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Showing posts from February, 2012

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

I just gave my first real lecture - Teaching Fellows here give one of the main lectures every semester, and I chose to do mine on Saint Francis and the erotic allegory of divine love.  I didn't know what to expect, but it went wonderfully and I had a great time.  My own students, the ones in my section, were absolutely wonderful - I could tell they went out of their way to ask lots of questions and engage with the material.  I think they will deserve a special treat at next week's section. 
So I talked about St. Francis who is best known for preaching to the birds and loving animals.  The collection of his hagiographical writings is called "The Little Flowers of St. Francis."
But he was no sissy!  He traveled to Egypt to meet with the sultan in the middle of a crusade (he wanted to try to convert the sultan through conversation instead of war), fought in some battles himself, and was really hardcore about his vow of poverty.  But his main thing in life was joy - all…

The Old Law

After my Old Testament class last semester I was forced to confront my longtime questions about the relevance of the Old Testament - especially the long, dreary lists of weird and crazy laws.

Are we supposed to obey these laws still?

I don't know.  I don't think so, but that's not the point.

Spending your life trying to obey the laws is one way to guarantee misery.  For starters, you'll fail, and even where you do succeed you'll expect some sort of recognition that God frankly doesn't care to give.  That's not the way to know him or serve him.  Laws are dangerous things because they can be so easily misused, both by people in authority (especially authority over children who dearly long to please the grownups they love) and by the strict self-governing types.  It spells misery.

This could be a long post about why observance of the law is a risky priority, but tonight I'd just like quickly to propose a thought about why it's in there (and why it …

The Owners of Melancholy

"For there where love wounds is the moan rising from the wound, and it ever cries out in the feeling of his absence."

 - St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle

Brief pause here in the middle of writing a Victorian Poetry paper.

I am writing about C. A. Swinburne and the way he has been tidily categorize as an atheist.  No, he isn't a Christian, and yes, he is quite angry at the Church.  He feels as though he's been led on by those who would have him believe a fairy tale that isn't true.  He revolts against the notion that we are to live a life without fear or pain because God has a plan that will someday make it all better.

Swinburne's landscapes are melancholy.  He paints wastelands that prefigure Eliot's.  His world is metaphysically bleak, but physically charged with the power of nature, and there's something about the natural world that won't allow him to stop asking questions about what life really means.

It's not fair to cut Ch…

Salad Memory

I took this picture two years ago - it's a salad I ate at the Getty Villa in Malibu.  
I'm fixating on this salad memory - January, warm, sunny.  Sitting outside looking at the Villa, the gardens, the ocean beyond.  
Eating this gorgeous, simply composed meal.
Oh California, you seem so far.

Never More Myself

‎"In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Weekly Gratitude

It's a Monday morning and I've been sitting at my desk since 5:00 reading Victorian elegies.  These Victorian poets can really rope me in emotionally - they have a way of juxtaposing the harshness of life with crushing beauty, and more often than not they leave the tension unresolved.  Death and sorrow are always closely linked to life and joy, but there's the feeling that all happiness is cruelly ephemeral.

The sun just came up down at the end of Trumbull Street and came streaming into my study, and it pierced my heart with a shock of gratitude for this new day.  I am grateful this morning for the abundance of hope I feel for my uncertain future, and that even though I don't yet know my next steps, for the time being I have landed in a place where my greatest joys are my daily tasks.  We have another cold and sunny week forecasted in New Haven, and I am so glad I get to spend it doing the schoolwork I love so much.