November 16th, 2005

I See You!

Personal/Theological Notebook: Slow days and Teaching Julian

Things have been quiet the last few days. I'm still in a bit of that state of shock that I described earlier, at having finished exams and suddenly having that huge hole in my schedule. And I admit that I've been slow to jump into the grading process, but have still taken a few days to myself. I had office hours this afternoon, sitting on the Bridge at Raynor Library with the cold grey of November rain outside, and had a tutoring/brainstorming appointment with Meg Rothbart tonight for her paper for Ralph Del Colle's Explorations In Christian Theology course, but that was the extent of the official work.

I taught Mickey's class yesterday, building on his Friday lecture giving a sketch of medieval history in order to set Julian of Norwich in her context. I tried to highlight themes that they were running into in her book, and then use the themes to build additional context for her life and perspectives. So I started on her "Christ our Mother" language, and used that to also describe the huge advances women had made in medieval society before the Renaissance's renewal of Roman law along with Roman arts reduced women to the utter legal disenfranchisement that the 20th century really began to break down. Although the University of Hollywood impression is "medieval women were chattel, modern women are free!," the greater irony is that in many respects women today have yet to equal the status of women in the 13th or 14th centuries. I noted in passing the similar elimination of slavery in the early Christian era in Europe and its rebirth under the renaissance of Roman law as well. With her theme of hope, I talked about the impact of the Plague in her lifetime, and the waves that went through Norwich, giving a context to her challenge to God of how it was that "all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things shall be well." I also tried to highlight the rich Trinitarian nature of her spirituality, to not make the mistake of reading her repetitions as bad style, but to notice that they were consistently woven in patterns of three and that she saw this triune Presence throughout reality as richly engaged with our lives. There I noted chapters 41-43 as examples of her own complaints of the dryness of prayer, and that a society like hers that had achieved a cultural synthesis of secular and spiritual concerns was not a naive one, or one that had no struggles in maintaining some simple-minded faith in the way that moderns opine in their prejudices against the medieval. In taking her seriously as a person, we can see instead a culture that was interwoven with a rich, critical, and incredible fecund spirituality, one that might take us some imaginative effort to understand while we exist in a society were spirituality is too often reduced to illusory feeling-good-about-oneself, or advertising images of orange-swathed Buddhist monks selling us cars or real estate.

I could only wish that they had the A Lesson of Love edition of the Showings, and not the Penguin Classics one. I'm all for Penguin in most cases, but the editor's choice to lay out her language in poetic forms in A Lesson of Love was a stroke of rarely-equaled brilliance in an editor: the way it highlights and reveals the patterns in her "repetitions" that I mentioned above is one of the most illuminating treatments of a text I've ever seen. I'm delighted that it has been reprinted as a paperback: I had bought copies of the 1988 hardcover edition for people, but they were ever-increasingly hard to find. I don't know that I care for the new cover, though, shallow judge that I am....
I See You!

Personal: A Family DQE Celebration Dinner with the Sweeneys

A few nights ago, along with taking the Barnes circle out to dinner to celebrate the passing of the doctoral exams, I invited my Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill, along with high school senior, cousin Rebecca--out to dinner as well to celebrate the event. I had thought about inviting them along to the first dinner, but decided that it might be one of those occasions where you have two equally-cool groups of people who don't know one another, or the people and things the other group is talking about, and who might mix well given time, but would end up being two unmixed groups over the length of a dinner. In which case, why try to mix them? Do you know what I mean? If not, bear with me. And so I invited them to a subsequent dinner. This ended up in their insisting on taking me out to dinner, with Bill and Helen saying that I could only pay when I had a real job, and so this was their treat. Which wouldn't have happened if I hadn't invited them out to dinner in the first place, which made me feel as though I done something slightly sneaky, even though I hadn't. If you're with me thus far, great. If that didn't make sense to you, even better. You're very healthy, mentally.

So. Dinner tonight at was at a classy and small dark downtown Italian restaurant named Zarletti after its owner/chef (its OnWisconsin review from earlier this year, if you're the type who likes reading restaurant reviews). As with any gathering of the Sweeneys', the clan alone provides conversation rich enough to feast upon, and this was no exception. The only drawback is that they live a diurnal life, so I'm just feeling warmed up for a good night's talk when they decided it's time to go to bed. Food highlights: Helen went with the Osso buco that she had heard about from a friend, and thought it first-rate. I went with the Chicken Florentine that was wonderfully light given being in a cream sauce (both of these dishes, by the way, are much better described in the review I linked, above). There was a Pancetta and Lentil soup that was much more lively than its name might sound, and would (in vast quantities) would have made a fine meal by itself, to my mind. I don't remember what Bill and Becca had, although Bill, who had picked me up in the mind-numbing blasts of wind that characterize this sudden 25-degree day, ordered a Jack Daniels bourbon on the rocks when we got there. I ordered one, too, just because I realized I'd never tried it myself. I didn't care for the taste, though, and gladly switched to a Chianti for dinner. Naturally there was a great deal of conversation regarding my exams and what my dissertation project was going to be. Helen also asked an interesting question at one point--which I have yet to finish, so that's tabled until I get together with them again--about whether I as a theologian consider the language or forms or conclusions of the Council of Nicaea to be determinative or whether they could be questioned. Naturally, being a college-edjakated person, I said, "Both!" but then distracted myself in dealing with her source for the question being something she had read regarding the Nag Hammadi texts. I got overly wrapped-up in having to dispel the common nonsense written about Gnosticism in the popular press, and thus hadn't finished the question when Bill announced around 8:15 that it was time to go home. So more for that later. Becca got accepted to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and so that's pretty much that for her, being the chief school of interest for her. She is utterly majorless at this point, except for that she, like older brother Ben in his sophomore year at Ripon College, will also major in Spanish, Helen being a high school Spanish teacher who has already guided them to significant skill at this point in their lives.

And thus ended a night with family. I should grade now. Right?