Part 2: Where’s the Library?

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The hyperbolical account of my private-school teaching job: Part 2

One afternoon, before my optimism had waned and long after good sense had taken its leave, I asked permission to take my students to the local library where we could gather and conduct research for our history reports, and was met with the response that surely they would only use the opportunity to misbehave. In spite of the many, many similar statements I had overheard or received in my time here, I was dubmfounded. What kind of a response does one give to such a presumption? I was then asked: Haven’t they already been to the library? As though one visit in a child’s educational lifetime was sufficient. Her next query was: What could they need at the library that they couldn’t find online?

No. Library trip permission denied. Better to let them use the Internet. I had no words, but if I had, they would have been of the rational variety and therefore foreign to my principal. How could a trip to the library be a waste of time? And when is preference for the Internet over real, bound books ever really given? I thought I was in the Twilight Zone and I left the principal’s office with a minor migraine brought on by illogical and insupportable educational beliefs.

The students had, however, not long before this denied request, been encouraged to attend the field trip to Microsoft in Redmond. It was a field trip that had been discussed with the Math and Science teachers but that had (strangely enough) not reached the ears or email inboxes of the English/History and Logic teachers–that is, my husband and myself.  It seems we were somehow responsible for this oversight, and instead of an apology for the lack in communication were told we needed to be more flexible. It was, after all, Microsoft. One must show due respect. Even students who had no intention whatever of working there were bundled into the van and taken away. I was left subbing for the science teacher and my husband had wasted an afternoon prepping for a class he did not need to teach.

It was clear that reading, language, literature, or appreciation for any of these subjecs had not really the top priority and were, furthermore, culturally passé. STEM was the big thing now, and Engineering and Math were about to break out and make winners of us all. Art, though a cornerstone of classical learning, was relegated to an elective for the junior high or high school and was given the same credence, or even less credence than the before-school coding class. The sciences, including STEM, were the sexy subjects, and therefore got more air time and attention. Literature, on the other hand, held a certain degree of danger, possessed too much free thought, perhaps, to be given its due and given its head.

My subjects: writing, reading, discussion, were all crammed into one 50-minute period a day which was often borne into by delayed lunches, student council, or a variety of ‘pull-out’ reasons. Math, on the other hand, was never cancelled, even on half-days and was given a full hour to show it our allegiance. Anyone who was late to math had to have a good reason; anyone late to English (or History) was probably helping change a lightbulb and was summarily excused.

Part 1: Perils of Informality

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The hyperbolical account of my private-school teaching job: Part 1

For a couple of years I worked for the small private Christian school here on the Island. Its name isn’t important, but its denominational association grew in significance the longer I taught there. The school was run by the Assemblies of God (AG) church and many of its denominational principles could be seen in the administrative decisions and in the overall structure of the school. One such principle was that of informality, of a kind of ‘pal’ or ‘buddy’ relationship that could be seen everywhere: in the emails, in the meetings, and even in the décor and use of space within the building itself. It was this infernal informality that ultimatey drove me to doubt every tenent of education I’d ever held and eventually got me, not exactly ‘fired’, but ‘let go’ from the institution. It is likely that my orthodox beliefs—both in theology and in education—also had something to do

with it. But then, what is orthodox if not formal?

This pal-around school was also what is popularly known, with varying degrees of meaning, as a ‘Christian Classical school’ where—at least in theory, and in this instance, only in theory—principles of classical education are put to work. The principles of classicism are somewhat wide-ranging in this day and age, but essentially they operate on what is known as the Trivium, a laddered and multi-layered approach to learning that encompasses the stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

From the grammar stage, which is also called the ‘poll parrot’ stage because it involves lots of memorization and ‘parroting-back’ of information, one moves into the logic stage, in which one learns not merely fallacies and how to spot them, but also formal logic and what Aristotle meant by ‘argument’. One then rounds this out with the rhetoric stage wherein language becomes ever-more significant and the art of speaking is raised to an appreciated level. One begins to see the need for formality here, but for now we shall continue on without editorial.

These stages—grammar, logic, rhetoric—are roughly coordinated with the Elementary, Junior High and High School levels, respectively, but grammar, logic and rhetoric are, as one who has any experience with classical learning will attest, also stages within a subject, and form the framework for further growth in that subject. That is: even history has a ‘grammar’, as does art, music, and science. One will not be ready to move to the logic stage in anything without an understanding of its grammar, which includes vocabulary and terminology as well as the rudimentary forms of its outline or foundation. The rhetoric or discussion stage similarly depends upon the logic stage having been completed and more or less grasped, as no one wants to engage in dialogue with someone who cannot follow an argument or present a valid point.

