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Showing posts from March, 2013

grading blues

Last week I finished grading research essays written by my first year university students.  It is not one of my favourite tasks, I have to admit.  Oh, it starts out well enough.  As I read the first few papers I am filled with hope, eager to discover what the students have unearthed in their excavation of facts, texts, and philosophies.  However, by the end I am usually deflated, discouraged, and never want to see another essay.  After hours of grading, the mere misuse of a comma, an improper citation of a source, or a paragraph that extends longer than a page makes me grind my teeth, emit a primitive groan, and reach for another square of chocolate.  I get so tired of trying to decipher what students are trying to say and having to hack my way through a jungle of incoherent words (is there a point somewhere in it all?), that I want to put a big X on the page and tell them to start over.  In English this time, please.  But I don't.

Of course, there are always a few eloquent, well…

confessions

As part of my comprehensive exams,  I am reading through Augustine's Confessions.  I have studied parts of it before, but never read it all the way through from beginning to end.  Scholars have remarked on this classic autobiography for hundreds of years, so I am probably not embarking on any new territory here, but let me offer a few observations anyway.


1.  Life never has to be done alone.  Augustine begins with these words:  "Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise, your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning."  Despite this book being about his own life, Augustine writes in a way that draws the reader to another person, the ever-present God and Creator.  Page after page, he inserts prayers and bursts of praise into his story, as if this were the most natural way to recount the details of his life.  Augustine continues:  "You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our …

get closer

I was preparing a lecture on Catherine of Genoa this afternoon and came across the following disturbing sentences:  "She was greatly zealous in ... bringing help to the sick and the poor to the best of her ability.  She would clean the most nauseating filth, and if she felt her stomach heaving, she would put some of it in her mouth to overcome her squeamishness."  I felt a bit sick just reading that, to be honest.  I don't understand how putting something disgusting in your mouth can help you overcome nausea.  To me, it makes more sense to drop the offensive article and get as far away as possible!  But the principle behind Catherine's action is simple:  if you find it hard to love, get closer. 

The same kind of attitude could be seen in Mother Teresa.  She cared for the sick and the dying, touching them, feeding them, bathing them, and she never found them repulsive.  Why?  Because there was something greater at work than the filth or the smell.  She said:  "…

why beauty matters

I have begun reading the sixty plus titles that are required for my upcoming comprehensive exams.  I decided to tackle the weightiest works first (don't know if that is wisdom or craziness), so in the past days I have been reading Balthasar's thoughts on theological aesthetics.  It is fascinating, inspiring, and due to the density of the material, pretty challenging.  Balthasar starts his theological writings with one word: beauty.  And I must say, I think he's onto something.  Why is beauty so important?

First, a few definitions of beauty.  At dictionary.com you can find the following descriptors of the word:  a combination of qualities such as shape, color or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight; a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense.  Balthasar gives a more theological definition of beauty:  the intersection of form and splendour.  He indicates what he means by these two aspects:  form is an actual presence that c…