Wisdom Is Vain Without Divine Love

St. Bonaventure begins his treatise on the mind’s ascension to God by warning the reader that curiosity without a love for God is dangerous. The reader must approach this journey by the “exercise of the affections more than the instruction of the mind” (Prologue, The Journey of the Mind to God).

He continues,

Wherefore, it is to groans of prayer through Christ Crucified, in Whose blood we are cleansed from the filth of vices, that I first of all invite the reader. Otherwise he may come to think that mere reading will suffice without fervor, speculation without devotion, investigation without admiration, observation without exultation, industry without piety, knowledge without love, understanding without humility, study without divine grace, the mirror without divinely inspired wisdom” (Prologue).

Bonaventure puts this essential truth another way a few sentences later,

The mirror of the external world put before them is of little or no avail unless the mirror of our soul has been cleansed and polished” (Prologue).

This view of education is markedly different from our current data-transfer model. Bonaventure’s invitation to learning is far more attractive, more desirable–and much more human.

Further the Flight in Me

It’s Easter, the Sunday of Sundays, and I bring you a George Herbert poem for meditation. The form and simplistic style of “Easter Wings” can encourage a quick reading, but don’t make this mistake. Herbert packs a lot of imagery and theology into this tiny package.

Easter Wings
by George Herbert

My tender age in sorrow did begine:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.


This poem is an example of shaped verse, where the image formed by the lines helped communicate the meaning of the poem. In this case, the lines look like wings (if you tip your screen or your head to the side) and also like an hourglass, and both flight and time are important themes.

Further, the two stanzas parallel each other in their movement: the first stanza discusses the plight and prayer of the poet, the second stanza extends these themes to all of mankind.

Notice also how Herbert uses structure within each stanza. The first half of each stanza discusses how sin diminishes one’s being, culminating in the short lines, “Most thinne” and “Most poore”. The second half of each stanza Herbert uses two bird metaphors to petition Christ to restore our being, and the lines consequently grow in length.


The bird metaphors in this poem require some explanation. At the end of the first stanza, Herbert prays, “if I imp my wing on thine, / Affliction shall advance the flight in me” (ll. 19-20). The verb “to imp” refers to the falconry practice of ingrafting flight feathers from one bird into the wing of another to help it fly better. This metaphor helps illustrate what Paul means when he talks about Christ’s life becoming ours.

The bird metaphor in the second stanza mentions larks singing. The skylark Herbert has in mind sings as it spirals up into the air beyond the reach of unaided sight. Herbert uses this image to describe what decayed and shrunken mankind can do because of what Christ has done on Easter.

Baptism and the Recovery of Christian Literature

In his new book Heavenly Participation, Hans Boersma argues that the natural and supernatural are not separated but interwoven realities, like threads in a tapestry.

This means that a flourishing Christian life requires cultivating an ability to see how the natural world participates in heavenly realities. Boersma quotes theologian Alexander Schmemann to make an interesting point about how the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper help cultivate this vision:

Christ came not to replace ‘natural’ matter with some ‘supernatural’ and sacred matter, but to restore it and to fulfill it as the means of communication with God. The holy water in Baptism, the bread and wine in the Eucharist, stand for, i.e. represent the whole of creation, but creation as it will be at the end, when it will be consummated in God, when He will fill all things with Himself” (Of Water and the Spirit, 49).

In other words, these two special sacraments of the Church teach us to see every created thing in a sacramental way.

Thus are the church’s sacraments simply the beginning of the cosmic restoration. The entire cosmos is meant to serve as a sacrament:  a material gift from God in and through which we enter into the joy of his heavenly participation” (Boersma, loc. 154).

I’ve just started Boersma’s book, but I’ve already seen a lot of resonances with C.S. Lewis and Augustine (both of whom Boersma has discussed). These quotes above remind me of how fairy tales can also reenchant our vision of the everyday world. Poetry and literature in the hands of the right author do the same thing.

Literary history makes the case that a “sacramental imagination” is essential to the Christian poetic. Seeing every created thing as itself and also pointing to deeper realities beyond itself is a poetic vision common to many of the greatest Christian authors.

Dante and George Herbert certainly had it. Gerard Manley Hopkins had it (“The world is charged with the grandeur of God”). C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien saw the world this way, as did Flannery O’Connor. Even T.S. Eliot had this vision, though mostly as a photo negative (he lamented the absence of transcendence in the modern world) until he wrote The Four Quartets.

I’ve just begun Boersma’s book, but I’m already certain that it has profound implications for Christian poetics, arts, education, and parenting.

The Beauty of Buttered Toast

Note: This article was originally written for dear magazine, “an up and coming printed young women’s magazine focusing on everything from faith to fashion.” This article will appear in the magazine’s next issue, entitled ‘brown paper bags”. You can check it out here.

Our culture is obsessed with beauty yet knows very little about it. We spend countless hours and dollars to acquire and maintain physical beauty.  And while beauty of face and body is a true form of beauty, it is also one of the most difficult to cultivate and certainly the least fulfilling.

There are far more beneficial forms of beauty worth pursuing:  one of the most rewarding is the beauty of the ordinary.

Photo Credit: penguincakes via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: penguincakes

Seeing Ordinary Beauty

Ordinary beauty refers to the glory to be found in everyday things. We can see this glory in three particular aspects of ordinary things.

Leave Nothing Out

Note: This article was originally posted on the Scholars’ Forum at PetraAcademy.com.

One evening this summer, I sat on my front porch and began a short volume of poetry by Wendell Berry.  The first poem was only three lines long, but its powerful image forced me to stop reading and to think about its implications.

Though this poem consists of a single image, it contains many wise lessons that all of us—teachers, students, and parents—can seek to apply as the new school year approaches.

Like Snow

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.

The poem’s single metaphor is an exhortation for us to work as the snow works.  By contemplating what it means for snow to “work”, we can draw four lessons from Berry’s exhortation.


dylanI wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words.  What I like to do is treat words as a craftsman does his wood or stone or what-have-you, to hew, carve, mold, coil, polish, and plane them into patterns, sequences, sculptures, fugues of sound expressing some lyrical impulse, some spiritual doubt or conviction, some dimly realized truth I must try to reach and realize.

Artists are often found at the margins of society, but they are, like the shepherds, often the first to notice the miracles taking place right in front of us.  Since sensationalism, power, and wealth dominate our cultural imaginations, we may not be willing to journey to the ephemeral, as the Japanese poets of old have, to see beauty in the disappearing lines or to see poetry in a drying puddle of water.  The world seems to demand of us artist-types that we be able to explain and justify our actions, but often the power and mystery of art and life cannot be explained by normative words.”

Makoto Fujimura
Refractions (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009), 27-28