So briefly—very briefly—those are the principles of classicism and they form and have formed the basis of scholarship in the West for centuries. It is the education even Tolkien and Lewis were given before they became Oxford and Cambridge Dons, so there’s something. It is only relatively recently that the ‘classical model’ was abandoned in favor of a more modernized, and one might even say progressive model that includes psychology, genre literature (sci-fi studies, for example), and film studies. Even shop and woodworking are more classical than one might at first imagine. But the classical model, as you will notice, places great emphasis on language—even in the maths and sciences—for each of these stages reflects an aspect of writing, speech, or thought. Grammar, logic, rhetoric: linguistically-based elements, to be sure, and vital if one is going to take this classical learning thing seriously.

And yet, at the classical school at which I worked, I rarely saw examples of this emphasis on language anywhere, even in language arts or English classes. There was no school library, something which to this day sends shock waves through my system, and what books there were at the school were often tucked away, or consciously stacked or carefully monitored within classrooms. As an aside, students were not allowed to read Harry Potter, despite the overwhelming number of classical references in each of its seven massive volumes. This decision was based on the Evangelical belief that Harry was about witches, and not about the battle between good and evil, ultimately won by a Christ-figure. But no matter. This deficiency baffled me, however, and I began to seek ways in which to surround my students with literature in spite of the obvious roadblocks before me.

I brought in my own volumes and collected copies of classics I’d found in the various thrift shops or cupboards around the school. I had a small bookshelf that looked, if not like a library, then at least like a solid collection. The anthology we used was massive, but I liked it, as it portrayed the weight of knowledge and contained an impressive and respectable collection of works from Gilgamesh to Sir Gawain. I would win everyone over with literature and good books. It was silly of me to think this way, I know, and even sillier to think anyone would understand, let alone condone these thoughts and actions, but I am not known for my good sense in regards to placating the illitarate, and so I continued my mission, not realizing I was being slowly beaten down by my own optimism and intelligence.

In presenting my plan for a 4-year high school Humanities curriculum the previous summer I had genuinely struggled to accurately convey the importance of reading and the correlation of English to History to Art to Science. I had made charts and provided relevant materials. I had shown in my findings and research that the significance of mere exposure to the classics, such as The Odyssey, Beowulf, great poetry, and philosophical and theological writings was the basis of classical education and that it could be done, even at our small school. These ideas were accepted on the surface as good ideas, and ones that other classical schools embraced, but the more I talked, the smaller I felt, and when I was told that most of our students wind up going to Running Start after 10th grade, I suspected my words were falling on deaf ears, but even I did not have eyes to see. I should have run—not walked!—to the nearest fire exit and barred the door behind me, but I have a miserable tendency to latch on and hang on to things pertaining to literature, even when those things happen to destroy that which I love.

It is now rather clear to me that language, including literature, simply possesses too much formality. It is not something that transfers well to ‘quips’ or looks good in a devotional journal. It is rather difficult to ‘sum up’ classical literature unless one has studied it quite thoroughly and has paid attention. Who understands a good Odysseus joke who does not know Odysseus?

Florence, for National Poetry Month: My favorite

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I don’t know why, but this may be my favorite of the poems I’ve written.

 

Basilica di San Lorenzo

 

Blind stone slats lacking filament and ore, AD 300

and something, another Medici commission

gone bad, and wasn’t this the one for Great Lorenzo?

 

Ipods stuffed into slouched bodies, we overhear them

comfort us in our hour, hear us, o Lord; the walking

tours pass by, a reverant hush, and we obliquely follow.

 

Tinny earbud now a dangling white hiccup, look up

and see, page 95 in the humanities book, rendered

by the Lippis, each pius Donatello, irrelevant.

 

 

Mark 8, KJV

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This was penned several years back, as a kind of meditation on the Loaves and the Fishes–

It is not as poetic as I had intended for today, but there are words, nonetheless, though perhaps not the right words nor the right order, as poetry ought be.

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This morning’s first reading was from the book of Mark, chapter 8.

Jesus feeds the multitude, the crowd of four thousand.

