Thursday, November 23, 2017

Love and Power

Some people think that hate is the opposite of love. Some would argue, however, that power is love’s opposite. To lord power over another is to deny him his emotional freedom and to enslave him. Love is about setting someone free, honoring his individuality, and giving him room to grow into his own. 

The connection that occurs in a loving relationship results in expansiveness. We become our best selves through loving and being loved. Someone else’s power over us diminishes us. Truly loving relationships improve our emotional health as well as our cognitive health: we become more present, more alert, more aware of not only the beloved but also ourselves. Love is, in short, a powerful path to self-knowledge.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

John McPhee - Draft No. 4

John McPhee - Draft No. 4
I just read Sam Anderson’s article on John McPhee in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine. In it, we are reminded of how obsessed McPhee is with structure in his writing. His new book Draft No. 4 emphasizes the primacy of structure and its great pay-off. McPhee tells Anderson, “Structure has preoccupied me in every project.” Anderson says that “Structure, in McPhee’s writing carries as much meaning as the words themselves.” It used to be that structure was a key piece of any writing instruction. It certainly still is in McPhee’s writing course at Princeton. In fact, Draft No. 4 is essentially McPhee’s writing course, which he has been teaching since 1975.  Unlike McPhee’s course, many writing courses today give up structure to free writing or self-expression, asserting that obsession over structure can limit the imagination or squelch creativity. McPhee attributes his obsession with structure to his high school English teacher who made him outline all his papers before he wrote them. When I started teaching, my mentor and the chair of the English department emphasized the essential value of outlining to free students to express themselves, pinning down the structure so that meanings could flow smoothly and organization and clear expression could be givens. I am so grateful for that instruction. It certainly made me a better writing teacher and a clearer writer.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Grand Canyon

I just returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon. Because I have a dog, I couldn’t get down into the Canyon, but I was able to take a wonderful long hike from the Village out to Hermit’s Rest along the South Rim. It felt like an otherworldly experience, as though I were not only stepping back in geological time but also entering a world uniquely its own. The words that came to my mind to describe the experience and the views were “majestic,” “magnificent,” magical,” ‘mysterious.” Regardless of one’s religious inclinations, the Canyon is definitely a spiritual space, one that touches one and moves one to the core. I will be forever grateful that I now have those astonishing vistas as part of the furniture of my imagination – to nurture and inspire and heal. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Found Poem

Seamus Heaney

The famous Irish poet Seamus Heaney was not particularly religious, but this poem gives us a glimpse into the power of the liturgy for him and the words that comprise it. The words may appear simple, but their pull is profound “like well water far down.”

A Found Poem

Like everybody else, I bowed my head
during the consecration of the bread and wine,
lifted my eyes to the raised host and raised chalice,
believed (whatever it means) that a change occurred.
I went to the altar rails and received the mystery
on my tongue, returned to my place, shut my eyes fast, made
an act of thanksgiving, opened my eyes and felt
time starting up again.
There was never a scene
when I had it out with myself or with another.
The loss of faith occurred off stage. Yet I cannot
disrespect words like ‘thanksgiving’ or ‘host’
or even ‘communion wafer.’ They have an undying
pallor and draw, like well water far down.
 – Seamus Heaney (2005)