703. Ambition


The Chrysostom Society of writers recently released Ambition, an anthology of essays about ambition by some of my favorite authors. Ambition is a hard word, a complicated word, often a scorned word in some circles, particularly writerly circles, and so it’s appropriate that the book’s cover is a scarlet “A”. I read it while on vacation/writing retreat last month and want to pass on a few pearls.

From Scott Cairns: “Ambition is only bad if it is an ambition for small things. Ambition for great things is itself a great thing, an honorable thing, and worthy of those who are shaped in the image of God, those called to acquire His likeness. I would have to say that this sort of ambition is, itself, something of a gift.”

From Erin McGraw: “As sins go, complacency is one of the delightful ones, inviting us to loaf and take our ease. Everything is fine, complacency says. There’s not need to bestir ourselves. Everything is A-OK, except maybe we could stand a refill of our iced tea while we lie out here on the lounge chair.”

From Luci Shaw: “We may be gifted, competent, creative. We want to learn as we go, and in our mature years we hope to have gained wisdom and genuineness. Like comets, we may trail behind us a plume of work well done, writing or art that seems to justify its existence. We need to ask (without knowing the answer): What is its eternal value? Was it done to God’s glory? When we invite God into every task, seek wisdom, trust the help that comes with prayer, the work itself becomes a sacrament. The immediate and the infinite join hands.”

From Eugene Peterson: “I knew I needed to find a way to keep ambition from deforming my vocation into something that I felt in my bones was squeezing the Spirit out of my life, professionalizing and depersonalizing my life into a role in which I was too busy to take time with the complexities of people or be present before God. I found it by happening on writers who I am sure didn’t have a pastor in mind when they wrote their books, but for me they were Lazarus dipping his finger into water. Over the years I found many. Here are three of the early ones who cooled my busy, overheated tongue: James Joyce, Wallace Stegner, and Wendell Berry.”

From Jeanne Murray Walker: “The summer our family went to Florence, I saw hundreds of versions of the Madonna with the Child in the Uffizi…. They embodied the Platonic thing, the big, true narrative to which my own mothering life referred: the narrative about Mary. If she had ambitions before Gabriel arrived, she surrendered them when she gave the avuncular angel her answer. “Let it be unto me as you have said,” she told him, pitching herself into mothering time. Yes, she said. I will live this life you have proposed.”

From Bret Lott: “You have everything to learn. This will be what keeps you. What points you toward humility: knowing how very little you know, how very far you have to go.” This essay, “Toward Humility,” in which Lott gives the backstory to Oprah’s selection of his novel Jewel for her book club is alone worth the price of the book.


[Photo: taken of the book's cover.]

671. Isak Dinesen on two courses of thought

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"There are only two courses of thought at all seemly to a person of any intelligence. The one is: What am I to do this next moment?–or tonight, or tomorrow? And the other: What did God mean by creating the world, the sea, and the desert, the horse, the winds, woman, amber, fishes, wine?"

Isak Dinesen, from "The Dreamers" in Seven Gothic Tales


[Photo: yet another taken recently at the American Swedish Institute, from the ceiling of a playhouse set up for children. This photo reminds me of this companion post from nearly a year ago, "Beyond the Roof of the Stars." I hope you'll click and add that to your day's reading as well.]

663. When you're dreaming of escape

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This morning I read this quote by Gustave Thibon and then all day waited for the time I could set aside my client work and copy it out for you. This is the kind of thing you may want to read a couple times; I think it’s worth the time. If I had read this while writing Finding Livelihood, I may have tried to find a way to work part of it in to the labyrinth chapter – that chapter about how sometimes it seems we’re going over the same ground again and again, about how staying in place is a pilgrimage too.


“You feel you are hedged in; you dream of escape; but beware of mirages. Do not run or fly away in order to get free: rather dig in the narrow place which has been given you; you will find God there and everything. God does not float on your horizon, he sleeps in your substance. Vanity runs, love digs.”


There is so much beauty of language in those lines. So much wisdom.


[Photo: taken from the passenger seat of a moving car, just before Thanksgiving, of a full moon at twilight over a nearby lake.]