Almost everyone who is literate in the Gospels knows this story; Jesus has been teaching and preaching for three days and the crowd that has gathered and followed him has grown hungry and is far from home. When their hunger is declared to Jesus he asks his disciples to gather together what food they can find, take assessment of what there is, get a reading on the whole situation. What there is turns out to be seven loaves and several fishes. Christ, then,  prays over them, multiplies them, and distributes this bread and fish freely, so that all may eat.

When all are satisfied and have been restored, there are, in abundance, seven baskets and more. The Lord has provided beyond what his students, disciples, children and doubters can take in.

When the disciples begin to leave the place of this miracle, they board their boats and soon begin to despair that they have brought no bread with them. “Bread! Where is the bread? We have forgotten to bring the loaves with us!” I imagine a kind of incredulity aboard the boats.  But why are they so worried about this bread? Have they not just witnessed Christ, their teacher, bless, multiply and provide? They were witnesses to Christ feeding the four thousand not only with bread and with fish, but with food for the spirit that will never leave them hungry.

They did witness this, and partook in the miracle.   Twice, in fact, and Christ reminds them of it, asking them what was left after feeding the five thousand and what was left after feeding the four thousand? They answer in words of ‘many baskets and much fish’.   And yet Christ still must ask them: Why are you so concerned about the bread? Do you still not understand my provision?  My care for you is much deeper than the food that leaves you hungry later in the day.  My bread for you is eternally satisfying, and there will always be plenty of it.

It is not until the resurrection, and maybe not even then, that they begin to see their teacher as the provider of more than bread, his promises more than words.  But as mortal beings they–and we, for we are essentially they, the disciples–realize that the things of the spirit are not innate to us and that the metaphysical element, that is, that which holds us together beyond food– in Christ’s loaves and Christ’s fishes is Christ, the sacrifice, himself.

 

Small lines of Italy (for National Poetry Month)

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Several years ago my husband and I travelled to Italy, wending our way rather blindly through the quieter hills and villas of Umbria.  We managed to meander to the town of Norcia, which sits at the edge of a sort of National Park and is coincidentally–and no less significantly–the birthplace of St. Benedict, of the Benedictine Order.

Several years after this first visit we returned to Italy and Norcia with two of John’s children and spent a brief but significant afternoon in the church or duomo there.

It is–or, rather, was, as it was devastatingly hit during one of Italy’s recent 2016 earthquakes–a lovely and humble building of simple white stucco and a cieling of dark, exposed beams.  It stands in stark contrast to many Italian churches, most notably St. Peter’s at the Vatican.

These few lines are mere meditations on that building and the palpable silence one cannot help but find there.  A polished poem could some day be pulled from these.

 

St. Benedict’s

A stucco hush allays the blundering noise

of travelers.

 

A skirt of pressed and wrinkled cotton bends

beneath a hollowed lap, and the body forms

a zed.

 

A stacatto hush will soon dispel bewildered cries

that rise outside the narrow door

and fall to a melancholy murr inside the duomo.

 

We cross and pull our cotton skirts from tired legs

bring creaky thighs and cooling scarves

to penitence

 

The vows of Benedict are borne and gleaned

in weight of beams above our light-filled eyes,

a beam so often washed by dust it has filtered into history

 

 

Make an Effort: Casablanca

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The year 2017 has already, for many of us, been one of tumult and trouble and doubt. The news, be you Blue or Red, is pitiful, mercenary, and divisive and the language of the general populace is not of solace but often of ineptitude and drivel. One must look to the reliable countenances and steady bodies of friends, family and especially faith for the support of making it through 2017—and beyond.

But what if there are no friends? What if one has lost touch with or simply lost one’s family? What if faith is for you one of those pieces—indeed a cornerstone—of tumult, trouble, and doubt? I speak not for myself, as I am trebly blessed on these accounts, but for the multitude others who, I know, am certain, are grappling with and losing grip on hope. This is not an open opportunity for Obama to make a re-entry, much as many would really like that, but the Hope that the former administration promised moved many of us to think better of one another, and to reach farther than we thought we possibly could, and to feel proud.

It did, unfortunately, also move many of us to lose sight, and slip up on our journey. The knife-edge of possible failure was not so near anymore, what with the potential for social programs going forward, both Osama and Saddam taken care of, and a literacy in the White House that made language buffs (like myself) vindicated for our degrees.

