"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

28 April 2006

Finished (Sort Of)

You have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
-- Psalm 63:7-8

I just finished with my last class of the semester, and I am so tired I can hardly think. (We have finals next week, but today's the end of classes.) I cannot say enough good about my freshmen this year. They've been a delight, both semesters, both sections, and have made it well worthwhile to put in the needed energy to teach as well as I know how. I will miss them.

But, oh, my, I am weary. Yesterday I was here at 6:45 and went non-stop all day -- individual conferences, class prep, meetings, classes, and helping prepare for/attending our departmental awards evening. I actually had to turn down a couple of students who asked for help on a project; there was literally not one extra minute to give them, much as I wanted to. I got home at 8:45 with a (now-rare, thankfully) migraine, wanting to collapse.

But you know, God truly is the one who sustains. Jehovah-Jireh, God my Provider, provides marvelously. Oh, I feel the weariness, felt it all day yesterday, and yet every question, every task, there was guidance to offer, strength to complete, without anxiety or irritation (though some frustration at having to say no), and with thankfulness for the desire of students to learn, of colleagues to honor those students. And so it is a good kind of weariness, one I can accept, looking forward to rest when it's time.

26 April 2006

On Knowing One's Place

I am too harried to articulate much in writing this week, it seems, but this morning I read a wonderful post at Mere Comments by Dr. Anthony Esolen -- an English professor at Providence College and a writer for Touchstone. Tony reflects on the importance of knowing one's place in the world and accepting it with gratitude and delight, finding satisfaction in simply being who we were created to be and where we have been placed. A wonderful meditation for the end of the semester.

24 April 2006

Longing for Home Again

Smudgey grey clouds dusted the sky as we left the house in the still-dark morning, obscuring any evidence of Phoebe's light. As we left the store a half-hour later, the eastern sky shone a strange mix of ivories and ecrus, no colors at all, reminding me of a Kansas sky just before it turns its tornado-warning green.

I even miss the fear of tornadoes in a Kansas summer storm.

20 April 2006


especially for Brittany

The other day I got my first amazon box of summer reading. The contents were varied – a couple of books recommended to help me better understand Catholicism, some books by Frederick Buechner to find if I can enjoy his work, several books by writers about writing (Stephen King, Ellen Gilchrist, among others) – and poetry: Donald Hall’s Without and Mary Oliver’s Why I Wake Early. I haven’t picked up Hall’s book yet – I am a bit shy of the pain I know I will find there when my emotions are taut with semester-ending tensions – but I gulped Oliver’s book like a starving woman and am now revisiting it more slowly and mindfully.

I am, as I had expected to be, awed. Simplicity and depth combined are rare. Imagery that my technically-minded husband sees without poetry-killing explanation is even rarer – but he has enjoyed my insistent readings instead of merely indulging me with rolled eyes and mind in some other universe. In “At Black River,” he loved her image of the alligator napping in the river: “its dark, slick bronze [soaking] / in a mossy place,” but especially the teeth: “a multitude / set / for the comedy / that never comes.” “Like a clown mask,” he said.

The poem goes on to describe the alligator’s awakening and the death it brings to fish or unwary bird. The description is objective, very nearly devoid of emotion. Then the final two stanzas:

Don’t think
I’m not afraid.
There is such an unleashing
of horror.

Then I remember:
death comes before
the rolling away
of the stone.

What an affirmation of hope this is to me. Death lies napping in “a mossy place,” wakes “to boom, and thrust forward, / paralyzing” his prey. We can see it with objectivity from a distance, but finally the very description strikes horror to the soul. And yet – and yet – in this fallen world, the way to eternity lies behind the stone-sealed door of the tomb.

A student lost her grandfather recently, the first death she’s encountered. It was confusing, she said – good to know she would see him again someday, but unthinkable that he won’t be there when she visits her grandmother this summer; good that the family had the chance to say goodbye, but heart-rending that the necessity exists. I could only think of the deaths to come of beloved parents and how I long for their immortality, not elsewhere but here and with me now, even understanding that they are immortal despite the forced separation of the fall.

