“Until Our Great Change Shall Come”

 

 GRANT unto us, Almighty God, of Thy good Spirit, that quiet heart, and that patient lowliness to which Thy comforting Spirit comes; that we, being humble toward Thee, and loving toward one another, may have our hearts prepared for that peace of Thine which passeth understanding; which, if we have, the storms of life can hurt us but little, and the cares of life vex us not at all; in presence of which death shall lose its sting, and the grave its terror; and we, in calm joy, walk all the days of our appointed time, until our great change shall come— Amen.  –-George Dawson (1821-1876)

Finding Peace

Every contradiction of our will, every little ailment, every petty disappointment, will, if we take it patiently, become a blessing. So, walking on earth, we may be in heaven; the ill-tempers of others, the slights and rudenesses of the world, ill-health, the daily accidents with which God has mercifully strewed our paths, instead of ruffling or disturbing our peace, may cause His peace to be shed abroad in our hearts abundantly.
E. B. PUSEY.

Wednesdays with Words on a Thursday – July 3, 2014

 

From To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Handwriting by Simon Garfield:

 

This is a book about a world without letters, or at least this possibility.  It is a book about what we have lost by replacing letters with email–the post, an envelope, a pen, a slower cerebral whirring, the use of the whole of our hands and not just the tips of our fingers. It is a celebration of what has gone before, and the value we place on literacy, good thinking and thinking ahead. I wonder if it is not also a book about kindness.

 

On reading this paragraph in Garfield’s book on letters, I was reminded of the box of letters from my mother I have tucked away in my garage.  My mother died several years ago but every time I read one of those letters, she is with me again.  I can hear her voice in those words and I enjoy looking at her handwriting and at the writing paper she has chosen for me and the fact that, at one point in both of our lives, she too handled that letter.  I can’t say that about emails and although I still have some emails from her, it is her letters I cherish.

Or sometimes I think about the little packet of letters from a boy I knew in high school.  Our fledgling love affair did not come to fruition but those few letters remind me of what it was like to be in love when I was very young–the thrill, the hopes and dreams, the songs I sang in my heart, the sweet words he said to me.  The letters are tied up with ribbons and hidden away in a drawer like so many love letters in the past.  I can’t do that with an email.

Writing an email is quick and easy but I miss the beautiful paper and cards, filling my pen, writing slowly and evenly across the page, crossing out the wrong word and wondering how many errors would require a rewrite (usually only for invitations and business letters; personal letters rarely were re-written).  I miss going to the post office and carefully choosing which stamps to use for my letters. I miss sealing the envelope and rushing madly to the post box before the mail was collected that day and then haunting the mail box daily for a reply as soon as I thought one could come.  I miss rifling through the mail and tossing aside bills in search for a letter.  I miss brightly colored postcards from far away places that came a week after a friend came home from vacation.

I love reading collections of people’s letters.  Some of my favorite books have been memoirs, stuffed with copies of letters.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Jane Austen, Thomas Jefferson, and Galileo are just some of the people whose letters I have read and enjoyed.  One of my very favorite books, 84 Charing Cross Road, is a book of letters.  Somehow I don’t think we will see collections of famous people’s emails being published and what a loss that will be as letters reveal so much about a person.

I think we’ve lost something dear since we have replaced writing letters with emails and texts.  I look forward to reading Mr. Garfield’s book about letter-writing.  I suspect he will be a “kindred spirit.”

Wednesdays with Words – June 25, 2014

I’m nearing the end of Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.  My current chapter has not been as quotable as past chapters but here are a couple of thoughts:

The familiar rules about writing turn out to be more nearly half-truths, dangerous if taken literally.  They are handy as correctives, but not very useful as instruction.

‘Never use a five-dollar-word when a fifty-cent word will do’ said Mark Twain, and this advice seems to be universally accepted.  True, there is no faster way to make a passage impenetrable than to accumulate long Latinate words.  But much of the force of English derives from the conquests and invasions that gave it multiple sources.  It is almost impossible to write prose in English without blending short, blunt Anglo-Saxon with more formal Latinate words, and the way you blend them matters.  It is a little-noted fact that a reader’s eye, just glancing at a page, can tell something about the contents simply by registering its texture.  The mere look of your prose can invite readers to go on or can warn them off before they read a word.

 

Wednesdays with Words – June 18, 2014

 

This week I finally read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  I’ve had it on my TBR list for years but somehow or another I never picked it up to read.  The other day I saw it hanging out at the library, checked it out, brought it home, and reveled in it for four days.  What a wonderful story it is!

