Patience

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Ten
Persuasion
By Jane Austen

 

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

Ecclesiastes 7:8


Chapter Ten of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Patience with examples drawn from Jane Austen’s Persuasion

As Karen wrote

Like all virtues, patience is the mean between an excess and a deficiency. The excessive vice related to suffering is wrath. Evil and suffering should result in a righteous anger. To fulfill the admonition of Paul to “be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26 ESV) requires patience that is the fruit of the Spirit. Patience is a virtue, not in overlooking wrong, but in refusing to do wrong in overcoming wrong. But untempered by patience, such an impulse becomes wrath. On the deficient side of the scale is a lack of spirit or carelessness or sloth. If in the face of evil or suffering one simply does not care, no patience is required. But such lack of care is, like wrath, a vice. Patience is not inaction. As the Bible says in James 5:11, patience is not passivity but perseverance. When faced with suffering or wrong, the virtuous person responds neither with wrath nor with stoicism but with patience. A person who has true patience is “angrily virtuous,”whether that means giving time for the emotional heat to subside before acting or simply waiting for the slow wheels of justice to turn.

What, beyond waiting, are the necessary components of the virtue of patience?

 

On Reading Well

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Diligence

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Nine
Pilgrim's Progress
By John Bunyan

And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 6:11-12


Chapter Nine of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Diligence with examples drawn from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

As Karen wrote

In the Bible, diligence is often presented in contrast to its opposite, sloth. For example, Proverbs 12:24 says, “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute” (KJV). Sloth has received considerable examination by moral philosophers, so to understand the virtue of diligence, it’s helpful to examine its opposing vice of deficiency.

Sloth is commonly thought of as laziness, but it’s much more than that. (We saw in chapter 6 that sloth opposes magnanimity, for example.) Sloth involves not only a lack of effort but also a lack of care. In fact, the Greek word for sloth, acedia, literally means “without care” or “careless.” It’s similar to a word we use more commonly today, apathy.

How do diligence and apathy show up in contemporary society?

On Reading Well

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Chastity

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Eight 
Ethan Frome
By Edith Wharton

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

~Matthew 5:27-28


Chapter Eight of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Chastity with examples drawn from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  All virtue is related to one’s deeds, but chastity includes the will of another.  On examination, it can be said to include the will of many.

As Karen wrote

Lauren Winner explains, “The community is not so much cop as it is storyteller, telling and retelling the foundational stories that make sense of the community’s norms.” Marriage is not only about mutual companionship and romantic love, but it is the institution “out of which cultures and societies are formed.” Marriage “is about children, and household economy, and stability. And marriage is also about God.” Marriage forms a little society. And the health of that little society depends to some degree on the health of the larger surrounding society.

Unlike abstention, an act of an individual, chastity is a form of community, and chastity depends on community. We can’t always choose where we place our roots, but when we can, it’s important to choose well. The ancient monastics took their vows of chastity within a community. Whether or not we realize it, we do as well.


What role does the community have in cultivating chastity in its members?  How can communities do a better job at this?

On Reading Well

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Chastity

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Ethan Frome 
Chapter Eight
By Edith Wharton

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

~Matthew 5:27-28


What is lust?  Is that a silly question? It might not be as simple as you think.  Chapter Eight of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Chastity with examples drawn from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  

As Karen wrote

Ethan Frome’s lust embodies each of the kinds of lust the Bible warns against: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). David L. Allen explains that the Greek term for lust that is used in this passage carries the sense of being “hot after something,” and it denotes things sought apart from God. “Lust of the flesh” refers to the worldly desires of our corrupted human nature as opposed to the will of God. The phrase “describes what it means to live life dominated by the senses” and neglectful of spiritual things. “Lust of the eyes” refers to desires for the things we can see—whether material possessions, beautiful persons, or successful status—again, pursued apart from God’s will. It describes the condition of being consumed by outward appearances. Finally, “the pride of life,” Allen explains, “describes the arrogant spirit of self-sufficiency.”