And yet it is that slight possibility of it all being taken away that often gives way to the most creative and genuine and useful work. Truly. I think of my favorite film, Casablanca, and am without a doubt convinced that it is so marvellous because it was made with the cloud of war rising and moving steadily and rapidly closer to America’s—and Hollywood’s—own shores. The film, made in 1941, stars (if you’ve been living in a cave or are a millennial) Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and is set against the Nazi invasion of Paris and the subsequent displacement and distress this invasion caused. The players—Bogie as an American named Rick, and Ingrid as a European named Ilsa—are caught within the crosshairs of someone else’s choices and are not free to make their own. But are they not?

Indeed, that is the central point of the story. For while we are all the time led to believe we are both choiceless and voiceless under totalitarian rule—as the characters themselves are led to believe, until the denouement, the final scenes—we can never leave the confines of subjugation unless we remember we are more than subjects, and human. The story is not actually about Rick and Ilsa as individuals, or not entirely about them as such: they represent any ordinary person at any ordinary extraordinary time.   That is, any time the water rises, any time the walls close in, any time the rug is pulled out from underneath you, you are given the opportunity to become an Ilsa or a Rick.

Of course, you do have other choices: you could become a Ferrari, owner of the Blue Parrot, who capitalizes on the coming invasion and exploits commodities for his own gain, and seems to get away with it; or an Ugarte, who attempts the same but is less clever, and less likeable and a little less shrewd, and winds up at the hands of the firing squad, a ‘suicide’ victim. There is also the more noble and notable option of becoming a Victor Laszlo, a freedom-fighter to set all freedom-fighters to right, and who has stayed true to his woman throughout the war, and who has endured torture (as we are told) in a concentration camp somewhere in Eastern Europe, and who is willing to risk it all—woman, reputation, life—to do what he believes is right, and moral, and true.

In the end, it is Victor whom we have to thank for the stunning and memorable ending of this film. We all know that famous last line, uttered by a young and noir-ish, trench-coated and fedora-ed Humphrey Bogart as he walks with the chief of police, himself a renegade and a very real counterpart for our more sinister selves, through the mists and the shadows and the gates of the municipal airport: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful frienship.” That line would not be possible if Victor Lazslo, husband of Ilsa and BA leader of Free France (more on that in another post), had not been willing to give himself up to misery and despair by offering to go on without his woman, his love, his light, so that she might survive, she might be happy. If he had fought and scratched and insulted—the way it is now so often done—then we would have no, feel no vindication when, at the last minute, Rick puts Victor on the plane instead of himself, and tells the couple that they are to escape, essentially, for all of us, for the good in us. This sacrifice—not only in Victor, but in Rick, as well—is necessary because it is real, and it is so, so very uncommon. Only when we see the such truth spread out before us do we know our only choice is already made, and that we are only playing a very small, but very important part in the greater scheme. In the end, we always have choices, even if it isn’t the choice we wish it to be, have imagined it being. But we are always capable of choosing truth, and it, in return for our choice, grants us freedom and peace.

And so, in the year 2017, when so much nonsense is being passed as vital news, when so much nepotism and back-biting is tearing up the threads and fibers of what we thought was a viable democracy, we find we have a choice. We need not be wrestling with a past lover’s advances or a present Nazi soldier’s threats, but the question of whether to show intergrity in our words and even our appearances matters. It is a reflection of who we are, and what we wish to become.

 

Mistaken Virtues

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My husband and I live in what is known as an Intentional Community or a Co-Housing Community on Whidbey Island, in Washington State.  We call it MCC, for short.  We did not seek out this Intentional/Co Community, and would not recommend living in one except if called to do so.  What brought us here was faith and a willingness to go where God desired us to go.  We are now and always have been uncertain as to why we are here, what our purpose in this community might be, and what lessons or growth we might be either undertaking or providing others. And so, until directed otherwise, here we are.

This community is certainly not what one might call religious, although a noticable and substantial dose of spiritualism abides.  There are regular, monthly ‘business meetings’ at which we disucuss the same non-issues in new ways, and the semblance of organization and communication appears through email and typed-up task lists. There is a meditation yurt and something called a Common House, in which said meetings are held, as are semi-weekly potlucks and the occasional movie.

One of the movies held in the CH was one called ‘As it is in Heaven.’  It came to us on recommendation from two of our community members, who claimed it reflected the qualities we are striving for at MCC and illustrated the ‘harmony’ we all desired for the whole.  This is not at all the way I tend to speak about my life, tending instead toward the concepts of intellect, creativity and improvement through shared gifts.  But I am willing to look at the world, as Atticus Finch urges us to do, through someone else’s eyes, to ‘walk around in their shoes.’   So it was given the green light and shown one Saturday evening for the viewing pleasure of the community.

