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Blog

Majuscule and Minuscule

Jayne English

When Walt Whitman sauntered through the streets of New York City, enjoying a conversation and drink at Pfaff’s, talking to omnibus drivers on Broadway, or attending an opera at the Park Theater, the sights, sounds, and multitude of experiences found expression in his collection of poems, Leaves of Grass. He published the first edition in 1855 with his own money and set much of the type himself at the print shop of some friends. To order the words of its poems, he chose letters from two wooden cases, one above the other. This process of typesetting gives us the words lowercase and uppercase letters, more formally known as minuscule and majuscule letters.

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Anne with an E

Jayne English

“I’m gonna tell you plain, you’re doing a mighty foolish thing, a risky thing, that’s what.”
      — Rachel Lynde

I deliberated for a few weeks about watching Anne with an E. I’m usually disappointed with the 2-dimensional feel of most adaptations. I enjoyed reading the series so much, I was reluctant to watch something that would spoil the essence of Anne that had me pulling each book off the bookstore shelves as eagerly as any eleven-year old with a story crush. Only, I was in my 30’s when I first read the series. Anne’s enthusiasm was irresistible. Adaptations miss the essence of character that books uniquely develop. What stayed with me, years after I read the books, was Anne’s irrepressible love of life. I wasn’t prepared to have those memories forever ruined. But on the off chance that I’d find something more, I plunged in.

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The Woman Who Was Chesterton: Where Did the Spouses Go?

Joy and Matthew Steem

I have been an avid fan of G. K Chesterton for a number of years. I have read numerous biographies, perused through his essays, novels, short stories, and poems, and found them all bright and useful. I had no complaints with the biographies—until now. Enter Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015). Suddenly, I realized that my knowledge of Chesterton was lacking, and in a big way: I didn’t know much about his wife, Frances.

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Through the Ruins of the World  

Jean Hoefling

Icons are created for the sole purpose of offering access, through the gate of the visible, to the mystery of the invisible.  
     —Henri Nouwen, Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons

In his book of meditations on the icons of 15th-century Russian artist Andrei Rublev's, theologian Henri Nouwen says this about the iconographer’s famous “Christ the Redeemer:”

When I first saw… I had the distinct sense that the face of Christ appears in the midst of great chaos. A sad but beautiful face looks at us through the ruins of the world.

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The Companionship of Loss

Jayne English

You are frightened
when you first realize something
is gone, when the strings that hold now
to then are snapped, leaving you
somewhere above ground with nowhere to land,
nothing to hold onto.
 —James Langlas

From my desk in the laundry room, I can watch the sunset as it stretches across the sky toward my north-facing door. Each sunset is the waning of a day, just one of the repeated patterns of loss in our lives. Loss is a near constant companion to us all. Even in a newborn’s first moments he begins to lose time. From then on, loss shadows us. The turtle dies, whose tiny movements we watched from above his plastic island and tap-water bay; the bird we rescued from a parking lot never unfolds his wings again; we lose our first grandparent; and one day we walk out the door of our childhood home into the beckoning world.

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Above Earth's Lamentation

Laurie Granieri

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
  
 —Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke's Book of Hours, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

I administer these words to my body like a balm as I heave and weave, clambering up mountains, hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail, the Rockies, the Adirondack High Peaks.

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Wearing Narrative

Joy and Matthew Steem

“The body interacts and changes places with apparel as we wear it, changing ruffle to ankle, in the vision of one motion. We let it affect the way we move, the way we interact, the way we shape affection, the means by which we negotiate other’s opinions of our social standing, the way we cognize our own body.”
        —Daneen Wordrop,

As one who doesn’t typically pay a great deal of attention to the act of dressing, I have an ambiguous relationship with clothing. In fact, I often catch myself contemplating the necessity of clothing in negative terms, partly because over the years I have become increasingly aware of the class distinctions and identity communicating elements inherent in clothing choices. My mindset has been slowly changing though, in large part thanks to a generous benefactor of luxurious hand-me-downs.

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Gyroscope

Jayne English

One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God ... everything does. 
John Coltrane

Do you remember playing with a gyroscope as a kid? You’d snap the string, lean down eye level with the table, and watch it spin on its axis until the momentum slowed and it wobbled to a stop. The gyroscope’s movements are the same ones that weave through our lives. It appears balanced enough, but the view from the axis can look like a lot of frantic spinning.

