March 8, 2014
When David Copperfield carried to Peggotty the message that “Barkis is willing,” it was certainly not the most romantical proposal in the world. But romantical-ness, perhaps, is less essential than good, solid comfort, and Peggotty also being willing, she became Mrs. Barkis.
Generally, I tend to put “willingness” on the scale somewhere below actual desire. To say you are willing is to leave unsaid that you’d rather not. I don’t tend to think that that willing person is also eager and glad.
And so, when I pronounce myself willing to do whatever it is God wants of me, it isn’t that I’m jumping out of my seat, hastening pell-mell toward obedience. In actuality, my willingness often looks a great deal more like passivity: if you take my hands and drag me, I won’t resist, but you won’t find me deciding to walk of my own volition. It’s going to require the dragging.
When God calls us to Him, He calls to more than this. He calls us to a joyful willingness; He calls us to drop our nets and follow, to volunteer our possessions, to count all things as rubbish for the sake of this upward call.
And, oh! I cannot walk, cannot follow, apart from His enlivening power, but, Father, I pray You’ll make me eager and glad, enlivened by that power, to walk: wherever, however, so long as it is to You.
Joining Lisa-Jo and her Five-Minute Friday writers to write on the prompt “willing” today. Learn how to participate and read other posts using the button above.
©2014 by Stacy Nott
February 27, 2014
Oh the irony of talking about how smart phones have impacted life in general — including the fact that they keep people distracted constantly, making us generally less productive and less happy — with a class full of students who, while “listening” to me, are busy interacting with their smart phones!
To me, it seems to highlight another issue in contemporary education. No, not the fact that students have phones to bring to class, but the fact that students, while more or less adept at receiving information, are woefully inept at applying it.
It’s true of people who aren’t students, too: as a culture, we don’t seem to be very good at making intentional changes based on knowledge received. The abstract world of ideas, no matter how closely related to “real life” those ideas may be, seems to exist quite apart from the bricks and mortar of living.
We take in the idea that smart phones distract us — often reading about it on a smart phone screen — and then we continue about our business of being distracted. We take in the idea that certain foods are unhealthy or damaging, and then we eat them. We take in the idea that God has told us the way to live, and then we go right on living our own way.
James talks about this. He talks about the necessity of being “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1: 22).
“For if anyone,” he says, “is hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (1:23-25).
The “perfect law” James mentions is the law of God — God’s Word, recorded for us, preserved for us, given for our benefit. Though we know we can’t keep it perfectly — that’s why we need a Savior — there is blessing in persevering: not just knowing the Word, but acting on it.
In smaller things, too, there’s blessing in doing. I’m convinced that, being souls and minds who live in bodies, all is best when soul and mind and body work together. Ideas are meant to impact behavior.
The smart phone issue, for example: the material we discussed in class cited a study which claims that distractedness leads to discontent, and that undistracted people are happier. So, not only are my students losing valuable information when they virtually leave my classroom, but, apparently, they are also contributing to their own unhappiness. The study suggests that people need to practice living in the moment rather than letting their minds wander: “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
Keeping ideas and living separate, to me, seems like a way of having a wandering mind: doing one thing, thinking another.
In my teaching, in my living, I want to see ideas and action align. To persevere, to be blessed in doing.
©2014 by Stacy Nott
February 25, 2014
It feels as if, now that I don’t teach literature, I have less to write here. I spend less time thinking about the meanings of things, more time strategizing about how to assist my students to a comprehension of the very artificial rules of proper use, to a facility with the various tools of proper research.
There is less “scope for imagination” in that, I find.
Citation rules seem to have little bearing on the human condition. There is small room for either hope or despair here, just the dull is-ness of them.
That, I suppose, is a horrible confession from a person whose livelihood, currently, is bound up in the is-ness of citation rules among other things. I hear Chesterton chastising me: “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person” (Heretics).
Can is-ness ever truly be dull? These rules, for instance, moderated by the Modern Language Association, the product of hours of minds at work, days of trial and error, instituted for the purpose of clear and ethical communication of information: these rules are dull in the way that the nails and bolts of a building’s skeleton are dull. Small and arcane they may be, but upon them, a great structure has been erected. We trust them — collectively — to bear the weight of vast projects, of life-changing ideas, of the human condition, of hope and despair.
That’s not a lecture I’ve given my classes.
We talk a good deal about information technology, seeking to produce students who possess “information literacy.” Will they “get” it, I wonder, these students who have come of age in an age of information, for whom palm-sized devices have essentially always given them access to what seems like all the information in the world?
They are accustomed to using and sharing information, but on the web you do that with hyperlinks and forwarded articles, so that sources are apparent and no one worries about citation, summary, paraphrase.
And yet I cannot think that these skills are completely outmoded, that your ability to read my blog post on touch-screen tablet renders my ability to summarize an article irrelevant. We want to produce students who know how to handle arguments, who can get to the heart of a question, distill a verbose passage down to a few succinct sentences. We want to produce thinkers who care about the details and know how to use those details — like the page numbers of a scholarly journal article — in the cause of clarity.
