Children and Death: These Precious Days

Children are often confronted with harsh realities for which they are inadequately equipped. Innocence is fragile.  Some of our earliest memories include bracing traumas of loss, and like every human being, children try to cope.  In extreme, some children must face not only the death of a loved one but also their own as terminal disease closes in. They turn to God in their own way and often find Him in simple things, like books and their pets.

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Childhood Books as Progressive Revelation

Children are inquisitive and insatiable for knowledge.  This can be problematic, for it often tilts to trouble as any reader of Mark Twain will attest.  We all have childhood stories of ‘that time when’ our appetite for adventure over-exceed good judgement. Fortunately, lucky children also find companions in books with whom they can safely fight pirates and sail starships.

Truth is best understood in progressive revelation, as Emily Dickinson has it:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

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What is Beauty?

“Beauty is the splendor of truth,” observes Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s (born on this day, February 2nd in 1882) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and to explain his passion for beauty, Stephen draws upon the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas, among others.  Metaphysics asks the question – “What is real?” and philosophy and literature have long since tried to answer.  What we call love at first sight is that mysterious moment when our eyes tell us we are gazing at something (usually someone) so beautiful it at once fulfills a longing in our hearts and answers questions we have no words to ask.

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Sinner’s Tower

After Prayer Book Cover

Exhausted by my own siege engine’s roar,
The clatter and the rattle of my prayer,
I drop, defeated, at his bolted door,
And sink awhile in silence and despair.
Is there another way to come at him,
Who seems so distant in his might and power?
I have no wings to rise like seraphim
So I begin to build the sinners tower,
Returning to that folly back in Babel.
Effort and elevation are my aim,
As though by my own powers I were able
To overwrite the nameless with my name.
But just before the summit and the crown
A voice in darkness calls: ‘let us go down’.

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A Light in the Darkness

“Light, like the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways, shattering those who resist it but healing those who embrace it.” (Markos 169)

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes our world as a battlefield. He says we are living in “enemy-occupied territory” (Book 2, Chapter 2). Just turn on the news or read the headlines from around the world, and you’ll see that he’s right. We live in a dark world that seems to only be getting darker.

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The Hudson River School

Modern-day Americans take for granted the sentiment that their land is beautiful because, as Katharine Lee Bates wrote, “God shed His grace on thee.”  The majesty of nature also inspired Thomas Cole, born on this day, February 1st in 1801 to found the Hudson River School which, along with the writings of Emerson and Thoreau gave birth to the American Preservation Movement.  Cole saw in nature not only the glory of God but more so, metaphors of life which he depicted in his series The Voyage of Life, echoing Emerson’s sentiments in Nature:

But if a man be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and vulgar things. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

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Tearing Down Walls

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

~Thomas Merton, from No Man is an Island

Thomas Merton was born on this day, January 31st in 1915.  A Trappist monk and prolific author of over 60 books, Merton  is known for his deep, reflective interior life which led him to inter-religious dialogue with people such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and D. T. Suzuki.

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Suddenly You Can Begin to Breathe

Christians ought not to be threatened by fantasy and imagination. Great painting is not “photographic”: think of the Old Testament art commanded by God. There were blue pomegranates on the robes of the priest who went into the Holy of Holies. In nature there are no blue pomegranates. Christian artists do not need to be threatened by fantasy and imagination, for they have a basis for knowing the difference between them and the real world “out there.” The Christian is the really free person–he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.

~Francis Schaeffer, from Art & the Bible

Francis Schaeffer was born on this day, January 30th in 1912.  As a man of both deep intellect and diverse, yet highly integrated gifts, his contributions to Christian apologetics still stand among its foundational cornerstones. He wrote Art & the Bible in 1973 at the heart of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. As a poet and musician, I found in it a unifying force that brought together every aspect of my life.

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For The Love of Childhood Reading

My parents were readers. From second grade on, no book in our house was made off-limits to me–not one. My mother’s collection of Readers’ Digest Condensed Books–excerpts of current novels collected five or six to a volume and wrapped in wallpaper-patterned covers–grew like stinkweed on the shelf. She procured for my sister and me an ambitious set of World Book Encyclopedias as well (no doubt for our future report-writing reference).

My father contributed to the family library a small collection of leather-bound volumes from his family of origin: The Life of Lincoln, Plato’s The Republic, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a tome titled simply Psychology, and the slimmest book of all, one whose spine read Poems – Emily Dickinson.

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The Midlife Crisis


We all understand the restless heart. In our youth, we dreamt of adventure and pursued visions that were compelling if not clear. Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats, who died on this day in 1939, was a man of deep introspection, his work resonating with the yearnings of one standing on the precipice of eternity. A perpetual seeker, he wrote, “Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.” He understood man’s longing to reach beyond the superficial to the fulfilling grasp of the significant. Made in God’s image, man longs to create, and in his efforts to be fueled by meaning.

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