Island Songs

Last Fall, the first time I went to Galiano Island for a weekend, I sat in the ferry terminal feeling a bit fresh and fragile about my whole new life here. I took out my journal, titled a page “Island Songs,” and began to write lines. One was about an otter. The others were about light.

I went back to Galiano this weekend for the fourth time, this time as kitchen help for the weekend course I took last year. The place exerts more and more of a pull on me, and I can’t tell whether that’s because of its particularities, or just because I’ve been thinking about islands a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how John Donne says no man is one in his famous meditation, but how sometimes I think that he is wrong. Some days I think that from first consciousness we are all islands, and we must call out to one another over and over, listen for one another’s songs and hints, rustlings and splashes, so that we can find our way back together, grasp hands in the waters of grace, re-form some lumpy, joyful Pangaea. Doing so takes concentration, time, prayer.

But this weekend on Galiano, I easily found these small gift-clues which draw us together and hold us: the way the garden squash which Rachel and I spent so much time cleaning and scooping left a strange blistering film on our hands for hours after no matter how we scrubbed, the smell of roasting coffee beans in a cast iron skillet over a camp stove on the front porch, the constant breeze outside just the temperature of new pine needles, and the way the sun laid a stripe of white on the far edge of the tossing water as a finishing touch, like bright icing sugar.

Not every place and time lends itself to the softness of these details, I know. But always, wherever and however, there are people—gentle, tough, distant, close—there are our fellows, the other islands, always waiting at our elbow, restless to be seen. And sometimes I come across something in another person that makes me ache and go silent. I forget to breathe, because I know that I have glimpsed the dust, the errant grains of salt, the things which gather in our corners which we avoid even noticing ourselves, which we industriously try to sweep out but which are ever tracked back in by constantly treading days and hours. Yet these common, sandy things are what will adhere us back together, teach us how to rejoin as “part of the main.”

However I have not only been thinking of what Donne says about islands, but, as I often have lately, what Lewis says about them in Perelandra—how we are called to stay on the ones that float, on which God continually drifts us to new waters, how he forbids us from scrounging up our own security for ourselves by clinging to the bits of earth that stay put, which we feel we understand. I am not at all making an argument against rootedness and living your whole life in one place (Wendell Berry would take me out and have me shot), but instead against the human walls we build up and foundations we dig down to try to protect ourselves from betrayal, failure, loss.

This academic year is frankly, for me, a little busier than I’m comfortable with, and in the midst of it I’m much more of a public face than I ever conceived of being. I’m being stretched—I’ve left the fixed land far behind, and not entirely on purpose. I’m well out in the sea, island-hopping. Each new endeavor, commitment, face which appears in my vision, can be frightening, looming as another opportunity for my weakness to gash itself open and ooze all over the floor. More than that, some days, everything and everyone seems to be spinning at me so fast that I feel like I have lost the thread. I wonder when all will again be still. And yet all these things and souls which come my way, floating islands steered by a Force far beyond my understanding, are gifts, every one, and though some days recently I’ve barely had the time for such impractical feelings, I am burdened by a delicious weight of gratitude for this season’s embarrassment of riches.

As I dance from island to island, my feet growing lighter with each step, I will stop to look out over the water of all that lies between, in life’s liquid cracks. I never want to stop watching. I liked the girl who had the time to see.

So whenever I board a ferry the little collection of lines in my journal will continue to grow.

The Voice That Tells You What to Do

Fall term is back. Praise the Lord.

I had a conversation the other day with a good friend about the voices that live in our heads. The ones that tell us who and how to be, which lines to walk and which ones not to cross. We were sitting in my car and I said to her, “I get the point of the voice, I do, we all need to self-moderate, but I just wish it could be a little more gentle.” 

