Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On the Zoo in the Morning

We pitter-patter in, past the lake,
through the gate, down the road,
around the pond (with the gibbons),
to the tractors, at the barn,
between the goats and the cows,
among smells and kids and employees.

We see the cow and her calf,
the turkey and hen (no poults this year),
all of the chickens and the voluble rooster,
the donkey (Pedro is his name),
and the two cows in the windmill pasture,
mooing (and startling the baby).

We turn around, heading home,
wending back, looking around,
seeing more kids filing in,
watching tour groups arrive,
making our way through the people
who didn't get to the zoo early.

We part ways, I go to work,
she takes the boys home,
we go back to our Tuesday,
having given to our boys,
and to ourselves, a reminder
that the sun, wind, and dirt
we too easily forget, and
all creatures great and small around us,
are wonderful.  As their Lord made them to be.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabo is Dead

Do not mourn,
nor look back.
Nostalgia kills
like a python.
Look ahead,
learn from the dead
and the living
and those in between.
And look about
through the petals of falling flowers
for the glory
and mystery
that is everywhere.

"...they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling.  They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors.  So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by."   
-Cien años de soledad, G. Márquez, tr. G. Rabassa

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


We live between the worlds
pulled to daylight realities and needs
to work, to chores, to duty and
on the other hand
to starry skies shot spangled 'cross the dome of heaven
to dreams of what's to come
to joy, to song, to poetry and
they are not two worlds,
but one, beneath the hand of God.
We see so dimly
through the mist of misdirected men,
how to live as
as those who eat, sleep, and breathe
as those who pray, love, and write,
we are so fixed,
so formed and fashioned,
to be at once workers and worshipers,
but this the key:
in worship, forget work,
though working, ever worship.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Praise God

for the little things we get to do day by day; without thought for the gore of our grandfathers.

for light at night when you want it, keeping open books late into the evening.

for books - in homes and hands.

for the wonder brought by impolite reality into our serene frame - what a piece of work is man, singer, lover, warrior, thinker, cleaner of toilets and recorder of deeds.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Josef Pieper

IThe current intellectual virus being passed around my circles is Pieper's Liesure, the Basis of Culture.  It's bundled in a two-essay volume, and I'm pleased to have found a nice older edition with the T.S. Eliot introduction, gently used by the library patrons of some nuns from Minneapolis.

It is an interesting book.  Pieper is a Roman Catholic, and thus we share many presuppositions.  I commend the Romanists for continuing to make strong arguments from the imago Dei, even though I disagree with their ideas on the completeness (totality, if you will use the Calvinist term) of depravity inherent in natural man. However, the imago Dei is no mean thing, even to a staunch Reformed person like myself.  Man is made in the image of God, and as much as man may try to un-make himself, he cannot cut himself off from the damning shreds of glory yet about him.  They do him no credit, now that his nature is fallen, but he is yet endowed with the dominion of earth, a reasonable soul, the godlike faculties of reason, and the lingering haunts of the Holy Spirit in his conscience (though he will fight against Him).

Thus, Pieper argues, the world must be defined in relation to God; its patterns must follow God's patterns, its ideals be God's ideals, if it is to be the world as it ought to be.  He wrote in the context of post-WW2 Germany, amid the pressures of the totalitarian east and the industrialist west.  What would define man's life?  How would he shape his new world?  The rebuilding of Europe would have some intellectual foundation, what would it be?

His answer is beautiful - divine worship is the foundation of culture.  Divine worship is inherently generous, sublime, beyond the work of the six days of the week, and pointing towards the session, the leisure, that awaits in the Sabbath.  The ordinary nature of work is confined to the ordinary, and man must periodically step out under the stars and look up - to leave behind, completely, and yes, only temporarily, the industrialist/communist/socialist/unanimously-man-centered view of the world as consisting in and aimed towards the work of man.

I am a scientist and engineer.  I inhabit the world of work, and am surrounded by people who have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the idea that work is the chief end of man.  You always act for something.  You have weekends so you're ready for Monday.  You have vacation to avoid burnout.  You have lunch so you can function during the afternoon.  You work so you can play so you can work, and there is no exit from this wheel.  None is conceived, none is desired.  It is man locked in his man-ness, but not even all of his man-ness, because in reality, his man-ness is inseparable from his God-image nature.  It is perhaps better put as man locked in his animality.  Locked out of his soul.  It is a hollow, dangerous thing, because man sundered from God is capable of any and all evil, and how much more to say drudgery.

The man who acts as he ought will step out to meet God in worship.  He will step out to see God's glory in creation.  He will step out to see God's character in his fellow man.  The man acting as he ought will wonder at the universe charged with the grandeur of God.  From this springs art, poetry, music, literature, true sport, and the man who is a man after God can enjoy all these good gifts without making them the ends of struggle and striving.  He can be leisurely in the true sense - not slothful, lazy, insipid, but gracious, thoughtful, loving. 

Now is where I may depart form Pieper's Romanism - I can't expect this from any man not renewed after the image of Christ.  It is true that I may find glimpses of it in fallen man, because God is gracious, but I cannot expect it.  However, here comes the challenging part: I must expect it from the Christian.  If the Christian is to be like Christ, he must think, act, love, like Christ.  Christ worked hard (as His Father was working until now), and thank God for the work He did.  But he also enjoyed fellowship.  He broke bread with his disciples, not to get energized for the next bout of exorcism, but to fellowship with those He loved.  He turned water into (good) wine not because He had, or even ought, to have done so, but that He might bless a wedding feast with joy.  He will at last sit down Himself at His own wedding feast, and I expect the food will be nonpareil - and we will feast for joy, not because resurrected saints have to eat to live!

So the conclusion of the matter: man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Those two verbs describe a single act - the Christian living in union with Christ.  We work, yes; we do the ordinary things of the world; but we must never think that is the end for which we were created.  Work comes before leisure, and the eternal Sabbath rest awaits all who call on the name of the Lord; and we even get foretastes and glimpses here.  Augustine declares: Cantare amantis est - or Pieper puts it: Only the lover sings.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Song to a Delayed Flight in South Dakota

Nearly April, yet not far enough
from winter that it could not
lash out yet again
and hurl like crumbs
snowflakes fast falling,
flying in the wind,
which whips and drowns the voice,
the town, the plans of man.