In sum, lust of the flesh centers on temptations that originate within the body, with our inner appetites (sexual or otherwise), and lust of the eyes on temptations originating externally, with things we perceive and then desire to possess. The pride of life combines the two, appealing to the internal desire to be like God and seeking fulfillment of this through external shows of power. Each of these lusts is at work in Ethan. His story depicts how chastity involves the whole person and, within the context of a marriage, every aspect of the marriage: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

How do the various kinds of lusts work against chastity, both in Ethan Frome and in real life?

On Reading Well

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Chastity

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Eight
Ethan Frome
By Edith Wharton

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

~Matthew 5:27-28


Chapter Eight of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Chastity with examples drawn from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  In this the first of the Heavenly Virtues, we encounter the least popular if not the most revered. Purity comes with a price.

Continue reading “Chastity”

Love

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Seven
The Death of Ivan Ilych
By Leo Tolstoy

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~1 Corinthians 13:13


How exactly do we love our neighbor as ourselves?  Chapter Seven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of love with examples drawn from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych.  The discussion today distinguishes attributes that are frequently either misunderstood or confused.  Continue reading “Love”

Love

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Seven
The Death of Ivan Ilych
By Leo Tolstoy

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~1 Corinthians 13:13


You know Cupid, but how about Cupidity?  Chapter Seven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of love with examples drawn from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych.  Today we examine lust and love.  Continue reading “Love”

Love

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Seven
The Death of Ivan Ilych
By Leo Tolstoy

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~1 Corinthians 13:13


Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of love with examples drawn from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych.  In this continuance of the theological virtues, we are at once expert and amateur. Beyond that, we struggle with adequate tools of expression.   

Continue reading “Love”

Hope

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Six
The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5:3–4


In Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, the relationship between the man and the boy in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road illuminates the relationship between watchfulness and hope. Here we see the essential element of expectation in its fullest range.
Continue reading “Hope”

Hope

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Six
The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5:3–4


We speak of hope frequently in daily talk.  Its range extends from wishful thinking to profound spirituality.  Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of hope with examples drawn from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Today we consider the difference between the passion of hope from theological hope.    Continue reading “Hope”

Hope

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Six
The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5:3–4


Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of hope with examples drawn from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  In this continuance of the theological virtues, we consider our future. In many ways, our world seems to be teetering on the edge of apocalypse.    Continue reading “Hope”

Faith

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Five
Silence
By Shusaku Endo

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1


Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “Not every man is so great a coward as he thinks he is — nor yet so good a Christian.” Is the essence of a man that which he holds in his heart, or more akin to his actions?  Chapter Five of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of faith with examples drawn from Shusaku Endo’s Silence, a novel that raises questions about faith that is hidden.    Continue reading “Faith”

Faith

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Five
Silence
By Shusaku Endo

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1


The Bible has much to say about faith, but what exactly is it?  Chapter Five of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue through a discussion of Shusaku Endo’s Silence.     Continue reading “Faith”

Faith

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Five
Silence
By Shusaku Endo

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1


Chapter Five of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of faith with examples drawn from Shusaku Endo’s Silence.  In this section, we move to the theological virtues. The novel examines the struggle of Christians who are physically persecuted for their beliefs and the degree to which the virtue of faith is tied to faithfulness and fidelity in lifestyle.    Continue reading “Faith”

Courage

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Four
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9


In Chapter Four of On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer who in his book Ethics wrote “When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it. . . . Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.”  It is a matter of obtaining clarity in understanding and then acting accordingly.