That’s so rarely the case with me, though. The voice in my head is shrill and bossy. It sticks to the facts and refuses to have empathy or feelings. Alice, it says, you know very well you have too many of those already. I provide balance. It tells me that it knows best and diligently drowns out outside voices, particularly if they’re speaking words of encouragement or (heaven forbid) affirmation. It rules my inner world with grim determination.

I quarrel with the voice at times, sure. I even rebel and refuse to heed its warnings. But I never really try to banish or change it. I act helpless, blaming its never-ending critical commentary on those around me, but its sharpest barbs and accusations are almost always self-concocted–my heart condemns itself. The truth is, I cling to its harsh legalism, and protect it from anything that might dismantle it, like others’ soft prodding in slow, intimate conversation, or like a sermon or article that is tied up at the end with a doctrine of grace that I feel is just a little too neat, or like, you know, Scripture itself. I do this because I am deeply convinced that this endlessly grating voice which speaks the lines I write for it is ultimately the only thing holding me back from the brink: from darkness, destruction, and chaos. I whisper to my soul that maybe I can save myself with the stringency of constant self-berating if it turns out, as I sometimes suspect it might, that no one else actually wants the job.

I’ve already tipped my hand, but here’s the kicker, the bit where we must hatch or go bad: Someone else does want the job of saving me. He wants it very much. He’s said so. And if I actually believed an all-powerful, all-knowing God deeply loved me, me with all my self-centered minutiae, me with my “great sloth heart,” me with these desolately empty hands, then that would change everything. If I actually believed God loved me I wouldn’t need the voice anymore, or at least the voice as I have known it all my life. If I trusted what he says about letting the little children come to him and about Father, forgive them, then I might be able to take a gulp of fresh air, and tell the voice that it’s not really so important as it thinks it is, that really my Lord (my Lord) knows all about the brink, has been there and back again. I could allow the voice to become a little more firm-but-gentle, still and small. 

And once my feet had begun to root into this new reality, this blinding-bright land of hesed, and my lungs had begun to adjust to their new expansive climate, I might even relinquish control of the voice entirely, let my God tell it what to say. And then, who knows? It could begin to tell an entirely different story than any I’ve yet understood. It could start to speak in the reverberating tones of Love himself.

Within Love

I’m a little hectic right now, though the Fall term hasn’t started yet: vaguely over-committed with just one too many writing projects, one too many side jobs, one too many email inboxes, one too many friends. Wait, no, that can’t be right—but I can’t find my spare car key right now. That’s the main thing. (No, no it’s not.)

Particularly when I feel like this, it is easy to forget. It is easy to forget the real main thing: to love the Lord your God. And when I realize I’ve forgotten—well, realizing somehow does not fix things. I say, Alright now, Alice, remedy the situation. Learn to love. Do it right, for God’s sake. And I come at the thing from the direction of my love instead of his, which is magnificently ineffective.

Then yesterday, I came across this in Lewis’ “Weight of Glory.” It was not a lightning-bolt, but instead a low, rumbling comfort, like thunder from the far side of the mountain.

How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us[…]to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

So it is. And so I’ve been remembering (the proper, continual remedy for spiritual forgetfulness.) I’ve been remembering the taste of things. I wrote a series of poems for a course I took on food last Fall about how the memories which are inevitably tied to certain foods for each of us can serve as a gateway into the transcendent. Predictably, a year later, I am actually learning that lesson for myself. A few times in the last few months, I have tasted something and “Oh!” to myself. All simple things, sometimes absurdly simple: raw garlic, plain olive oil, okra fried in cornmeal. All tastes of my childhood, of a hot kitchen with shiny pitted floorboards, of something sizzling and something boiling and then my mother’s cold, laughing hands on the back of my neck just to make me jump. These things are particular to my sensibilities and my past, of course, but though yours may be different, we all have them. These are the tastes of love, and not just its outer rim either. These savory-sweet, dizzying flashes are from the inner core of love, the part we are rarely ever brave enough to acknowledge, the heavy part, the honeyed part, the realm of holy delight.