How could one face the horror of death not knowing that the stone will be rolled away? Philip Larkin writes of the terror of annihilation in “Aubade”:

The mind blanks at the glare. [. . .]
[. . .]
[A]t the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

[. . .]
[T]his is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

I know so little of anything, and understand so much less. Lord, thank You for the certainty of the empty tomb.

Too Overwhelmed Not to Write

So many things swarm the mind this time of year. The huge number of papers to be graded, the preparations for the final class periods to make them genuinely useful, creating final exams, facing down the infinite and infinitely varied pleas for extensions and accommodations, choosing books for next fall’s courses, preparing for the trip to see parents half the country away immediately after commencement . . . Overwhelmed is an understatement.

Reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing a couple of days ago (no, I wasn’t merely enjoying myself, more’s the pity; I was preparing a lecture on Bradbury for my freshmen, who are writing their final essay on Fahrenheit 451), I was reminded of a truth vital to my sanity: “if I let a day go by without writing,” Bradbury says, “I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four, and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.”

Yes, indeed. Well, I rarely have the energy to run in circles, but it gets me out of the wallow at least. I am a writer, and I must find perspective and a measure of peace through writing. Churning thoughts, determination to schedule my tasks, ranting about the hectic flow – these do not help me to center, to calm, to find the strength to move through each task effectively.

Maybe this explains why ideas for the writing flood my mind when I am, it seems, far too busy to pay them heed. I may not be able to give them all the time I would like, but I need to open heart and pen to them for whatever time I can – and return to my more urgent tasks with a better will.


I wake heavily -- 5:09
-- and sigh
somewhere deep inside.
51 more minutes
before the alarm beep-beep-beeps
the day to life.

I wish I would just die.

The thought -- though hardly
rare -- startles in its
abrupt lack of context.
On the verge of leaden sleep,
I watch the clock --
51 minutes --
as it repeats itself:
a mantra of the fog
I later find
enshrouding the fields
on the drive to work.

18 April 2006

Waking to Beauty

Our neighbor's horses walked this morning in shreds of mist escaped from the pasture hollow where fog swayed softly in the breeze.

Yesterday I glanced from the car window to see the unexpected wake of a duck swimming without care in the still river lake we cross below the campus grounds.

Beauty always surprises me, wakes me to the Beauty I take so for granted every day.

For eyes to see, Lord. For eyes to see.

16 April 2006

Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

It is a glorious morning here in the South, fit for celebrating the Lord's Resurrection.

I have been dipping into several newly arrived books -- Richard Neuhaus's Catholic Matters, Frederick Buechner's Now and Then and Longing for Home, among others. I have been particularly struck by the reminder I keep finding of the objectivity of our salvation. It was not in the first place dependent on how I felt or what I experienced, but on His work on the Cross and in the Resurrection. It does not depend today on whether I feel like it is true, but still on His work on the Cross and in the Resurrection.

What a glorious truth, one which has saved my mind and my physical life more than once. What a glorious gift of this day to remember it in.

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!

11 April 2006

On Being Complete

A Hopkins sonnet:

In the Valley of the Elwy

I remember a house where all were good
To me, God knows, deserving no such thing;
Comforting smell breathed at very entering,
Fetched fresh, as I suppose, off some sweet wood.

That cordial air made these kind people a hood
All over, as a bevy of eggs the mothering wing
Will, or mild nights the new morsels of Spring:
Why, it seemed of course; seemed of right it should.

Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales,
All the air things wear that build this world of Wales;
Only the inmate does not correspond:

God, lover of souls, swaying considerate scales,
Complete thy creature dear O where it fails,
Being mighty a master, being father and fond.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. -- Phil. 1:6

06 April 2006

Mocktails, Anyone?

I have been invited to a mocktail party this evening.

