Sunday, October 31, 2010

Poetry Day - We sat at the window

Here's another poem by Thomas Hardy, because two poems in two days never did anyone any harm. It's on a similar theme to yesterday's, and has an interesting poetic form.

We sat at the window

(Bournemouth, 1875)

We sat at the window looking out,
And the rain came down like silken strings
That Swithin's day. Each gutter and spout
Babbled unchecked in the busy way
      Of witless things:
Nothing to read, nothing to see
Seemed in that room for her and me
      On Swithin's day.

We were irked by the scene, by our own selves; yes,
For I did not know, nor did she infer
How much there was to read and guess
By her in me, and to see and crown
      By me in her.
Wasted were two souls in their prime,
And great was the waste, that July time
      When the rain came down.

Picture from here.

Psalm Sunday - 119X

Once upon a time, when I was at university, I went to a Free Presbyterian Church. Why is a good question, and something I might write about some other time. But one thing they do in such churches is only sing Psalms without music. I don't hold to their theological reasons for doing so, but it can be a good way to learn a few Psalms, and boy could they sing. Even in our little church four parts were always sung. In some churches the music was actually written in solfa, and others had these cool split-page Scottish Psalters with the music on the top and the words on the bottom.  One of my favourites was Psalm 119X, and I found it on Youtube, so here it is. From memory we didn't sing it quite like this, but close (there's another version here). I dig things in minor keys. Every time we sung this I imagined I was a Christian hiding out in the catacombs or some such thing. I've taken out the visual so you too can imagine.

Before Thee let my cry come near,
O Lord; true to Thy word, teach me.
Before Thee let my pleading come;
True to Thy promise rescue me.

Since Thou Thy statutes teachest me,
O let my lips Thy praise confess.
Yea, of Thy word my tongue would sing,
For Thy commands are righteousness.

Be ready with Thy hand to help,
Because Thy precepts are my choice.
I’ve longed for Thy salvation, LORD,
And in Thy holy law rejoice.

O let Thine ordinances help;
My soul shall live and praise Thee yet.
A straying sheep, Thy servant, seek,
For Thy commands I ne’er forget.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Poetry Day - Had you wept

Here is another Thomas Hardy, and so closely does it resound a passage from Tess of the d'Urbervilles, I've included that below also. (I think I have an affinity with these d'Urbervilles.) This picture is more of the same page from my travel album featuring Tess.

Had You Wept

Had you wept; had you but neared me with a hazed uncertain ray,
Dewy as the face of the dawn, in your large and luminous eye,
Then would have come back all the joys the tidings had slain that day,
And a new beginning, a fresh fair heaven, have smoothed the things awry.
But you were less feebly human, and no passionate need for clinging
Possessed your soul to overthrow reserve when I came near;
Ay, though you suffer as much as I from storms the hours are bringing
Upon your heart and mine, I never see you shed a tear.

The deep strong woman is weakest, the weak one is the strong;
The weapon of all weapons best for winning, you have not used;
Have you never been able, or would you not, through the evil times and long?
Has not the gift been given you, or such gift have you refused?
When I bade me not absolve you on that evening or the morrow,
Why did you not make war on me with those who weep like rain?
You felt too much, so gained no balm for all your torrid sorrow,
And hence our deep division, and our dark undying pain.

- Thomas Hardy

It's much like this passage from Tess of the d'Urbervilles:
... If Tess has been artful, had she made a scene, fainted, wept hysterically, in that lonely lane, notwithstanding the fury of fastidiousness with which he was possessed, he would probably not have withstood her. But her mood of long-suffering made his way easy for him, and she herself was his best advocate. Pride, too, entered into her submission – which perhaps was a symptom of that reckless acquiescence in chance too apparent in the whole d'Urberville family – and the many effective chords which she could have stirred by an appeal were left untouched.
- Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy, Chapter 37

Friday, October 29, 2010

Aunty outrageousness

Sometime as an Aunt you just have to be a little bit outrageous, and shower your nieces or nephews with things their sensible parents wouldn't buy them. So the other day I succumbed and bought these little Havaianas for Eli. They were on "sale" for $10. I thought to myself, 'is $10 really a sale for rubber thongs that will fit a two-year-old?', and then I discovered that full price they were $25, so I figured it must be. (Much as I love that little boy there is no way I would spend $25 on thongs for a toddler. I wouldn't spend $25 on thongs for me - and, curiously, the adult version is cheaper (what exactly is going on there?).)

