A Man Arises Today Through a Mighty Strength

Reciting the prose version of St. Patrick’s Lorica in an acoustically alive room with a hundred other Christians will put a fire in your belly.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

A Man Hates Tweet-Threads So Much He Copied This One Into a Blog Post Where It Can Actually Do Some Good in the World (pace E. J. Hutchinson)

I changed the formatting slightly to make it fit here, all credit to Professor Hutchinson. (And hat-tip to David H., who brought it to my attention.)

In 1941-42, W. H. Auden taught two courses at the University of Michigan. His final in one and his research project for the other are both pedagogically astute. A student reports, first about his fall course, “Fate and the Individual in European Literature”: “When he finished this, he explained what we should expect in the way of a final exam, four or five weeks down the road, after Christmas vacation. Pens, pencils, papers for the first time in the semester suddenly materialized and flashed into view. [He had forbidden note-taking on the first day of class — ed.] It would be a three-hour written exam. We would write from memory seven cantos of The Divine Comedy, in the Carlyle/Wicksteed prose version — ‘the one used by Eliot in The Waste Land,’ he confided — beginning with Inferno III, and V, then certain Purgatorio cantos (e.g. XXVIII) and finishing with Paradiso XXXIII. The consternation of the class on hearing this was what one might expect: frozen silence. In a few minutes grumblings began to be heard, mutterings. A group of students, forming themselves into a ‘committee,’ declared the exam impossible and inhumane. Auden, surprised, replied that he did not think it was either, but offered to reduce the number of cantos from seven to five. Resistance, nevertheless, continued. ‘Very well. I am going to be driving to California over the Christmas vacation. If I find I can’t memorize these five cantos by the time I reach Los Angeles, I’ll phone your representative and cancel the assignment.’ It was a deal–rather a reluctant one, on both sides. The ‘phone call never came, so the Dante exam was on.”

The student found that with each successive canto the memorization got easier, until he could memorize an entire one in one afternoon. He later said, “This was possibly the most valuable thing I learned from W. H. Auden, and I have never ceased to be grateful for it.”

In the second semester [Auden] taught a class on the analysis of poetry. Here was the project he assigned: “…Auden gave the class its research project for the semester, which was to compile a list, drawn from the O.E.D., of all the variant meanings, including the etymologies, of each word in Milton’s ‘Lycidas,’ from the earliest recorded usages down to those that were current in the year Milton wrote it.”

This is particularly brilliant. It’s the kind of assignment I never considered giving, but, now that I see that someone else did it, I’m struck by the patent obviousness of what a valuable exercise this would be. The former student comments, “Not being enrolled in the class, I never did the assignment; but one of the students who did once said to me that ‘Lycidas’ was the only poem in the English language he really felt he knew very much about.”

~ E. J. Hutchinson on Twitter

Tweet-threads are the worst.

Why Protestants Don’t Make Good Art

I posted this short piece on my old blog in 2016 and think I made some good points, so I’m reproducing it here.

A friend recently posted on Facebook that, in his experience, Evangelical Christians aren’t making good art. We tend to discuss art a lot, but in general, we don’t encourage the kind of atmosphere that great art thrives in. I don’t have an explanation for this, but here are three guesses as to why this trend is so persistent.

Walking on Water - Azurite by Makoto Fujimura

First of all, when art is encouraged in Christian communities, it’s often encouraged in the service of a larger goal, usually one with a theological argument behind it. Christian artists love to explain what they’re doing. The meaning of the art is displayed on its surface. “That’s Noah, and this rock over here represents sin being swallowed up by the waters of baptism.” Most of the time, this comes from a genuine love for the truths being communicated. But a certain level of ambiguity is often what makes art great, because what the art is saying can’t quite be put into words. Protestant Evangelical Christians don’t really like ambiguity. We usually want art to have one straightforward meaning, and frankly, most great art doesn’t.

That brings us to the second point. Art requires an element of uncertainty in the artist. David Bentley Hart mentions that beauty seems to give reconciliation to things that cannot be reconciled. It’s almost as if beauty operates on a different timeline from ours. In order for the artist to let beauty do that work, the artist must admit that things are not reconciled. Ecclesiastes says that God put eternity in the hearts of men. The Evangelical Protestant wants that eternity to be filled up with the truth of the Gospel. (Whether or not this is historically true, it’s how many present-day Christians operate.) Again, this may be done with utmost sincerity, but it smothers the artistic pursuit. Beauty wants those unanswered questions.

Lastly, as the poet Scott Cairns says, artists tend to fall in love with the stuff of making. Those who paint canvases dream of paint. The poet pushes words around in her head all day. The serious photographer or cinematographer is always paying attention to the way light bounces off of things. At one level, the artist must be willing to lay aside what he knows in his mind to be true in order to pay attention to what the stuff tells him to do. In the contemporary evangelical church, the stuff of the world is typically regarded with suspicion. (This seems to be changing, based on my own experience, and praise the Lord for that.) Trying to create art with that kind of attitude is sort of like, say, making bricks without straw. Unless Christians are willing to fall in love with the world, they can kiss their artistic aspirations goodbye.

(I’d encourage you to read this post at CiRCE about why modern people can’t write and this post at First Things, which kicked off this whole discussion in the first place.)

That painting is Walking on Water – Azurite, by the Christian abstract artist Makoto Fujimura.

To the Dung Heap with a Man’s Ideas

I do not think Shakespeare wrote a single line to express “his” ideas. What some call his philosophy, he would have called common knowledge.

~ CS Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama