"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

29 January 2007

On Trees

I really can't do better today than refer you to a lovely post at Mere Comments by Steve Hutchens on the beauty of trees. It reminded me of the sorrow I felt when one of the oldest oaks in the state was cut down to make way for the science library at KU many years ago.


24 January 2007

Writing Again

I am at such a loss. There is too much information; too many bits and pieces are slamming against each other in the agitated stew that is my mind just now, competing for attention, for the place of most importance.

So much can be said, needs to be said, on my subject. I am desperate for a focus, but so far it eludes me utterly. I could write a book quite easily in comparison to this attempt to condense my ideas into a meaningful eight or ten pages.

To be glib and superficial, to confuse the issue or discourage with incompleteness, would be disastrous. Yet there is not space for nuance or apology or exposition of every possible misunderstanding. If I could grasp with any certainty the most important need of my audience, then maybe I could see my way. But every time I try to pin down that one need, it instantly grows: this -- and this-- and this -- oh, and this . . .

What is meat and potatoes; what is mere flavoring? For wisdom, oh, for wisdom!

23 January 2007

Caged Bird

I have rediscovered Polishing the Petoskey Stone, a collection of poetry by Luci Shaw. Strangely, even though I love her work, I hadn't read but a few poems in it after picking it up at the used bookstore last summer. It had even been placed on top of my roll-top desk with other oft-read favorites, where still it waited unnoticed until a couple of evenings ago.

This is why I needed it right now, as I am contemplating the nature of suffering and our response to it:

Caged bird

whose eye,
no longer
scans the sky --
whose sleek
shape, carved
for flight,
is shrouded
by a pall
of wire --
whose beak
sorts millet,
never finds
the sun-filled
film and fire
of insect wings,
nor worm's wry
juice: his
of claws grip
ache for real
bark, and the
fling of winds
and trees.

by thin chrome,
he learns
all summer long
to sing
newly, to poem
his stunted
in one long,
airborne, sun-
colored wing
of song.

16 January 2007

"Now My Eyes See You"

I have been reading in Thomas Merton's No Man is an Island lately, especially chapter 5, "The Word of the Cross," on suffering. Last night I was particularly struck by this:

What, after all, is more personal than suffering? The awful futility of our attempts to convey the reality of our sufferings to other people, and the tragic inadequacy of human sympathy, both prove how incommunicable a thing suffering really is.

This reminded me forcefully of Auden's poem "Musee des Beaux Arts." He describes paintings by the great masters, who understand the inevitable isolation of the sufferer -- most people don't even notice the suffering of others, much less have any great concern for it:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along . . .

When a man suffers, Merton continues, he is most alone. Therefore, it is in suffering that we are most tested as persons. How can we face the awful interior questioning? What shall we answer when we come to be examined by pain?

This is the hardest place in the world to be. Alone, and in pain, with the inevitable "why" of our human inadequacies. Even Job, the most righteous man of his time (according to God Himself), could not avoid the questioning.

Merton's answer: If [. . .] we desire to be what we are meant to be, and if we become what we are supposed to become, the interrogation of suffering will call forth from us both our own name and the name of Jesus. And we will find that we have begun to work out our destiny which is to be at once ourselves and Christ.

Job received no answer to his questions. God didn't assure him of how much He loved him; He didn't offer emotional comfort to him; He didn't explain how the wicked will be punished later; He didn't explain the purpose of suffering. In essence, He said to Job simply, I am. He showed Job that he couldn't possibly understand Him, and so his questions were irrelevant. All Job needed was sight: I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, he declares, but now my eyes see You.

Suffering is not a good thing -- it is a result of the Fall -- but it can be a blessing: if we allow it to give us eyes to see the One who created and loves us.

09 January 2007

Quarter Moon

A new semester is beginning, and a certain darkness of soul which always occurs after a break. This morning I left for work in the pre-dawn after several days of rain and grey skies, only to be startled by a perfect quarter-moon glowing in the deep indigo of a starless sky. Yet again, a reminder from the muse to reflect the light given no matter the surroundings.

03 January 2007


A poem from Donald Hall's collection Without (poems written about his wife, Jane Kenyon, concerning her illness and death), which for some reason especially struck me today:

He hovered beside Jane's bed,
solicitous: "What can I do?"
It must have been unbearable
while she suffered her private hurts
to see his worried face
looming above her, always anxious to do
something when there was
exactly nothing to do. Inside him,
some four-year-old
understood that if he was good -- thoughtful,
considerate, beyond
reproach, perfect -- she would not leave him.

(Alternate lines beginning with the first are indented, but I don't seem to be able to make them do this for me . . .)

02 January 2007

Suffering and Serenity

I found a copy of William F. Buckley's Happy Days Were Here Again -- a collection of some of his older essays -- for $.75 at our used bookstore. How could I not succumb?! So I read it through during finals and while we were at my mother-in-law's, so I could leave it with my folks, who are great Buckley fans.

One essay is a eulogy for Malcolm Muggeridge, and Buckley quotes a letter he once received from Muggeridge:

As an old man, Bill, looking back on one's life, it's one of the things that strikes you most forcibly -- that the only thing that's taught one anything is suffering. Not success, not happiness, not anything like that. The only thing that really teaches one what life's about -- the joy of understanding, the joy of coming in contact with what life really signifies -- is suffering, affliction.

Buckley then continues:

He suffered, even at the end. But throughout his lifetime he diminished the suffering of others, at first simply by his wit and intelligence, finally by his own serenity, which brought serene moments to those graced by his presence.

Oh, that when I die, someone will say that my presence diminished the suffering of even one other person! I cannot imagine a more lovely, a more meaningful eulogy. Lord, help me to find and give serenity by knowing You.