And though I so often forget, I’m certain: this place we are shy of talking or even thinking about, this buoyant golden heart of God’s love, is where we came from in the first place, our actual homeland, the place we belong even now. Funny thing, but so it is.

Classes start in a couple weeks, so things will fall into place soon enough. The car key will turn up. The sun is out and the sun makes things grow.

Learning Tears

I thought I would wait until I was in the right mood to write this one, but it has finally occurred to me that I wouldn’t know “the mood” if it marched into my room and smacked me up side the head. So here I am. Still full from lunch, in a little bit of a hurry, and writing.

I’ve always been a crier. I am not, on average, sadder than most, and I’ve certainly been given a very good life—the deeper parts of me are just constantly in touch with the surface parts, and that’s all there is to it. Many people who read this blog know that already. A close friend once told me cheerfully that she would be surprised to have a conversation of any great length with me in which I didn’t tear up at some point. I know I’ve found a true friend when I can begin to cry in their presence and absolutely nothing in their manner toward me changes. And as with any activity one participates in with frequency, I’ve tried to become good at crying. I mix tears liberally with self-effacing laughter, I almost never ruin my make-up, and I rarely sniffle.

But a change has come over my weeping in the last year or so. Perhaps it is the release of no longer teaching and needing to hold the feelings in all day, or the occasionally overwhelming changes wrought by my move to Vancouver, but ultimately I think it may be evidence of a more gut-level shift. Whatever the case, my tears are more and more often mixed nowadays. They are no longer merely sad or hurt or tired. There is often a piece of them, sometimes a sizable piece, which I might call awe. And several times in the last year, I can remember crying for joy.

I did not fully admit this change to myself until this summer, I think. In both of the classes I took earlier in the summer (on the Psalms and on George Herbert) I found myself moved to tears, spoken to, intruded upon by Love. I’m taking a class this week on the theology of desire and it will very probably happen again. The crying may get in the way of taking notes.

Tears have been a part of my rhythm of life for so long, but it never occurred to me that they could be part of learning, that they were complex or strong enough to bear connections not only to my own sticky inward minutiae, but to whole sunny shafts of the hope of glory. But, of course, it seems inappropriate, unseemly to cry during a lecture. Tears make others worried and uncomfortable. People so often feel pressure to do or console or fix. They are unlikely to understand my act of crying simply as evidence of my tuition dollars at work, that it means I am being educated. 

But I must rely on the well-practiced silence of my tears, and not allow myself to be waylaid or cowed by the potential concern of others. The tears which leave that tough, tangible residue on my cheekbones are busy teaching impossibilities, and often Gospel ones. They gather up and weave close the threads of things I once presumed to be far distant from each other: sadness and joy, discipline and gentleness, need and abundance, and my slow-beating heart and the God-made-man who came here, close enough to touch, and died for it.

Patience and Long Light

We are deep in July now, and I have been thinking about patience today.

Back when I was teaching, if you had asked any of my students to describe me, probably one of the first descriptors you would have heard from almost any one of them was that: patience. Once, on a Friday afternoon in Spring, a student asked me if I had ever yelled, and all his classmates fell into an earnest, curious silence waiting for me to answer. If I had a trademark, it was patience. There were upsides to this, certainly. Being told I was patient by the ones who struggled to write an introductory paragraph and needed slow, painstaking help, by the keyed-up, anxiety-ridden ones who were used to grating on the nerves of most adults they came into contact with, by the talkative ones, the attention-hungry performers, was a compliment. I never got upset, always had the time, and that was something they could rely on every day they set foot inside my class. But being told I was patient was often also an indictment, though usually a gentle one, and I knew it. Coming from some kids, the ones who did what they were asked the first time around, who came into my class having completed every page of the reading without fail, who opened their binders to that quarter’s scripture before the bell even rang and stood ready and waiting, it meant: You let too much slide, Miss Hodgkins. Some days, your patience does none of us justice.

