Sunday, March 22, 2015

of poetry

{from A Family of Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy}

I was surprised to realize a few months ago that I have a poetry collection.

Off the top of my head, I can think of ten volumes of poetry that I own. Chances are, I'm forgetting one or two. I didn't set out to collect poetry. Books, yes. Poetry specifically, no. But I apparently can't resist it. My collection ranges from fun children's poems to T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets - with a lot in between.

I love poetry. Not more than prose. But just as much as prose.

A philosophy professor told me last year that "deep poetry is trying to get at truths that are too deep to be articulated in plain prose."

Sarah Anne Stuart, who edited the newest anthology in my collection, said this in the introduction:

Putting one's thoughts into words can sometimes be frustrating. At times, words can become a limitation - we are left thinking how we felt so much more than we were able to convey.

However, words can also challenge us into thinking a new way - pushing the limits of our individual scope and opening us up to a larger world.

Poetry captures in a few words the thoughts and emotions that reach to the heart of human experience, flashing insight on the universal truths that unite all of us. In a unique way, poetry is able to break the boundaries of unspoken feelings, helping the reader feel that he or she is not alone; uniting the reader with the world around him.

Poetry at its best is a way of expressing what the poet sees in the world. It expresses thoughts, ideas, emotions, and experiences common to mankind in a concentrated form that can say more in a few short lines than could be said in an entire essay.

And that isn't to say that only poems that say something "profound" are worth reading. These are worth reading, but good poetry doesn't have to be long-faced and serious. One of my favorite poems is by Alfred Noyes, who also wrote "Song of Sherwood" and "The Highwayman."

Daddy Fell Into the Pond

Everyone grumbled. The sky was grey.
There was nothing to do and nothing to say.
We were nearing the end of a dismal day,
And there seemed to be nothing beyond,

Daddy fell into the pond!

And everyone's face grew merry and bright,
And Timothy danced for sheer delight.
"Give me the camera, quick, oh quick!
He's crawling out of the duckweed!" Click!

Then the gardener suddenly slapped his knee,
And doubled up, shaking silently,
And the ducks all quacked as if they were daft
And it sounded as if the old drake laughed

O, there wasn't a thing that didn't respond
Daddy fell into the pond!

This poem is so delightful to me because it takes a silly moment - a moment of joy and laughter and ridiculousness, and says "Look! The silly things in life should be paid attention to and enjoyed and even commemorated with poetry!"

Poets pay attention to the world around them - to nature and to humanity and to stories and ideas. And in their poetry, they codify what they see so that the readers can see it too - experience the world for a moment as if we, too, were poets.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

concerning the Sabbath

{image via pinterest}

At Wheaton, students are encouraged, though not required by any stretch of the imagination, to keep the Sabbath.

How each student handles the Sabbath is different. For some, Sabbath looks like 24 hours -not necessarily on Sunday - without doing schoolwork. For others, it means not doing homework on Sunday afternoons. Some keep it regularly. Others keep it when they can. Others don't take Sabbath at all, finding other ways to work rest into their weeks.

I have found that the Sabbath is a necessity in my life as a college student. It's not a luxury that I take when I can afford to. It's something I practice every week, whether I am totally on top of my schoolwork or completely overwhelmed. Keeping the Sabbath is not a burden to me - it is a gift, since I am one of those people who doesn't know when to stop working. I tend to be two days ahead in all my classes. If I get the chance, I work ahead even more than that. There is never an end to the work that needs to be done. If I wait until my work is finished to rest, then I will never rest at all. Taking the command to rest one day a week gives me permission to set aside my work and relax, which refreshes me so that I can head into each new week rejuvenated and eager to work.

This has been my approach to the Sabbath ever since I got to Wheaton. That being said, I still have days where my school load is crushing and I decide to work during my usual Sabbath - in a "relaxing" way. But I have come to think that for me, even having more schoolwork than I know how to handle is no excuse to break the Sabbath.

Here's why:

In my Old Testament class we have been talking about what it would have been like to live in Ancient Israelites, and my professor cited an interesting statistic.

During the Iron Age, the average household, with each member working nearly every waking minute of every day, would only produce a food supply sufficient for 300 days. This means that to survive, they had to tighten their belts year-round and live on less food than they really needed in order to make ends meet. Life for the settlers in the early days of Israel was a constant battle for survival. None of the other Ancient Near Eastern cultures had a concept of halting work for one day each week. They were too practical for that: to eat you had to work. Constantly.

It was in this context that God gave the command to rest.

There is more to Sabbath than rest. Taking a Sabbath is an act of trust in and surrender to God. Taking a Sabbath is saying with my life that I know that I cannot do everything. It forces me to actively stop and trust that God will enable me to do what I need to do. Taking a Sabbath is living out the conviction that "God will provide."

For the Israelites, this meant much more than trusting that God would enable them to meet a deadline. It meant trusting that God would not allow them to starve.

None of my common excuses for not taking the Sabbath come anywhere near the fear of severe malnutrition. That, in my opinion, would be a legitimate excuse. Yet this is what the Israelites faced, and God still commanded them to keep the Sabbath.

Now, I'm not saying here that there aren't times when it is impossible to keep the Sabbath. As Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. There are times when emergencies come up, when people need help, when keeping the Sabbath would be as harmful as refusing to heal someone who desperately needs healing. But I'm going to think long and hard from now on whether I am choosing not to keep the Sabbath because I legitimately cannot, or whether I simply feel overwhelmed and can't see how I will finish my work without doing so. Because I now think that those days are the ones during which it is most important to honor God and trust His provision by resting on the Sabbath.