29 March 2009

Mellifluous Mondays: I Love Bagpipes

There is a land far from this distant shore
Where heather grows and Highland eagles soar
There is a land that will live ever more
Deep in my heart, my Bonnie Scotland

Though I serve so far away
I still see your streams, cities and dreams
I can't wait until the day
When I'll come home once more

And so Lord keep me from the harm of war
Through all its dangers and the battle's roar
Keep me safe until I'm home once more
Home to my own in Bonnie Scotland

"Highland Cathedral," with lyrics by Terry Mecham. A soldier's prayer and a beautiful tune! (Tulloch Ard had its concert this weekend, which is why this song is on my mind.)

26 March 2009

Thankful Thursdays: A Disguised Blessing

A few days before spring break, I jammed three metatarsals in my right foot during highland dance practice. Now I am limping around campus, waiting until I have time to go to the chiropractor and get this fixed. No dancing for me. Our concert is this weekend, but I have to miss it.

So . . . why does this make me thankful? Let me explain. I have a Very Important Thesis due on Monday and it's eating my life. I cannot imagine how (much more) stressed and tired I would be if I had to attend three-hour dance practices every night. Oddly, then, my injured foot has reduced stress. Isn't that ironic? God apparently wanted to tell me that I was too busy. He chose a rather painful way to do it, but I am glad He did.

P.S. Another thing to be thankful for: getting dark chocolate in the mail.

23 March 2009

Mellifluous Mondays: Back to School

"The Schoolboy" by William Blake (1794)

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me:
O what sweet company!

But to go to school in a summer morn,
--O it drives all joy away!
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.

Ah then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour;
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning’s bower,
Worn through with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring!

O father and mother if buds are nipped,
And blossoms blown away;
And if the tender plants are stripped
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay,

--How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear?

This is a partially tongue-in-cheek post, as Blake's poem is really about the corrupting, oppressive influences of society and "civilized education" on innocent little children. As a good Calvinist, I don't think children are so very innocent; as an aspiring classical educator, I think very highly of structured education. Oh, and my professors are neither cruel nor wearisome.

But putting all that aside, I do sympathize with the first several stanzas! Who wants to go to school when birds are singing? Homework can seem like a wintry blast sometimes . . .

Seven more weeks.

19 March 2009

Thankful Thursdays: Called Into Community

So many trains of thought have converged on this point, it's hard to know where to begin.

1) First, thanks to the homework Dr. Gamble assigned us over break, I was thinking about the contrast between Edmund Burke (who believed that individuals need tradition and community to be fully human, do good, even safely possess their rights) and Thomas Paine (who believed that individuals have rights and identity on their own, and community is simply a convenient arrangement made to protect them). Do we need a community? Is it an essential part of our existence as humans? Or are we just fine on our own, with community as an unnecessary option?

2) Then I was reading in the second chapter of 1 Peter and came across this passage. "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." Apparently we are indeed communal creatures. We need one another; God did not call me to be one isolated priest, one person out there on my own, but rather a member of an entire priesthood and people. That's how the Church works. God saves individuals but brings them immediately into a body . . . and body parts aren't dispensable.

3) Here's where the gratitude comes in. :o) We went to caregroup last night at the Bunting's house, and I realized how kind the Lord has been to provide this particular expression of His body. We are truly a community; we love and care for one another. How miserable it would be to live out the Christian life alone. But thanks be to God, we are His "holy nation, a people for His own possession," who now "proclaim the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light."

18 March 2009

Hard Humility

This is a very challenging, insightful article on the human tendency to boast. In an engaging and Scripture-laced style, Jason Boyett discusses the temptations to pride; the folly of clinging to our own "filthy rags"; and practical ways we can combat this particular sin. Read it. Apply it. I know I need to hear these words over and over again . . . and if you're a normal human being, well, you probably do too.

17 March 2009

Mellifluous Mondays: A Fairer House Than Prose

I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of Eye--
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--
For Occupation--This--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--
-Emily Dickinson

Dickinson thinks poetry better than prose, because in it she imagines travels and experiences beyond her physical capabilities. In it, moreover, her ideals are realized. As an idealist, and one who is blessed to gather Paradise in her hands (or at least a taste of it), I sometimes feel as if I'm living in a poem...

12 March 2009

Thankful Thursdays: Winding Down, Winding Up

1. Today I had my last midterm ever. YES.

2. Said midterm went very well, but I do think that I confused Burke with Bacon at one point.

3. This morning we had beautiful snow flurries.

4. The snow didn't stick, though, so we can still see green grass.

5. Curry chicken and spinach at dinner tonight.

6. Mu Alpha roses and serenades!

7. I just started packing to fly home. In fact, it is now exactly 24 hours before Gretchen and I touch down in Baltimore. Please pray for safe travels.

10 March 2009

Fragments of Studying: Part I

I'm studying for a history exam (Western Heritage Since 1600, essentially an intellectual history course based on literature and political theory). The test is on Thursday so I thought now might be a good time to start thinking about it. Oh procrastination, how I love thee. In any case, as I review the documents, I'm running across some interesting thoughts on faith: in reason, in tradition, and in divine revelation.