So when I think of patience, I often think of it in that context: the way it operates for me as a double-sided coin: a gentleness to those around me, but also an excuse, an abdication of responsibility, an escape into passivity.

But today I have been coming at the thing from another angle. Because in some ways I am not patient, for good or for ill. This will reveal the deep veins of selfishness in me which adulthood has not rooted out in the least, but whenever there is something which really directly relates to me, to my own well-being and comfort and satisfaction, I am not patient at all. Summertime reminds me of this, without fail, in its awkward, unreliable rhythms and the way we all leave town and come back only to leave again, and this one has been a particularly good example. It has been my first summer in Vancouver and sunlight here comes before I wake and lasts well past dinner. The days not only move slowly, but sometimes, despite my busy-ness, they seem to sit still. When will the sun set? When will the balance between rest and action return? When will the heart beat properly again?

So with all my annual angst and impatient kicking against the goads which mostly no one can hear but myself (and a few lucky loved ones!), I thought today of a couple of things about patience which I hadn’t before.

First, I thought that perhaps I could get a better, deeper grasp on patience, really dig into up to my elbows, if I could stop thinking of it as a virtue intended for use in the love of others, but, as perhaps all virtues ought to be, as an entrance into wisdom, a way of learning old rhythms anew. I thought that if I waited long enough, if I were patient, there might be time for something to come from very far away. So the fruit of this patience today, while my late lunch slowly cooked, was found not in the eventually browned Italian sausages but in wandering out onto the sun-dazed patio and chewing absently on a fresh mint leaf, like we used to do as little girls in our North Carolina backyard when it was a wilderness and we played at adventure. I stood still instead of straining forward, and there, on my tongue, was a gift.

But more than that, and conversely, the other thing about patience I became convinced of today was this: patience needs an object. Though we may be called to stand in the sun, we are not really supposed to do so absently. We are supposed to direct our patience toward someone. When my old friend Hopkins began a sonnet way back when with, “Patience, hard thing!” he was not really talking about the patience I directed toward my students, that we are called to offer our friends and families and neighbors. He was talking about the kind of patience which I struggle to exercise when July rolls around, about the patience you use to quell the thing gnawing in your gut. But who, pray tell, is the object of that patience? To say that it’s our own selves veers too near the realm of patience as excuse and passivity. But if we are called to stand still in a given spot and be longsuffering there perhaps the object of our patience ought the be the One who does the calling. Indeed, he may well be the Object of all virtues, and they may only ever be complete virtues at all when directed towards Him. He is the maker and breaker of rhythms, the crusher of foes and life-breather of hearts, the one who separated the light from the dark in the first place.

He is patient. Patience fills                                                                                                               His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

Promises

This entry is about two entirely separate things. Please do not try to draw any sort of philosophical, metaphysical, or, least of all, theological connection between the two. Failure to comply may result in misery and confusion. (Exceptions will, as always, be made for literary connections.) Thank you for your cooperation. 

Last week I took a class on the Psalms, and all week they felt very near. This is perhaps a bit inevitable when you listen to someone lecture on a single topic for six hours a day, five days in a row, but nevertheless, the intimacy of those ancient poems, even the ones I’d heard and read dozens and dozens of times before, was startling. Then, as I walked home from church the other night, past the large, still houses and moss-grown trees of Shaughnessy, I realized why that might be. 

I’ve always been hyper-conscious of my good fortune in terms of Christian community: I was born to parents who loved the Lord and displayed that well, and have spent literally the entirety of my life up to my neck in Christian education. I’ve always had more Godly potential role models than you can shake a stick at. Many people may assume that the danger of such a saturated environment might be complacency, or a resentment and restlessness that leads to rebellion, and that’s true for some. But I think that my problem, though I’m still overwhelmingly grateful for what I’ve been given, is that I was so aware of God’s grace towards and concern for the little and large worlds around me that I never, for more than isolated split seconds at a time, took a chance to comprehend His grace towards and concern for me.

