"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

31 December 2013

A Blessed New Year to All

A simple prayer as 2014 rapidly arrives:

Whatever suffering -- small or great -- may come our way in this broken world, may we always be alert to the beauty that God places in our way to remind us of His continual love and grace.  

Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

20 December 2013

The Earliest Foundations

It is the wont of youth to live in the present and to value over highly all that is modern, new, to their inexperienced thinking different.  But nothing is good merely because it is new, and often what is old has stayed with us not because it is mere tradition but because it has been tried and found consistent with inalterable truth.  But the past also is of great value because, for better and for worse, it has formed us, it is why we are who we are today, and on it is built all that we call new.  Without the past we would be utterly adrift, living in a vacuum without purpose, value, or coherency.

In Patricia McKillip's The Bards of Bone Plain, Jonah Cle lives as an archeologist in the ancient city of Caerau, seeking and uncovering its centuries of history.  Princess Beatrice is drawn to this work, and when she explains why, they are words we would all be wise to take to heart:

I like recognizing -- I mean finding -- what's lost.  Or rather what's forgotten.  Piecing people's lives together with the little mysteries they leave for us.  I like seeing out of earlier eyes, looking at the world when it was younger, different.  Even then, that long ago, it was building the earliest foundations of my world.  It's like searching for the beginning of a story.  You keep going back and back, and the beginning keeps shifting, running ahead of you, always older than the puzzle piece you hold in your hand, always pointing beyond what you know.

The bard to whom she's speaking, himself more ancient than she knows, agrees:

That's what I feel when I come across a new ballad [. . .].  I keep listening for the older forms of it, the place where language changes, hints at something past, the point where the story points even further back.

We are historical beings, bound in our place and time, yet with the potential to transcend (at least some of) its worst faults because we can know our past and draw on its lessons and its wisdom to see our present more clearly and what we might do to try to shape a more beneficent future.  

But only if we stop and listen, reflect and understand, act with wisdom and not mere wit.

18 December 2013

Unreality TV

I rarely watch even milliseconds of Nikita, but I caught the first scenes of the latest episode this evening.  And I found that she talks like too many of my students write:  in vague generalities that tell the listener nothing of value.

Man whose people have multiple machine guns trained on Nikita and crew:  "You have 10 seconds to give me a reason not to kill you."

Nikita:  "We're not here to interrupt your opium smuggling.  We're here to make a deal, but we need to be here temporarily." The end.

If I am the man governing the machine guns, they are now dead.

Not here to interrupt my operations?  Words are cheap.  How do I know this is true?  Why should I believe you?  How did you even know I'm a smuggler?  Who else knows this now that you know it?  Who -- the law or other smugglers -- might have followed you to this location and right now be moving in on my territory?  What is any reason whatsoever that I should trust you on this?  Here to make a deal?  What kind of deal?  With whom?  For what purpose?  What's in it for me that you need this location and no other?  Need to be here temporarily?  Why here, specifically?  Why not any of the other airports you could have chosen?  What's so important about this location for you?  In what way does it serve your purposes -- oh, and what, again, were those purposes?  Why in the world should I believe anything you just said, as it tells me exactly NOTHING OF ANY SUBSTANCE?

Yeah, dead.  Time's up and I didn't hear a single actual reason not to kill you.  Sorry.

14 October 2013

Monday, Monday . . .

Unusual traffic -- four vehicles on the steep curves of the ferry road (three more than usual) -- kept my eyes busy as I left for work this morning.  Still, I couldn't help but catch the cirrus clouds painted pink across a postcard blue sky, burning into white on the eastern horizon where the sun announced its rising, wisps of fog swirling across the pasture valley, even the rust-brown seed pods on the golden rain tree lovely in the early morning light; and on my door when I arrived a heart-encouraging letter from a beloved former student.  I'll take this Monday with its love and light.

Photo credit:  http://www.pbase.com/hjsteed/image/49077673

04 September 2013

Beauty, Beauty, Beauty . . .

Driving to work this morning, I watched ghost ponies graze in the soft white fog nestled in the hollows of a neighbor's pasture.  My swollen eyes even haloed beauty into the traffic lights and street lamps.  Last Sunday I threw open the curtains from the bedroom window and brilliant gold rained upward as the finches startled from the echinacea and flew into the surrounding trees.  That afternoon, my mother, her voice hushed with the glory of it, told of standing in her driveway in the early morning awed by a crescent moon sailing in the star-studded sky.  The crimson crepe myrtle blooms at my study window, determined despite the assault of pruning shears to pour joy into the world.  

