was varied enough that it wouldn’t be considered plagiarism. Unfortunately, it left me successful enough, and now I am stuck at 24, feeling completely impotent as an academic writer.
So I wrote this paper for Milton and Spenser on Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and the sanctification journey of Redcrosse the knight. And I was so excited about the subject. But I found as I wrote that, although I reached the page requirement, I wasn’t really saying anything. I was summarizing and demonstrating understanding of what happened, but I wasn’t communicating what it meant that those things happened. I never quite said why it was that Redcrosse’s sanctification journey was so important. Sure, I stated that he wouldn’t have reached the same character evolution were it not for his struggles, but I never said why his struggles and character evolution were so very, very important for anyone to read, know, and experience.
So I’m overhauling the paper. Sure, the assignment was completed, submitted, and graded. But this is such an important topic that I am unwilling to dismiss the opportunity without another effort. And luckily for me, my professor requires us to create roughly 20 pieces or reflective works to turn in at the end of the semester. So this will be one of them.
What’s so important to me, though, what’s so relevant to my life and everyone else’s, is that everyone must face a sanctification journey. Whether they be Christian or non, every single person on earth faces trials and decisions and experiences that shape and mold them into someone different on the other side. And oftentimes, like Redcrosse, we begin those journeys arrogantly, refusing to seek help or wisdom from anyone else.
Although I truly believe this is something that is universal, I must confess that I feel the sanctification journey is most beloved within Christian doctrine. The concept that we can fight for our own wisdom, our own way, and march forward to our own destruction and yet – and yet – we are never outside the hands of a loving Father God, is a most blessed one. As believers, we are a new creation, and we don’t have to consistently and actively participate in sanctification to be actively sanctified.
That is precisely the type of journey Redcrosse experiences. He starts out, determined to prove himself, not heeding any advice from those wiser or more temperate than he. His actions lead him almost to his destruction, to a point where he is forced to rely on the help of those more noble than he. He then submits to lessons in spiritual disciplines, and finally is led by the character Mercie up to meet with Contemplation on the mountaintop. It is there, when Contemplation reveals that Redcrosse will become Saint George, that Redcrosse sees angels and saints traveling around the New Jerusalem. He is in disbelief that he would ever be as worthy of the glory of sainthood. Contemplation simply replies
“These that have attaind, were in like cace,”
Quoth he, “as wretched, and lived in like paine.”
This is momentous revelation for Redcrosse. He has spent the entire first canto of The Faerie Queene struggling to prove himself on his own merit, only to fail and realize that he is unworthy. My claim is that this is the key to the importance of his journey. Had Redcrosse been noble the whole time and easily claimed his goal of Christian Knighthood and holiness, the story would not have been so profound. It is because Redcrosse proves himself unworthy and incomplete over and over again that his journey is so important. Because he struggles, because he wars with himself and his own feelings of insignificance, we the readers cannot only understand the gravity of his final realization with Contemplation, we can also identify.
We can identify, because in our lives, rarely is something easy worth having, and rarely do we actually deserve anything we receive. We are unworthy wretches, struggling to prove ourselves in a world that hates our Creator and anything that resembles Him. We are fighting to do things on our time, to realize our dreams, to do everything to our glory. But even in those moments of active rebellion, the Holy Spirit is still moving within us, still changing and shaping our hearts and minds to be more like Christ, to be more worthy, less wretched, and more whole.
And it is that wholeness, that holiness, that is so worth the struggle.