Some excerpts and personal musings:

"Whatever authority . . . antiquity may have, truth should always have more, although newly discovered, since she is always older than all the opinions that we have had of her. It would be showing ourselves ignorant of her nature to imagine that she may have begun to be at the time when she began to be known."
-Blaise Pascal

"Disciples do owe unto masters only a temporary belief and a suspension of their own judgement until they be fully instructed, and not an absolute resignation or perpetual captivity."
-Francis Bacon

"Antiquity deserveth that reverence, that men should make a stand thereupon, and discover what is the best way, but when the discovery is well taken, then to make progression."
-Francis Bacon

These quotations represent one tendency, that which leans toward rational innovation. To these writers, certain spheres of knowledge will continue to expand infinitely. Each successive generation will therefore discover something new about physics, astronomy, or letters. Truth is there waiting for us to search her out; though our forefathers may have made great leaps, we should not consider ourselves constrained by their accomplishments, but rather inspired to build upon it.

Moreover, these men say that you ought to demand personal proof of a thing before believing it. Supposed authorities can make mistakes and paint the facts wrong. As a result, our generation may well conclude something different, because our experience points to a new and correct solution, where theirs was too limited (by technology or inclination, perhaps) to perceive the truth. Heliocentric solar system, anyone?

This mindset gets you a long way in science and the like. But it can also can make you skeptical of divine revelation and tradition, due to its emphasis on personal experience. So it requires balance with another perspective . . . Part II on its way tomorrow.

09 March 2009

Mellifluous Mondays: yet stand They here enraptured

this is the garden:colours come and go,
frail azures fluttering from night's outer wing
strong silent greens silently lingering,
absolute lights like baths of golden snow.
This is the garden:pursed lips do blow
upon cool flutes within wide glooms,and sing
(of harps celestial to the quivering string)
invisible faces hauntingly and slow.

This is the garden. Time shall surely reap
and on Death's blade lie many a flower curled,
in other lands where other songs be sung;
yet stand They here enraptured,as among
the slow deep trees perpetual of sleep
some silver-fingered fountain steals the world.

-ee cummings

Colours indeed "come and go," in and out with the seasons. Just as places and people drift in and out of our lives. Just as our lives themselves flourish, then curl, then fall withered into the inevitable gloom of mortality. We have left that first perfect garden for a universe of pain.

Yet the song goes on. And that silver-fingered Fountain of Life washes over the groaning, broken world with a glorious promise of someday salvation.

05 March 2009

Thankful Thursdays: A Random Collection

1. I'm not dizzy anymore.

2. My thesis advisors seem to like what I have done so far.

3. Spring Break starts next week! I'll be on a plane by 5:00 on Friday!

4. I got to talk to Luke on the phone this evening.

5. Mom sent me crunchy peanut butter with flaxseed.

6. We had warm breezes, blue skies, and kite-flying today.

7. Orchestra concert and jazz afterglow this weekend!

04 March 2009

Strange Comfort

I'm still coughing. However, in my English-major nerdiness, I've decided to think of myself as a consumptive Victorian heroine languishing away in a dusty parlor somewhere. That somehow makes it more bearable. Other people's difficulties always have a tinge of romance, but your own rarely do. So the solution is to pretend you're someone else...

...and voila, a crisis suddenly becomes interesting.

Also, notable fact of the day: we have a higher temperature in Hillsdale than they do at home. Ha!

02 March 2009

Mellifluous Mondays: I'll Not Feast on Thee

"Carrion Comfort" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist -- slack they may be -- these last strands of man
In me or, most weary cry "I can no more." I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

"I will not feast on despair." What a thought, that anyone would willingly consume such a miserable emotion. But we do. We like to have pity-parties and wallow in our sadness. It makes us feel important, dramatic, the center of the universe (even though it is a very unhappy center). We refuse to accept hope because it requires us to rely on God. Even if independence produces despair, we sinfully choose that over submission and peace.

01 March 2009

We May Not Live in Siberia, But...

"In single file, making no effort to keep up with each other, every man looking bulky because he was muffled up in every piece of clothing he possessed, they trudged across to the midway with not a sound except for the crunch of snow underfoot. It was still dark, although a greenish light was brightening in the east. A thin, treacherous breeze was creeping in from the same direction.
There is no worse moment than when you turn out for work parade in the morning. In the dark, in the freezing cold, with a hungry belly, and the whole day ahead of you. You lose the power of speech. You haven't the slightest desire to talk to each other."

This is from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. I know it's describing a morning in a Soviet gulag, and that these men have a far more miserable life than I can possibly understand, and that they're off to work all day in sub-zero weather rather than sit in warm classroom buildings. But all the same, when I read this, I couldn't help but think of students on their way to class at 8 AM in Hillsdale, Michigan.

"Muffled up in every piece of clothing [they] possessed, they trudged across to the midway with not a sound except for the crunch of snow underfoot." Yep, that's about it. :o)

"Praise Ye the Lord"

Praise ye the Lord.
I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.
The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.
His work is honourable and glorious; and His righteousness endureth forever.
He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
He hath given meat unto them that fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His covenant.
He hath shewed His people the power of His works, that He may give them the heritage of the heathen.
The works of His hands are verity and judgment; all His commandments are sure.
They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.
He sent redemption unto His people; He hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is His name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all they that do His commandments.
His praise endureth forever.
-Psalm 111

Why does the psalmist praise the Lord? Because of who He is. Why will His praise endure forever, through trial and triumph? Why will His glory stand equally strong whether there's a storm outside or the sun is shining brightly? Because of who He is.

God's character never changes. And since our love for Him is based upon His character, since our faith in Him rests upon His character, neither should true love or true faith change.

May He give us the grace to see past our circumstances (which are quite petty in the end) and keep our eyes fixed fully on Himself. It's not about who we are, or what we can do, but about who He is.