Beauty, beauty, beauty . . . gems of joy everywhere to the seeing eye.

09 August 2013

Poems by Christina Rossetti

I love Christina Rossetti's work, and I have revisited it a bit lately.  Here are some of my favorites; some of the line formatting I have trouble reproducing (she typically indents middle lines of sonnet quatrains, for example).


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for awhile
And afterwards remember, do not grieve;
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

If Only

If I might only love my God and die!
But now He bids me love Him and live on,
Now when the bloom of all my life is gone,
The pleasant half of life has quite gone by.
My tree of hope is lopped that spread so high;
And I forget how Summer glowed and shone,
While Autumn grips me with its fingers wan,
And frets me with its fitful windy sigh.
When Autumn passes then must Winter numb,
And Winter may not pass a weary while,
But when it passes Spring shall flower again:
And in that Spring who weepeth now shall smile,
Yea, they shall wax who now are on the wane,
Yea, they shall sing for love when Christ shall come.

Weary in Well-Doing

I would have gone; God bade me stay:
I would have worked; God bade me rest.
He broke my will from day to day,
He read my yearnings unexpressed
And said them nay.

Now I would stay; God bids me go:
Now I would rest; God bids me work.
He breaks my heart tossed to and fro,
My soul is wrung with doubts that lurk
And vex it so.

I go, Lord, where Thou sendest me;
Day after day I plod and moil:
But, Christ my God, when will it be
That I may let alone my toil
And rest with Thee?

Does Thou Not Care?

I love and love not: Lord, it breaks my heart
To love and not to love.
Thou veiled within Thy glory, gone apart
Into Thy shrine, which is above,
Dost Thou not love me, Lord, or care
For this mine ill? –
I will love thee here or there,
I will accept thy broken heart, lie still.

Lord, it was well with me in time gone by
That cometh not again,
When I was fresh and cheerful, who but I?
I fresh, I cheerful: worn with pain
Now, out of sight and out of heart;
O, Lord, how long? –
I watch thee as thou art,
I will accept thy fainting heart, be strong.

“Lie still,” “be strong,” today; but, Lord, tomorrow,
What of tomorrow, Lord?
Shall there be rest from toil, be truce from sorrow,
Be living green upon the sward
Now but a barren grave to me,
Be joy for sorrow? –
Did I not die for thee?
Do I not live for thee?  leave Me tomorrow.

Who Shall Deliver Me?

God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out,
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?

If I could once lay down myself,
And start self-purged upon the race
That all must run!  Death runs apace.

If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!

God harden me against myself,
This coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease and rest and joys.

Myself, arch-traitor to myself;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me,
Break off the yoke and set me free.

Some of my favorites are too long to reproduce here, but Monna Innominata is a sonnet of sonnets compelling in its beauty and truth; An Old-World Thicket I merely have "wow" written beside in my collection, and Books in the Running Brooks is a beautiful piece that addresses the (limited) value of nature.

10 July 2013

Roger Kimball and Culture

I am reading Roger Kimball’s 2012 book of essays, The Fortunes of Permanence.  I’ve barely begun – just the preface (“Mostly About Relativism”) and the first essay, which is the title essay, so far – and I am as strongly impressed as I thought I would be.  (I have always enjoyed and appreciated Kimball’s work.)  I would like to write a thoughtful essay about his essay, but shall have to be content with lots of quotations for now.  So, from “The Fortunes of Permanence,” several quotations that probably won’t add up to his main point, but that particularly caught my attention as worth repeating.

Kimball writes about the sense in which culture is that which must be cultivated, but warns, in a paraphrase of Cicero:  “[E]ven the best care [. . .] does not inevitably bring good results [. . .].  The results of cultivation depend not only on the quality of the care but the inherent nature of the thing being cultivated.”

“Culture in the evaluative sense does not merely admit, it requires judgment as a kind of coefficient or auxiliary: comparison, discrimination, evaluation are its lifeblood.”  Here he quotes
Henry James:  “We never really get near a book [. . .] save on the question of its being good or bad, of its really treating, that is, or not treating, its subject.”  And Matthew Arnold:  criticism is “the disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.”

“The point is that culture has roots," Kimball writes.  "It limns the future through its implications with the past.  Moving the reader or spectator over the centuries, in [Hannah] Arendt’s phrase, the monuments of culture transcend the local imperatives of the present.  They escape the obsolescence that fashion demands, the predictability that planning requires.  They speak of love and hatred, honor and shame, beauty and courage and cowardice – permanent realities of the human situation insofar as it remains human.”

