"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

30 October 2007

Happy Endings

Last week on Criminal Minds, the team searched for a missing child, finding out in the course of the search that she had been abused by her uncle. The quotation at the end was from G.K. Chesterton: "Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed."

I was thinking about this yesterday morning while reflecting on why I write. Generally speaking, children's literature does have happy endings, because we know that children need to believe in hope. And I am always seeking a vision, an ideal, hope, when I write. And so I wrote:

"I am, then, seeking happy endings when I write. Not sappy, unrealistic, 'perfect' endings, but ones that are possible in a broken world which has been entered by redemptive power, ones that are possible because brokenness is not all there is. The flawed beauty we see all around us, the flawed goodness of people we meet on our way, tells us this -- so much of beauty and goodness within the brokenness, if we look for it, tells us this, tells us that the world is indeed still 'charged with the grandeur of God,' that 'there lives the dearest freshness deep down things' even in a world 'seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil.'

"I write to find and articulate gems of joy, glimpses of the ideal, prisms of hope. I only know that my world is flawed because I know there is an ideal by which to judge it. And without this ideal, if we reject the vision of an ideal, there is only despair. We must offer hope by offering the ideal we glimpse, the vision shimmering always on the edge of sight."

I have never been ashamed of happy endings, of beauty, of hope. I am grieved that so many in the past century have found it more likely that life doesn't offer these, that so many have turned from the search and offered the lies of despair in the name of realism. Because, as I also wrote:

"I read for the same reason: I read to find the ideal. Not to avoid reality, but to see that reality is not the mere observable broken world that drowns me every morning when I wake, that drowns me when I wake from a literary world that has drawn me into its beauty, when I wake from a rare immersion in the reality of God's love. Reality is not brokenness and despair; reality is redemption with all its hope in the midst of the brokenness and despair."

Our happy endings here will always be tinged with some edge of sadness. And yet -- there is an ultimate happy ending where all tears, all sorrow will be washed away forever. How, otherwise, can one find courage to live?

23 October 2007

Daylight Moon

"He must increase; I must decrease." And so of course it had to be and was.

But this never meant John the Baptist was forgotten or useless, even after the increase of Jesus. His story, while only ever reflected light, and now subdued in the full light of day, still teaches who Jesus is, and much more besides. It is one of the altar stones this side of Jordan. And those still in darkness, unaware of the Light, may be moved by it to seek Him.

The moon on a cloudless autumn afternoon reminds me of the darkness where she lit my way -- and will do again, as long as we remain east of Eden. She reminds me that my reflected light is loved by the Son, whether lighting a dark path in the shadowlands or simply basking in the full light of His presence.

"Come be My light," Mother Teresa heard Jesus call to her. Answer, and then leave all to Him. "Take what He gives and give what He takes with a big smile," she also wrote. All is up to Him; we need only receive His light and leave the times of increase and decrease up to Him.

22 October 2007


Yesterday afternoon, I heard the Yorkie sisters from next door barking furiously, so I moseyed out to the front porch to see if I could cajole some playful cuddling from one or both. It was no go – they were focused on the neighborhood cat in regal procession down the middle of the street, her cool Queen of Sheba stroll declaring disdain for her enraged antagonists, the elder Sophie on the porch, intrepid Sadie in the drive. The disdain was well-placed, as we all knew that if Sadie dared to follow, the royalty need only turn, sit, and casually lick her fur to send the little grey-white creature into an even greater frenzy, backing away in consternation at the perceived challenge. When I called, both dogs merely glanced my way, impatient at the interruption, Sophie safely ensconced in her normal reserve, Sadie giving a good imitation of obedience to the convenient sharp calls of her owner, usually hopeless and unheeded, to “stay here!”

Laughing, I sat down on the steps to watch the show and enjoy the warm sun and cool breeze of the almost-autumn day. At mid-afternoon, the sun made luminous green of the trees at the top of the valley sides, melding into cool contrasting shadows in the depths. Looking up into the cloudless blue, I was greeted by the half-moon winking at me with a sardonic grin. Although it contributed no new light to the world, still it shone merrily, unconcerned with anything but its work of reflection, leaving the results to its master the sun.