They match nicely with the little Bonds hoody I bought him at Vinnies for about $1.50.

So now he can be a little surfy dude. (Note: I'm not really into branding up kids or dressing them like little adults - only sometimes. This post is just so you know I'm not all Little House on the Prairie and I don't only give these poor kids crocheted things.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The reading resistance

I do like this post!

Community and affluenza

I’m reading Affluenza by Clive Hamilton and Richard Dennis at the moment as the next instalment for our bookclub. It’s five years old now, but is still a challenging read, with lots of interesting little asides. Here is a curious little passage on the effect of affluenza on community:
Working long and irregular hours does not just cause accidents and make us sick and tired: it breaks down the bonds that hold our communities together … As well as stripping away the time people would generally have to devote to community activities, overwork seems to shape people’s mindsets in such a way that they feel their community is something they must protect themselves from rather than a resource from which they can draw and to which they can contribute. When hours become precious, people tend to hoard them …

Community involvement takes time, but is also has the potential to provide great benefits for the individuals involved. Because long hours force people to retreat from community involvement – whether it be playing in the local footy team or helping out with meals on wheels – ‘leisure time’ has become more commodified or more lonely, or both.

In general, involvement in community activities is a low-cost, or no-cost, way to spend leisure time. As people retreat from these activities they are likely to spend more money on eating out, renting movies or going away for the weekend – pursuits that cost much more than doing some volunteer work with friends or attending a post-match sausage sizzle. Withdrawal from community also reinforces the tendency among people who work long hours to mix almost exclusively with their workmates. There is nothing wrong with forming friendships with work colleagues, but problems do arise when individuals are unable to gain an external perspective on their work culture and the hours they are working. Community activity facilitates much broader mixing across socio-economic groups. Although hierarchies can exist in community and sporting groups, they are less likely to be based solely on income and profession. The broader an individual’s social network the less likely it is that they will see themselves at the bottom of the pecking order, because the definition of ‘success’ will differ widely across different organisations.

Overwork’s corrosive effect on communities is another vector for affluenza. Community ties offer people low-cost entertainment and a broader perspective on the appropriateness of excessive work and overconsumption. A commitment to community activities can also give us the reason we need to leave work on time. Conspicuous consumption is likely to be less important to people who are well known in their communities because more people will know what they are really like and will respect and admire them. It is necessary to judge someone by the type of car in their driveway only if you have never actually met them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Beef and Prune Casserole

While I was at home last night ignoring useful meetings, I was cooking for my Connect Group, because it’s my turn again to provide dinner tonight. There hasn’t been much of any use around here recently, so here is a recipe. It’s not exactly Spring food, but then, it’s not exactly Spring weather lately either. I was feeling a bit uninspired about what to cook, then remembered this recipe, which I stole initially from Ainsley Poulos, my friend the hospitality queen. I think it’s tasty! – it has a little splash of something like Moroccan – and it’s also pretty easy to make in large batches (you can get around 6 people out of it as is). I don’t usually bother with mushrooms, but the prunes and herbs are essential.

Beef and Prune Casserole

3 tablespoons olive oil
500 g stewing steak
200 g small onions, halved (or large ones quartered)
4 rashers bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons plain flour
150 ml red wine
300 ml beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
175 g prunes
100 g mushrooms, halved (optional)
1 tablespoon mixed herbs

Brown beef in casserole dish (frying pan) in olive oil. Add onions, bacon, garlic. Fry 3-4 minutes until golden. Stir in flour, then add wine, stock, tomato paste, herbs and seasoning. Bring to boil, stirring, then cover. Cook 1.5 hours at 160 degrees C. Add prunes and mushrooms. Cook a further 30 minutes.

* 2 hours cooking time in total.

Serve with cous cous.

Euthanizing fear

I am really annoyed with myself right now. Despite receiving the emails, and reading various related things all over the internet, I seem to have completely missed the fact that the Social Issues Executive held a public meeting on Voluntary Euthanasia last night at Moore Theological College (from not reading far enough down the first email, and stashing it, with the attached Briefing, away to read later, them somehow ignoring the reminder email which I discover I received on Friday), which it would have been so easy for me to go to. But, anyway, you can read said Briefing on the issue here, which is worth a read, and listen to the talks from last night here.

Behind every good carol ...

