09 June 2012

Wade Report #1: Musings on Providence

I spent this entire past week at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, just outside Chicago. I've studied at the Wade once before, last spring, for just 3 days. That time, I got a lot of work done but felt rather as if it took me the whole time to get oriented to the collection, services, materials, methods, and etiquette of the place. So this time I had an advantage, but really didn't use much of that knowledge, because I spent the entire time on one manuscript.

Unfortunately, my hosts and I got a 24-hour 'flu and passed it around every two days; Becky got it on Saturday, Sean got it on Monday, and I got it on Wednesday, right in the middle of my research week. That was a pretty miserable day. I had a monstrous long commute—2 ½ hours on various sorts of public transportation—which meant I sacrificed sleep to spend more time in the reading room, wearing down any immune defense I may ordinarily have had. So I started out Wednesday feeling just a bit queasy, and by noontime was spoiling the work of my fellow researcher with requests for a ride to the pharmacy, access to his car to sleep it off, trying to minimize contamination and the disgusting circumstances of stomach 'flu, and having to bother Becky to rent a zip car and come pick me up. Sigh.

But I was back at it almost as soon as I could stumble out of the apartment again, and accomplished my One Big Task.

This is all personal, and irrelevant to the task and to the topic of this blog. But Charles Williams has a way of creeping into my interpretations of ordinary events, so that I read the narrative of even a bout of 'flu through the lens of providence.

Yet while it was happening, I didn't know how to interpret what must be a “message from God.” I mean, isn't everything a message from God? But it's kind of arrogant to think it's a message directly to me, isn't it? Did he design that rose bush, that weather pattern, that illness, just for me? Well, the beauty is that He can design everything for everyone in an equation with way more variables than is mathematically conceivable. Well, at least, in the mathematics of humanity.

And then there's the massive problem of thinking that the “message,” if it is a message, is directly and simplistically interpretable by me. Here's one question of interpretation: I didn't know if I should take the massive challenges of a horrendous commute, an enormous sleep deficit, and then an illness that put me out of commission as signs that I should stop striving? Was the “text” of these events supposed to tell me I couldn't do it? Was it foreshadowing the fact that I will never accomplish my academic dreams?

Or was it meant to push me on to strive harder? Is a goal accomplished through larger difficulties more valuable than one achieved with relative ease? Was this a test to make me work harder, to prove to myself (and anyo/One else?) that I was serious about it?

I have no idea. But I did accomplish the task I set out to do. And that will be the next post.

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