Alcohol being forbidden on our campus, the three young ladies who form the FHBC (Future Homemakers of B--- College) are fixing hors' dourves and non-alcoholic mixed drinks -- mocktails -- for two of us on the faculty. We even got printed invitations.

I am honored. I am especially honored because the three young ladies are biology majors and the other attendee is our female biology professor. Me, I'm in English. Biology is a foreign language, and biologists are always talking about body parts I've never heard of. But the young ladies take my classes even when they don't have to, and now they have asked me to join them for mocktails.

We have cool students here.

03 April 2006

Madness and Vision

Megan asked in a comment on my last post:
"What does Gardner mean by 'divine madness,' and in what way do we live or die by the artist's vision? "

Here are some excerpts that suggest his answers:

On madness:
“The writer and the psychotic make use of the same faculty and similar energy, the same ability to escape external time and space. If it is true that the motive force of this energy is some tension in the life of the artist or madman [. . .] then a proper use of artistic energy is one which treats the tension, makes decisions about it rather than evading it. The artist is free, the psychotic – helplessly driven by his fear – is not. The theoretical border between art and madness seems to be, then, that the artist can wake up and the psychotic cannot. In fact, though, the difference must be one of degree. Psychotics, we know, can snap out of it, and sometimes do, and an occasional artist relinquishes his hold. Shakespeare understood this. When Hamlet plays mad, he takes a step toward real madness. Sanity is remembering the purpose of the game.”

On the purpose of art:
“In a world where nearly everything that passes for art is tinny and commercial and often, in addition, hollow and academic, I argue – by reason and by banging the table – for an old-fashioned view of what art is and does [. . .]. The traditional view is that true art is moral: it seeks to hold off, at least for a while, the twilight of the gods and us. [. . .] That art which tends toward destruction, the art of nihilists, cynics, and merdistes, is not properly art at all. Art is essentially serious and beneficial, a game played against chaos and death, against entropy. [. . .] Art asserts and reasserts those values which hold off dissolution, struggling to keep the mind intact [. . .]. Art rediscovers, generation by generation, what is necessary to humanness.”

Gardner is not saying that all art must be deathly serious, but he does say that serious art makes the world "safe" for "trivial" art that is merely showy, merely entertaining. When he says we live or die by the artist's vision, he is saying, I think, that art does not merely reflect culture but also influences and even perhaps creates it.

If we embrace the vision of the true artist, we receive from it hope that we can live by. The true artist is the one with the vision of love, the one who rejects falsehood in all its forms and calls us back to truth -- and if we don't listen to his vision, we will listen to the false vision of the false artist.

I think we can see this today in the films we embrace (art doesn't have to be novels or poetry of course, and today's most popular art is film, or perhaps contemporary music). We may say we want "truth" in the films we view, but what do we usually settle for? The world's version of truth, which is cynicism and nihilism and dark, dark, dark pictures of what life is all about.

Not that we shouldn't know that vision -- it is the only vision the man without God can ultimately have -- but to immerse ourselves in it and accept it as "true"? That is another thing altogether, yet it is what many today do, and without the grounding of true art of any sort with which to compare it. My students, for example, know the truth intellectually, but they live in a world of falsehood in the images they constantly view (and the music they constantly play) and don't even see the disconnect between mind and heart that this requires.

Ed Veith talks about this in a book my son read last semester, the title of which I cannot now recall. He points out that art surrounds us -- in the ways we decide to decorate our homes as well as in the art museum or at Barnes and Noble. And if what surrounds us is "tinny and commercial" and there is no antidote in exposure to true art . . . then our hearts will be formed by the subtleties of the art we embrace, not the philosophical or theological propositions we give voice to.

I fear I am not explaining myself very well here, but I wanted to address Megan's excellent questions; take this as a kind of thinking out loud as I try to (too) quickly articulate my ideas. I'll try to get back to them when I have time to do a clearer job!