John and I missed the actual showing at the CH but we borrowed the movie and watched it at home so that we could better understand our neighbors–for that is what we are, despite whatever labels we wish to give either ourselves or others.  And better understand our neigbors we certainly did.

While we felt obligated to watch this movie, I believe both of us had higher hopes for it, and greater expectations. We very much desired something with more depth, more meaning, and more substance.  Both of the women who recommended this film claimed it bore reseblance (they were not explicit in their comparisions) to our community, but all of the parallels I made–and I made plenty–were unflattering ones, negative ones, strong ones.

The film is in a combination of languages: Swedish, English, some German, and it is set in Sweden, in a remote and snowy village in the nondescript present.  Our protagonist is a composer and our supporting cast is his ‘choir’, the church singers.  The circumstances which draw him to both this directorial job and to the village itself–his former hometown–are nebulous, but one is given to understand that he is searching for meaning, attempting to reclaim a lost youth, or simply hiding from his better self.

He takes on the choir as a sort of project but constantly loses his temper at them, yelling at and berating them time and again.  Admittedly, he has some reason to be frustrated: his charges arrive late to practice, take calls while they are in the middle of rehearsal, talk meanly to and about one another and act, generally, like children.  But instead of instructing them and leading by kindness, he allows this anger and the memory of his sad youth to run its course, flying into a temper and shirking responsibility and abandoning leadership at every turn. This of course produces not resolution, but more anger and more abuse.  When presented with the opportunity to protect, communicate, and instruct his choir of eager learners, the sad, abused composer instead sleeps with one of his choristers.

This becomes an almost masochistic prybar within the movie: everything this man touches becomes arrogant, puffed-up, vindictive and destructive. Not only were these citizens rude and misguided, they also claimed to ‘say their piece’ by insulting one another, abusing one another, and by dredging up the dead things of the past in the spirit of clearing the air.  I have learned that this becomes a mistaken virtue, and is a common occurrence in not only my community, but in life. It is far more satisfying to continue beating the drum of destruction than it is to lay down the drumsticks and walk in peace.  So instead of admitting we are in the wrong, and have long been in the wrong, we re-name our actions, calling them ‘virtue’ and cement our bargian with the devil by excusing the behavior in others.

Nowhere in this film was there a shred of forgiveness for having said or done such mean and spiteful things.  Neither was there a sense of responsibility in anyone for having caused these griefs or rifts in the first place.  One older gentleman who finally confessed his decades-long and silent love for a woman within the choir did so almost wistfully, but the natural and subsequent denouement of the moment was never seen: we never hear the object of his affection affirm or accept his gift.  And so we are again left empty, wondering, duped.

No one talked about anything except themselves in this movie, no one worked toward resolution, no one reflected on their errors or bad decisions or faults.  Once a matter had been dredged up, it was considered complete and everyone moved on, leaving the ugly mess to its own conclusions.  ‘As it is in Heaven’ was truly one of the least loving films I have ever seen, and yet it did, indeed, reflect my community.  It showed me how petty we are, and how unwilling MCC really is, and has been, to speak on the whole in the language of forgiveness or resolution or love.

Yet I should not be surprised, for the spiritual element here is not of the Holy Spirit but of Man’s Spirit and the Transcendence of Consciousness.  Everything is Connected, they say, and there is a God Within.  I do not believe this.  But I do believe they believe it, and I see now, from the film, what traits are engendered from this line of thought.  Yet no one else saw in the film what John and I saw. Instead, the hammering silences, the despair, the lovelessness were overlooked for the pathos of the final scene in which the protagonist, having consummated his relationship with the chorister, dies in the men’s room of the Vienna Opera House while his choir sings in the main hall above.

This scene is, I am given to understand, meant to represent each individual voice having meaning, each voice contributing to the whole so that, together, we are beautiful.  But it was not.  Because no one ever truly loved another and because no one sought reconciliation or forgiveness from  his neighbor, the sound was hollow, the choir arrogant, and the entire film baroque–a sad façade for true beauty.