But the Psalms blow all this out of the water. They’re full of thoughts of the community (and the nations at large), but they’re also brimming with the voices of individual psalmists claiming God’s promises for themselves–promises of justice, of salvation, of forgiveness, of wisdom, of provision, of mercy, and of righteous, shot-through-with-holy-light love, all for the poet and his singular heart. Not once, not twice, but probably dozens of times as I sat in room 100 last week I found myself thinking, “But has this always been true? Has it always been possible to be alone in a room with God in this way without a chorus of other voices? Has Psalm 103 always had those words in it–confidently declaring that he knows us and understands our human dustliness? Has Psalm 139 always announced with such great firmness that the God of the universe holds the author in His own right hand? And why does this make me weep? Has He promised something to me as well?”

But now for something completely different.

Yesterday, for no particularly constructive reason, I thought through my whole history as a writer. What sorts of things I’ve written at various periods in my life and what I learned about writing as I went. For the first four or five years that I wrote, from the ages of about thirteen to seventeen, while I cared that I was good, I didn’t really care about getting better, perhaps because, with some teenage combination of naivete and arrogance, I didn’t know that was possible. And strangely, I find myself enormously grateful for that, because in those formative years I was motivated only by the joy of the thing. In the years since, as I’ve encountered my own limitations and struggled to stretch beyond them, that joy of the thing has perpetually hovered in the periphery of my vision. I have never once ceased to see words as friends. Thus they began, and thus they will remain.

They are my friends even now in graduate school as I have been tying myself in little mental knots trying to prematurely decide on a direction for my final creative project. And, as often happens, I’ve landed back where I began. I’m going to write a novel, a story which is at gut-level far more important to me than the one I wrote as my honors project at Grove City. 

I have a (very new) theory, that when you get a good idea for a piece of fiction, to help it come to fruition you have to hover over it like an egg that needs a mother or a warm incubator to hatch. You trust the mysterious natural process, and eventually something living will burst forth. And as of last week I have an idea, an idea that I’m fairly certain of, so from here on out if you’re trying to find me I’ll be busy hovering. If I am patient and keep a steady hand, one day there will be words on a page to show for it. And that’s a promise.

Embodiment and All That Jazz

You will be pleased to know that I went to the doctor today. (Or maybe you don’t care. I suppose that’s up to you.)

I was nervous beforehand. I don’t like going to the doctor. I’ve always been healthy, so I haven’t had to go often, and when I do I feel exposed. My exhilarating trip to the ER at the tail-end of last year was an exception because I felt so ill for a short space of time that I was only slightly bemused to find a strange male nurse’s aide helping me take my bra off. Nothing much mattered at that minute except that someone was there in the moment to fix whatever was wrong.

Yet going to the doctor when I am fully sentient feels enormously vulnerable. I have to get undressed and talk about why I am the way I am with someone who only just walked into the little sterile room which has laminated posters in bold fonts. And also sometimes procedures hurt or are confusing. I’m a bit of a child, perhaps.

But I’m also, frankly, not terribly connected to my body. I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on with it, and tend to assume it doesn’t pay that much attention to what’s going on with me. I clothe it, I wash it, I’m trying to be better about feeding it and sleeping it. Here our relationship begins and ends. A couple weeks ago a classmate asked what sports I played and was a little incredulous that the answer was nothing. But it never has been anything. I can’t touch my toes, and I never really worry about trying.

This trip to the doctor, however, was a quiet triumph. She asked questions and I found myself having to confess the embarrassing eating habits I’ve had for years and struggling to recount exactly how my symptoms felt when I blacked out in December, but also re-iterating what I’ve known for a long time and am getting better about reminding myself of at appropriate intervals: that my emotional and mental state holds sway over the functions of my physical body, and perhaps vice-versa.

