Summer Reading Ep. 1: The Bell Jar

Well folks, I’m back from another rip-roaringly hectic semester at college, and I ought not to neglect this old blog so. For some reason, if you’re reading this from your WordPress feed, you’ve decided not to abandon ship, despite my inconsistent posting and subject matter. So allow me to say, it’s good to see you. And I hope you’ll stick around.

My plan for the time being is to take a more literary tack than I have in the past, reflecting on the books I read this summer and re-posting here the columns I’ve written for the school paper this semester. But Lord willing, I will find suitable words to praise His love and majesty in the process. ūüôā

Without further ado, here’s the book with which I kicked off my summer reading, one I didn’t intend to pick up when I went to the library but which caught my eye because of its reputation:

The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath

(Heinemann, 1963)

The word “riveting” can take a number of different connotations when applied to a piece of literature. In the case of The Bell Jar, the famed (and only) novel by poet Sylvia Plath, the narrative is riveting in something of the same way a train wreck is riveting. Esther’s descent into psychological breakdown, which comprises the middle section of the book, is a disaster one cannot help but witness with rapt attention, hemmed into the view by the gnarled, interconnected details and memories which swirl through Plath’s prose.

But the allure of this book is not that of sensationalism. It’s existential malaise, crooked as it appears through the lens of Esther’s “glass jar”, is thus only magnified and brought into clearer consideration. The thing about viewing something through distorted lens is that the view is not entirely false. Some aspects of it are true even if others are bent out of proportion, like a caricature is to a human figure. The gray area between reality and perspective is something which haunts the pages of The Bell Jar – and the reader.

Plath never intended The Bell Jar to be an important work of literature – perhaps why the bookending narrative is less focused and engaging – but it cannot help but be what it is: a shocking and unique piece of literature, regardless of however one might feel about it.

The Bell Jar: 7.8/10


On the Necessity of Good Art

A little backstory to this post… Recently I was approached by an editor of my university’s school paper and asked if I would be interested in taking stead of the fine arts column, to which I agreed. I’m not 100% sure what I’m doing yet, but it’s been a blessing so far, and I am enjoying the task. (And yes, getting one’s first byline is an exciting feeling even if it’s just the school paper!) It also gives me an excuse to repost my columns here since I often get too busy to post very regularly. So why not. ūüôā Without further ado, here’s the first column I wrote a couple weeks back.

Of all mankind‚Äôs shared experiences, one of the simplest joys I have had the pleasure of knowing is that of receiving mail. The extraordinary return one can achieve, in the form of a friend‚Äôs happiness, on the effort of a brief missive makes it a miraculously fruitful endeavor. The suspense of the time it spends in transit, the surprise of not knowing the precise hour of the postman‚Äôs arrival ‚Äď these only serve to heighten the impact and significance of that sacred art of letter writing.

Of course, at times what we await is not a letter but the spoils of online shopping. I am inclined to believe that, in their proper place, these too can be rightly received with a similar enthusiasm. Shortly after I arrived on campus this semester, for example, I received a parcel I had been expecting from a vendor across the country: an old vinyl recording of violinist Jascha Heifetz playing Max Bruch‚Äôs ‚ÄúScottish Fantasy.‚ÄĚ I had sought out this performance after my mother came across it on YouTube several weeks ago.

The rise and fall of the melody, the vivid dialogue between the violin and orchestra, rang out from the living room like a prophet summoning the attention of Israel. The energy of the performance one might describe, in a platitude, as magical. In Christian terms, one might just as readily call it an echo of the divine.

The piercing effect of such transcendent instances of art is double-edged. On one hand, to have the heights of art depicted in such clarity can serve as a metaphorical shot in the arm for the amateur artist, a reminder of the eventual effects of practice and improvement. On the other, it is at times disheartening, as though we are convinced through some misplaced humility that we can never be ‚Äúgood‚ÄĚ at our art, or reach whatever level of achievement we choose to define as ‚Äúmastery.‚ÄĚ It is an unfruitful comparison. The point is not that all art has a potential to be good, although this could be said. Rather, all art is good, merely because all art is real and unique and necessary.

