There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl calling
far off and a fox barking
miles away. It is then that I lie
in the lean hours awake listening
to the swell born somewhere in the Atlantic
rising and falling, rising and falling
wave on wave on the long shore
by the village, that is without light
and companionless. And the thought comes
of that other being who is awake, too,
letting our prayers break on him,
not like this for a few hours,
but for days, years, for eternity.
Many people seem to think that politics will save us, that if we could just get the right people, or “our people” in office, they would begin to set things right, however we envision that. Anthony Esolen in the article Listening Up, in the Nov-Dec 2019 issue of Touchstone magazine, discusses some reasons for this idea, and its often corresponding impulse to judge our human forefathers for their sins, judgment not “by eternal verities, but by the cheap modern substitute, the ‘political.'”
He believes we lack historical imagination, and he sets out to consider the different ways one might make better use of stories and history in general, giving examples first from antiquity:
So to attempt to transpose Xenophon or Cyrus to the current day, and to grill him with “political” questions, is not to think politically at all, but to replace reality with a caricature. You will learn nothing from Xenophon that way. You may instead be out to teach him a lesson, him, that is, being the cartoon Xenophon you have made. At no time do you allow yourself to be still and to learn, so that the poetry of a wise man might penetrate your shell, crack it open, and show you the stars.
Once you enter the world of history, you encounter the maddening complexity of human affairs, not to mention that labyrinth called the human heart. With hindsight we can say, with some confidence, that the young Octavius was far better suited for governing the Roman world than was the elder and more experienced Antony. We cannot be so sure of ourselves, though, when it comes to the noble-minded Brutus, and the ambitious and capable Julius Caesar, whom he assassinated.
Esolen goes on to mention American leaders of note, and of complex history and character, such as William Tecumseh Sherman, and Stonewall Jackson, “a genuinely kindly owner of slaves.” And then he comes to his “three broad categories of modern man, each of them characterized by the stories they listen to and tell”: The Man of Faith, The Man of Wistful Unbelief, and the Man of Superstition.
I found his categories to be very helpful in understanding differences between people in the first two groups especially, and their stories that nourish our hearts. Oh, if only the third group would quiet down and listen to some true stories! But they don’t like the stories of the other two groups, and have their own ever-changing and doubtful heroes.
“History is too dark and tangled a forest for them, sacred Scripture too high a mountain to climb. Therefore they fall into worship of the biggest or most prominent things near them: sex, themselves, the State.”
“They are not brave enough to enter the dark caverns of the human heart…. they cannot forgive what men and women really are. They have no sense of sin, which afflicts everyone, including themselves, but they grasp at being among the elect, by having the most up-to-date pseudo-political opinions.”
On one of our foggy summer mornings recently I was doggedly walking my most frequent loop around the neighborhood. It’s almost an hour’s outing if I don’t take the shortcut. For the first fifteen minutes I was lost in thought, that is to say, my mind in a different place and/or time from where my body was… and then suddenly I remembered to pray. Immediately as I “tuned in” to the present and His presence, I became aware of the cawing of crows nearby, and I looked up and saw them in the trees.
I think it was the fine mist, combined with the noise of crows, that made me think of Japan, perhaps a classic painting of misty mountains, like the mountains in which the character “Crow Boy” lives, in the book named for him.
You will notice that in my mind I’d already left my body again! So why not jump back across the Pacific Ocean to a time some years ago, and to the crows that destroyed my daughter-in-law’s deck planters when she and Soldier were first married. 😦
Closer to home, I hear the crows’ harsh kind of talk on my block sometimes, but only in the mornings. Occasionally I wonder if they will descend on my garden and start pecking at my flowers as they did Joy’s. They aren’t the sort of birds I wanted to attract.
In Taro Yashima’s children’s story, Crow Boy, the birds do not themselves figure strongly in the plot. The book is about a little boy Chibi whose classmates make fun of him because he is shy and strange and not bright in the school-y way. The teacher evidently writes him off, but for five years he treks to school faithfully every day from “the far and lonely place” where he lives with his family. And it turns out he’s always learning.
Maybe because he is rejected by the other children, and ignored by the teacher, he can in his solitude really pay attention to his surroundings.
Then a new teacher comes, someone who is able to appreciate the gifts that have been developing in the boy, because he takes the time to be fully present with Chibi for long periods. And to hear what Chibi knows from his own being present, on his journeys to and from school and everywhere, over the course of his short life.
