That still centre

There’s a poem that’s stuck with me, become part of me, since I first read it as a junior in college. It’s a sonnet from the novel Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (just read it. Lord Peter is fantastic.), and after some frustration over not having my copy with me, I found it online. Here you are:

That Still Centre
Here, then, at home, by no more storms distrest,
Folding laborious hands we sit, wings furled;
Here in close perfume lies the rose-leaf curled,
Here the sun stands and knows not east nor west,
Here no tide runs; we have come, last and best,
From the wide zone through dizzying circles hurled,
To that still centre where the spinning world
Sleeps on its axis, to the heart of rest.

Lay on thy whips, O Love, that we upright,
Poised on the perilous point, in no lax bed
May sleep, as tension at the verberant core
Of music sleeps; for, if thou spare to smite,
Staggering, we stoop, stooping, fall dumb and dead,
And, dying, so, sleep our sweet sleep no more.

At one point, this picture of marriage is what I hoped to live out with my ex — I craved to have that tension and stillness, to dwell in a stable core of life in the middle of a whirling crazy world.

Obviously, that didn’t really happen. But what I have begun to discover is that still point, the fixed center of my experience of life, isn’t dependent on who I’m with or what I’m doing. (And honestly, I’ve been discovering that since this time last year when things started disintegrating, but as usual, I write about what I learn about a year after I walk it out.)

The still center is something I have to fight for at times, but it’s some unspeakable core of me, grown together with my sense of grace (it’s got me and I’m stuck), my constant struggle to make for myself a place, and a growing self-awareness of who I am and how I am and why. I know it sounds self-preoccupied, but when you grow up with codependency and party-line positions as defining norms, this is a big deal. Knowing who I am and liking it and not accepting the hurtful things other people have said about me or to me if they don’t ring true with this core-of-me is liberating.

And everyone keeps saying that this is defined by my identity in Christ and that is true in a sense, but it’s more helpful for me to see that inverted: I can be comfortable in my own skin because this is how I was made to be. I’m not absorbed in Christ, but a creation of his. And he called it good.

But in the busyness of responding to the over-50 emails and Facebook messages I got last week (thank you, everyone. So much kindness.) and the face-to-face conversations where I have to tell my story again because I love this person and owe them that, and the busyness of my real life day job that keeps me on my toes, and so many ideas (Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week! Grad school! Career ideas! Writing a novel! Writing poems! Writing ANYTHING! READ ALL THE BOOKS!), I have been having to fight to protect myself from myself, from saying yes to everyone and everything that is good. I’m so bad at this. I am too curious about stories and ideas and want to absorb it all. It’s not obligatory commitment guilt, it’s can’t-turn-off-the-curiosity overkill.

However, it’s been good for me, in other ways. Structure, ideas, creativity — these things keep me from lingering too long on things I shouldn’t give into, and I am thankful for that. But this is partly all to say: I love everybody but if communication is slow or I’m not able to see you in person, please be understanding. Be patient with me?

Today’s a snow day, so I’m playing catch up and working from home and enjoying the slower pace. Not commuting for 3 hours gives me a lot of my day back!

Today’s office


In the meantime, here’s my current reading list for kicks and giggles. What’s overwhelming you this week? What are YOU reading or writing about?

  1. Dangerous Angels, Francesca Lia Block — happy light reading for my tired brain, thanks to friends who understand. And Weetzie is darling.
  2. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen — picked this up at Kramerbooks on Friday, and started it on the train home. No verdict yet.
  3. The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris — Oh my word, this book is balm to my soul. I read this most mornings on the train and her meditations are the perfect way to start the day. I have lots of thoughts about her discussion of celibacy and the virgin martyrs. Anyone else want to talk about this? It’s really good. My grandmother foisted it on me over Christmas and she knows everything.
  4. Theology of the Body for Beginners, Christpher West — Not a Catholic, but super curious about JPII’s magnum opus as theology of the body (er, lack thereof) is one of my favorite Evangelicals-are-missing-something soapboxes.

There are others I’ve started and neglected sitting around my room, but these are my buddies for right now. And I’m starting to really miss having the rest of my books out and with me. How do other transient reader folk deal with this issue?

5 thoughts on “That still centre

  1. Weird. I’m reading about St. Patrick. I just finished How the Irish Saved Civilization and Patrick’s Confession. That we are both reading Catholics! I’ll look for the Norris book now.

  2. i understand the missing of books. i lost an entire box of books. they are somewhere between the west and east coasts, and i think about them at least once a week. sometimes i wonder if that’s healthy, or not.

    i have three alternating reads this week: Bird by Bird/Lamott, Invitation to a Journey/Mulholland, and Cutting for Stone/Verghese. i’ve been recording my reflections on my life of reading and writing.

  3. Re books: kindle maybe? so you can have your whole library with you? a lot of the classics/out of copyright books are free or very inexpensive, most others run around $10ish.

  4. this was really – simply, deeply – lovely. snow days and still centres (yes, british centres) and reading lists are good things and things to be treasured, and finding our limits and resting in what we find we’re made to do is a good thing.
    i am no expert on life and growing up, but i am really proud of you.

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