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"This Day" by Denise Levertov

This Day

By Denise Levertov

i Dry wafer,
sour wine.

This day I see

God’s in the dust,
not sifted

out from confusion.
ii Perhaps, I thought,
passing the duckpond,
perhaps—seeing the brilliantly somber water
deranged by lost feathers and bits of
drowning bread—perhaps
these imperfections (the ducklings
practised their diving,
stylized feet vigorously cycling among débris)
are part of perfection,
a pristine nuance? our eyes
our lives, too close to the canvas,
enmeshed within
the turning dance,
to see it?
iii In so many Dutch 17th-century paintings
one perceives
a visible quietness, to which the concord
of lute and harpsichord contribute,
in which a smiling conversation
reposes;
‘calme, luxe,” and—in auburn or mercurial sheen
of vessels, autumnal wealth
of fur-soft table-carpets,
blue snow-gleam of Delft—
‘volupte’; but also the clutter
of fruit and herbs, pots, pans, poultry,
strewn on the floor: and isn’t
the quiet upon them too, in them and of them,
aren’t they wholly at one with the wond…

New essay published in Commonweal: "The Specter of Marcionism"

I've got a new essay published in the latest issue of Commonweal titled "The Specter of Marcionism." It uses the combined examples from last year of Andy Stanley's controversial teaching on the Old Testament and the First Things review relitigating the Mortara case to think about the different ways in which Protestants and Catholics struggle with the election of the Jews, Israel's scriptures, and supersessionism. Here's a taste:

"On this, all can agree. God and the Jews are a package deal. As 1 John 2:23 says of God and Christ—that one cannot have the Father without the Son, or the Son without the Father—so here: you cannot have Abraham’s God without Abraham’s children. Reject the latter and you lose the former. In its rejection of Marcionism, the church staked a claim to this principle: the only God with whom it would have to do was the Jewish God, the God of Moses, Hannah, Mary, and Jesus. But the church’s consistency in maintaining this princip…

Lewis's other virtue as a novelist

Last week I listed six virtues that make C. S. Lewis's novels, especially the Space Trilogy, so lovable. I forgot one, though: his ability to describe evil—evil persons and evil deeds—without ever making evil the least bit appealing or interesting.

This isn't because there's no evil in Lewis's world; there's plenty. In fact, it's often embodied not just in human beings but in devils, or in humans possessed by demons. The scale of evil in Lewis is cosmic. But it is also minute, even mundane. And that's what makes his depiction of evil so brilliant, so compelling, yet so unattractive. Evil is boring, ugly, deficient, and stupid. It's imbecilic, infantile, a shallow life-sucking self-sabotage of all that is—which is to say, of all that is good, beautiful, and true. It enlivens nothing and parasitically eats from the inside whatever gives it quarter.

Lewis is able to strike this philosophically informed macro/micro balance without glamorizing the good life …

My technology habits

Developing good technology habits is one of the driving motivations of my daily life. Particularly since I surrendered and got a smart phone (only three years ago), combined with having children (the oldest is six) and getting a job (now in my second year), the possibility for the internet and screens to overtake my every waking moment has never been greater. A little less than two years ago I read Andy Crouch's The Tech-Wise Family, which galvanized and organized my approach to disciplining technology's role in my life. Here's where things stand at the moment.

Phone

I still have an iPhone, though an older and increasingly outdated model. When I read Crouch I realized I was spending more than 2 hours a day on my phone (adolescents average 3-6 hours—some of my students more than that!), and I followed his lead in downloading the Moment app to monitor my usage. Since then I've cut down my daily screen time on my phone to ~45 minutes: 10 or so minutes checking email, 10-20…

The virtues of Lewis's Space Trilogy

I've been re-reading Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra this last month (I read That Hideous Strength for the first time last year), and the former especially brought to mind why I love Lewis so much. His novelistic shortcomings are more than apparent in these early works, so in the midst of noticing those, I asked myself: What is it about these books that makes them lovable? What are the virtues that Lewis the novelist brings to bear in them that raise them to more than pleasant diversions?

Here's a short list.

