Note: I’m on vacation this week, so instead of new posts I’ll be putting up two of my favorite posts from the past. Both posts explore the idea of beauty, which I wrote about last week as well. Enjoy!)
Few would ever argue that love is not important. Though many of us have felt the sting of love gone wrong, only the most bitter of us ever renounces it altogether. There is something in our very essence that longs for love—that yearns both to love and be loved.
Where does this longing for love come from? Why do we all care so much about it? Why is it that love does indeed seem to make the world go round?
To answer this question, we need to look back to the very beginning of things, back to Creation itself, for it is here that we first learn what love really is.
Everyone thinks beauty is important, but how much do we really value it? Does beauty ever change the way we live? I spend many of my days in a haze of materialism, pursuing beauty only for narcissistic ends. Others I know wander like mystics, scoffing that all beauty is an illusion that will burn up in the end.
We never seem to live as if beauty really matters. Our time and energy are so focused on getting and accomplishing that we should ask ourselves: Is beauty really that important?
Made for Beauty
Those who have really experienced beauty would answer this question with an emphatic yes. We have known beauty in ways that resonate with our soul. Beauty has both undone us and made us new. It has calmed us with sunset and shaken us with thunderstorm. We have seen beauty in the birth of a child and the wonders of a wedding night. Beauty haunts us even in the faces of the very old, hiding a coal-bed of fire behind eyes creased with care.
These experiences with beauty change our lives and reorient our desires. Deep down, we know that we were made for beauty.
Editor’s Note: I wrote this post two years ago, but what it talks about is worth repeating every year–until we get it right.)
Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, one of my favorite holidays because of its deeply theological basis. That’s right deeply theological. Let me explain.
Each year on February 2 my wife and I invite over a bunch of friends for a high feast of Philly cheese steaks, bottled lagers, and sweet potato fries. As we eat we watch the underappreciated classic: Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day.
Behold the Man
Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a weatherman who finds himself stuck in an endless loop of the same day in the same place—February 2 in Punxsutawney, PA. This is Phil’s private version of Hell: trapped in a small town with a bunch of “hicks,” no hot water, no phones, no luxuries. What’s worse, everything is exactly the same each day. Phil demonstrates absolutely no love for anything around him but himself.
At the beginning of the curious loop, Phil Connors is an egocentric jerk of a weatherman—arrogant, demeaning, crass, and selfish. After realizing he can do nothing to escape from Feb. 2, Phil plunges into hedonism, indulging all his appetites in quick succession. Ironically, being trapped in the same day actually gives Phil just what he always wanted—himself and nothing else. No messy relationships, no obligations, no strings to force his desires, dreams, plans. But Phil rapidly grows disillusioned with self-serving pleasure and sets his sights on higher things—namely, Rita.
For several years now, our school’s mascot has been the Griffin. One of the final touches to our new building was to place a bronze sculpture of the griffin outside our front door.
The Petra Griffin
Like most sculpture, this one has a lot of symbolism, which is explained by the bronze plaque below the griffin. Despite the plaque, however, I still expect to field questions about why our school is so into Harry Potter. I don’t know why, but it seems that liking anything medieval means that you’re a rabid Potter fan–as if the Middle Ages were invented by J. K. Rowling.
Back in June, I had the privilege to speak at the national ACCS Conference (Association of Classical Christian Schools).
The title of my talk was “Awakening the Moral Imagination Through Fairy Tales,” and I rambled on for an hour about moral philosophy, ordo amoris, Faerie Land, imagination, double vision, modern reductionism, and Pinocchio.
I somehow managed to find a common thread that tied all that stuff together.
Central to my talk was the idea that the imagination must be reintegrated with our reason if we are to recover what we lost in the failed experiment we still refer to as the Enlightenment.
Because I think this concept is vital to cultural transformation, and because fairy tales are just so much fun, I wanted to make my talk available to all my readers.
So, I integrated the text of my talk with pictures from my accompanying slideshow and turned the whole thing into an ebook for you all. You can download it by clicking here.
Note: I had the privilege last weekend to speak at the wedding of a former student. For my text, I chose one of John Ciardi’s poems from his tiny volume I Marry You. When my used copy of this “Sheaf of Love Poems” arrived from Amazon, I discovered that Ciardi himself had inscribed it when he gave it to his friend at the end of the 1950’s. I gladly became an inheritor of that history.
While meditating on the nature of matrimony, G. K. Chesterton once declared, “Marriage is a duel to death which no man of honor should decline.” Despite what this quote might imply, Chesterton was himself quite happily married, and the duel he mentions is a struggle of the soul.
As Chesterton saw things, when a man marries, he engages in a lifetime of warfare against himself and his sin for his bride. Like knights of old, the groom daily delivers his lovely lady from dragons–but dragons that raged in his own heart. And though she is lovely, the bride does battle as well, for her heart has its own monsters.
This is the Christian vision of marriage, glorious in vision yet terrifying in practice. The sin of a single heart is terrible enough, but what horrors will come about when two sinners marry? What will happen when they combine their fallen forces in a covenantal union?
Note: Last week I had the honor of delivering the commencement address at Petra Academy’s senior graduation. I wrote my address around a Carson McCullers story, parts of which I read aloud. I’ve included the full text of my speech below, along with recordings of the excerpts.
Much of what I know about the world I have learned from books, and so it should be no surprise at all that I open my final address to you by reading from a book.
The story I wish to share with you tonight is a tiny, little known story from Carson McCullers–a short short-story that barely reaches nine pages, titled “A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud.” The story is set in a small, greasy cafe, before sunrise. The usual crowd is gathered: mill workers preparing for the morning shift, a couple of soldiers coming off-duty, and a small paper boy drinking a cup of coffee before finishing his route. Leo, the bitter and stingy owner of the café, stands behind the counter frying pink strips of bacon and pouring refills on coffee (which are never free).
A few nights ago, I started reading J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan to my kids. Before we were five pages into the story, my son asked the inevitable question: “Is Neverland a real place?”
Being a literature teacher, I knew that this was no insignificant question. Entire visions of the world depended on how I answered this innocent question. So I looked my son straight in the eyes and said, “You bet it is.”
In his essay “On Stories”, C. S. Lewis lamented that children didn’t read enough fairy tales. Tolkien worried that adults had relegated fairy tales to the nursery and preferred the realities of “adult life.” To these two great minds, the loss of fairy tales meant the loss of something vital to our humanity.
A while ago a friend asked me what characteristics defined a fairy tale. What makes a story a fairy tale and not a myth or a tall tale? Over coffee, we hashed out what we believed were the two necessary and unique elements of a fairy tale–and also learned a great deal about why they are so important.
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth entry in a series of posts by Gregg Valeriano. Be sure to read the first, second, and third posts as well, hopefully, in that order.
“Beauty is cosmic order perceived as gift.” —David Schindler
We have seen in the last three posts on Richard Wilbur’s poem “Epistemology,” his critique of how certain philosophers would have us view the world, if indeed we can view the world, as disenchanted and void of mystery, inherent beauty, and meaning. Wilbur, by contrast, constantly points us to a world of deep enchantment.
Richard Wilbur is considered “one of the world’s mostly highly regarded poets and is often considered America’s finest poet writing in traditional meters and forms” (Paris Review). But what are the subjects that are paced by Wilbur’s traditional meters and shaped by his poetic forms?
Cow of the World