Although my childhood was immensely more privileged than Francie’s, I saw in her character much of my own love of books and words and reading as well as my enjoyment in simple pleasures.  The simple pleasure game* is one of my favorites to play with myself.

Here are a few quotes from this lovely book:

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

 

*The simple pleasure game is just finding pleasure in the little things of life:  like a hot cup of tea on a cold day or a iced coffee on a hot one; the smell of newly mown grass; stopping to smell a flower; watching a bird in a tree; putting your feet in a river; eating one piece of good chocolate; hearing your favorite sonata on the radio; putting your hands in the warm earth as you plant the first plants of the year; and so forth.  It’s making every moment count and finding the little pleasures that God brings every single day if only you open your eyes to them.

Wednesdays with Words – June 4, 2014

This past winter I borrowed Madeleine L’Engle’s book The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth via interlibrary loan.  I had to return it before I finished it and I hope to one day own it because there was so much wisdom and such a wealth of understanding and beauty in it.  One of the things that challenged my thinking was her contrasting mere fact with truth.  I was very uncomfortable with the idea of selecting some facts and omitting others and of her idea that sometimes facts can mask truth.  I know that many times the Greeks kept important events off-stage in their dramas and that sometimes truth cannot be approached directly but only out of the corner of our eyes, so to speak.  In reading Good Prose: The Art of Non-Fiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd this week, I ran across this same idea:

We know that as soon as writers begin to tell a story they shape experience and that stories are always, at best, partial versions of reality, and thus objectivity is a myth. More worrisome are people who want to pursue the other line of argument that ‘everything is subjective.’ Well, of course, everything is subjective, once you get beyond the very barest of facts.  p. 84

 

Subjectivity simply acknowledges the presence of  a mediator between the facts and the truth.  That mediator is you, the writer.  Acknowledging subjectivity absolves you of nothing.  On the contrary, it makes you the one who has to explore the facts, discover what you can of the truth, and find the way to express that truth in prose–knowing as you look for the way to do this that you cannot be complete, that every inclusion implies countless exclusions, that you must strive to do no violence to those facts and those truths that compete for your attention. p. 85

 

Facts and truth: not only are they not synonymous, but they often have a very tangential relationship.  Although the truth must always be found in facts, some facts, sometimes obscure the truth.  Sometimes that essential effort of writing, making some things small and others big, includes making something invisible.  p. 89

 

In reading this, I was reminded of something the Apostle John wrote in his gospel:

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. — John 20:30-31

John did not include every fact of every thing that Jesus said and did although he was witness to most of it and probably knew the facts of many of the things he missed.  However, he included only those facts that presented the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for our salvation.

So, I’m left with mulling over this idea of selecting facts in order to communicate truth.  Is this something we do everyday?  Is the lack of complete transparency with our facts a lie?  Or are we wise in choosing which facts to present so that we can most clearly tell the truth of a matter?

It is something to consider…

 

Do not worry

“25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  –Matthew 6:25-33

Things are very hectic at our house this weekend.  Graduation is upon us and there are many last minute details, much cooking, out of town guests, table and chair set up, etc. to do and think about today and tomorrow.  As I made lists and tried not to wonder how to do everything that needs to be done today, I was reminded of this passage from Scripture.  The Lord feeds the birds and clothes the lilies and He also will provide the grace and strength that I need to do all that He has called me to do today and tomorrow.  If I seek His kingdom and His glory first, my heart will be quiet before Him and I will rejoice rather than be worried.  A good reminder for this busy season.

Wednesdays with Words – May 28, 2014

Continuing with Good Prose: The Art of Non-Fiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. This week I read about essays. I love to read essays. Like short stories, you can dip into a book of essays and read just one while you are having a cup of coffee or tea, then put the book away, and think about what you read. Did I agree or disagree? How would I say it differently? Why do I like this essay (or essayist) or why do I dislike what I’ve read?

Here are a few quotes about writing essays:

Most of the work that we call personal essay goes beyond logic and fact into the sovereign claims of idiosyncrasy. This is not to suggest that essays should be illogical, but they may be, and generally should be, extra-logical–governed by associative more than by strictly linear thought.