Will they learn to do and value all of that in my class? It’s doubtful, but perhaps I can help them along the way.
And perhaps the fact of is-ness will teach us also about could-be-ness; perhaps, together, we could be interested persons whose imaginations have ample scope, even among the rules of the Modern Language Association.
©2014 by Stacy Nott
February 22, 2014
And today I think first of my nose, which I tend to address in diminutives when — like today — it is raw and red and chapped with too much wiping. (Yes, I have a cold. And, no, I don’t tend to address my nose, most of the time.)
I took my camera out to visit the daffodils this morning and was glad to be alive on this February Saturday, with oblique sunshine and just enough breeze to keep me glad of my jacket.
All this great world of ours, the tremendous fact of being alive, vast purposes and causes and upheavals, all pieced together of the small steps, the small words: noses, and daffodils, chilly fingers on personal keyboards, and smiles tossed in passing across the sidewalk.
There’s the small of Moses tending Jethro’s flocks in Midian, all unsuspicious of the call which would come to him from a bush which burned but was not consumed. The small of Elizabeth living with Zacharias in in faithful barrenness. The small of a mother who packed five loaves and two fish for her little boy’s lunch. The small of Job, sitting in an ash heap, scraping his sores with a broken piece of pottery.
We know that God is large. We see the universe of his creating, see how high and far and powerful is he.
When Moses visited the Israelites, they believed in God when they saw the wonders he had given Moses to perform. But “when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction” — THEN — “they bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31).
This large God entered our small, suffered the indignities of chapped noses and chilly fingers, visited us and knows our affliction: he has borne our griefs, carried our sorrows, been tempted in every way as we are. This, this should lead us to worship.
Joining Lisa-Jo and friends today to write on her prompt, “small.” Read more posts and join in yourself using the button above!
February 17, 2014
The daffodils have blossomed — finally — under the Chinaberry tree, hints that this winter, which last week coated each leaf, each limb, each pine needle in ice, will not have the last word. (Though, we may be sure, there will be another winter, when spring, and summer, and autumn have come round again.)
G. K. Chesterton opines that “perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies [or daffodils] alike; it may be that God makes every daisy [and every daffodil] separately, but has never got tired of making them” (Orthodoxy).
I watched the sunset last evening, passionate orange behind the black skeletons of trees, and I realized that it isn’t simply that God says, “Do it again,” to each sunset I see. Every hour in the twenty-four that make a day, every day in the seven that make a week, every week in the fifty-two that make a year, He is busy creating sunrises and sunsets all around the world. He doesn’t simply do it again; He never stops doing it. He never gets tired of it.
Should we worry that He will tire of this never-ending task? We have His promise that He will not. “While the earth remains,” He says, “seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22).
The sunsets, the ice, the daffodils — these grand markers of the monotony in which God glories and is glorified — remind us that He is faithful to His word; that what He promises, He does.
And He has not only promised us seasons and sunrises. He promises mercies as many as the mornings. Adoption for our loneliness. Life for our death. Joy for our sorrow.
He makes us, not by automatic necessity, but by delight which exults in making each person separately. And He has mercy on us, that is also His delight: He does not weary of keeping His promises; He delights in doing that which He has said He will do, again and again and again.
©2014 by Stacy Nott
February 9, 2014
“Write,” says the Friday prompt, neglected until today.
Should I write the color of a clear winter sky? The color of hope deferred?
Should I write of Charles Dickens and the birthday he deigns to share with me?
Should I write the feeling of so-many-thank-yous to people who didn’t have to type “Happy Birthday” but did it anyway?
Should I write the sound of bowling balls careening down shiny-waxed lanes?
Should I write the flavor of February strawberries, imported from somewhere sunny?
Should I write the scent of wood-smoke, of peppermint lip-balm, of chocolate cake?
Should I write white herons standing in the remnant of a diverted river, mingled voices tracing melodies by Mendelssohn, people who love me when I’m feeling blue and unwillingly old-maidish, and a God whose promise to withhold no good thing is true no matter how many years I wonder?
A list of questions for the five minutes, and, in the past-five-minutes, quotations:
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” –C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
“As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.”
©2014 by Stacy Nott
February 4, 2014
Many of the ‘things’ we will face come with the razor edges of a fallen and broken world. You can’t play poker with God’s mercy — if you want the sweet mercy then you must also swallow the bitter mercy.
–Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert
I’ve been brushing up on my never-very-good Spanish — because why not? — and have just completed a unit on idioms which have had me laughing as I realized that literal translations almost never work for these. A few, however, do make sense. This one, for instance: “No hay rosa sin espinas.” Even if you don’t know any Spanish, you might figure it out. “No” is still “no;” “rosa” as you might expect is “rose;” and then, if you look, you can see the “spine” in “espinas” and guess at “thorns.” This is a familiar English proverb, too: “Every rose has its thorn,” or, more literally, “There is no rose without thorns.”
It resonates in the space I’ve been filling lately. A space in which I see happenings that break relationships, break bodies, break lives. A space in which sometimes the things that aren’t happening slice just as badly as the happenings.
