Shout Outs

It’s nearly the end of the semester, and thanks are in order to the small things, which kept me going for the past weeks.

Shout out to this view. You were a reward to my tired eyes every day.
Shout out to this view. You rewarded my tired eyes every day.

Shout out to milk chocolate orange digestive biscuits. You kept me real, at 1 AM, in the throes of an essay on Petruccio’s heinous abuse of Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew.

Shout out to my earbuds. You poured upbeat Christmas music into my brain when I wanted to crawl into a hole and pretend that speech act theory doesn’t exist BECAUSE IT WAS SO CONFUSING, until “Just for Now” came on and suddenly IT ALL MADE SENSE.

Shout out to Jazz apples. Your tangy sugar-flesh was sunshine on a cloudy morning and an embrace at the end of the day.

Shout out to my bicycle. On you, I rode up Headington Hill, in the rain, in a skirt, with heavy books in my backpack, with grocery bags on my handlebars, while managing to remain alive. Bless you, Number 03.

Shout out to my blue leather gloves. You know how important you are to my would-be-cold fingers. May you live forever.

Shout out to my Sharpie pens. You never failed to give me a tiny rush of delight every time I had to sit through yet another lecture, sermon, talk, meeting, or session. When I took notes in that shade of deep blue, which was born of ocean and sky, my day glowed.

Shout out to my Nalgene. I wasn’t supposed to drink from you in that one library, or keep you out on the desk in the other library, but I did, because you became my closest companion. Without your innumerable tally of the ounces I sipped this semester, I would be lost, shriveled and dry, contemplating why living in a land of swampish humidity made me as thirsty as living in a desert.

Shout out to my plaid blanket scarf. You are closer than a brother and my dearest friend. Praise Dame Fashion for dictating that wearing a BLANKET is not only acceptable, but also à la mode. Without you, those essays on regular sound change and Othello would have remained unwritten.

Shout out to eye makeup. You shrouded me in an illusion of alertness, and for that gentle deception I thank you.

Shout out to apple-scented shampoo and conditioner. Many scents have done excellently, but you surpass them all. My olfactory senses rise up and call you blessed.

Shout out to my watches. Without you, I am nothing. Once I forgot to put you on and promptly forgot my name and where I was. Maybe our connection is a little too close. But who can despair when one listens to the steady beat of your heart?

Shout out to George Herbert. I didn’t know whom you were a year ago, and I couldn’t have cared less before the beginning of the term. Now, I know that we share a soul and your poetry has become my mantra. Bless your heart.

Shout out to cafes and coffee shops. Your warm tea and scones and cold butter and jam fueled me through many a long week. Cream tea > all other teas.

Shout out to the Number 8 bus line. On rainy days when my tutorial was (seemingly) very late in the day, you sheltered me under your metaphorical wing and flew me to the Language and Brain Institute, and I bless you for your service.

Shout out to that opera singer on Broad Street. You are amazing. Never stop. You are what street music should be.

Shout out to John Donne. You are forever my favorite author and I will never forget your jeweled words. You live in my heart.

Shout out to Desk 122 in the Lower Reading Room of the Bodleian Library. With you, I puzzled over Bonhoeffer’s theory of conscience, cried when reading his letters to his parents, and pondered the meaning of telling the truth. With you, I stared longingly at the gloriously enormous collection of Barth while confining myself to the blue-backed Bonhoeffer Works. With you, I read linguistics every Sunday afternoon and Bonhoeffer every other day in the week. With you, I glared uncomfortably at the portraits of various old white men judging my Herculean efforts to write essays. With you, I treasured and pondered every moment of my Oxford experience. Now, when I think of learning, living, and loving, I think of you. You held my hopes and dreams of understanding life. Everything I learned to love in England is summed in you, and you are what I will miss the most. Desk 122, you are the love of my life, and I hope to return to you soon and long and well.

Pursuit: A Reflection on Theology

Puzzlewood - Woodland Throne

It is almost futile,

My pursuit of you.

Daily, I realize that.

What can I know of the everlasting God?

Trapped by temporality,

Short and sweet in the terror of the finite.

What can I know of faith?

Trapped by transgressions,

Shackles shackling shackles.

What can I know of hope?

Trapped by treason,

Sanctification ignored in pursuit of unbecoming.

What can I know of love?

Trapped by treachery,

Betrayal paid in petty silver.

What can I know of the Savior?

Trapped by tyranny,

Senses demand sight and touch.

What can I know of God?

Trapped by tangibility,

I will never know until I see him in the new beginning.

It is almost futile,

This pursuit of you.

