Tag Archives: King James Version

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: On Reading Boring Stuff

I have a friend who likes to read manuals. I mean by this the instruction manual that might come with your television, your hair dryer, or even you dog shampoo. Though I feel that this is a very strange habit, lest he should be reading this and be even marginally insulted—and lest you, dear reader, should share this same penchant (for perhapswashing-machine-manual there are more who have this predilection than I am aware)—let me say that I am not here to condemn the enterprise, however strange I may find it to be.

I confess that I myself am of the opposite camp. I am one of those people who, when on the rare occasion that they might buy something that includes a manual, reads it not one whit. I rush to judgment about how this piece obviously goes here, that piece there. The result: I must often take the item apart after I’ve constructed it because I put it together all wrong. And thus, I am always later forced to concede (normally to my wife), that reading the manual first would have been a good idea, however boring it might have seemed at the time.

Indeed, there is great value in reading “boring stuff.” Some might call I Chronicles boring. In case you’ve not read it lately, the opening chapters consist of lengthy genealogies, names of human beings who lived and loved and laughed long ago. They had families, saw their children take their first steps, celebrated birthdays, enjoyed religious festivals, ravenously devoured a good meal, opened the door for the elderly, and taught their children life lessons. They danced, read aloud to their families (probably every evening), sang songs, and prayed fervently. They had lives. We have but their names, names in a list. And those jewish-festivalnames are the only ones we have, for their were many, many more than those, both alluded to in I Chronicles or mentioned as being part of a larger group—not by name, but merely as one in a thousand. And they have the same kind of lives that I just expounded upon above.

But what has this to do with reading boring stuff, you might ask? Well, I will put it simply: it’s one thing to read any document piecemeal, whether the best parts of the Bible or The Brothers Karamazov or the Oedipus Rex or even a modern novel, of which we all know it’s not cool to read the ending first. Dante only makes sense if you know Paradiso comes after Purgatorio, and Purgatorio after Inferno. The amendments to the Constitution only make sense if we have some idea of what the Constitution says. The boring stuff in life—the job we are not too fond of because it is “no fun,” the season of our marriage that is difficult, the décor of our living area that really, really needs to be replaced sometime soon—provide a necessary function in our lives, for these things give us, albeit obliquely and paradoxically, hope, something to look forward to. We hoabandoned-couchpe, even have faith that the rough patch will pass and our relationship will get better; we appreciate time with our family more in part perhaps because our job environment is less than felicitous; we look forward to the day when we can haul that couch out the front door an put a “FREE” sign on it—and then, fifteen minutes later we, incredulous, see someone pull up with their truck and haul it away.

While reading I Chronicles is not precisely analogous to that, it is perhaps just a little bit so, and that’s why I like to read it. In fact, I like to read the whole Bible straight on through in the KJV; I am not sure precisely why I like that version, save that I enjoy, even in the vast tracts of prosaic narrative, its prosody. I realize that my saying that I read through it directly may sound strange. Yet I actually like knowing what the whole document has to say, and there is no better way to discern that than to read through it directly. And, yes, that takes a while.

So, when you hit a boring patch, you keep reading. And you try to imagine what that boring patch really means. It means people lived then, they really did live, and they had the same fears for the future—actually, likely a much higher order of fear—than we do now. They saw a change in leadership often coming only after spilled blood, not a democratic election. They worried because someone named David had been anointed as the new king of Israel. King Saul had fallen on Mount Gilboa. They had no idea if their government would stand, what the future held.

So, I encourage those who like to read boring stuff, to keep right on doing so. Generally speaking, at least when it comes to manuals, I am not of that ilk. Nevertheless, I encourage those of us who do not like to read boring stuff to consider indulging, at least for a season, in something like I Chronicles, for in its apparently boring narrative, we can find things that will encourage and inspire us to laugh, love and live courageously in an uncertain age. Boring stuff doesn’t just belong in a case or sitting on a library shelf. It belongs to our hearts and in our minds. Here’s to “boring.”kjv-bible-ms

↓ NOT Boring Stuff ↓

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Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Time

Milton’s sonnet “On Time” ends with the triumphant vaunt, “… Truth and Peace and Love shall ever shine / About the supreme Throne / Of Him to’whose happy-making sight alone, / When once our heav’nly-guided soul shall climb, Then all this earthly grosnes quit, Attired with stars, we shall for ever sit, Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and Thee, O Time.”