I mentioned some time ago that I was writing some material for our church website. Well it is now up and you can read it here. It is essentially brief biographies of the writer’s of some of our more well-known Christmas carols and the stories behind those carols. I found it really encouraging researching the lives of these people.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Winning and crafting

I won an auction the other day on ebay for $0.95!

Then I had to pay $6 postage. But $0.95! What I won was eight steel crochet hooks. What is wrong with the rest of the world that nobody outbid me on steel crochet hooks?! I mean, I thought things of amigurumi cuteness were the hottest selling crafty items around.

But the other Friday night I gave Ally a refresher lesson in crochet, and as we chatted she sat there and made a necklace out of cotton. I was impressed. I have never yet tried the smaller cotton stuff, but I now have some smaller hooks, and I want a necklace, so I might give it a go.

Think a bit like this picture, which I downloaded from Wren handmade a long time ago:

Also, if you go on over here at Ally’s blog right now you can win some owly crafty goodness.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Weekend in brief

So Simone surprised me by coming to stay for the weekend, which was lovely. She came over later on Friday evening after her TWISTing business and last-minute recording, then went to the conference all day Saturday. Afterwards I joined her and TWIST-organiser people for dinner. Why I thought it was a good idea to join a bunch of musos for a conference debrief session I don’t know, but it wasn’t so bad. We then accidentally stayed up till after 1 am chatting back at home. On Sunday her plane left later in the evening so we hung about, went and sat in Berkelouws bookshop for a while, where she began a poem, and I beavered away on my crochet mission and spied on her poetic method. Then we did a spot of op-shopping and other browsing on the way home. Simone came on to church with me where she was more than happy to watch the band rehearse (she does this for fun apparently) while I made sure the powerpoint was good to go and went to the prayer meeting. Then she was off. It was a good time of catching up. There’s something irreplaceable about people you’ve known for a long time.

In Simone’s absence on Saturday I also had a coffee with a rather like-minded friend who’s studying up at Moore Theological College, and I really enjoyed that too, and then nicely bumped into the same person again on Sunday … It was encouraging to have a weekend with so much good conversation in it.

The importance of Tuesday

People write articles about strange things. I just read this article called Stories vs Statistics on The Stone (apparently a forum for contemporary philosophers), and I am not entirely sure where I was supposed to end up as a result. But I am sitting here quite bewildered by this statement:

Consider this relatively new variant of the two boys problem. A couple has two children and we’re told that at least one of them is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability the couple has two boys? Believe it or not, the Tuesday is important, and the answer is 13/27. If we discover the Tuesday birth in slightly different intensional contexts, however, the answer could be 1/3 or 1/2.
I did Pure Maths and Biostatistics at University, but I haven't got a grasp on why Tuesday important?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Poetry Day - To Sincerity

Here is another of Thomas Hardy's poems, with a page out of my old travel album showing Thorncombe wood, which was tramped through on the way to the cottage where Thomas Hardy was born. I had not long finished reading The Woodlanders at the time, thus my accompanying scrawling (if you click the picture you should be able to read it, if you can decipher my handwriting).

To Sincerity
- Thomas Hardy

O sweet sincerity! -
Where modern methods be
What scope for thine and thee?

Life may be sad past saying,
Its greens for ever graying,
Its faiths to dust decaying;

And youth may have foreknown it,
And riper seasons shown it,
But custom cries: "Disown it:

"Say ye rejoice, though grieving,
Believe, while unbelieving,
Behold, without perceiving!"

- Yet, would men look at true things,
And unilluded view things,
And count to bear undue things,

The real might mend the seeming,
Facts better their foredeeming,
And Life its disesteeming.

February 1899.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Coffee #4 today. I have 35 sick days available to me, and someday soon I think “I’m tired” is going to start counting. I’ve been tired all week but today especially am dragging myself around. I went for a very slow run this morning, then was walking to work so slowly I pulled my iPod out for a bit of oomph just to get me here.* I’m super glad it’s Friday.

But Simone is coming to stay tonight, which should be great (and I am going to try to zest myself up a bit)!

*(I don’t generally walk to work listening to it anymore, because I think it’s really quite dangerous – people with iPods in never hear anything coming up behind them and are generally less aware – and also because to hear it over the traffic and general noise I end up with it way too loud. I put it back on when I am sitting at my desk and nearly fall off my chair with the volume and realise how loud it was outside.)

Bach & Sting

So, I’ve mentioned that I was trying to learn the guitar. So far, only so good. I have to add it to the mental list of things I can do when I get home from work, or I sort of forget. All I’ve been doing so far is plucking strings. I don’t even understand why it goes G, B, E instead of G, B, D.