We see this quite easily when we look at persons. Not everyone we meet will have the same sort of personality or the same list of accomplishments, the same hopes and fears or the same perspective on the world.

Yet we affirm each one of them as necessary and created in the image of God. One need not play like Jascha Heifetz for one’s habit of playing the violin to be a good thing; one need not paint like Caravaggio to bring joy to one’s friends and associates and image some aspect of the divine through art. Art does not exist on a spectrum of perfect skill to failure, and in some sense this spectrum is a mere construction. The art critic may require such a scale to evaluate the myriad examples of art they encounter. But our human experience of art is much deeper, much more natural and much less definable. To make art well and to practice good technique, that is something in which all artists should desire to grow. But to make art unlike any other, art which is as necessary and individual as they are, that is something which every artist already does.

The great C. S. Lewis describes friendship as ‚Äúthe moment when one man says to another ‚ÄėWhat! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .‚Äô‚ÄĚ We should never underestimate the ability we have through art to touch those around us in a similar fashion. Yours may be precisely the voice someone in the same corner of the world as you has been waiting to hear.

 (© 2018)

Hallowed Be

Reserve not for me this chalice
For my horizon runneth over
Between the redrawn corners
And the penciled sketch marks
Between the tangled questions
And the patterned notebook
A seashell imprint
Pressed upon the patchwork stars
Not one a resting place
Nor one a constellation
A myriad of catch breaths
At each occurrence of the tune
In, 1-2, out, 1-2, in time,
In time, all manner of things shall be
If it only be your will, let the sky fall
Gently, and in time

(16 October 2017)

Along the route home from my university sometime last year, the first glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. Gotta love them hills.


Cracks in the sidewalk grin
Surfaced like a shell
Beating the lifeblood of a city
Across your freckled soul

What is a sidewalk but a
Slantwise fable of crooked roads
A path so straight my boots slide
Down into the cracks and grimace
At the comfort and inertia

Sapling roots its way to freedom
A miracle amidst the loose gravel
And a warning to me: you are not
A sapling, my love. You are
The sun that hits me as I pass
Between brick wall redwoods
You are a downpour beating across
The windows and running through
The sidewalk cracks to find the sea

A city sheds its skin and calls
My weary feet to search this Georgia mountain
‘Til I find the glimmer of its Christmas lights
Its storefronts and streetlamps
A front porch with a spare key
And a peaceful endurance
As miles stretch behind us
And marathons ahead

(21 December 2016, edited 2 July 2017)

File Jul 02, 3 44 41 PM
Sunset along W. Main Street in my hometown.  Guess the time of year from the ghost decorations?

It’s a strange feeling to invent a title for a months-old poem just to avoid the shame of naming it something like “Another Poem I Wrote Months Ago”. ¬†But let’s just pretend it was always a part of the whole.

After all, for better or for worse, we humans are quite skilled at pretending. ¬†Which is why it is always the duty and the struggle of the mind to sift through the illusions of the workaday world in search of truth. ¬†Countless ways of achieving this have been proposed up and down the centuries. ¬†But I rather think it benefits particularly to heed Christ’s teaching when he says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,¬†and you will know the truth” (John 8:31-32). ¬†“And the truth will make you free,” He says next, lest anyone should wonder why truth is important.

One might still ask what it is we’re being freed from, and to them I would say… just read John chapter 8. ¬†It’s worth it, I promise you. ¬†(Okay, short answer, it’s sin, but there’s lots and lots to ponder in that chapter, and I encourage you to read it. ¬†Good good stuff.)

Happy Sunday to you all. ¬†God is good, and never ceases to bless His Creation, and I pray you may continue to live in His truth by the strength of His grace. ¬†ūüôā

Pax vobiscum.

Child of Summer (Part I)

Petals touched with frozen steel
Caught in the repose of flight
Drift upon my heart. A voice
That pierces through the winter breeze,
Cuts me with its frostbite gleam
So soft and warm a death, for snow.

