"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

23 August 2014

Dr. Richard Cornelius, RIP

When Dr. Richard Cornelius announced his retirement, I was the one privileged to find myself with a position in the English Department at Bryan College.  I did not take his place:  no one possibly could have.  He had been the Department chair for 30 years; he was a treasure, an icon.  

My seniors that first semester did not want me as their teacher.  A fierce love of and loyalty to Dr. Cornelius kept them from allowing themselves, for awhile, to warm to a stranger; they had wanted him to teach their final classes in the major.  Over the last 15 years, I've heard from so many graduates before my time who loved him, as a teacher, a mentor, a friend.

I know him as a gracious and witty Southern gentleman who gave me all his course handouts and syllabi, and who, with good will, wished us success even when we changed some age-old academic traditions of the department.  I too have watched things that I established and directed change under new leadership, and it can be hard to let go.  If it was for Dr. Cornelius, he never let on to us.

I will let others tell the stories of his teaching and his attention to detail and his unique ways of challenging his students.  I've heard so many of them, but I never experienced them.  I can only say that he was a brilliant, humble, and kind man who made me feel that I had found a home and was welcome in it, even as he was moving toward its edges.  While I did not have a great deal of interaction with him, I always felt his friendship and lovingkindness; I always knew I had only to ask and he would offer advice and wisdom.

His legacy permeates our department even now.  His name comes up regularly within the department and from our alumni.  We may do some things differently on the surface (no more MEG test!), but we do all things with the heart and vision of Richard Cornelius:  love for our students, love for our Lord, and the instilling of a desire for excellence at every level.  

I am grateful for his influence, much greater than it seems on the surface.  I am sad for his loss and glad that I will see him again someday and know him better than I had the opportunity to in this world.  May the Lord comfort his family and friends with many lovely memories and with eternal hope, and may we never forget to live his vision.

14 August 2014

A Time for Everything


The echinacea are far gone now; none lifts a head toward the sun, and the drooping petals are fading rapidly from their elegant purple to a dull bleached white. 

But the sun seems to burst from their decay in small fireballs as the local flock of goldfinches feeds and plays among the washed out blossoms.  As I watch, one lands on the cone-shaped head of the tallest plant, swaying back and forth as he surveys the patch.  I see at least five now, playing tag or leapfrog as they swoop toward and over each other in a few minutes’ play before settling to the serious business of harvesting.  When K walks outside, at least eight take flight like brilliants in the late evening sun, breathtaking against the darkening blue of the sky.

Their bright gold, trimmed in glossy black, emphasizes the pallor of the echinacea and the dying of summer.  Yet, just as I begin to feel the sorrow of the coming autumn, their sudden and startling color delights the eye and reminds me that even this decay holds its purpose – the birds feed and store up for winter flight; the flowers drop and fertilize the earth for spring.  Indeed there is a season for everything, and the inevitable autumn need not be feared.

Photo Credit: Goldfinch on echinacea at Penn State Arboretum's pollinator garden. Photo by Anita Colyer Graham

04 July 2014

"That's what a lady does."

I have discovered Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on PBS and, despite the lead character's amorality, I love the show.  It takes place in Australia in, I believe, the 1920s.  The lead character is Phryne (pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher, an elegant, wealthy young woman who, among other good deeds, tries to help young street girls to better lives; she has taken Dot on as a lady's maid and has adopted Jane.  And, of course, she is an amateur detective who helps Inspector Jack Robinson to solve murders.  In last night's episode, she is teaching several such girls social graces.  One of them doesn't show to dinner, and they find her on the beach, drowned.  The mystery is rather complex and brilliantly solved by the combined efforts of Phryne and Jack, but another aspect is how the murder changes Phryne's teaching of the girls.

Here is the scene from which the title quote comes:  a day or two after the murder, the girls have gathered to practice dancing.  They are dressed nicely and, scattered about the room as they wait for Phryne, they are trying out graceful dance movements.  Phryne sweeps in wearing an elegant skirt set, looks about, and says, "Gather 'round, girls.  We're doing something different today."  She then demonstrates and sets to teaching them judo moves -- because self-defense will be far more practical for them than the fox-trot.

They are well into it when Inspector Robinson enters.  He seats himself near the door and observes with interest.  When his Detective Constable murmurs, "Miss Fisher knows judo, sir?" with some amazement, Jack merely replies, "Of course she does" -- he is beyond being surprised by her.

One of the girls finally sees the two men and alerts Phryne.  She turns, arches her eyebrows, and waits for Jack to speak.

Jack, deadpan:  "I hope you're not concealing a dangerous weapon under that skirt."

Phryne, archly:  "I'm concealing a lot of things.  That's what a lady does."

Ladies, let's be ladies!