Writing about Huxley’s Brave New World, Kimball quotes a section in which the Controller tells the Savage that reading old works, such as those of Shakespeare, is prohibited merely because they are old.  And if they are beautiful, it is even more important that they not be read:  “Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things.  We want them to like the new ones.”

Why?  “Huxley’s brave new world is above all a superficial world." Kimball explains.  "People are encouraged to like what is new, to live in the moment, because that makes them less complicated and more pliable.”  Sensation is important, not substance (Dillard addresses this in The Writing Life:  “the life of sensation demands more and more”), and “experience is increasingly vivid but decreasingly real.  The question of meaning is deliberately short-circuited.”  As the Controller explains, “They [experiences] mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.”

“In part,” Kimball writes, “the attack on permanence is an attack on the idea that anything possesses inherent value.”

On the increasingly profane and crude displays in much of what passes for art these days, Kimball notes, “Hardly anyone is shocked anymore, but that is a testament not to public enlightenment but to widespread moral anesthesia.”  (He also quotes Chesterton as one of his chapter epigraphs:  “Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. . . . It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal, and that you are a paralytic.”)

On technology:  “Welcome to the information age.  Data, data, everywhere, but no one knows a thing.”  Information is not knowledge.  We might be able to find information at the click of a mouse, but this comes with “a great temptation”:  “to confuse an excellent means of communication with communication that is excellent.  We confuse, that is to say, process with product.  As the critic David Guaspari memorably put it, ‘comparing information and knowledge is like asking whether the fatness of a pig is more or less green than the designated hitter’s rule.’  Oops.”

“The problem with computers is not the worlds they give us instant access to but the world they encourage us to neglect.”  The issue is not so much the developments of the “digital revolution” as “the effect of such developments on our moral and imaginative life, and even our cognitive and political life.”  (Note, please, he does not say technology is evil!)

On close and careful reading:  why memorize when quotations are instantly available?  “One reason, of course, is that a passage memorized is a passage internalized:  it becomes part of the mental sustenance of the soul.” 

He quotes Henry Kissinger at length:  “Reading books requires you to form concepts, to train your mind to relationships.  You have to come to grips with who you are.  A leader needs these qualities.  But now we learn from fragments of facts.  A book is a large intellectual construction.  You have to struggle mentally to internalize it.  Now there is no need to internalize because each fact can instantly be called up on the computer. There is no context, no motive.  Information is not knowledge.  People are not readers but researchers, they float on the surface.  This new thinking erases context.”

Artists, your work is important, now, today, despite the chaos that threatens.  Kimball quotes from C. S. Lewis on the idea that we must wait for “normal” life to engage in cultural pursuits:  “Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right.  But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons.  They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. [. . .]  They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the latest new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopoylae.  This is not panache; this is our nature.”

“Lewis’s meditation,” Kimball writes, “reminds us that culture, and the humanity that defines it, is constantly under threat.  No achievement may be taken for granted; yesterday’s gain may be tomorrow’s loss; permanent values require permanent vigilance and permanent renewal.”

19 March 2013

Final Update

I've been home since Saturday night and feeling a bit better each day.  There's no place like your own for recuperating.

I spoke with the doctor this morning and the pathology report shows there is no invasion of the cancer beyond the tumor, which means no further treatment will be necessary.  There will be frequent checks, of course, because one bout may often lead to another, but as of now it is safe to say that I am cancer-free.

It's all been an odd ride in many ways, but the one important thing I take from it all is the loving care of our God and His people who have carried me through it with complete confidence in that care, no matter what the outcome may have been.  

Thank you again to all who have prayed and emailed and helped in so many ways.  God bless you all.

16 March 2013

Update 3

Tuesday's surgery was about 3 hours.  The doctor is pretty sure he got everything and the cancer hasn't spread -- but this is nothing that can be known definitively until the pathologist's report comes back, we hope by Monday.

It looks like classes are out of the question for this next week, though I'll try to teach Friday if I possibly can.  My wonderful colleagues are going out of their way to help me out so the students don't get too far behind.  

I am feeling pretty wretched right now, as one might imagine -- but it's so much better to feel wretched at home than in a hospital!  An hour's sleep here is like a night's sleep there, and the freedom to do as I please whenI please is amazingly helpful. 

Thanks to all who have prayed!

