Need I say more?
Need I say more?
In an article on “6 Best Hikes in Dallas,” D Magazine boasted that “there’s plenty of adventure to be had on local trails.” This Coloradoan laughed out loud. I have searched far and wide but the environs of Dallas do not offer the kind of nature walks that await a hiker in the Rocky Mountain West, which is why this New Yorker cartoon brilliantly captures how I feel about the absence of natural beauty in North Texas.
Whenever I read literature, I try to pair it with relevant music, which is either based on the literature or mentioned explicitly in it. If you have recommendations, please share them.
Virgil, The Aeneid
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Merchant of Venice
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Romeo & Juliet
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
George Herbert, The Temple
John Milton, Paradise Lost
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust
Herman Melville, Billy Budd
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native
Oscar Wilde, Salome
Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata
Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark
W. H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety
There are sundry motives behind reading literature. One of them is to deepen a sense of place, which explains why Willa Cather’s romantic vision of the American West rivets me. In my current reading of The Song of the Lark (1915), the second novel in her Prairie Trilogy, Cather emplots me into the American West of the late 19th century, specifically two locales that are near and dear to my own story. Both quotations below activate the senses and prick the heart with a feeling for the places that are artfully described.
As a native of Denver, I love this passage because the narrator invites me to board a train moving toward the Queen City of the Plains:
As the short twilight came on, Giddy took a turn in the cupola, and Ray came down and sat with Thea on the rear platform of the caboose and watched the darkness come in soft waves over the plain. They were now about thirty miles from Denver, and the mountains looked very near. The great toothed wall behind which the sun had gone down now separated into four distinct ranges, one behind the other. They were a very pale blue, a color scarcely stronger than wood smoke, and the sunset had left bright streaks in the snow-filled gorges. In the clear, yellow-streaked sky the stars were coming out, flickering like newly lighted lamps, growing steadier and more golden as the sky darkened and the land beneath them fell into complete shadow. It was a cool, restful darkness that was not black or forbidding, but somehow open and free; the night of high plains where there is no moistness or mistiness in the atmosphere. (Part I, Chapter XVI)
As a former college student of Chicagoland, I love this passage because I have experienced the very same commotion and spectacle in the Windy City:
During this first winter Thea got no city consciousness. Chicago was simply a wilderness through which one had to find one’s way. She felt no interest in the general briskness and zest of the crowds. The crash and scramble of that big, rich, appetent Western city she did not take in at all, except to notice that the noise of the drays and street-cars tired her. The brilliant window displays, the splendid furs and stuffs, the gorgeous flower-shops, the gay candy-shops, she scarcely noticed. At Christmas-time she did feel some curiosity about the toy-stores, and she wished she held Thor’s little mittened fist in her hand as she stood before the windows. The jewelers’ windows, too, had a strong attraction for her—she had always liked bright stones. When she went into the city she used to brave the biting lake winds and stand gazing in at the displays of diamonds and pearls and emeralds; the tiaras and necklaces and earrings, on white velvet. These seemed very well worth while to her, things worth coveting. (Part II, Chapter V)
There is no disjunction between Christianity and psychology because there is no disjunction between soul and mind, as the Greatest Commandment makes clear (Matt. 22:37). Consequently, we can engage the psychometric tool of the Enneagram without fear or suspicion. Lest we commit the genetic fallacy, we do not throw out the Enneagram solely because its origins are dubious, although we should remain alert to whether it veers toward a practice of gnostic numerology. Since all truth is God’s truth, we can affirm whatever truth is available from the Enneagram, while also rejecting any falsehood or detriment. Call this the approach of “critical appropriation” or “critical appreciation.”
After reading Christopher Heuertz’ book, The Sacred Enneagram, two salient take-aways emerged for me. First, I will not become an Enneagram enthusiast for several reasons mentioned below (see “Drawbacks”), which amounts to its very limited utility. Second, I am not convinced of its alleged “sacred nature” if, by “sacred,” we mean set apart as holy (p. 204). A profane (read: secular) tool is not without benefit, but its potential to help is modest.
B E N E F I T S
D R A W B A C K S
- The author’s use of “egoic language in a neutral or indifferent aspect” hides our sinful nature after the Fall (p. 28).
- The False Self is “false” not only because of illusion and ignorance, as the author contends, but because of rebellion and concupiscence (disordered desire). The distinction between False Self and True Self suggests the human predicament is related to knowledge or the lack thereof, when our true predicament is due to the slavery of sin and the sentence of death, which requires deliverance from a Savior—not “self-liberation” through deep and healing awareness (p. 26, 32, 207). Therefore, the biblical distinction between “old self” and “new self” is preferable because it emphasizes that we need to be totally changed from the inside out (through the imputed and imparted righteousness of Christ).
- The terms “shadow” and “tragic flaw” could be euphemisms for the ugly truth that, apart from the saving grace of Christ, we were enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). In the author’s account, humans seem more like characters in an ancient Greek tragedy, doomed to an unchosen fate (read: type), rather than biblical characters who chose their own fate. Our tragedy is not merely “a loss of contact with our True Self” but division from God, which requires his “ministry of reconciliation” through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18).
- The biblical words “backsliding” and “rebellion” are preferable to “disintegration” because they emphasize a conscious and subconscious exercise of the will against God, whereas disintegration exonerates the guilty will as “a subconscious self-preservation instinct to prevent an unhealthy person from falling farther down the hole they feel stuck in” (p. 69).