Caught in the hurt of it, I turn to to complain, but then whispers a verse I memorized in a long ago Vacation Bible School: “This God, his way is perfect . . . ” (Psalm 18:10).
Perfect? Perfect. A dear friend directed me to Psalm 34 last week:
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”
“Taste,” the Psalmist says, taste this mercy, and see the goodness of your God. This is the bitter mercy which drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden, but gave them skins in place of their fig-leaf coverings. This is the bitter mercy which destroyed the whole world in a flood, but preserved Noah and his family in the ark. This is the bitter mercy which took Abraham to the mountain top and let him raise the knife above his own son, before providing the ram for the sacrifice. This is the bitter mercy which drew the Hebrews out of their 400-years home in Egypt into the wilderness to receive a law and a promise. This is the bitter mercy which sets an unreachable standard, writes a sentence of death, and then steps into our shoes and pays the price in full.
With our sinning, we have earned nothing but thorns, yet He allows us also the roses. Though we meet the razor edges of this fallen and broken world, we also meet the lovely One who binds our wounds. His way is perfect. In Him, we have no lack.
©2014 by Stacy Nott
January 23, 2014
Students. I studied their faces today, since we had a guest instructor and I was at leisure to listen and watch. The varieties of face amaze me. How can there be so many variations on foreheads, eyebrows, noses, lips, chins, to say nothing of eyes?
To study the faces is to see that the classroom is not full of the homogenous mass which we tend to envision under the designation “students,” but is full of quite distinct individuals, who must be taken as individuals. Though they all receive and — to varying degrees — do the same assignments, when I speak to them, when I answer their questions, “one size fits all” doesn’t quite work.
And I know, from my experience as a student and as an instructor, the designation “college instructors” applies to an equally diverse set of individuals as does “college students.”
In her 1938 talk “Are Women Human?,” Dorothy L. Sayers argues against our cultural tendency to lump people under generalizations, insisting that to do so is inevitably detrimental:“To oppose one class perpetually against another — young against old, manual labour against brain-worker, rich against poor, woman against man [student against instructor?] — is to split the foundations of the State; and if the cleavage runs too deep, there remains no remedy but force and dictatorship. If you wish to preserve a free democracy, you must base it — not on classes and categories, for this will land you in the totalitarian State, where no one may act or think except as the member of a category. You must base it upon the individual Tom, Dick, and Harry, and the individual Jack and Jill — in fact, upon you and me.”
We hope, in education, to produce thinking individuals. Not people who must act as members of categories, but people who act as themselves. We bemoan the impacts of the “herd instinct” and “peer pressure” on teenagers, but do we encourage it as we push them through standardized high school educational systems, as we explain to them what teenagers think and feel, as we bombard them with ideologies tailored for one group or another and insist they identify with one? When we look at them and see only homogenous “students,” do we not make it more difficult for them to see themselves as individual thinking beings?
While I want to give them good research and writing methods, want to teach them to adhere to the rules of acceptable use and practice, I also hope, very much, to give them a sense that I value them — not as homogenous students who produce homogenous products, but as individuals each with their own strengths and lights. I want to give them tools to think and analyze and express, not as members of categories, but as people as various as the noses and eyebrows and chins I got to study today.
Because that variety, as I said at the beginning, amazes me.
©2014 by Stacy Nott
January 21, 2014
“It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
I read this description of the schoolboy Amory Blaine, and was struck by the insight: how often do we fixate on the becoming and completely ignore the actual being that will follow it? We seem to think, somehow, that becoming will make all things right. When I become a graduate, when I become someone’s significant other, when I become engaged, when I become married, when I become employed full-time, when I become a parent . . . .
Becomings are major milestones, no mistake, and they represent a degree of effort and accomplishment. But being, just being, though it occurs without fanfare and ceremony and parties of gift-giving, requires effort in its own right.
With our cultural emphasis on becoming, I think we fall short, sometimes, in learning to “be.” Even churches, evangelizing, are often eager to help people “become” Christians, but sometimes provide less support in helping these new “becomers” learn to be.
Most of who have been anything any length of time realize that for most things, becoming is the easy part. The hard part is to keep on being, when the fanfare stops, and the ceremonies are finished, and people are finished throwing parties and giving gifts, to wake up each day and simply be.
And is there a way, I wonder, to emphasize the glory of being? To emphasize that those quiet times when the fanfare stops and things get messy and there’s no photographer to oblige you to smile and keep your hair in order are the times when you get to show the glory of the thing you’ve become? Because you keep on being it?
Each morning the sun rises — this morning it was in a blaze of orange flame — and takes its daily course across the sky, not becoming anything new, but simply being itself, the same sun which has served to wake generations since the beginning of time, and its glory is not in its newness, but its constancy, in the fact that it keeps on being the sun, no matter how the world beneath it changes.
Think of the havoc that could be wreaked by a capricious sun, a sun which shone only when it felt like shining, a sun which might depart at will and leave us in indefinite night.
Is there a way to wrap our dreams around the hope of being something, faithfully and well, rather than hanging our hearts on the glorious becoming?
©2014 by Stacy Nott