Anyway, I said I was going to play Bach’s Bouree sometime soon - well, I’ve changed my sights. I’ve already posted Sting singing Bach here on the blog, (which I think is beautiful). Sting makes no secret of the fact that he is a fan of Bach and apparently practices for hours playing Bach cello suites for the guitar. Here is a video of him playing the Prelude to the Cello Suite No 1 (the music doesn't start till 2:40).

And apparently the harmonics of Bach's Prelude in C BWV 924, which is first on the video below (or here on guitar), is the inspiration for the duet below that
, Whenever I say I name (from here). Isn't that quite fascinating?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Real living

A friend and colleague has her home featured in the Real Living Magazine. Take a look and be inspired.

I rather like the wooden lettering on the wall. When I stayed in the fabulous Whitehouse in Daylesford last year with friends, on the wall behind the door in my bedroom there was a large solid rustic red wooden letter P, with bevelled edging, hanging on the wall, and standing on the floor below was A and X (because if they'd all been hung on the wall they might have pulled the wall down). Pax is latin for peace, and I liked it being there (and forgot to take a photo of it, to my great annoyance).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why the cat lady is crazy

And here is something else I read in the New York Times Opinionator:

There is no such thing as a crazy dog person in New York. Are there people who are completely insane about their dogs? Hordes. But cat people may as well have whiskers and tails themselves. That’s because their pets’ lack of social need taps straight into our worst fears as the human inhabitants of New York. Cats, after all, don’t have other cat friends. You can’t take them to the cat run. Cats and their owners are on a private, exclusive loop of affection. Thus cats have become symbolic of a community eschewed and a hyper-engagement with oneself. They represent the profound danger of growing so independent in New York that it’s not merely that you don’t need anyone — it’s that you don’t know how to need anyone.

Morals without God?

Just so you don't think it's all crocheted toys around here, I read this article yesterday, from the The Stone, over at the New York Times. It’s quite interesting (though perhaps moreso to me because I did my Honours research on the behaviour of a social mammal), as it twists a little from where I thought it was headed towards the end.

The argument therein poses no problem to my own beliefs, because he writes like religion invented God, only recently, and God wasn’t there when the primates were rising up out of the primordial swamp, which is not the way I see it. He also posits that because primates demonstrate social consideration, therefore God need not be the source of morality (because once again, the primates were about this before "religion" existed), but unless of course God also created the primates, which I believe he did, whether that's with or without the process of evolution.

However, here's a little segment from near the end:
It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Small light bulb moment

So, being moderately into crochet, I have occasionally seen books in shops for some strange craft called "Amigurumi". Or at least I thought it was a craft, but I'd look at the pictures in confusion and wonder what the difference between Amigurumi and crochet actually was. So then, doing what you do when you're confused, I looked up wikipedia. It would seem I am years behind on all this, but now I understand:

Amigurumi (編みぐるみ?, lit. knitted stuffed toy) is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures. The word is derived from a combination of the Japanese words ami, meaning crocheted or knitted, and nuigurumi, meaning stuffed doll. Amigurumi are typically animals, but can include artistic renderings or inanimate objects endowed with anthropomorphic features.


Amigurumi have no practical use; they are created and collected for aesthetic reasons.The pervading aesthetic of amigurumi is cuteness. To this end, typical amigurumi animals have an over-sized spherical head on a cylindrical body with undersized extremities.

An online fad for creating and collecting amigurumi began in 2003. By 2006, amigurumi were reported to be the most popular items on Etsy, an online craft marketplace, where they typically sold for $10 to $100.
I can't say as I'm into Japanese cuteness of no practical use, which is possibly why I've never taken much notice, and I won't be making Amigurumi Hello Kittys anytime soon, but at least I won't die wondering.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rambling on the use of words

Ah, just one more while I am on a roll with Alain de Botton's tweets:
A measure of how seldom we are able to say what we feel to people is how many writers there are in the world.
From here.