Daily, I realize that

You pursue me.

When All Has Been Said and Done

Radcliffe Camera - View from St Mary the Virgin

Sometimes it seems like it’s all been done before.

That’s the problem for creative minds who love history: we walk backwards into the future, reading what has been written before us. After reading Shakespeare, can I even consider myself a writer? After analyzing theologians from Aquinas to Barth to Calvin, does anything remain unexamined?

This is the writer’s existential crisis: do my words have meaning? What can I say that has not already been said?

But this existential crisis is not even existential: Solomon had it, long before the days of Plato, Alexander the Great, even Jesus Christ. There truly is nothing new under the sun!

But it’s not the act of creating something new that matters. What matters is your response.

J. R. R. Tolkien was the greatest influence on fantasy literature since the Gothic era that preceded him by one hundred years. But he didn’t set out intending to upend modern literature and make fantasy a genre and subculture. He was a philologist who loved medieval epics, so he formed his own languages and placed them in a new world that looked a lot like the mythology he loved. The Lord of the Rings and all its surrounding literature were Tolkien’s response to his lifelong love. Tolkien’s response looked to the past, and gave us the future.

Today I live and study in the same libraries in the same university that Tolkien attended. I read the same authors and answer the same questions. But the fact remains that I am no Tolkien, and will never have the audacity to dream up a world with its own languages. Oxford is strange in that regard: you feel worthy of something if you study here, but you feel unable to offer much to the world. What can I say that has not already been said?

Maybe I cannot create something entirely original. But that’s how artists learn, by examining and copying work until they create their own. Why not the same for a word-artist? I must read the greatest literature, copy its style, respond to it, and perhaps, someday, write my own magnum opus.

Response is not limited to responding to another person’s work. Respond to your life. Respond to the conversation you had last night. Respond to your thoughts, actions, beliefs, and feelings.

Your work has never been said or read before.

 

No Man Is An Island

No Man Is An Island

John Donne, one of the great cavalier poets of the seventeenth century, joined the Anglican clergy later in his life, and wrote this in a meditation:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…

In life, especially the academic life, isolation becomes all too easy. We live individualistic lives, with our individual desires and dreams. But, as Donne reminds us, we are not isolated: we are “involved in mankind.” While “no man is an island” is rather pithy, it is not encouraging when facing a sleepless night with a weeping friend, or when we must learn to forgive and live with others daily. Christianity makes the surface of community even more treacherous by adding requirements like confession, grace, and service.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian who made a point to live and work in community as much as possible, wrote the following in the first chapter of Life Together.

Christian brotherhood is…a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.

Christian fellowship is given to us as a gift, and it is a way of experiencing Christ while being “involved in mankind.” The joys and sorrows of daily life with other people is a way of experiencing sanctification. Apart from life, theology is ink on paper. In the context of a thriving community, theology is the living Word inhabiting hearts and minds through Christ.

Whose Beauty Is Past Change

Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and Salisbury Cathedral-26

 

Beauty never grows old.

My home address has been Colorado Springs, Colorado, for three years now. When I moved from the flatlands of green Wisconsin, Colorado seemed like a desert, and I looked in vain for the springs. After realizing that Colorado’s water cannot compare to Lake Michigan, I looked up. I found Pike’s Peak, which sits 8,000 feet above my feet. I had never seen an equal to its majesty. Though there may be many more beautiful, craggy, snow-capped mountains, but none befriended me like Pike’s Peak. I wondered if, months or years down the road, its beauty would dim in my bright eyes.

Now that I have spent two years away at school with views of different mountains, spent a summer traveling Colorado, and am currently living overseas, I know this:

I miss Pike’s Peak.

I always look for it when I come round the bend out of my neighborhood. I treasure the different angles I find around town. I’ve lost it to snow and fog and rain, and I’ve seen it at sunset and sunrise. Its beauty never grows old.

Now, living in a beautiful city, I encounter expansive old buildings daily. I climb a winding staircase to bookcases in a round room with a dome for a ceiling. And I wonder if working and living in such a place will dull the way it pierces my heart.

Every day, the staid old buildings smile on me differently. I’ll see a new corner, a fresh column, a clean window. The richness inside the buildings, the books, the history, the writing on the walls, makes me wealthy.

Though this beauty never grows old, it seems empty. Beauty has no end in itself. Though I stare at my surroundings while being jostled by people and cameras, I find the beauty empty.

Every dazzling scene is missing its focal point. All beautiful sights are throne rooms, waiting for the arrival of their king:

 

“He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.”

[Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty”]