"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

21 September 2009

Visual Migraines

This morning I showed up in the wrong classroom, planning to teach my 12:00 class at 10:00. Melissa and Rob finally straightened me out and I got to the right place only seven minutes late. And what a great class -- they were discussing their homework while waiting patiently for me to arrive.

Excuses for absurdity are always nice -- so here's mine.

I had been putting together the handouts for the 12:00 class (the 10:00 was already planned). A student came in to talk about an essay; when she left, about 9:20, I turned to my computer and saw strange lights on the screen -- the kind you see if you've been staring at a bright light and then look away. But I hadn't been staring at a bright light. I blinked and closed my eyes for several seconds, but the odd light remained. I got up, walked out into the department suite, and the light came with me: that was when I knew what it was.

The first visual migraine I had was terrifyingly amazing. It looked almost exactly like the top simulation at this site, except that the lines were all jagged instead of blocky, and the colors seemed a little brighter. It happened in the summer, sometime after we had moved here ten years ago. When it faded away, within 30 seconds it began again. Overall, it lasted nearly an hour. When it finally stopped, I got up, stumbled outside where K. was working, and wailed to him, "I'm going blind!!!"

Since then, I've had three or four, none so spectacular, thank the Lord. They've lasted about half an hour, and look more like the "Scintillating Socoma" at the same site I linked above, or the "Optical Migraine," except with color. The simulation half-way down this page captures the shimmering nature of the phenomonon quite accurately. This clock figure shows how they typically grow and begin to fade.

I've been blessed that these visual migraines are not followed by full-blown migraine headaches; for some people they are a headache aura. But still they wear me out, making my brain feel tired and leaving my body a little shaky.

So when the migraine started this morning, and the last thing I'd been doing before was preparing for a class -- that's the class I went to. The migraine itself finally faded out as I entered the wrong classroom. And when I finally got to the right class, I felt like I was slogging through deep sand to pull a thought up and put it into words.

And that, boys and girls, explains why I was more weird than usual this morning. Thanks for your patience and for laughing with me. And may you never experience migraines of any sort!

13 September 2009

On Being Right vs. Loving

Our pastor this morning preached on I Corinthians 13. As he talked about the pre-eminence of love in the Christian life, I was reminded of a conversation I was privy to many years ago.

Two of the tutors in the writing center I directed at the time were both Christians of the same denomination. One -- I'll call him Larry -- planned to become a pastor, and was looking forward to seminary the following year. He dressed neatly, wore his dark hair in a respectable mature cut, always arrived on time and remembered to do the paperwork. He was a good tutor.

The other -- I'll call him Steve -- was also a good tutor. He tended at times to forget things, like what time he was supposed to arrive for his consultations or to fill out the paperwork at the end of a session. His blond hair was shaggy, his clothes poor-student-eclectic. I don't think he yet knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. But the students he worked with always asked for him on repeat visits.

Larry and Steve often argued theology when there were no clients, until I'd set them about other tasks. One Friday evening, waiting for the day to officially end and knowing full well no one would walk in at that hour for help, I let them go at it for their last half hour. I don't recall the subject of the argument -- some important, though I think not essential, point of theology.

Larry was indisputably right. From both Scripture and his church tradition, his argument was accurate and well-reasoned. Steve's rebuttals were so wrong-headed they made me cringe a little. But I walked home that evening knowing that if I were in trouble, I'd far prefer to have Steve, along with his error-filled theology, by my side, than Larry with his indisputable truth.

The reason is simple: Steve loved people. His resistance came from a misunderstanding of the Scripture that made him think Larry's interpretation was harsh and cold and uncaring. And Larry couldn't convince him otherwise -- because Larry couldn't understand Steve's care for people and therefore couldn't address it, couldn't explain his argument so that Steve could see that it didn't mean what he thought. Larry cared only, in the end, about being right -- and so could not frame an argument that showed the mercy and love of the doctrine about which they argued, because he himself had no understanding of mercy and love.

I've often wondered what became of Larry. I hope that he learned love, and that the lesson wasn't too crushing. I hope that he didn't finish seminary and take a parish to be a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal, a man who has all knowledge but no love. I worry less about Steve, despite his lack of purpose. I hope he came to understand how the Lord's infinite love is demonstrated in that and other doctrines he struggled with; I hope he found out what he wanted to be and became it. But I'm as sure as one can be that at least he's given hope to others along his way.

11 September 2009

9/11: Never Forget

This morning I showed this video of the World Trade Center attack and collapse in my class.

The language is not English, but this is the best footage I found.

I try not to be political here at Inscapes, and I know that we can legitimately disagree about our precise response to this horrific evil. But we mustn’t forget that it happened, that it was evil, that 3000+ of our fellow citizens (most of them civilians) died at the hands of extremists who hate us and whose dearest wish is to destroy or subjugate us, and that they have not stopped and will not stop trying to achieve that goal. We cannot do nothing.

Pray for our troops and all those who have kept us safe from another major attack on our soil these past eight years. To all these -- and especially to my son -- thank you for putting yourselves in harm's way to protect us.

9/11: Never forget.

10 September 2009

Happy Days: New Books!

The day an Amazon box appears is always delightful! In this shipment:

Poetry and Creative Nonfiction
  • The Stream and The Sapphire by Denise Levertov
  • Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
  • Love's Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life by Scott Cairns
On Christianity
  • The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller
  • Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI)
  • The Changling Sea by Patricia McKillip
  • The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell (a Kurt Wallandar mystery)
  • Dead Irish by John Lescroart (a Dismas Hardy mystery)
  • Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
  • The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos
  • In the Beginnng: First Novels in a Mystery Series by Mary Jean Demarr
  • The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World's Poorest People are Educating Themselves by James Tooley
  • The Paideia Proposal by Mortimer Adler
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford
  • How to Think about the Great Ideas by Mortimer Adler

Yes, I've read the essays in Teaching a Stone to Talk -- I just didn't have the collection itself. A friend lent me The Changling Sea, and I had to have my own copy; McKillip's fantasy writing is some of the most beautiful I've ever read. (I hear it's uneven, but so far -- after three -- I'm a fan.)

I have begun the Kurt Wallandar mystery and am in love. I recall seeing one of Mankell's stories on Mystery and enjoying it -- but one never can judge the book by a television adaptation. They seem, however, to have captured his character quite well. The stories are set in Sweden (the author is Swedish and the books are translated), and I am enjoying the new (to me) setting and Wallandar's meditations on Swiss life and the changes he's seen over the years.

The rest sit beside my LazyBoy in the study awaiting their turn. First, however, I shall finish Scott Cairns' The End of Suffering and post a review of it. It's a lovely book, challenging and encouraging.

I plan to make another order soon -- recommendations are always welcome!