10 March 2013

Update 2

The surgery has been rescheduled for Tuesday at 1:00.  This was upsetting at first, because I would like to have the entire break for recovery, but God's timing has been perfect with everything thus far, so I will trust that this, too, is perfect timing.

Again, please don't post replies to this here or at FB.  Also, I will probably prefer not to have visits and phone calls in the hospital (I don't even know yet how long I'll be in), except from immediate family.  If you feel called to pray for us, thank you so much.  I love and appreciate my family in the Lord and could not make it through a day without you all.

08 March 2013


I was told mid-week that the biopsy confirmed colon cancer, and we set surgery for this coming Monday.  Then one of the scans that had been done revealed a spot on one lung which was considered to be “suspicious.”  This led to a scramble for another scan to find out if it might be another cancer, which would have meant a totally different, and very aggressive, treatment strategy.  There was an opening to do the scan this morning, they rushed the results, and they showed that the only cancer is the small tumor in the lining of the colon.  This means that I will be having surgery on Monday as planned, for the removal of the colon tumor, and it is even possible that no further treatment will be necessary, though this will probably not be determined until after the surgery.

Thank you, more than I can say, to all of you who have prayed for me and those who have sent me good wishes and encouraging words.  It has been a roller coaster two weeks, but I am grateful for all the support I’ve had and for the remarkable timing of each event.  There’s still much ahead, of course, but I’m confident in God’s grace and the love and prayers of His family.

Again, please don’t post replies to this here or at FB, as I don’t wish to be drawn into public discussion, and please don’t accost me in the hallways asking for updates (private communications are of course welcome).  I’ll post any relevant information here at Inscapes when it becomes available.  If you feel called to pray for us, thank you so much.  I love and appreciate my extended family and could not make it through a day without you all. 

05 March 2013

Solely To Stop Speculation

I feel the need to explain why I’ve been out of classes a couple of days recently, since there have been some questions and concerns, and I don’t want rumors going about.  I am not posting this because I want lots of public sympathetic responses; in fact, I am requesting that no one reply to this, here or at Facebook.  I know some will feel called to pray, and I appreciate it more than I could say; the love of God’s family is amazing and encouraging.  However, I do not wish to have public conversations either on social media or in the hallways about my health.  (Emails and private conversations are different.)  When there is further information, I’ll post an update for those who care to know.  Please don’t misunderstand; I’m just not able to “chat” about this informally and constantly – thank you.

The Problem
I went to see my doctor for a minor problem, and he decided to do some blood tests.  He found that I had been losing blood to the point of needing a transfusion, which was done a week and a half ago.  Of course the next important thing is to find out the source of the bleeding, and I am now waiting for test results to find out if the cause is colon cancer.  If so, I will need surgery, hopefully during Spring Break, and the hope is that no further treatment will be needed after that. 

How I’m Doing
I’m fine; I’m really not worried over this at all.  We’ll do what needs to be done and take each step as it comes.  I am concerned about avoiding over-aggressive treatment, which can create problems where none were.  And I am concerned for my mom, who understands that this may be nothing too severe, but who has lost four family members, including her husband and son (my only sibling) in the past two and a half years.  I’m her only immediate family left, and I’m half the country away, so of course she’s struggling a bit to maintain her usual optimism.

Again, please don’t post replies to this here or at FB, as I don’t wish to be drawn into public discussion, and please don’t accost me in the hallways asking for updates (private communications are of course welcome).  I’ll post any relevant information here when it becomes available.  If you feel called to pray for us, thank you so much.  I love and appreciate my extended family and could not make it through a day without you all.

17 January 2013

"Dearest freshness deep down things . . ."

It’s one of those mornings.  Gloomy, rainy, cold for the second week in a row, exacerbating the fibromyalgia and arthritis.  Too little sleep.  Many people I love dearly facing deep, life-challenging problems and nothing one can do to help but cry with, pray for, let the heart ache. 

Then, coming up the drive to campus, movement in front of the chapel.  Odd, at first, coming out of shadow and fog, but resolving into the graceful form of a doe leading her yearling fawn, stretching to full speed to make it across the road and into the grassy field before the beast with the too-bright eyes could cause them harm. 

Beauty, beauty, beauty.

In all our brokenness and despair, He keeps giving us beauty to remind us of His presence and His care for this world He created.  Hopkins says it best, as always:

God's Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Lord, may we always cling to Your Truth and be open to Your beauty in this world, broken though it is, allowing You to remind us of Your great love for us, whatever appearances may be at any given time. 

Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever will be, world without end.  Amen.