Mr. Sobe is an inspiration to me. Some people have this ability to give you their full attention. Certainly Jesus was not distracted by random thoughts, but in being one with the Father He was always fully present with the people he met. Those rare people who have acquired the Holy Spirit to the degree that He fills their minds and hearts, leaving no room for lesser things — they also are able to attend to the moment and all who are in it to a degree I can hardly imagine.
I could not even stay with the crows for one minute. But at least I had begun to use my mind for something productive, the creating of this little lesson for myself, and the promotion of a good book.
If the creatures I had met on my walk had been human, I know I would have kept my mind and heart on them somewhat longer. I don’t have much heart for crows yet, even though Crow Boy is one of my favorite children’s stories. I’ve already told you enough about that short book and why it is worthy of your acquaintance, so I will stop short of giving away the ending, which often makes me cry, as I vicariously experience its drama and happiness.
If any of my readers can tell me something about crows that will help me in my attitude toward them, I will be glad to hear it! Then next time we meet, maybe I will love them enough to stay with them for a whole minute.
In my last post I told you about Mr. Glad’s 40th day of repose in the Lord. On the 41st day I drove north in response to the invitation from a granddaughter to be present at the exhibit of her photography. If it hadn’t been for the request of my presence on a specific date, I’d probably have put off traveling a few weeks longer, but I took it as a gentle prod from Heaven.
In spite of many episodes of homesickness, the excursion turned out, as I knew it would, to be full of fun, beauty, and love – all good things for someone in my situation.
The first day’s drive took me about eight hours, which is too long, in my mind, to be reasonable and healthy, even if I did stop a few times and even took pictures at my favorite rest area among the olive groves. In the future I hope I can break up car trips so that no one leg of a journey keeps me behind the wheel more than half that long.
It shouldn’t be hard, because I have friends and family all over the place who can make an overnight stay worth the pause in getting to whatever place where I might sojourn longer.
In the car I listened to the radio when I could get a good classical or jazz station, and also to some more of The Big Read book introductions from the National Endowment for the Arts. I told you previously about that program and two of the recordings in this post.
The disks I found at the library for this trip were introductions to:
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy Old School by Tobias Wolff The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This batch of recordings were produced between 2006 and 2008. For each one you get to hear some passages read from the book; background on the author or how the book came to be written, often from the author herself speaking; interesting music that seems to have been carefully chosen to go with the tone or setting; and many sound bites of other people’s responses to the story. Even if you have read the books — perhaps especially if you have read the books — it is very enriching to delve into them this way.
Robert Duvall, whose film debut was as Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” tells us his feelings about that story and the experience of acting in what is considered one of the truest film adaptations of a novel you can find. Elizabeth Spencer is a southern writer who also contributes quite a bit to the To Kill a Mockingbird intro. She sounds like someone who might have lived in the fictional town of the novel, and I found her very appealing, for both the sound of her voice and for her comments such as, “This is a book that hits the bulls-eye, and that bulls-eye is the heart. Too few books have a basis in love.”
Tobias Wolff is himself one of the commentators on the intro to his book, which is somewhat autobiographical, about a prep school in which all the boys want to be writers. Marilynne Robinson also speaks on the recording about her book, musing on the process of writing Housekeeping, and how she came up with the name of Fingerbone.
I am so impressed with the artistry that goes into these audio presentations, and even more appreciative of them at this time, when I can’t seem to engage with a whole novel in the deep way I am used to. I’m afraid I am somewhat apathetic right now about vicarious experiences and fictional characters, but I really enjoyed these Big Read introductions.
My route up Highway 5 to southern Oregon took me through the town of Redding, and the cramped feeling in my legs by that time was demanding more than a brief stop at a rest area. It made sense to visit the relatively new Sundial Bridge that spans the Sacramento there very close to the freeway, with the lovely and leisurely Riverfront Park paths on either side. I think my visit last week was my third, to this bridge that is only for pedestrians and bicycles, and I had come on a perfect spring day. I was still wearing long sleeves, having started out in cool temps at noon, but all the walkers and cyclists were in tank tops and shorts.
I walked along the trail on one side of the river and followed some goslings with their parents, until they went under the bank and out of sight. Then I crossed the bridge with its watery blue-green glass bricks, to the path on the north shore. I bought a mango Italian ice, to lick as I walked briefly through an uninspired perennial garden, and then back to the bridge for a few more photos.
My little walk along the river was very therapeutic I guess, because I arrived at my destination without any of the aches and pains I often would have after sitting and driving so long. After visiting with Pathfinder’s tribe I fell into bed so I’d be ready for the next day’s fun.