(9 February 2017)

Snowfall at my university, where the weather this semester changed from winter to spring and then back again probably 10 times.

It’s been much too long since I’ve shared any of my poetry with you all. ¬†ūüôā

(And doing so reminds me that I need to write more, so I thank you for your readership.)

Random question for discussion: in the Owl City song “Fireflies”, Adam Young sings that he gets “a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs”. ¬†Does this mean all 10,000 of them hug him a thousand times, totaling 10,000,000 hugs, or do only 1/10 of them hug him so that 1,000 refers to the net total of the hugs? ¬†Discuss amongst yourselves. ¬†(If you follow me on Twitter, you already know the answer, but I’m curious to hear all of your best, most emphatic, (il)logical-sounding answers.)

May the peace of Christ be with you now and always.

Come Holy Spirit

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Acts 2:1-4

This past semester, I took a course in Catechetics¬†which required me to read and summarize the entirety of the Catechism’s teaching on Christian prayer. ¬†I won’t tell you how long I procrastinated on the assignment, but I will tell you that, though strenuous, there is a great¬†richness of knowledge to be obtained by this manner of study. ¬†One of the most spiritually beneficial things I gained from it, however, was being reminded of just how integral and foundational the working of the Holy Spirit is in our life of personal prayer, and indeed our life as Christians on the whole.

The Holy Spirit has always been, to me, the most beguiling figure of the Holy Trinity. ¬†Often we hear or read the Father’s words to us in Scripture, and¬†the innate human tendency is to imagine a face to go with this voice, even if it’s nothing more than the stereotypical majestic and humongous old guy in a cloud. ¬†Christ Himself took on human form when He descended from heaven to proclaim the Kingdom to us. ¬†But the Holy Spirit? ¬†I rarely imagine Him as human. ¬†The imagery the Church has inherited¬†falls more along the lines of a dove, the wind, tongues of fire, an invisible, silent, but no less powerful or divine Spirit on whose behalf the Father speaks (Matthew 3:16-17). ¬†Not the kind of being we easily imagine ourselves having a relationship with.

But the Holy Spirit is, nonetheless, clearly important to our life of prayer, as St. Paul reminds us, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). ¬†And, as we hear in the readings for this Sunday, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” Paul asks us (1 Corinthians 6:19). ¬†This Holy Spirit is not some cosmic force we have to go wrangle or summon by some elaborate means every time we want to pray. ¬†The Spirit quite literally dwells within us, every moment of every day. ¬†This means, for one, that we ought to act like temples of the Holy Spirit. ¬†But it also means that we need never fear that God doesn’t hear our prayers. ¬†If He is within us, His ear is inclined much closer to our supplications than the Tempter might want us to believe.

If ever we need a reminder of just how powerful the Holy Spirit is in the life of the Church, we need only look back to the day on which it first received this Spirit and came into existence. ¬†This Spirit which dwells within us is the same Spirit which caused the believers in Jerusalem to speak in tongues. ¬†And not just in a couple different languages, but a pretty substantial bunch. ¬†This is the same Spirit that Christ promised would guide the Church “into all truth” (John 16:13). ¬†And it is the same Spirit we receive in Baptism, the Spirit who brings each new believer into life in Christ. ¬†It’s a lot to wrap one’s head around, but God does tend to be supremely generous in His goodness, so far beyond our wildest dreams, so far beyond our understanding, but still absolutely true.

Take a moment to thank God for the gift of His Holy Spirit which guides you in prayer this day.

Lectionary readings for Pentecost Sunday:
Acts 2:1-11 | 1 Cor. 3b-7, 12-13 | Jn. 20:19-33
You can find these all in one place here. ¬†Pax vobiscum. ¬†ūüôā

It’s Been Too Long

“It’s been what?”

“I said, it’s been too flippin’ long!” he shouted, shoving¬†the front door shut with vigor. ¬†He grimaced as he stepped over a pile of ideas, pausing halfway through to ensure the square of floor on the other side was devoid of rubbish. ¬†“Look at this place. ¬†Dust piled up on everything, lightbulbs burned out, mental images on the walls from when you were barely eighteen. ¬†A¬†high school student, mind you…”

“High school¬†graduate,” I replied. ¬†“Eighteen wasn’t really all that long ago. ¬†Not in the grand scheme of things, anyway.”