Continue reading “Courage”

Courage

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Four
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9


In one of the most famous scenes of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus faces down a lynch mob whose collective (as Karen says) “false bravery” is only undone by the innocence of Scout.  Chapter Four of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines a similar scene from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.   Continue reading “Courage”

Courage

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Four
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9


Chapter Four of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, examines the virtue of courage with examples drawn from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The book is often criticized as the crude snapshot of a bygone era, but others find timeless truths in the tales of a growing young boy.  Hemingway said “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.” Continue reading “Courage”

Justice

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Three
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—

Amos 6:12


In Chapter Three of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, the virtue of justice is described as the equilibrium of self-regard and a love for one’s neighbor.  In many ways, that runs counter to the popular perspective of today’s civil and criminal judicial system. It is not a dynamic that occurs naturally in human nature, and its progress forward must be intentional.

Continue reading “Justice”

Justice

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Three
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—

Amos 6:12


Chapter Three of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, examines the virtue of justice with examples drawn from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  In many ways, the world described by Dickens seems dark, distant and far removed from our own, but is it?

Continue reading “Justice”

Justice

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Three
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—

Amos 6:12


Benjamin Franklin said “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Today we begin Chapter Three of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, and we will examine the virtue of justice with examples drawn from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Continue reading “Justice”

Temperance

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Two
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

2 Peter 1:5-6


Chapter Two of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior is a study of Temperance drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Much has been written about the excesses of the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression that followed. Our current culture bears many similarities in hedonistic excess, so should we expect a similar collapse?  Continue reading “Temperance”

Temperance

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Two
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

2 Peter 1:5-6


Chapter Two of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior is a study of Temperance drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The topic is older than that novel of course and much has been written about its attributes. One of the leading ancient voices was that of Aristotle. Continue reading “Temperance”

Temperance

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Two
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

2 Peter 1:5-6


Today we begin Chapter Two of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior. This week’s study of Temperance is drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  Temperance is a word rarely used today and its practice even rarer in our world of extravagance and excess. Continue reading “Temperance”

Prudence

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter One
The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling
By Henry Fielding

I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.

Proverbs 8:12


In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote:

We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men but to look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, an image which, by its beauty and dignity, should allure us to love and embrace them.

So are people good or evil?  Is it possible to be totally depraved, yet a bearer of God’s image?  In her book On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior explores this quandary in Chapter One.

Continue reading “Prudence”

Prudence

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter One
The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling
By Henry Fielding

I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.

Proverbs 8:12


An essential aspect of parenting is the responsibility to instill good judgment into the minds of children.  This hard-fought battle requires a measure of pain because, alas, most people have to learn things the hard way. Life’s lessons become the foundation of prudence.  In Chapter One of On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior calls on Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling to portray this virtue. Continue reading “Prudence”

Feeding The Lake

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 12

To serve a work of art is almost identical with adoring the Master of the Universe in contemplative prayer. In contemplative prayer the saint (who knows himself to be a sinner, for none of us is whole, healed, and holy twenty-four hours a day) turns inwards in what is called “the prayer of the heart,” not to find self, but to lose self in order to be found.

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “Feeding The Lake”

The Other Side Of Silence

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 11

When I am writing, on the other side of silence, as it were, and I am interrupted, there is an incredible shock as I am shoved through the sound barrier, the light barrier, out of the real world and into what seems, at least for the first few moments, a less real world. The same thing is true in prayer, in meditation. For the disciplines of the creative process and Christian contemplation are almost identical.

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “The Other Side Of Silence”

The Journey Homeward

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 10

Artists have always been drawn to the wild, wide elements they cannot control or understand—the sea, mountains, fire. To be an artist means to approach the light, and that means to let go our control, to allow our whole selves to be placed with absolute faith in that which is greater than we are. The novel we sit down to write and the one we end up writing may be very different, just as the Jesus we grasp and the Jesus who grasps us may also differ.

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “The Journey Homeward”

Do we Want The Children To See It?

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 9

A pianist does not have to be a practicing Christian to play Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata or the rippling second movement of Ginastera’s piano concerto. As my friend Tallis once remarked, “When your car breaks down, you don’t ask if the mechanic is an Episcopalian. You want to know how much he knows about cars.”

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “Do we Want The Children To See It?”