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The Shape of Humility

Jean Hoefling

I know well enough that very few people who are supposedly interested in writing are interested in writing well.
Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

A few years ago, in the interest of honing a short story that I considered decent (which it turned out not to be, particularly), I attended the legendary Glen Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico—that annual summer gathering at St. John’s College of Christian (or not) poets, painters, musicians, and budding screenplay and fiction writers. That year, prolific novelist Bret Lott facilitated the fiction workshop. Every morning before our class began the round of shock therapy euphemistically called “peer critique,” Professor Lott offered short, helpful lectures on writing while we all drank coffee and breathed in the signature Santa Fe scent of burnt brick and piñon that wafted through the open windows of our classroom. All his teaching was good, but these years later I don’t remember much of what the good professor said.  

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Longing for Home

Joy and Matthew Steem

I remember the first time I experienced the blunt heaviness of homesickness: the pulsing desire to return to the place of belonging, to people who care, and an environment that’s safe. I was in grade two and had been away from my family for about five days at a non-profit kid’s camp a few hours away. Curiously, the wumping of homeward ache didn’t hit me until after arriving at my friend’s house, where I awaited mom to pick me up. Suddenly, less than half an hour from home, the telltale symptoms of loneliness started leaking out my eyes. I remember my friend’s gentle dad leaving a message on my parents’ machine, “come whenever you can, I think someone is quite homesick.”

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Silence's Volume

Jayne English

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”
John Keats

In a September post, I wrote about  how artists like John Muth, John Cage, and Suzanne Cleary open doors for us to explore what inhabits silence: movement in John Muth’s brushstrokes; sounds coming to life in Cage’s silent concert halls; or the feeling of suspended time in Suzanne Cleary’s poem “Elm Street.” Again, silence draws me back, this time, into its depths.

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Reading as Moral Formation

Stephen Lamb

I am sometimes embarrassed when I remember how important a certain book was to me five years ago. Amplify that embarrassment exponentially for each year closer to high school. The embarrassment comes partly, I think, from what the earth-shattering import I gave to this or that book says about what I had read up to that point in my life. 

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An Odd Apprenticeship: A Belated Mother's Day Reflection

Joy and Matthew Steem

For many trades, the practice of apprenticing has been an established method of imparting instruction from expert to apprentice. The learned takes the initiate under her or his wing, and over a period of time, something is imparted to the apprentice. Whether this is knowledge about gardening, mechanics, pottery or something else, the apprenticing system has proven successful when a skill has been imparted.

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The Theology of Illness

Jean Hoefling

Through illness, man comes back to himself.
— St. Serpahim of Sarov

Very recently, a three-day illness sent me to the wall. Suffice it to say there were woes and throes and flues and vertigo aplenty, of an intensity I’d never before experienced. For once, I don’t need to resort to hyperbole when I claim that I didn’t move. If I tried to, I immediately checked into another dimension where the ceiling spun above me like time-lapse footage of star trails on steroids. Every minute was an hour, or no time at all, and the slightest noise devolved to cacophony and new frontiers of vertigo. Trying to imagine life outside my closed bedroom door was akin to planning a tea party on the backside of Jupiter. In short, I was completely disoriented.

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Poetry Out Loud

William Coleman

"I stood upon the edge where the mist ascended" . . . "Light! more light!" . . . "I've lived the parting hour to see / Of one I would have died to save." . . . "I found the arrow, still unbroke." ...

I watched and heard my students say these lines, and so many more, one day in January. They were embodying poems they'd learned by heart, each one saying two: one of 25 lines or fewer, and one composed before the twentieth century was. We were following the rules of Poetry Out Loud, the national poetry recitation contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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T.S. Eliot: A Thought on Liberalism

Joy and Matthew Steem

The trouble with T.S Eliot’s reputation, many writers have said, is that his early work has been explored (think “The Wasteland”) while the later has been ignored. This has changed somewhat lately, but it’s still fairly pervasive. For example, in many poetry anthologies – the place where students get their first taste of poetry – it will be the younger, non-believing rather nihilistic Eliot they are introduced to. It’s not too often that something like the Four Quartets will be provided. Nope, the concluding sentiment received will be, likely, from “The Hollow Men”:

         “This is the way the world ends (x3)
         Not with a bang but a whimper.”

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