So true - though perhaps he is referring to the fact that people go and write books out of all the things left unsaid, rather than actually write them to the person they meant to hear them. One of the useful things I learnt from good ole Myers-Briggs is that those of my temperament type do like to write things (but I do write them directly to people) and rely on written word more than spoken in many cases. But I've also learnt that a lot of other people don't like to write things and don't like you to write things to them. Some see writing as an inferior form of communication - and while I acknowledge the limits of writing, I don't actually think that's completely true, though good ole Derrida might say there is greater potential for loss of meaning in writing - others just plain don't like it. And so I've also learnt that writing to those people (ie most other people who aren't INFJ) is only of limited usefulness and benefit, because they won't respond in writing (or will do so under duress), and may not respond in person either, and you then just create your own angst of unknowing. Then occasionally you light on someone who also loves to write, and have an intense written conversation that can get somewhat out of touch with reality.

It's true that in times past I've turned to writing only after spoken attempts failed, but I think that in the end I need to ditch written forms in most cases and speak. Interesting that in one INFJ analysis it says we favour writing because it has a structure (a little weird to me though, because I am not usually thinking "structure"), and recently I wanted to say something of some import to someone and had notes in my bag ready (incase I forgot my flow in the conversation), we just didn't ever get to that conversation. That brings me to the other problem in that sometimes the opportunity to speak face to face is harder to find than to write also. But, the new me is going to try to only to say important things, or things of which it's important to me to receive a response, face to face, even if it means I go along with notes. The end.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Poetry Day - Between us now

I missed poetry day yesterday, but I think it is time for some Thomas Hardy. Apparently Thomas Hardy's first love was always poetry, but it wasn't till he was fifty-eight years old, after having written fourteen novels, that he published his first book of poems. From then on he wrote only poetry. There're over nine hundred to choose from, so I might have a little Hardy segment. I even visited Thomas Hardy's house in England, and might try to scan in some photos.

Between Us Now

Between us now and here -
   Two thrown together
Who are not wont to wear
   Life's flushest feather -
Who see the scenes slide past,
The daytimes dimming fast,
Let there be truth at last,
   Even if despair.

So thoroughly and long
   Have you now known me,
So real in faith and strong
   Have I now shown me,
That nothing needs disguise
Further in any wise,
Or asks or justifies
   A guarded tongue.

Face unto face, then, say,
   Eyes mine own meeting,
Is your heart far away,
   Or with mine beating?
When false things are brought low,
And swift things have grown slow,
Feigning like froth shall go,
   Faith be for aye.

Thomas Hardy

Picture from:

Friday, October 15, 2010

The guitar update

For another update, I am still waiting for the guitar I have to be in my hands and functional. It had one broken string when it came to me and just needed to be sorted out, and basically I know nothing about guitars so thought I’d just take it somewhere and let someone else fix it. The first Saturday after I got it I didn’t make it to the repair shop I knew, which wasn’t open Sundays, so then I had to wait another week, and ending up taking it to a different shop. That was the weekend before last, and I loitered about perusing guitars hoping Glen Hansard might come by, but, alas, my life never is a movie. They didn’t call me all that week so last weekend I called expecting it to be ready. It wasn’t. Then on Wednesday they finally called to tell me it was done, and I can now get it this weekend. Obviously you should learn to restring your own guitar so it doesn’t have to go to a shop for two weeks.

So, sometime soon I should be able to play Bach’s Bouree.

Ah, I’m not serious, I have no such confidence in my potential and no expectation that I’ll ever be able to play that. Watch this improvisation, and love the fact that the guy is performing in sneakers (Bach is at 2.00 mins, but this is more how I know it):

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A rug for Eli

I thought it was time for the post you’ve all been waiting for: the crochet update.

After having second thoughts on completing Annie’s rug, I did (foolishly) embark on making one for Eli too. I am getting there, though it’s not looking so good for his birthday on the 3rd November (how in the world did it get to be October already?). I have done 107 squares of the required 126, then there is the assembly and then the borders. I haven’t been all that diligent at this one, but hopefully I make some progress this weekend. Then if they have any more kids it’s too bad for them because I’m not making any more (just kidding – I love them already – but I might come up with some other nice and slightly-less-time-consuming creation for any future nieces/nephews).

Since we’ve all been through this before I haven’t blogged all the stages of progress, but here is a picture of some of Eli’s rug so far.

The School of Life

After this morning’s post courtesy of Alain de Botton, I have just read this post by Steve Kryger. Intriguing. I’ve looked at the School of Life before, but not the sermon list. And you can go and have something called Bibliotherapy. I want to be a Bibliotherapist!

