A few weeks back, I sat in the window seat of a Southwest plane, watching the bendy river and broad marshes of my hometown melt into the brown patchwork fields of the Midwest. From ten thousand feet, these fields are not lovely. Their harsh lines and crazy angles, outlined with straggling hedges, seem to flatten whatever dimensions the land originally possessed—the created grace of hills and woods and streams smashed beneath the boundary lines and irrigation systems of profitable agriculture.
Which is more formative for our students: what we teach, or how we teach?
Centuries before Bunyan’s Pilgrim was trekking towards the Celestial City, Chaucer’s motley crew were wending their way to Canterbury. Both stories draw on a premonition that’s as old as Abraham and as fresh as Kerouac—an intimation, undying through the ages, that life is a journey towards, or in search of, the holy.
I’ve lived along the Atlantic long enough to think this week’s hurricane was mild, gentle even, at least in my neighborhood. It ruffled the trees, swirled the clouds, churned the river like a fine butter—but not much more than that. We sat calmly inside as the circling clouds gave the sun the effect of a light bulb about to burst . . . on again, off again, rain, sunshine, rainshine.
Some musical works, especially classical ones, resemble Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball: they require a formal introduction for proper acquaintance (and woe betide the Mr. Collins who thinks otherwise). But other works, like other people, welcome strangers. It is sometimes possible to love a person before you learn his name and to understand a work of music before comprehending its composition. Such is the case with Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau.”
Take a listen.
The proverbial imagination pictures Wisdom as a noble lady who prepares a feast and invites any who would come: “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave our simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight’” (Proverbs 9:1-6).
Visiting Eighth Day Books has been a daydream of mine for a while, and though I have yet to make it to Wichita, I had the next-best delight of browsing their book tables at the CiRCE conference last month. So I am now the joyful host to several Eighth Day books making their homes on my bookshelf.
New sounds rang through the old cathedrals: Lutheran chorales and Reformed Psalm-singing proclaimed the Protestants’ conviction that congregations should participate in worship as fully as possible. Yet simultaneously, composers faithful to Rome labored to craft gloriously intricate music through which they hoped to offer praise worthy of a God of infinite majesty. Of these latter, none was more famous, nor perhaps more masterful, than Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
Saturday afternoon, just as sunlight began to slant through the stained glass, I listened to a joyful bride pledging her solemn, ancient vows: for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish until death parts. And, answering her pledge, the pronouncement—man and wife.
I overheard someone the other day lamenting Americans’ obstinate resistance to the metric system, and I wished that G.K. Chesterton had written an ode to English measuring units. Anyone who could begin an essay with such a line as “At about twenty-one minutes past two today I suddenly saw that asparagus is the secret of aristocracy” could certainly have done justice to a system so marvelously, poetically, truthfully hodgepodge as our units of measurement.