The Bottom Of The Iceberg

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 8

I’m grateful that Bach’s Christianity was realized in both his conscious and subconscious mind. But being a practicing Christian is not part of the job description, and sometimes God chooses most peculiar people to be vessels of genius. My mother used to sigh because her beloved Wagner was such a nasty man. And I was horrified to have some students tell me that a lot of people actively disliked Robert Frost. How does one separate the art from the artist? I don’t think one does, and this poses a problem. How do we reconcile atheism, drunkenness, sexual immorality, with strong, beautiful poetry, angelic music, transfigured painting?

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “The Bottom Of The Iceberg”

Names And Labels

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 7

The world wants to shove us into what it considers the appropriate pigeonhole. I do not like to be labelled as a “Christian children’s writer” because I fear that this will shove me even further into the pigeonhole which began to be prepared for me when A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery medal. If I am so labelled, then the implication is that I am to be read only by children, and Christian children at that. Though the chief reason that Wrinkle was rejected for over two years and by thirty-odd publishers was because it is a difficult book for many adults, the decision was made to market it as a children’s book; it won a medal for children’s books. Therefore, I am a children’s writer, and that is all I’m allowed to be.

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “Names And Labels”

Probable Impossibles

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 5

Let me return to Aristotle’s “that which is probable and impossible is better than that which is possible and improbable.” I’ve been chewing on that one since college, and it’s all tied in with Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” If the artist can make it probable, we can accept the impossible—impossible in man’s terms, that is. Aristotle, not knowing the New Testament, could not add, “With man it is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” — The artist at work is less bound by time and space than in ordinary life. But we should be less restricted in ordinary life than we are. We are not supposed to be limited and trapped. As a child it did not seem strange to me that Jesus was able to talk face to face with Moses and Elijah, the centuries between them making no difference.

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “Probable Impossibles”

A Coal In The Hand

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 4

I am grateful that I started writing at a very early age, before I realized what a daring thing it is to do, to set down words on paper, to attempt to tell a story, create characters. We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.

With God, even a rich man can enter the narrow gate to heaven. Earthbound as we are, even we can walk on water.

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “A Coal In The Hand”

Healed, Whole And Holy

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 3

All children are artists, and it is an indictment of our culture that so many of them lose their creativity, their unfettered imaginations, as they grow older. But they start off without self-consciousness as they paint their purple flowers, their anatomically impossible people, their thunderous, sulphurous skies. They don’t worry that they may not be as good as Di Chirico or Bracque; they know intuitively that it is folly to make comparisons, and they go ahead and say what they want to say. What looks like a hat to a grownup may, to the child artist, be an elephant inside a boa constrictor.

So what happens? Why do we lose our wonderful, rackety creativity? What corrupts us?

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “Healed, Whole And Holy”

Cosmos From Chaos

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 1

Plato spoke of the necessity for divine madness in the poet. It is a frightening thing to open oneself to this strange and dark side of the divine; it means letting go of our sane self-control, that control which gives us the illusion of safety. But safety is only an illusion, and letting it go is part of listening to the silence, and to the Spirit.

~L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Continue reading “Cosmos From Chaos”

Epilogue

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Malcolm Guite

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!”
You made your epitaph imperative,
And stopped this wedding guest!
But I am glad To stop with you and start again, to live
From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,
Whose living power is imagination,
And know myself a child of the I AM,
Open and loving to his whole creation.
Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,
To let his light transfigure all my seeing,
To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,
And make with him the poem of my being.
I follow where you sail towards our haven,
Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Continue reading “Epilogue”

The Sinking Ship

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Lines 542-5

The boat came closer to the ship,
But I nor spake nor stirred;
The boat came close beneath the ship,
And straight a sound was heard.

Under the water it rumbled on,
Still louder and more dread:
It reach’d the ship, it split the bay;
The ship went down like lead.

Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound,
Which sky and ocean smote,
Like one that hath been seven days drown’d
My body lay afloat;
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot’s boat

Continue reading “The Sinking Ship”