Just a reminder

The one inalienable freedom: to choose the attitude to whatever happens to one.
- Alain de Botton (from Twitter)

And some of his other tweets are fun, like this one:

The problem with people who would be outstanding in a shipwreck is that there aren't - in the end - so many shipwrecks.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why a daughter needs a Dad

I read posts like this one with a certain curiosity. The truth is “fatherhood” is something of a blank for me – it’s not a spot full of pain or resentment or any other thing so much as it’s just nothing (though you could certainly wring the tears out of me if you start telling stories of amazing fatherhood). We had a sermon on Sunday night on adoption, as in our adoption as God’s children, wherein the less-than-ideal father situation was covered nicely, and it’s obvious that some people have a whole lot more “negative” in the space than I do in knowing it was an unintentional absence. So, anyway, reading things like this gives me some idea of what’s supposed to be in the blank (which is sort of what this poem was about).

Occasionally I find myself in situations, involving men, where it becomes apparent to me that something is amiss, or perhaps I have certain hold-ups that make some things seem and feel quite difficult, but I don’t know what that is (like a fear buried somewhere), and whether it actually has anything to do with not having a father or not (though there are certainly some things on that list that would be nice). Anyway, that is probably enough online speculative therapy. Maybe I should buy that book and work through it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lack of "excitement"

I just gave a guy a band-aid. Being a Senior First Aid Officer in my office is so boring. I've given out about three band-aids.

(And I know, I should be thankful it's boring - one day someone will have a heart attack and I'll have completely forgotten how to deal with it.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Le Concert

I watched this DVD on Saturday night. I actually had a two-for-one pass to the movie when it was screening at the cinema earlier in the year, which I didn’t get around to using (and which I thought was a shame) and so I’d filed it somewhere in my brain as a film to see on DVD one day. Then on Saturday morning I went to a fund-raising breakfast for some friends going to Nepal with Habitat for Humanity and one of the friends going is a movie reviewer who had russled up a whole pile of DVDs to auction. I’d had a look and not decided on any, but then my friend pulled out The Concert, which I’d not noticed, and said I might like it. I thought so too, and I bought it. So after doing my holiday Sunday School preparation I decided to watch it Saturday night (but it is two hours long, which is a little more than I’d planned on).

You do need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief for the plot, it’s a trifle overdone in places (not really what you expect from a French film), lags a little and gets muddled in others, and it has had mixed reviews (read this one for a good description), but all up I really enjoyed it. I couldn’t help but like the pathos and its motley bunch of ageing musicians reliving the dream. And it is worth watching just for the final scene (I’ve been replaying this!) which is essentially a performance of one movement from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Very stirring. It's a movie that is basically a good heart-warming tale, sprinkled with splendid music, with an uplifting ending. Good for some DVD cheer.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


I like Romola already. Here are some quotes about her in the opening chapters of Romola, by George Eliot:
It was a type of face of which one could not venture to say whether it would inspire love or only that unwilling admiration which is mixed with dread: the question must be decided by the eyes, which often seem charged with a more direct message from the soul.
At that moment the doubtful attractiveness of Romola’s face, in which pride and passion seemed to be quivering in the balance with native refinement and intelligence, was transfigured to the most lovable womanliness by mingled pity and affection: it was evident that the deepest fount of feeling within her had not yet wrought its way to the less changeful features, and only found its outlet through her eyes.
She was standing by him at her full height, in quiet majestic self-possession, when the visitors entered; and the most penetrating observer would hardly have divined that this proud pale face, at the slightest touch on the fibres of affection or pity, could become passionate with tenderness, or that this woman, who imposed a certain awe on those who approached her, was in a state of girlish simplicity and ignorance concerning the world outside her father’s books.

Poetry Day - Written in buses

It’s recently been the 25th anniversary of the death of poet Philip Larkin, and verses of his are appearing in buses in Hull, England, where he worked as a Librarian at the University, and across East Yorkshire. So I thought I’d give you a couple of the short poems from which fragments are to appear in the buses, just so you're up to speed with bus poetry in Yorkshire.

This is the first thing

This is the first thing
I have understood:
Time is the echo of an axe
Within a wood.


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

New eyes each year

New eyes each year
Find old books here,
And new books, too,
Old eyes renew;
So youth and age
Like ink and page
In this house join,
Minting new coin.

Philip Larkin

Friday, October 08, 2010

Some things

Laura gets mad, and makes me laugh. But I think single Christian women the world over would say a hearty “yes” to that one.