Our embodiment  as humans is a Regent pet topic, all wrapped up with our happy fixations on the Incarnation and creation, but as I’ve heard people wax eloquent the last few months, I’ve wondered. I have a body. Am I…supposed to be doing something with it? Is it supposed to be participating in my life somehow?

After I got back from the doctor’s I made my way to the Regent library and sat in a chair in the sun and began to do a little reading and poking for the last paper I have this term. In the process, I pulled up a little essay I’d never read before by Dylan Thomas, called “The Reminiscences of Childhood” and as I read and stepped with mind and heart into the ever-familiar world of well-handled words to see what it had for me today, an actual involuntary warmth washed over my real, physical shoulders, the thin, bony ones God gave me which are currently shrouded in a black sweater. And though I never really had before, I paused in my reading for a moment and thought about that feeling, those muscles unclenching and singing a little song of praise, and I thought to myself, “I have felt this actual, visceral, synapses-firing feeling in just this way thousands of times before, every time I read anything I love, every time I find anything true and potent. This feeling means home to me. It’s perhaps the primary way I know beauty. And it’s physical. My body has been engaging in my deepest loves all along. I just never acknowledged it.”

And then I came here to tell you.

A Spring Story

Spring is here with warmth and bright greens and blues.

And this weekend I wrote a paper on Christina Rossetti. That’s pretty much all I did. I’d already spent much of my week immersed in reading and outlining, and late Friday night I sat on my bed and cried because Christina existed and I exist and in one of her favorite of her own poems Jesus says, “Come and see.” Then I told myself it was probably time for bed, but instead kept writing and messing and poking at research for another two hours. I worked and worked through Saturday and much of Sunday as the sun appeared and came rushing through my window. This morning I woke up and finished the last couple pages. I went to start my laundry then rushed back to read it over again and again and twice more, prodding at sentences as I went. And, though I could have read it five more times, I stopped myself and turned it in. And took a walk to London Drugs.

There has never been such a walk to London Drugs. There were tiny blossoms coming out on the trees which had already begun to float to the ground. I smiled at unsuspecting passers by, a few of whom were even emboldened by the sunshine to smile back. I saw children with muddy bare feet and old people basking in sunbeams on benches like cats. The smell of fresh manure—like spring in Pennsylvania—became the smell of flowers by the time I got to 12th.

A couple hours ago I took the compost out with my own feet bare on the warm ground. So that’s how things are here today.

The Indigestible Portions

I’m probably about to get all kinds of poetry on you. (But please don’t go away just yet. Hear me out.)

I am tired and achy at the moment. We could blame it somewhat fairly on last night’s restless sleep, but at the core is the fact that I’ve had an anxious week and my body knows it. Some days the sky is blue and I wear sparkly shoes because I like them, but other days, though the sky is still blue, I wear sparkly shoes because I need them and much of my energy goes into managing and dismantling my fear, trying to move past it so I can function. More than ever recently, I’ve become aware of the myriad of coping strategies I’ve developed to deal with everyday anxieties.

When I was eleven I made up a trick I sometimes still use. When I felt overwhelmed I would take a piece of paper and draw and label a little cloud for each of my worries–size and darkness corresponding to the intensity of each. I found that when I did this, put them out on paper visually, there were always fewer of them than I had assumed.

In college, to get out of bed on hard days I would promise myself that I could wear an oversized flannel, that I could put no effort into my appearance and play-act as the Invisible Girl, if only I would get up and go to class.

Even this past Fall, when I first moved to Vancouver, I was still adding strategies to my arsenal. I was irrationally nervous about riding the city bus, and so for the first few days, every time I waited at a bus stop I took a picture of my feet, so that my camera roll would fill up with growing evidence that I had done this before and I could do it again.

Every one of the aforementioned strategies have worked and still work when I need them. I am oddly proud of all the little ways I’ve come up with to chant to myself, “Be brave, be brave, and be brave.” It’s quite possible you have a similar list yourself.