“Oh,¬†suuuuuuuuure. ¬†I’m starting to wonder if I should abandon my sarcasm for the sake of showcasing some appropriate sorrow for this sad state of affairs, but good grief! ¬†What a mess. ¬†Look there’s your room, over there beyond that dusty chandelier.”

“So there is. ¬†I used to complain about how messy it was,” I said.

He glanced back at me as though afraid to go on. ¬†“It’s gotten messier,” he said.

“Shut up.”

The structure was not a bad one.  The worst that could be said of it was that it was somewhat small.  I also thought it had a lot of corners, which made it hard to clean.   This, I admit, was a hunch perhaps biased by my dislike of mopping, but one born of a somwhat pointed wit nonetheless.

On the whole, the building had had brighter days, louder days, days that suffused the inhuman patterns of the woodgrain with candlelight and the silhouettes of pleasant companions and their laughter. ¬†For a moment, I regretted bringing along my pessimistic friend. ¬†The memory of these days held to prized a place in my heart for me to bear the thought of demolishing this little habitation and building a new one. ¬†But I needed an objective opinion. ¬†Every romantic needs a realist willing to pull them back down to Earth’s swiftly tilting surface now and again.

“I confess,” I added, “that if my room is a mess, the fault is entirely my own.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure,” he said. “Nothing that can’t be fixed though.” ¬†He turned to face me with more determination than he had exhibited since we stepped through the front door. ¬†“Honestly, tell me though: do you really want to go back to all this?”

I was silent for a second. ¬†“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, I just…” ¬†He hesitated. ¬†“Look at you. ¬†You’re a different man, aren’t you?”

“Am I?”

“You’ve gone through a whole year of college, you’ve made new friends, you’ve lived through¬†heartbreak, you’ve lived in another state… ¬†You’ve started growing up.” ¬†I shifted my gaze to the corner of the room opposite him, but he continued. ¬†“Doesn’t all this, all these pictures, all these memories, don’t they just tie your mind and heart down in the past?”

“Liggy,” I said, facing him again, “we are our pasts. ¬†What person could be who they are today without their past? ¬†It shapes who we are, how we deal with the present, how we plan for the future, for better or for worse.” ¬†He glanced around the room as I went on. ¬†“And for the most part, I consider this to have been one of the betters. ¬†Don’t you?”

“I do,” he replied, smiling gently. ¬†“But what if you don’t want to blog like you used to, anymore? ¬†What if what you need is a fresh start?”

“Then I shall have a fresh start on the foundation of the two years¬†of blogging I’ve already had. ¬†I don’t need a new blog to do that. ¬†And when we flip on the lights again, no one from the past is obliged to stick around. ¬†But I sincerely hope they will, if they’re still in town.”

“Yeah,” said Liggy. ¬†“So do I. ¬†I’ve missed that bunch…”

“We’d better start cleaning up, hadn’t we?” I said.

He chuckled. ¬†“We better not put it off, that’s for sure.”

“Would you do the honors?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. ¬†And with that, he strolled over to the panel by the front door and pressed the big red button. ¬†It had to be red. ¬†I don’t think I could have had it any other way. ¬†(Excepting¬†the time it broke and I had to put a yellow button on it for a week because they were sold out of red at the button store, but that is a story for another time.)

It started with an almost inaudible click, and then slowly, almost suspensefully, the sign out front flickered to life, and the chandelier began to throw light across the dusty room.

“Might need to replace some of the fuses out front, but you can still read it, anyway,” he laughed. ¬†Caught somwhere between a swift walk and a run, I ventured outside and turned to look, smiling as I did.

There it was, same as ever: “Welcome to The Window Philosopher | Open for visitors”.

To anyone out there reading this, hi, and it’s good to see you. ¬†ūüôā