1. Lewis has a knack for making the metaphysical reality that Christians confess to be true inhabitable. He makes it seem like common sense—more, he makes it seem roomy. "This is the real world, refracted through fiction" is the refrain of all his writing, not least Ransom's adventures in space. Or: "It's probably not precisely this, but it's almost certainly very like this—only better and more wondrous."

2. Apart from the beautiful…

New review in the latest issue of Christian Century

I've got a critical review of Craig Carter's new book, Reading Scripture with the Great Tradition, in the latest issue of The Christian Century. Here's a taste:

"The spiritual sense that [premodern] saints sought—which is to say, prayed for, delighted in, and contemplated—was not a 'stable' 'layer' of meaning 'residing' in the text. It was the in principle infinite sacramental signification of human signs divinely authored and illumined. For the res of scripture, as a whole and in each of its parts, is Christ. Just how any one particular text of scripture signifies Christ, not to mention just what Christ might use such a text to say to the believing reader under the Spirit’s guidance, is limited neither by human authors’ intentions nor by ordinary rules of grammar and syntax, nor by the capacities, desires, or convictions of readers, believing or pagan. It is determinate, but only insofar as Christ is determinate. And Christ makes hi…

Blessed are the heretics

I have always attributed the line "blessed are the heretics" to Stanley Hauerwas, who in his typical fashion goes on to say (paraphrasing from memory) that without the heretics the church would not be instigated into growing ever more deeply into the truths of the faith. Indeed, a quick Google search found this quote, which I'm sure is a regularly repackaged line:

"In truth, we are never quite sure what we believe until someone gets it wrong. That is why those we call heretics are so blessed because without them we would not know what we believe."

There he goes on to discuss the Apollinarian heresy as an instance of the church establishing, through hard-win effort, a more rigorous christological grammar than it previously had.

Re-reading the Confessions the other day, though, I saw that St. Augustine says something similar. In Book VII, while discussing the "books of the Platonists" and their relationship to the faith, he writes first of his friend, t…

The value of keeping up with the news

If you've been paying attention the last two weeks, an ongoing controversy erupted Saturday, January 19, and is still unfolding in one of the many seemingly endless iterations such controversies generate today through social media, op-eds, and the like. Last week, in Alan Jacobs's newsletter, he wrote this:

"On Tuesday morning, January 22, I read a David Brooks column about a confrontation that happened on the National Mall during the March for Life. Until I read that column I had heard nothing about this incident because I do not have a Facebook account, have deleted my Twitter account, don’t watch TV news, and read the news about once a week. If all goes well, I won’t hear anything more about the story. I recommend this set of practices to you all."

This got me thinking about a post Paul Griffiths wrote on his blog years ago, perhaps even a decade ago (would that he kept that blog up longer!). He reflected on the ideal way of keeping up with the news—and, no…

Remembering Nama (1921–2019)

My maternal grandmother passed away this afternoon, after nearly 98 years of life on this earth. She was born in Mississippi two and a half years after the end of World War I. She lived through the Great Depression, the second World War, and every other major event you can think of from the last 75 years. She gave birth to seven children and, after losing one in childhood, raised the other six—spread across 21 years—together with her husband, who worked as a mailman. She lived to see 15 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. She was widowed in her early 70s, and never remarried. She suffered the loss of her oldest son in his 70s, but no one else; she outlived the rest.

She was an extraordinary woman in the most old-fashioned of ways. A dutiful wife and stoic mother, a quiet Catholic and yellow-dog Democrat, she believed in loving your family, working hard, and doing what you can, with what you have, while you're able. She took wry pleasure in in…

Exorcising theological demons

Over the last few semesters, teaching both upper-level Bible majors, most of whom plan on going into some kind of formal ministry, and freshman non-majors, who are required to take a sequence of two courses on the New Testament, I've noticed a number of assumptions shared among them. My students are by and large low-church Texans: non-denominational evangelicals, Baptists, Church of Christ-ers, and the like. They are diverse in terms of race and ethnicity and socioeconomic background, but quite similar in terms of ecclesial and theological identity and commitments.

By the end of last year I realized there were two primary "isms"—but let's call them theological demons—I was implicitly seeking to exorcise in class: biblicism and Marcionism (or supersessionism). Upon reflection, as I plan to teach some upper-level majors this semester in their one and only Theology course before graduation (it all comes down to me!), I realized I have a lot more theological demons in vi…