I've been cataloging many beloved books as I've been packing them at home and then unpacking them in my new office at Lindenwood. In some cases, I've filled my bookshelves to the point that I have two rows of books — one in front of another — on a shelf. To my fellow bibliophiles, that's probably nothing remarkable, but I mention that because it leads to some interesting discoveries when one starts removing some of the books from those shelves. In one such cases I stumbled across one of my very favorite books from my philosophy classes in college: Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy.
Consolation is a famous text from medieval philosophy and yet I have found it is not nearly as well known as it deserves to be. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful attempts to wrestle with the problem of evil ever penned. Significant evil was not merely theoretical for Boethius. He stared it down very directly as he found himself confined to a prison cell as an enemy of the state. As he put it at the beginning of Book IV:
But here is what is perhaps the greatest cause of my sorrow: the fact that evil things can exist at all, or that they can pass unpunished, when the helmsman of all things is good.
The existence of evil in a world under the control of a good, loving God is a problem that Christians have always had to wrestle with and one that many skeptics continue to raise today. While philosophical arguments can only complement — not replace — the revelation of God in Christ and the witness of Scripture, still their complementary role is one worth more study within the church today.
If you are looking for something to read this winter, maybe my old friend Consolation would be worth visiting with.
A bit of Frost for the night:
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right
I have been one acquainted with the night.
Matthew Arnold's Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse is captivating poetry from one of the nineteenth century's best poets. It includes one of Arnold's most famous lines:
Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head,
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
Their faith, my tears, the world deride—
I come to shed them at their side.
Oh, hide me in your gloom profound,
Ye solemn seats of holy pain!
Take me, cowl'd forms, and fence me round,
Till I possess my soul again;
Till free my thoughts before me roll,
Not chafed by hourly false control!
A little sampling from T.S. Eliot's the Waste Land seems appropriate as the thunder pounds off in the distance like so many reports in a distant fireworks display.
After the torch-light red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mud-cracked houses
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?
Bing is decorated for the Bard's 488th birthday. Very nice!
An interesting little story on copy cat books in the Amazon book store:
Until recently, if you had typed “Steve Jobs Isaac” into the online retailer's search box, the first choice that popped up wasn't the best selling book by Walter Isaacson, but instead one with the same name and a similarly sounding author, Isaac Worthington. The book appears to be selling, even though Amazon's one reviewer gives the book a single star and calls it a “poorly produced pamphlet.” Presumably, Worthington's book is based on exclusive interviews with Jeve Stobs.
From T.S. Eliot's “East Coker” in the Four Quartets:
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
One of the most fascinating pictures from T.S. Eliot's the Waste Land:
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, 23
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
The New York Times reports:
In an acknowledgment of the realities of the digital age — and of competition from the Web site Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.
The end of an era. A 244 year era.
George Herbert is a fascinating poet and one of the best examples of the Metaphysical Poets. “Love” is one of his most poignant pieces of poetry:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.