What saddens me most isn’t the film–it is that my community believes the film to be good, inspiring, and even somewhat lovely.  I do not know what opportunity I may have to inject or introduce true beauty, but my presence is, I know, not lost here, not yet, at least.  It does grow difficult to see such artifice, however, and the need for Truth previls.

Awkwardness Required

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A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Alison Milbank’s Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians. It is a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf and looking far more daunting than it actually was.

My introduction to Milbank was through a University of Nottingham Department of Theology and Religious Studies video in which she gives a scholarly (but intelligible and interesting) response to the question “Why Study J.R.R. Tolkien?”  The video, linked here, is part of a wonderful and ongoing series of “Why Study…” prompts that the department produces. Other topics in the series are “Why Study Evangelicalism?” and “Why Study Didache?” and “Why Study The Gift?”  They are, rather surprisingly, quite viewer-friendly, smart, but not overly elitist.

To put it mildly, these “Why Study…?” questions quite simply provided me some needed encouragement and insight into greater theological questions.  Far from being off-putting or even confusing, what they offered was a kind of reassurance: that I wasn’t alone in wondering “Why Study?” or even “Why?”  For a thinking, feeling, theologically-minded non-Evangelical American, options for intelligent discussion are relatively thin on the ground (these days).

So, back to Alison Milbank.  Much like her talk, in which she dissects, among other things, the metaphysics of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, her book provides a wonderful dichotomy, even a balance, between the literary and the theological. “Literature is a mode of writing that can do theological work”, she says in the interview. And her book also shows this re-connecting of the serious to the playful, the known and the unknown, and challenges the way one ordinarily looks at theology and fiction–namely fiction that falls under the label ‘fantasy’.

Tolkien is just one of many writers who think this way, and Alison Milbank has introduced me to them through her book.  The first of them is, of course, the first title author: Chesterton.  While we are all ‘somewhat familiar’ with G. K. Chesterton, I am more than a little embarrassed to say that I have not read him, or not read him fully. Chesterton is wonderful, and like anything wonderful that you have only just encountered after 40 years of not encountering, he is welcome.  The fact that he inspired Tolkien to no small degree is not surprising either.  But it was how seamlessly Milbank wove all of this together that amazed me.  I am used to dense, acadmic writing (though I may not like it) and I expected this to be de rigeur.  However, it is not.  It is lovely, and it challenged and changed me.

But the time after this book has left me restless, and in a dangerous frame of mind, asking: What else is out there? Where do I get more? How can I not see–now that I do see–how much of a gift is life, is Christ?  For in one chapter, “Fairy Economics” (fabulous, isn’t it?), Milbank discusses the gift, saying such wonderful things as “Language too is a gift-object in Anglo-Saxon culture, in which words are a form of deed, so that Wormtongue’s perversion of speech prevents all forms of exchange and prevents the king from performing his role as gift-giver.” (128)  How marvellous is that? Profound; and I cannot read now without thinking: where is the gift?  Where is its perversion?

Once I realized the true purpose of the grotesque, which is essentially to show us our true nature and to “jolt us out of a habitual way of understanding” in order to be re-connected to the divine, I had to leave off literature altogether and simply contemplate the world of the divine.  It has been a difficult estrangement, but I am better for it. Much as a fast makes us better for the meal, and somewhat more discerning in our habits, a starvation of literature has made me savor the language I take for granted, literally accept the gift of Milbank’s work and attempt to pass it on.

 

Ash Wednesday 1

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There was indeed a homily (a sermon, a message) today and where it began was this poem by Galway Kinnell.  I’m sure you’ve heard of it, maybe read it; it is called St. Francis and the Sow.  I will type only a few lines out, but leave you with the poem in its entirety HERE.

The lines from the poem, below, that the priest shared with us merged into a message that suited our times as well as our needs: sometimes it is nearly impossible to think we can love an unlovely thing.  The person who does us wrong and who lives in anger and in ugliness is not easy to love, but we are called to love him (or sometimes it is her) nonetheless.

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness…
-Galway Kinnell

Ash Wednesday 2

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The following are excerpts from the Ash Wednesday service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington:

Let us now bow down before the Lord.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent

*

Blow the trumpet in Zion;

sound the alarm on my holy mountain!

…sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.

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The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

For as the heavens are high above the earth

so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

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We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.

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So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.

Accept our repentance, O Lord. 

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation/That we may show forth your glory in the world.

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Joel 2:1 & 15

2 Corinthians 5:20

Matthew 6:1 & 21