And so back to work with a better will.

19 October 2007


Just had to say that my oldest son is back from his overseas deployment! He was gone "only" three months this time, and he will be in the States for his son's fourth birthday, after missing his third one last year. It's not like I'd have been seeing him these past weeks, and yet I missed him so much more than when he was in Virginia, just knowing that he was so far away. It feels as though he's right here with us, even though it would still take a day's drive to reach him. Maybe it's to do with knowing that I could make that day's drive, instead of knowing that reaching him would be essentially impossible.

What a lovely end to my break, a special gift to carry into next week and lift me up when the daily round begins to grate again.

11 October 2007

Fall Break

Fall break is coming up. For me, it mainly means sleeping in (oh, the luxury!) and grading all day instead of all night. Or reading all day and still grading all night. I could have gotten more grading done this week, maybe -- but I'm not convinced. I've reached that stage of exhaustion where I merely stare, stupefied, at lists and more lists, unable to determine which of the thousand items is most urgent, much less most important.

But eagle's wings do uphold me, and I look forward to gathering my strength in the sheltered quiet of the aerie nest prepared by my Father.

10 October 2007

Crystal Sky

The sky burnished black crystal with glittering ice diamonds strewn across its surface . . . heart-wrenching beauty to spark joy in a new moon of the soul.

Not an original image, by any means, but it became mine for the first time this morning --

08 October 2007

Come Be My Light

The title of Mother Teresa's book Come Be My Light, is not a prayer of hers to Jesus; it is His call to her in a vision -- a call to be His light to the poorest and most undesirable in India. From her writings:

"If God who owes nothing to us is ready to impart to us no less than Himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God Himself."

"To the good God nothing is little because He is so great and we so small -- that is why He stoops down and takes the trouble to make those little things for us -- to give us a chance to prove our love for Him. Because He makes them, they are very great. He cannot make anything small; they are infinite. Yes my dear children [her sister nuns], be faithful in little practices of love, of little sacrifices -- of the little interior mortification -- of little fidelities to Rule, which will build in you the life of holiness -- make you Christ-like. [. . .] Don't look for big things, just do small things with great love . . . The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love."

She could say this and live this way because, as the editor says, "she trusted that His will for her would always be an expression of [His] unfailing love, however difficult or even impossible it might be at times to fathom His designs"; and elsewhere, "She entrusted herself to His providential intervention and her trust was rewarded."

04 October 2007

The Little Way

Michael Novak writes about Mother Teresa in the 24 September National Review, in an article called "Way of Darkness." Therese of Lisieux, often called "Therese of the Little Way," was Mother Teresa's patron saint; Therese's autobiography is The Story of a Soul, out recently in a new translation which I am enjoying very much.

Novak summarizes Therese's "Little Way" in his article:

The kernal of Therese's teaching is often called "the little way," meaning that no Christian is too humble or too insignificant to follow it. No matter what spiritual darkness you find yourself in, choose as your North Star a tender love for the persons that life's contingencies have put next to you. Do not go looking for more fascinating neighbors to love. Love those who are nearest. You cannot see God, even if you try. But you can see your neighbor, the tedious one, the one who grinds on you: Love him, love her. As Jesus loves them. Give them the tender smile of Jesus, even though your own feelings be like the bottom of a bird cage. Do not ask to see Jesus, or to feel him: That is for children. Love him in the dark. Love for the invisible divine, not for the warm and comforting human consolation. Love for the sake of love, not in order to feel loved in return.

I just got Mother Teresa's Come Be My Light yesterday. She lived her patron saint's "little way," by all accounts; I am awed already by the first few pages. Her humility and her absolute, profound love for Jesus and desire for His glory shines forth in her letters and what others say about her. If we gave one-hundredth the love that such people do, what might the world look like?