Thursday, March 22, 2007


Dear one, how many years is it - I forget -
Since this luminous evening when you joined us
In the celebration of whatever it was that we were celebrating - I forget -
It is a mark of a successful celebration
That one should have little recollection of the cause;
As long as the happiness itself remains a memory.
Our tiny planet, viewed from afar, is a place of swirling clouds
And dimmish blue; Scotland, though lodged large in all our hearts
Is invisible at that distance, not much perhaps,
But to us it is our all, our place, the opposite of nowhere;
Nowhere can be seen by looking up
And realising, with shock, that we really are very small;
You would say, yes, we are, but never overcompensate,
Be content with small places, the local, the short story
Rather than the saga; take pleasure in private jokes,
In expressions that cannot be translated,
In references that can be understood by only two or three,
But which speak with such eloquence for small places
And the fellowship of those whom we know so well
And whose sayings and moods are as familiar
As the weather; these mean everything,
They mean the world, they mean the world.

~ Alexander McCall Smith

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pagan Puritans

I was struck today while reading through Book 16 of the Iliad with my 8th graders that as Christians, we probably have more in common with the mindset of these ancient pagan characters than we do with modern-day nonbelievers. What I mean by that is that these characters have a unified world. Everything happens for a reason. A storm is not merely a storm; it's an indication of the current emotional state of the gods. A bird is not merely a bird; it's an indication of how a battle will turn out. And regardless of how skilled one might be as a warrior, ultimately the success or failure of anything is, as Ajax realizes as he fights off Hector from the Greek ships, up to the will of the gods. I hasten to clarify that I am not implying that God treats us according to his whims or that we are ruled by an impersonal Fate. There are certainly deep distinctions between the God of the Bible and the Greek gods of the Iliad. In fact, I'll probably have my students write an essay on that very topic when we're done reading the epic. But today I was struck not by differences but by similarities -- that the world is not divided into neat little compartments as I so often tend think it is, but rather that everything is connected and that our individual actions and the events swirling about us and the will of a deity are wrapped up into one complex, yet unified whole.

In fact, I thought as I read the chapter, all of this reminds me of something from another class. It reminds me of the American Puritans that my students in 11th grade American Lit read. Those writers had the same habit of seeing God in absolutely everything. And I realized with a start, The Iliad is filled with pagan Puritans! It was a humorous, yet instructive, realization. And I think a couple of the 8th graders got it when I mentioned it. I think . . . . :-)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Most mornings I try to catch "The Writer's Almanac" at 6:50 on our local NPR station. I've grown to love Garrison Keillor's voice reading me a poem as I merge onto 66 East.

And so when I came across Good Poems in a bookstore recently, I picked it up and have been working my way through it. Two days ago, I read the following poem and loved it, especially its one-long-strung-together-sentence feature. That element makes the "Hallelujah" at the end sound fabulous. It reminded me a little bit of the poem "The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson -- a sort of similar imaginative retelling of God's creating work. (On a side note, I still remember Dr. Panosian performing "The Creation" at a Sunday Vespers years ago at BJU. He had the perfect voice for it.)

Morning Person

God, best at making in the morning, tossed
stars and planets, singing and dancing, rolled
Saturn's rings spinning and humming, twirled the earth
so hard it coughed and spat the moon up, brilliant
bubble floating around it for good, stretched holy
hands till birds in nervous sparks flew forth from
them and beasts--lizards, big and little, apes,
lions, elephants, dogs and cats cavorting,
tumbling over themselves, dizzy with joy when
God made us in the morning too, both man
and woman, leaving Adam no time for
sleep so nimbly was Eve bouncing out of
his side till as night came everything and
everybody, growing tired, declined, sat
down in one soft descended Hallelujah.

~ Vassar Miller