Recently, I taught a unit on dragon stories in literature to my elementary students. To launch the series, I read Revelation 12 aloud in class, which is a marvelous tale of a red dragon who pursues the Queen of Heaven into the desert to devour her child, but is thwarted by creation rising up against him. The students gazed wide-eyed at the masterfully woven images, narrative, and language. When I told them that the fantastical tale was from the Bible, they gasped. One young man stammered, “Wow, I didn’t know the Bible told stories like that!”
To the classical thinker, vice lies at the opposite ends of a corresponding virtue (Aristotle's golden mean). A vice can be the manifestation of a virtue in extreme exaggeration or deprivation. Courage is an example of virtue. Its corresponding vices are impetuousness (the exaggeration), and pusillanimity (the deprivation). In post-Christian Christianity, doubt has unfortunately been elevated into a virtue and any type of certainty has been made a vice, a problem which can be traced back to Descartes.
We have all read the story in which the “classy detective with a sixth sense and an addiction,” accompanied by his “naive sidekick,” deduces that the “suicide case,” closed by the “bumbling policeman,” is obviously a murder. The author invokes “stormy skies” which reflect the detective’s mental state as he confronts a “secret from his past,” leading inevitably to redundant sequels, poorly parroting the style of the Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These well-worn clichés constitute the matter of what Annie Dillard would call dishonest literature.
In the first portion of our excursion through the sticky saying that we discover in Homer’s Achilles I explored the idea that we’re not as different from Achilles as we think. Hearkening back to Bespaloff (On the Iliad), we might at this point be able to recognize that while in spirit we admire Hektor, more often than not in action we emulate Achilles. For confirmation, we only need to survey our society in which appearances, wealth, fame, brash self-assertion, and power are our golden calves.
It is December and the year is waning. The calendar year fades away with its annual decline, while the liturgical year renews itself again in Advent. I don't know about you, but I delight in fresh starts, as long as I carry into the that new beginning a unified vision and the practices to support it.
A popular Christmas song tells us that, when the bustle of Santa’s big day, with the busy sidewalks and the children laughing and the snow crunching, makes its assault, we should listen for the soothing silver bells . I love those busy sidewalks and the children laughing and the snow crunching and all the activity that the season demands. Yet, traditionally, Advent is a time of silent waiting, of reflecting and fasting, of anticipating the Messiah.
Where do we find time for silence and stillness?
My six-year-old became increasingly indignant during the series of eight flights we took last month. The children were all especially interested in the safety presentation before takeoff, but whenever the flight attendants told adults to put on their oxygen masks before helping others, my daughter was agitated. “That’s so mean!” Her eyes narrowed, and she crossed her arms over her body. “How so?” I inquired. She glared at the flight attendant two rows in front of us. “Mothers should always put their children first!”
We have all witnessed the curious, silly, emotional roller coaster that is a “logic-stage” student. They can be so fun and so full of wonder, and yet so disobedient at the same time. One minute we are in awe of their thoughts and abilities and the next we are pulling our hair out in frustration.
We have all been logic students. You may have taught and even raised logic students.
But have you ever worshiped a logic student?
At the party, through the foyer, around the clusters of partygoers, past the buffet, and into the salon. There they are, arguing, discussing, pounding the tables with their open palms. You have come among the great authors who are conducting a conversation that began at the dawn of time. You have arrived.
You elbow through gray suits and togas toward the sound of a livid voice. As you sit down, a Greek man with a curly gray beard flashes an impish grin from across the table. You think he looks familiar, but your thoughts are interrupted by a squat German man.
Many literary images have taken up residence in my life: laughing Lucy tossed into the air, safely caught by Aslan’s velvety paws; a gaunt Hamlet confronting a weird, haunting specter; the lovely Scheherazade, spinning a thousand tales for the Persian Šāhe Šāhān (King of Kings); a slave boy, answering questions posed by a curious man drawing figures in the sand; Margaret’s tears gently falling upon a golden carpet of leaves . . .