Izaac wrote a encouraging post for those of us who don’t generate announcements, or parties, or showers …

And I like this post from Paul Tripp, about grace in the broken bones.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Great theology is always a kind of ... poetry

So if a blog can be a place to store quotes I’d like to keep as reference, here is another from Marilynne Robinson’s essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Death of Adam. I liked this essay, and I like this portion, though not being entirely certain yet what I think of it.
Great theology is always a kind of giant and intricate poetry, like epic or saga. It is written for those who know the tale already, the urgent messages and the dying words, and who attend to its retelling with a special alertness, because the story has a claim on them and they on it. Theology is also close to the spoken voice. It evokes sermon, sacrament, and liturgy, and, of course, Scripture itself, with all its echoes of song and legend and prayer. It earns its authority by winning assent and recognition, in the manner of poetry but with the difference that the assent seems to be to ultimate truth, however oblique or fragmentary the suggestion of it. Theology is written for the small community of those who would think of reading it. So it need not define freighted words like “faith” or “grace” but may instead reveal what they contain. To the degree that it does them any justice, its community of readers will say yes, enjoying the insight as their own and affirming it in that way.

Theology may proceed in the manner of a philosophical treatise or a piece of textual criticism, but it always begins by assuming major terms. And all of them, being imbedded in Scripture and tradition, behave altogether differently from discursive language. To compound the problem, Christian thinkers since Jesus have valued paradox as if it were resolution. So theology is never finally anything by theology, words about God, proceeding from the assumptions that God exists and that we know about him in a way that allows us to speak about him. Bonhoeffer calls these truths of the church “a words of recognition among friends”. He invokes this language of recognition and identification in attempting to make the church real and aware of itself, with all that implied when he wrote. For him, word is act. And, for him, it was.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Family and solace

Here is another little piece of Marilynne Robinson on Family from The Death of Adam, following on from yesterday (and quoting my favourite Shakespeare sonnet):
Siblings founder, spouses age. We founder. We age. That is when loyalty should matter. But invoking it now is about as potent a gesture as flashing a fat roll of rubles. I think this may contribute enormously to the sadness so many of us feel at the heart of contemporary society. “Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds,” in the words of the sonnet, which I can only interpret to mean, love is loyalty. I would suggest that in its absence, all attempts to prop the family economically or morally or through education or otherwise will fail. The real issue is, will people shelter and nourish and humanise one another? This is creative work, requiring discipline and imagination. No one can be scolded or fined into doing it, nor does it occur spontaneously in the demographically traditional family.

Nor does it occur predictably even where it is earnestly sought and desired. Life is in every way full of difficulty, and that is the great variable that confounds all generalisation, as I am eager to concede, even while discussions of this kind oblige one to generalise.

But we have forgotten many things. We have forgotten solace. Maybe the saddest family, properly understood, is a miracle of solace. It seems to me that our multitude of professional healers and comforters are really meant to function like the doctor in a boxer’s corner, there to slow bleeding and minimise swelling so that we will be able to last another round. Neither they nor we want to think about the larger meaning of the situation. This is the opposite of solace.

Imagine that someone failed and disgraced came back to his family, and they grieved with him, and took his sadness upon themselves, and sat down together to ponder the deep mysteries of human life. This is more human and beautiful, I propose, even if it yields no dulling or pain, no patching of injuries. Perhaps it is the calling of some families to console, because intractable grief is visited upon them. And perhaps measures of the success of families that exclude this work from consideration, or even see it as failure, are very foolish and misleading.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


I’m still in my phase of not being very interested in the blog, but there are always quotes to substitute for original thoughts, so here is the beginning of an essay by Marilynne Robinson called Family, from The Death of Adam. It’s interesting to read this and think not only about the biological family but about church (and personally, I do think 'family' is the more appropriate term and approach to apply to church relationships as a whole than 'friendship').

We are all aware that “family” is a word which eludes definition, as do other important things, like nation, race, culture, gender, species; like art, science, virtue, vice, beauty, truth, justice, happiness, religion; like success; like intelligence. The attempt to impose definition on indeterminacy and degree and exception is about the straightest road to mischief I know of, very deeply worn, very well travelled to this day. But just for the purposes of this discussion, let us say: one’s family are those toward whom one feels loyalty and obligation, and/or from whom one derives identity, and/or to whom one gives identity, and/or with whom one shares habits, tastes, stories, customs, memories. This definition allows for families of circumstance and affinity as well as kinship, and it allows also for the existence of people who are incapable of family, though they may have parents and siblings and spouses and children.