John Milton
John Milton

What follows is my own, perhaps merely whimsical, conjecture: this sonnet, which Milton possibly deemed the lesser of his two on the subject, was intended to be written on a clock case. I imagine, likely in a romantic flight of fancy, the blind bard having written or having revised this poem at an advanced age (though commentators in fact do not; based on its style, they date it early in his career). That said, in my undoubtedly capricious reading of it, I imagine the poet taking a moment to write (or revise) this poem for posterity, one that he knew might never be discovered but, if it were, it would be only after he had been attired with stars and was sitting astride the very throne that he describes in this poem.

In any case, Milton would seem to have had his own doubts about Chance, as in his sonnet he groups it with Time and, worse yet, Death. Good heavens, what could be so bad about chance or luck or even their positive cousins, serendipity and delightful randomness? Well, I think that Milton must have figured something out, the very thing that I spoke about in last week’s blog. And death? The gloominess of death obviously needs little exegesis. But time? Well, that’s another matter.cosmos2

So great a matter, in fact, that Milton devotes two entire poems to it. This one, in my view the rather more mature of the two of them, stands out to me for its powerful language. It begins, “Fly, envious time, till thy run out thy race, / Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours, / Whose speed is but the heavy plummet’s pace … .” In the continuation of this verse, he goes on to command time to glut itself (a powerful image) on what its womb devours (an even more striking one). Time, it seems, is a greedy and licentious fiend. Whatever it gains in the end turns out to be—at least for anyone who might share the poet’s point of view—so little, merely mortal dross.

Dross was as a strong word in Milton’s day as it is today. It suggests offal, scum, waste in the most hideous sense of that word. Add mortal to dross, and it is clear: it is the part of us that pertains to death. It is, or is at least partially, encompassed by what the King James Version often refers to as the “flesh.”

Milton’s sonnet then, winds up telling us that the spirit will ultimately triumph over the flesh, when once our heavenly guided souls will quit this dark world, and wide. But in the meantime, we are here. We face the tragedies of natural disasters, the sorrow of human hatred, our own outrage at our fellow human beings when they are outraged about what we deem less than outrageous, what we might even call the wrong things. In short, what bugs us is humankind’s gross failure to prioritize correctly; such prioritization is closely related to the notion of time being wasted, as all of this happens while time ticks away, however wonderful it may be to know that the subscribers to Milton’s point of view have a hope of triumphing over it one day.

Salvador Dali, "The Persistence of Memory"
Salvador Dali, “The Persistence of Memory”

What to do? Well, Milton alludes to some of the answer to that: you can’t do anything. You can only know that time is defeated in the end, and derive comfort from that; you can even mock it with imperatives (“fly,” “call,” “glut”) or deleterious adjectives such as “envious” or “greedy,” but you can’t beat it. Yet there is, perhaps, one thing you can do that Milton does not tell us here.

You can choose. You can choose not to allow it to cripple you. I’ve know some dear friends crippled by time. They could not manage it: it managed them. One lost his job because of his mismanagement of it. Another failed a college course, while another used it as an excuse for not completing the tasks set before her. Still another, appropriated it for an excuse never to marry or have a family; another, never to travel; still another, never to commit to any organization, such as church, that could take up his time, which was already, it seemed to me, in any case consuming him.

You can choose to make the most of time. If you’re married, for example, I believe that means to use your time wisely, even choose to be a certain kind of person. One might think of marriage as two folks moving in together for the first time—it is, for some, precisely that. One cannot force one’s spouse to use the time well, or even to keep his or her side of the room tidy; one can merely request it. messy bedBut one can certainly use one’s own time well and one can literally and figuratively clean up his or her own side of the room. One can set an example. Therein, one can master time measuring it day by day not wasting it.

Though we don’t often see it this way, time is, in the end, much more valuable than money. Money comes and goes; time simply goes, or has Milton says, it flies—something not original with him, as it goes back to the ancient poet Virgil, who in his third Georgic wrote, “time flies, never to be recovered” (tempus fugit inreparablile tempus). So, before we can enjoy our Miltonic triumph, we have to overcome time ourselves, it seems, not necessarily in our own strength—but that is the matter of another blog—yet certainly with a good deal of our own effort. We must, as the bard once said, against “time’s thievish progress to eternity,” tidy our own side of the room, whether that be in our marriage or in our workplace. Time to get after it: time’s a wastin.’