But.

It is Lent now. We are in a season in which we are supposed to remember our own mortality, to feel death in our bones and pray to understand what that means. So I have found myself thinking that while bravery is good and well, it is perhaps also good and well to sit and learn from my own frailty. When my hands begin to shake, as they have a couple times this week, perhaps instead of sitting on them so they will stop and no one will notice, I can look at them and remember the dust from whence they were formed. In the stillness of the weeks leading up to our celebration of Christ’s deafening acts of redemption and renewal, maybe this magnified anxiety is not a curse, but an appropriate reminder of my need.

In my Christian Imagination class a couple days ago we read Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday.” He is mournful and acutely aware of his limits, his lack of answers, his lack of any sufficient words at all. The liturgy of any traditional Ash Wednesday service is full of the same heavy truths Eliot has felt all his life, full of the angst of Prufrock’s “overwhelming question” from fifteen years earlier in his career. Yet in this first long poem after his conversion, everything is different because while Eliot sits in the void within himself, he knows the Word has come to fill it. The Gospel gives context to the weakness he has always known so intimately. And conversely, Eliot’s long fixation with human lack and the inadequacy of his own speech has fit him with ears to hear the words of Him who is greater.

So sure, those pictures of my feet back in August bear witness that I have done this before, that riding the bus is really not such a big deal, but if I am being honest, perhaps even more importantly, they bear witness to the truth that I was afraid. I was foolishly afraid of something I could not name, which never came to fruition. Those pictures chronicle how I am riddled with sin, riddled with holes, ultimately unable, despite all my little tricks, to cope with the “indigestible portions” of my human soul.

And last night I read the end of Revelation, full of lines which deserve to be shouted, which have been and will be, all about newness, over and over. He is making all things new. Those words are always true whoever and wherever you are, but it is the infirm sinner, silent and barren, who really feels their power.

Distractions and Other Gifts

I’m two weeks into my new semester and, like I did in the Fall, I’ve already spent a lot of class-time in Regent’s chapel. Its entire right side is solidly made up of windows which look into the main atrium of the school and out through to the courtyard as well. It’s wall on wall of glass facing out into the slatey Pacific sky. There are blinds, but they’re never closed, and you can see anyone coming in or out of either of the building’s two north entrances while you sit in class.

I watch everyone who comes and goes. I can’t help it. It could be during the long lecture hours on Wednesday morning, or afternoon CTC, or Tuesday morning chapel service itself–everyone who’s ever taught me in that space probably thinks I’m incurably rude. And maybe I am. But watching a young mother with already-full hands and some hefty stroller struggle through the heavy door till someone runs to catch it for her and she mouths her thanks—this is eternally riveting to me. It’s a tiny, gentle drama that never gets old. Both parties go their opposite directions, and I’m left scribbling notes on Christianity and culture and thinking about small, habitual acts of generosity which make doorways sacred. My favorites, though, are the people who come through those doors alone, which are most of them. Sometimes I know their names, occasionally I even know where they’re coming from, but for a flash as they pass through those narrow doors I know them all, every soul. Witnessing those private moments of entrance and exit, ducking in and out of the rain, leaving work behind or heading towards it, concentration or distraction marked upon a forehead—I hear a heartbeat every time. Then, content, I shift my gaze back to a slide about Alexander the Great and the intertestamental period.

On top of all this people-watching I’ve been doing, I have a complaint I’ve been making. It’s the nicest complaint I’ve ever had. I’m in a class this term called Christian Imagination, about the arts, and everytime I try to do the reading for that class I get too excited and have to stop and write. In two weeks’ time I’ve produced three-and-a-quarter poems and four pages of a novel. And now this blog entry. It’s getting out of hand.

So, friends, to cope with these problems, this afternoon I dropped a class just to give myself more space. I’ll get those credits later. When there are people all around me how can I not watch them? And when there are poems all around me how can I not write them?