I think the biological family is especially compelling to us because it is, in fact, very arbitrary in its composition. I would never suggest so rude an experiment as calculating the percentage of one’s relatives one would actually choose as friends, the percentage of one’s relatives who would choose one as their friend. And that is the charm and the genius of the institution. It implies that help and kindness and loyalty are owed where they are perhaps by no means merited. Owed, that is, even to ourselves. It implies that we are in some few circumstances excused from the degrading need to judge others’ claims on us, excused from the struggle to keep our thumb off the scales of reciprocity.

Of course families do not act this way, always or even typically, certainly not here, certainly not now. But we recognise such duty and loyalty as quintessentially familial where we see it. And if the institution is culturally created, what we expect of it has a great deal to do with determining what it will be in fact.

Obviously if we are to employ the idea that behaviours are largely culturally created, we must humble the word “fact”. It seems very plausible to me that our ceasing to romanticise the family has precipitated, as much as it has reflected, the weakening of the family. I am sure it is no accident that the qualities of patience and respect and loyalty and generosity which would make family sustainable are held in very low regard among us, some of them even doubling as neuroses such as dependency and lack of assertiveness. I think we have not solved the problem of living well, and that we are not on the way to solving it, and that our tendency to insist on noisier and more extreme statements of the new wisdom that has already failed gives us really very little ground for optimism.

Imagine this: some morning we awake to the cultural consensus that a family, however else defined, is a sort of compact of mutual loyalty, organised around the hope of giving rich, human meaning to the lives of its members. Toward this end they do what people do – play with their babies, comfort their sick, keep their holidays, commemorate their occasions, sing songs, tell jokes, fight and reconcile, teach and learn what they know about what is right and wrong, about what is beautiful and what is to be valued. They enjoy each other and make themselves enjoyable. They are kind and receive kindness, they are generous and are sustained and enriched by others’ generosity. The antidote to fear, distrust, self-interest is always loyalty. The balm for failure or weakness, or even for disloyalty, is always loyalty.

This is utopian. And yet. Certainly it describes something of which many of us feel deprived. We have reasoned our way to uniformly conditional relationships. This is at the very centre of the crisis of the family, since the word means, if it means anything, that certain people exist on special terms with each other, which terms are more or less unconditional …

Saturday, October 02, 2010


More than three centuries and a half ago, in the mid springtime of 1492, we are sure that the angel of the dawn, as he travelled with broad slow wing from the Levant to the Pillars of Hercules, and from the summits of the Caucasus across all the snowy Alpine ridges to the dark nakedness of the Western isles, saw nearly the same outline of firm land and unstable sea—saw the same great mountain shadows on the same valleys as he has seen today—saw olive mounts, and pine forests, and the broad plains green with young corn or rain-freshened grass—saw the domes and spires of cities rising by the river-sides or mingled with the sedge-like masts on the many-curved sea-coast, in the same spots where they rise today. And as the faint light of his course pierced into the dwellings of men, it fell, as now, on the rosy warmth of nestling children; on the haggard waking of sorrow and sickness; on the hasty uprising of the hard-handed labourer; and on the late sleep of the night-student, who had been questioning the stars or the sages, or his own soul, for that hidden knowledge which would break through the barrier of man's brief life, and show its dark path, that seemed to bend no whither, to be an arc in an immeasurable circle of light and glory. The great river-courses which have shaped the lives of men have hardly changed; and those other streams, the life-currents that ebb and flow in human hearts, pulsate to the same great needs, the same great loves and terrors. As our thought follows close in the slow wake of the dawn, we are impressed with the broad sameness of the human lot, which never alters in the main headings of its history—hunger and labour, seed-time and harvest, love and death.

George Eliot
Picture from

Friday, October 01, 2010

At every moment

So I took down yesterday's self-disclosure post (sometimes one has to wonder how something ever seemed like a good idea at the time) but some liked the quote, so I am putting that back up (I stole it from here):
Every single thing that happens to us expresses God's love to us, and comes to us for the furthering of God's purpose for us. Thus, so far as we are concerned, God is love to us - holy, omnipotent love - at every moment and in every event of every day's life. Even when we cannot see the why and the wherefore of God's dealings, we know that there is love in and behind them, and so we can rejoice always, even when, humanly speaking, things are going wrong. We know that the true story of our life, when known, will prove to be, as the hymn says, "mercy from first to last" - and we are content.
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p 123.