"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

24 December 2012

Blessed Christmas

Brokenness sometimes overwhelms me at Christmas, the fog rolling in tonight a stealthy reminder despite its soft beauty.  When I was a freshman in college, we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve to accommodate my brother’s stepson and his other grandparents.  On Christmas morning, my mother’s birthday, her father died at 3:00 a.m.  We’ve opened gifts on Christmas Eve ever since.

Two years ago was the first Christmas without my daddy.  One year ago was the first Christmas without his sister.  This is the first Christmas without my brother, the last of the immediate family.  And here I am in Tennessee, while my mother celebrates Christmas without family. 

Yet we celebrate, because the Babe came to bring hope, to bring light, to offer the star that ever shines above our Mordor, no matter how impenetrable the clouds of sin and sorrow may seem.  On this foggy Christmas Eve, I have our own unique Christmas tree to remind me.

The jade is an offshoot of the one my daddy grew at the University of Kansas; his was quite a large tree when it finally died long after his retirement.  But he had given me a shoot from it when I got married – “it’s the only thing I know you won’t kill,” he teased me, knowing I never remember to water plants.  We lost the original, I fear, to the abuse of some move or other, but this is its descendent.  We never got a “real” Christmas tree, because we always traveled to my parents’ home, where a tree and wreaths and lights and cookies waited, when the kids were growing up – but I love the little blue lights in the glossy green of the jade leaves, and the simple crèche at its foot. 

As this jade with its tiny lights comes from my father’s better-cared-for and massive plant, I am reminded that hope comes from my heavenly Father’s gift – and however much I and the rest of the world may try to darken and twist and destroy that gift, we cannot.  His light will always be shining, always be waiting, anticipating our upturned eyes to see.  And even the tiniest light will penetrate the darkness if we only look.

A blessed Christmas to all, especially to those who suffer loneliness, loss, sorrow this season.  May His light brighten even the darkest moments with His hope.

On Style

One of the books I'm perusing this break is Richard Weaver's Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time, a book which is third in a trilogy about culture along with Ideas Have Consequences and Language is Sermonic.  Visions is his last work, published after his death in 1963.  It is, as the subtitle suggests, a definition of culture, an exploration of what has gone wrong in 20th century America, and how we can pursue the resurrection of a true culture.  The following passage, however, is a sort of side trip (to the point but not straight on it) having to do with style -- an issue writers and readers discuss and debate continually.  (I have added boldface.)

"True style displays itself in elaboration, rhythm, and distance, which demand activity of the imagination and play of the spirit.  Elaboration means going beyond what is useful to produce what is engaging to contemplation.  Rhythm is a marking of beginnings and endings.  In place of a meaningless continuum, rhythm provides intelligibility and the sense that the material has been handled in a subjective interest.  It is human to dislike mere lapse.  When one sees things in rhythmical configuration, he feels they have been brought into the realm of the spirit.  Rhythm is thus a way of breaking up nihilistic monotony and of proclaiming that there is a world of value.  Distance is what preserves us from the vulgarity of immediacy.  Extension and proportion in space, as in architecture, and extension in time, as in manners and deportment, help to give gratifying form to these creations.  All style has an element of ritual, which signifies steps which cannot be passed over.

"Today, these factors of style, which is of the essence of culture, are regarded as if they were mere persiflage.  Elaboration is suspected of spending too much time on nonutilitarian needs, and the limited ends of engineering efficiency take precedence.  Rhythm suffers because one cannot wait for the period to come around.  In regard to distance, there is felt that there should be nothing between man and what he wants; distance is a kind of prohibition; and the new man sees no sanction in arrangements that stand in the way of immediate gratification.  He has not been taught the subtlety to perceive that what one gains by immediate seizure one pays for by more serious losses.  Impatience with space and time seems to be driving the modern to an increasing surrender of all ideas of order.  Everywhere there is reversion to the plain and the casual, and style itself takes on an obsolescent look, as it belonged to some era destined never again to appear."

20 December 2012

The Christendom Review: New Issue

The Christendom Review has released its newest issue, which is (if I do say so myself) worth some time to peruse.

Lydia McGrew does her usual excellent work on pro-life issues in an essay on human exceptionalism.

Thomas DeFreitas and Lee Evans offer delightful poetry.

Millie Sweeney reflects on her first year of marriage and the beauty of children.

And, yes, I have an essay on the value of close reading.

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