- The author writes, “So the Fixation and Passion of each Enneagram type become a sort of addiction loop, a misguided attempt to find our way home, back to our True Self where we are aligned with our Holy Idea and Virtue” (p. 73). This is an unhelpful abstraction and euphemism for the biblical concept of “indwelling sin” (Rom. 7:21). The author distances himself from the sin language of the Bible, preferring to think of the Passions as “a disorder of awareness and an interference with action” and a “pathology,” although he concedes that “our Passions can distort into sin” (pp. 76-78). This is bad advice—“Whether we understand the Enneagram’s Passions as sin, sin tendencies, the shape of each man’s tragic flaw, or the yearning to return to our True Self, the invitation here is to find the beauty in our imperfections however they manifest themselves”—because we should hate what God hates, and he hates our resident evil (Isa. 5:20, Prov. 6:16-19, Prov. 8:13, Ps. 97:10, Rom. 12:9).
- Original sin does not begin with each human birth, as the author implies, but goes back to the origins of humanity’s parentage. Although created in “original righteousness,” Adam and Eve chose sin and, as a result, we have inherited their spiritual disease. Therefore, there is no time “in the earliest days of infancy” when “we are as close to perfect as we’ll ever be in our lives—the most unencumbered from our tragic flaw and the most uncontaminated by its consequences” (p. 72).
R E L A T E D
— George Herbert, “The Flower”
a burst of iris so that
come down for
we searched through the
sweetest odor and at
first could not
source then a blue as
of the sea
startling us from among
—William Carlos Williams, “Iris”
That’s sweetly played in tune.
—Robert Burns, “A Red, Red Rose”
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
—Mary Oliver, “Peonies”
absent, animal must have passed the night.
—Jane Kenyon, “Heavy Summer Rain”
Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.
—Job 14:1-2, KJV
As a jazz enthusiast, I can never forget this passage from Os Guinness’ must-read book on vocation, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life:
Artie Shaw, a famous clarinetist in the old Big Band days, shared his heart with an interviewer. “Maybe twice in my life I reached what I wanted to. Once we were playing ‘These Foolish Things‘ and at the end the band stops and I play a little cadenza. That cadenza – no one can do it better. Let’s say it’s five bars. That’s a very good thing to have done in a lifetime. An artist should be judged by his best, just as an athlete. Pick out my one or two best things and say, ‘That’s what we did: all the rest was rehearsal.'”
John Coltrane, the saxophonist who played for Dizzie Gillespie and Miles Davis, said something very similar. In the early 1950s “Trane” nearly died of a drug overdose in San Francisco, and when he recovered he quit drugs and drinking and came to put his faith in God. Some of his best jazz came after that, including “A Love Supreme,” an ardent thirty-two minute outpouring to thank God for his blessing and offer him Coltrane’s very soul.
After one utterly extraordinary rendition of “A Love Supreme,” Coltrane stepped off the stage, put down his saxophone, and said simply, “Nunc dimittis.” (These are the opening Latin words for the ancient prayer of Simeon, sung traditionally at evening prayers: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”) Coltrane felt he could never play the piece more perfectly. If his whole life had been lived for that passionate thirty-two minute jazz prayer, it would have been worth it. He was ready to go.
“To play was to be,” said Yehudi Menuhin. “All the rest was rehearsal,” said Artie Shaw. “Nunc dimittis,” said John Coltrane. Somehow we human beings are never happier than when we are expressing the deepest gifts that are truly us. And often we get a revealing glimpse of these gifts early in life. Graham Greene wrote in The Power and the Glory, “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” Countless examples could be added to these stories, but they all point to another crucial aspect of calling – God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.
Birthed by Le Sirenuse, a luxury hotel on the Amalfi Coast, Eau d’Italie is a collection of fragrances that invite “a journey through the senses of Italian creativity.” The original fragrance, Eau d’Italie, remains the best. Imagine an evening outdoors at Franco’s Bar, which belongs to the hotel and overlooks the Li Galli Islands, where legendary sirens bewitched sailors with their irresistible songs. Surrounded by magnolia flowers and citrus trees, you drink an Aperol spritz that mimics the colors of the sunset. A gentle sea breeze carries hints of incense and musk. Wearing Eau d’Italie transports you to paradise.
Top: Incense, Bergamot, Blackcurrant Buds
Middle: Mineral Notes, Magnolia, Tuberose
Base: Amber, Patchouli, Yellow Sweet Clover, Music
I am teleological educator. By this I mean that we should begin with the end (telos, from the the Greek τέλος for “end” or “purpose”) of education and then work backwards. In the final chapter of The Idea of a Christian College (1975), Wheaton College philosophy professor, Arthur F. Holmes, turns to “The Marks of an Educated Christian.” I appreciate his emphasis on character formation through the practice of virtues, responsible action, and self-knowledge. The content below is reproduced in bullet points rather than paragraphs for ease of reading.
1. Spiritual Virtues
2. Moral Virtues
3. Intellectual Virtues
4. Responsible Action
QUESTIONS: What do you think are the marks of an educated Christian? What would be your main categories? Would you criticize anything in Holmes’ account, or add to it if something is missing?
During every summer recess from the academic year, I come up with a reading plan, which is usually too ambitious. Nevertheless, these are the books that I want to read in the coming months.
L E I S U R E
F I C T I O N
N O N – F I C T I O N
W O R K