Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bonhoeffer's this-worldliness

We ended the year in my World Lit. II class with writings by D. Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was involved in the plot against Hitler's life and was killed just before the defeat of Hitler's Third Reich.
In his Letters and Papers from Prison, he writes:

During the last year or so I've come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man...I don't mean the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable...but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by...the constant knowledge of death and resurrection....
...I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman..., a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world... (p. 369)

Similar to Buber's "I and Thou," Taylor's paying attention, and Metz's open eyed mysticism, "living unreservedly" is beautiful. There is something disarming about it--especially in the context of taking seriously the sufferings of others.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Billy Collins

Because his poetry makes me smile....


You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.
--Billy Collins

Monday, May 10, 2010

Broken is Beautiful II

A couple of weeks ago I posted a video titled Broken is Beautiful. It is of a young woman who makes art out of x-rays that reveal some sort of brokenness, some hidden pain, some deformity.  I've been thinking about brokenness and beauty...Is there really beauty there or is it just a cover up? Surely we all know the ugliness of brokenness. We live with it every day in our own hearts.

My students and I have just finished Les Miserables in my World Lit. II class. It is a story about a convict...a man so broken, so ugly, so hardened he almost kills the only one who takes him in and feeds him. And when that one, that priest, enters into the ugliness with him, he is undone: “Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I am withdrawing it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I am giving it to God!"

The rest of the 1000+ page novel portrays the result of one man's seeing and touching and transforming the ugliness. But not just one man...because Jean Valjean then becomes the one who touches the broken and brings hope. He not only touches, he enters into it. One of the most powerful scenes in the book depicts Jean ValJean entering into the sewers of Paris carrying an unconscious "enemy," his daughter's love, to save him from arrest. He is up to his neck in slime, baptized in excrement, while he holds the wounded Marius above him.  Talk about entering in....

So I asked my students what makes a beautiful life? Here are some of their responses:
      A beautiful life can only be lived by someone who places the well being of others above themselves. Whether it be giving ones crying friend a hug, to living in Africa and teaching kids English; that is a beautiful life.

      [to live] a life to it's fullest... that [is] beautiful.
     A beautiful life has struggle and heartache, like every other life. Beauty comes from pain, a beautiful life is one where suffering is overcome, and joy is brought out of it.

     To me, living a beautiful life goes hand in hand with living a meaningful life... if you surround yourself with people that you love and care about, and strive to protect and take care of them, than you've lived a beautiful life, and you go on living in the hearts and stories of others. My view of a beautiful life is surrounding myself with the people that I love, and people that love me back. 

     What makes a beautiful life for me is knowing there is only one of me, in the world and in my existance, and living every moment so perfectly in my mind creates a sense of beauty.

      For me, I think it comes from looking beyond yourself to something more. Looking beyond clothes and popularity and money and weight to something greater. "Something more" is different for each person walking this earth, but most of the time it includes family, friends, hobbies, or religion. Like finding something you love to do and doing it. Or spending time making meaningful relationships with the important people in your life. Or helping others. Or searching for God.

     To me, the beautiful life is the one I live....I have known no better and no worse. Therefore I have nothing to compare to. The beautiful life is the one that is mine, to me anyway. my beautiful life entails a given meaning, an importance that I didn't have to create for myself, and that in itself is beautiful enough for me. 

     I find beauty in life when people triumph over their struggles and become closer to the people around them through it. 
When I read their responses, I noticed how much they mentioned people and relationships. Which brings me back to my original question: Is there really beauty in brokenness?  And is our brokenness only beautiful when someone else enters it with us? really sees and loves anyway? If relationships bring beauty to brokenness, they also have the potential to make it ugly, we have the potential to make life ugly for is part of our brokenness. So what do we do? I hope that we enter in, that we choose (when we have a choice) to bring life and beauty to others, even when it means that we get covered in crap, others and our own, because surely that's when we experience beauty the most.
(This paradox of beauty in brokenness reminds me of my daughter's experience when she was holding the hand  of a dying woman in Calcutta. You can revisit her post here...amazing, powerful story--an unexpected glimpse of beauty).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

This mother's day, in honor of all the wonderful women in my life...from mothers to grandmothers to sisters and sisters-in-law, to daughters and beautiful friends, a repost of two poems by a pair of my favorite poets:


Ah, women, that you are here on earth, that you
move here among us, grief-filled,
no more watched over than we and yet able
to bless like the blessed.

From what region,
when the loved one appears,
do you take the future?

More than will ever exist.
He who knows distances
up to the outermost fixed star
is amazed to find this,
your magnificent heartspace.
How, in the crush, do you keep it free?
--Rainer Maria Rilke

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.
So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,
prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,
and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it
already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,
where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
--Wendell Berry

Sunday, May 2, 2010

more may

Yesterday, while walking into a nearby school gym for a daughter's club bball game, I was overcome by pink and white...another favorite if fleeting may moment...And yes it snowed today.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


May is usually a crazy month--the push to the finish line of another school year. And it's always triangulated (to use a favorite term among social scientists) by deadlines in grad school, deadlines as a teacher, and cheering and guiding my own children to finish well.
 So I love mornings like today, this first of May. There is a paper to finish, papers to grade, a final to write, and a basketball game and piano recital to attend this afternoon....but the sun is shining through the aspens. I can spot summer in the dappled leaves quivering in the slight morning breeze, and I can breathe...