What gives you license to write essays? Only the presence of an idea and the ability to make it your own. People speak of the “personal essay” as a form, but all essays are personal. They may make sweeping pronouncements, but they bear the stamp of an individual mind. Original ideas, those hinges on which an era turns, are rare. It is unlikely that you will write The Origin of Species. Or that you will be Emerson. But originality and profundity are not identical. Profound ideas bear repeating, or rediscovery, and many original ideas do not. Essays are like poems in that they may confront old wisdom in a fresh way.

Self-doubt, fatal in so many enterprises, fortifies the essay.

Every essayist deals with the same general ingredients–self and experience and idea–but everyone deals with them differently. Good essayists share the ability and the confidence to use the power of their own highly specified convictions.

We read many of the essayists from past centuries: Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Charles Lamb, Emerson and Thoreau. We also like to read more modern essays be G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers.

I also enjoy reading essays by Virginia Woolf, Jan Struther, Wendell Berry, and Anne Fadiman.

Here are some links to essays that I especially appreciate. I hope these whet your appetite to read more of this wonderful genre of writing and perhaps they will even inspire you to try your hand at writing an essay of your own.

 

On Learning in War-Time – by C.S. Lewis

On Lying in Bed by G.K. Chesterton

Of Age by Montaigne

The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf

The Two Races of Men by Charles Lamb

AINSWORTH-ZAZOULIAN by Jan Struther

Never Do That to a Book by Anne Fadiman

Wednesdays with Words – May 14, 2014

I’m attempting to keep up with Cindy at Ordo Amoris as she reads Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecott.  Life has been too busy to do much more than read and think about it for a few minutes each day but there were several wonderful thoughts that I wanted to share:

“Ideas have consequences.1 They shape our society, our economy, our very lives. The gravest threat our civilization faces is in fact not ecological but philosophical. It is the widespread belief that there is no objective truth and no ‘true’ way of considering the world and its history, only a plurality of subjective points of view, each point of view being of equal value and deserving equal respect.”

 

“In love we see the beauty that moves the sun and stars, the beauty that draws together all the sciences and arts of man into a whole vision of reality. This is the beauty of Wisdom, ‘more moving than any motion,’ the ‘brightness of the everlasting light.’”

 

“The arts were intended to prepare the ground for the attainment of wisdom and truth in philosophy and theology. The full range of subjects studied would include practical skills associated with the arts and crafts (techne) through to the highest reaches of wisdom (sophia).”

 

“The ability to think critically and for oneself is a part of this tradition, but not in separation from the moral virtues. Conceptual and dialectical thought is not the highest activity of man, but gives way before contemplation and the development of the spirit through love.”

 

“Revelation subtly alters the way every subject is taught as well as the relationships between them. What is revealed connects them severally and together to our own destiny, to the desire of our hearts for union with infinite truth. At that point, everything becomes interesting.”

 

“In discovering the Father we become thinkers, we awaken thought in ourselves, which is the following of the light of truth, walking with the Son, the Logos incarnate, leading to the face-to-face knowledge of the Father that only the Son possesses, and those with whom he shares it. The sharing is done through the Spirit, the Ruah or breath of the Father that carries the Word. The breath is the atmosphere, the conversation, the kiss by which the two are united in giving and receiving.”

 

“In every society or civilization, a process takes place that can be called a ‘handing over’ of the stories, the knowledge, the accumulated wisdom of one generation to the next. It is the process that makes each new generation into a source of wisdom for the one that follows—and it takes place generally within the family. What is handed over is a ‘gift.’ It is not simply a bundle of property whose title deed is being transferred to the next generation. Rather, it carries within it something of the giver. Its transmission is an act of love. Thus the gift of tradition involves and transforms the interiority of both the giver and the recipient.”

 

“The ‘spirit of tradition’ is an essential element of education. It is the spirit in which the transmission of culture takes place. (It can be introduced to the child through folk songs, local history, and family history, for example.) This allows the initiation of succeeding generations into the truth that binds them together. The receptivity proper to love makes possible the transmission of tradition from one generation to the next. And when that spirit is present, tradition is never felt like a dead weight on the present. Only a tradition that has lost this spirit can become a deadening force.”

 

“Our first educational challenge is to counter the corrosive effect of technology on the traditions that nourish our humanity by anamnesis. If the spirit of tradition is to be preserved and revived, liturgy is going to be the key, for this is the school of memory, the place where we recollect ourselves, where we learn how to relate to each other in God. This is where we learn to accept the past and existence itself as a gift calling for a response of gratitude. Prayer and worship are therefore not extraneous but should be a central element in the life of the school or family. As we pray, so shall we be.”