11 April 2014

"Let joy size"

I have been either too early or too late for sunrises lately, or they have been obscured by stormy clouds and rain.  This morning, as I approached the turn onto the old ferry road from home, I was greeted by a riot of purples and pinks between the peaks of the hills, announcing the sun's coming, and my heart, inclined at times to despair for no given reason, lifted in the joy of God's beauty.  A Hopkins phrase came to mind -- "between pie mountains" -- and I looked it up when I arrived at the office.  The poem, one of the Sonnets of  Desolation, is more than apropos:

My own heart let me have more pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst's all-in-all in all a world of wet.


Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather--as skies
Between pie mountains--lights a lovely mile.


Oh, I haven't been in that utter of despair for quite some time, but I feel it coming on here and there, and more here than not lately.  These past few days have threatened more than rain, and I've been in a constant coping mode, hoping to hold it off, trying to quiet the brain from its churning, mindless repetitions and noise.  There's no cause; it just is.  But this beauty of the skies this morning, heralding the light of dawn, being the smile of God, "let joy size" in an "unforeseen time" -- "as skies / Between pie mountains -- [lit] a lovely mile." 

06 March 2014

Glories of the Cross

Another Valley of Vision prayer excerpt:

All these sins I mourn, lament, and for them cry pardon.
Work in me more profound and abiding repentance;
Give me the fullness of a godly grief
   that trembles and fears,
   yet ever trusts and loves,
   which is ever powerful, and ever confident;
Grant that through tears of repentance
   I may see more clearly the brightness
   and glories of the saving cross.

And from Neuhaus:

The beginning of wisdom is to come to our senses and know the fearful truth about ourselves, that we have wandered and wasted our days in a distant country far from home.  We know ourselves most truly in knowing Christ, for in him is our true self.  

It is by this world, this world at the cross, that reality is measured and judged.  That other world, the world we call real, is a distant country until we with Christ bring it home to the waiting Father.  

We are bringing it home, dragging it all behind us:  the deadlines and the duties, the fears of failure and hopes for advancement, the loves unreturned, the plans disappointed, the children we lose, the marriage we cannot mend.  And so we come loping along with reality's baggage, returning to the real -- the real that we left behind when we left for what we mistook as the real world.  "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'" [. . .]  And Christ our elder brother takes the baggage and hoists it upon his shoulders, adding this to all that on the cross he is bearing and bringing home.  "Father, forgive them, for they knew not what they were doing."

05 March 2014

Ash Wednesday


From The Valley of Vision, excerpts from a prayer that seems appropriate for the beginning of Lent.  I am talking with some of my students about life issues this semester, and I always find myself fearful of my lack of wisdom and knowledge, praying that they won't remember all the wrong, unwise, unhelpful words that undoubtedly escape my lips.  As we enter this season, it seems the perfect time to reflect on that in me which led to the need for Christ's sacrifice on the cross.  So may I be open to uncomfortable glimpses of myself to the end of repentance and praise for mercy and grace.

Searcher of hearts,
It is a good day to me when thou givest me a glimpse of myself;
Sin is my greatest evil,
   but thou art my greatest good;
[. . .]
My country, family, church
   fare worse because of my sins,
   for sinners bring judgment in thinking sins are small,
   or that God is not angry with them.
[. . .]
Show me how to know when a thing is evil
   which I think is right and good,
   how to know when what is lawful
   comes from an evil principle,
   such as desire for reputation or wealth by usury.
Give me grace to recall my needs,
   my lack of knowing thy will in Scripture,
      of wisdom to guide others,
      of daily repentance, want of which keeps thee at bay,
      of the spirit of prayer, having words without love,
      of zeal for thy glory, seeking my own ends,
      of joy in thee and thy will,
      of love to others.
And let me not lay my pipe
   too short of the fountain,
   never touching the eternal spring,
   never drawing down water from above.

And because this is the season that leads to the Cross, some salient quotations from Richard John Neuhaus's Preface to his Death on a Friday Afternoon, reminding me of the wonder of God's great sacrifice in His love for us.

"Good Friday is the drama of the love by which our every day is sustained."

Good Friday is about "the meaning of suffering, of justice, of loss, of death and of whatever hope there may be on the far side of death."

Neuhaus says that in his book we will find "stories about people today who in their troubles find themselves, as they say, at the foot of the cross.  Sometimes they find themselves there in anger, sometimes in joy, but always in a deeper awareness of the mystery of their lives within the mystery of life itself."  This, at the foot of the cross, is where I need to find, to place, myself daily, not thinking I can possibly do the simplest thing without Him.  

"'It is finished,' Jesus said from the cross.  It is finished but it is not over.  To accompany him to his end is to discover our beginning."

May this Lenten season draw us all closer to Him as we remember why He came, so that our rejoicing on Easter may be that much greater.

17 January 2014

Lightening the Heart


The nearly-full moon accompanies me down the old ferry road this morning, her brilliance shining out from the thicketed limbs of winter-denuded trees, the contours of her mountains and valleys clear to the naked eye in the indigo of early morning.  Opposite her the horizon is tinted deep orange shading into pastel coral, the sky lightening as the sun announces his coming.  I enter the building with joy, images of beauty lightening the heart to begin the day.

Followers