"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

20 June 2009

Kathleen Norris: Acedia and Me

I am reading Kathleen Norris's Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. It is convicting and comforting, challenging and calming. I will be writing more on it when I have read further and understand better some of the distinctions she draws between acedia (one of the seven deadly sins -- sloth, or ennui: weariness in well-doing) and depression (the clinical condition). It is one of those books in which the non-underlined portions will, I fear, be less than the underlined and commented on; in other words, I'll just have to re-read the entire thing again and again, instead of selected passages. Which may be just as well.

The final chapter is a commonplace book of quotations on her subject, and I was struck by this one as I browsed it this evening:

"When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie [acedia] and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, 'Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone, what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?' A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, 'Do this and you will be saved.' At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved."

Reminds me of my life's mantra: Do the next thing. Then do the next thing.
And at some point you will find that you are living again, not perhaps knowing quite when or how it happened.

15 June 2009

Quotables from Wendell Berry

First, a distraction: I was getting ready to write this post when I heard knocking in the living room. Sure enough, the crazy bluebird was attacking himself again in the picture window, which apparently creates an excellent reflection at certain times of day. I pulled the curtains over the window to keep him from giving himself a concussion, remembering the Baltimore Oriole that nearly killed himself on my father's pick-up side mirrors back when I was in high school. Every day when he got home from work he had to cover the mirrors with paper bags . . .

I love Wendell Berry's writing. I do not always agree with his conclusions, but I appreciate his eloquent defense of simplicity and tradition. Last night I was skimming Life is a Miracle, trying to decide if I'm in the mood for it just now. I think not, but I enjoyed the section of brief concluding notes. Sometimes he makes me laugh -- and then forces me into a completely unexpected depth of thinking, like this note did: "The anti-smoking campaign, by its insistent reference to the expensiveness to government and society of death by smoking, has raised a question that it has not answered: What is the best and cheapest disease to die from, and how can the best and cheapest disease be promoted?" The implications are profound . . . and perhaps a bit frightening in today's climate.

There goes the bluebird again -- someone has opened the curtains. I may kill him myself, to put him out of my misery.

Here is another note, this time about art: "Good artists are people who can stick things together so that they stay stuck. They know how to gather things into formal arrangements that are intelligible, memorable, and lasting. Good forms confer health onto the things that they stick together. Farms, families, and communities are forms of art just as are poems, paintings, and symphonies. None of these things would exist if we did not make them. We can make them either well or poorly; this choice is another thing that we make."

And again the bluebird. I give up. I shall have to pull the shade down and live in a cave this morning again . . .

09 June 2009

Moonlight and Mockingbirds

Last night I couldn't sleep; here's what I wrote in my journal:

It's 1:00 a.m., and stuffiness from allergies and the last of a summer cold is keeping me awake. Earlier tonight, the Young Man drew my attention to the full moon: hanging precisely between the tops of the dogwood and the horse chestnut, its burnt-orange disk glowed like a living coin. Now it sails high above me, soft white diffused into a misty gleaming, lighting the darkness like a miniature sun. The mockingbird in the dogwood sings to it, a fascinating repertoire of a dozen calls or more. Maybe I should play it some Wagner.

06 June 2009

Soldiers and Sailors

Sitting in the Memphis airport on my way home this week, I was privileged to observe the interactions of three World War II veterans and several sailors just out of basic on their way to Florida for the next training phase.

The veterans were an Army infantryman, an Army technician who worked on Air Force planes, and a Marine. The Army men both wore hats or jackets that identified them as veterans. The seven young sailors looked sharp in their dress whites, confident in having made it through basic training and still a bit nervous about the further training to come.

The infantryman had fought in one of the European beach landings, and he was a bit of a cheerful provocateur. One of his first comments on seeing the sailors was made to his WWII colleagues: "Yeah, the Navy dropped us off and turned tail and ran!" The youngsters laughed but were a little unsure how to take him until they realized he simply delighted in the age-old service rivalries banter, subjecting his Marine companion to it also, and wasn't about to let them off it just because of their youth.

They spent the next half-hour listening not just respectfully but with great interest to the oldsters' tales, laughing often but with an underlying gravity that suggested their understanding of the choice they have made to serve. May God bless them all.