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Personal/Theological Notebook: Julian; Stoicism; Mickey and Luther; Family Birthdays and Carthage

The students seemed to be having a largely uniform positive reaction to reading Julian of Norwich – those that did the first reading: I had an abnormally large number not do the reading, resulting in an abnormal amount of absurd answers to their quiz question on the material – and I was pleased to see how they were running with the material. I had them read the first 12 chapters of the Long Text of the Showings. There was the kind of environmentalist ethics take on some of the aspects of her "hazelnut" vision that I would assume and hope they would have, but also a number comments taking her in different directions. There were particularly interesting lines of conversation on the fragility and contingency of human life that intrigued and pleased me. I'm hoping to see that more of them are on task, though, for tomorrow's reading, which is chapters 27, 32 (building on the famed "All will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing shall be well" line she receives from God, which she thinks almost inexplicable in this world of trouble) and chapter 51, with its highly developed vision/allegory of the Master and the Servant.

Office hours were quiet today and, as I grabbed some beef and vegetable soup for a late lunch while I was there, I pulled down a book from Barnes' collection to read while I ate, since I can't do any "serious reading" while eating (as "serious" reading involves using a pen). I saw a title on Stoic psychology that grabbed my eye, having become much more aware of how Stoic thinking influenced early Christianity and my own thought through those writers and through some classical literature directly, as I studied history. These turned out to be the 1997 Gifford Lectures, a volume called Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation by one Richard Sorabji from Kings College, London. I hadn't heard of the book before, but it seemed sensible and direct and was great fun to read anything that wasn't for my own class or for my dissertation. I read two chapters, one in the middle more directly oriented toward the pagan Stoic authors themselves and then a later one discussing the absorption of the Stoic ideal of emotional management or "indifference" (to use that word in a very qualified and technical way) and its adaptation to Christian forms, where the relation to emotion – Love, for example – had to be modified before such apatheia could be considered a human ideal.

So I wanted to make a "note to self" about looking more closely at the text some time in the future. From my coursework here at Marquette, I came to appreciate, as I said, the far-ranging influence of Stoic thought both in antiquity and in my own thought. Much of what in Augustine has long been glibly identified as NeoPlatonism in his thought is actually Stoic, following in the mode of Cicero, the writer who had converted the young Augustine to the lifetime pursuit of wisdom we call Philosophy. And so I've come to have an increasing sympathy for kesil's self-conscious identification as a Stoic Christian, which just isn't a designation one hears nowadays.

Mickey and I happened to be walking the same way today as I was leaving from my office hours, and ended up talking for the next few hours, through giving his eldest son rides to and from a quick work shift and a good sit with drinks over at Alterra on Prospect. It was up in the low 70s for the first time today, sunny with a pretty strong wind, and it was good to get out to enjoy it. The last few days – finally without some annoying sniffle, cough, itch, ache, or any other kind of bug after three months' such drudgery – I've felt like a young god in comparison, and so it was fabulous to enjoy the freedom of spring, the warmth, and the cool refreshment of a fresh lemonade while we talked of academic life, of Luther as currently presented by Lutherans, the politics of identity, comparing problems in contemporary tendencies for Lutheranism and Judaism to be oppositional identities – defining themselves as over and against some other group: "not Catholic," "not Christian" – whether Julian of Norwich's "Christ as Mother" language was just descriptive of the economy (a metaphor for what Christ did) or whether the language was intended as describing something in the nature of the Trinity itself, and whether there was a real use for the human family as a model for the Trinitarian life. (Ancients and Medievals said "no," seeing it as a kind of naive biblical literalism regarding things like "Father and Son" language, or too misleading for its differences from the divine life in the human family being gendered, generational, causal, and the like.) Anyway, Mickey and I hadn't had a chance to hang in a long time – it's been nearly two years since I was his teaching assistant – and so it was fun to just catch up like this, to talk shop and what's the news with each of us.

History – personal or family history – keep rattling around in my brain. The previous few days were birthdays of the family members I've had the least chance to get to know: the 14th was the 101st of Grandpa Sweeney, the County Sligo teenage immigrant who died when I was only one, and who I therefore don't remember except through what stories I've gotten from people, and the 15th of my niece Sophia, who is now one year old herself and has only said "Hi!" and "Hey!" to me. (She's said those enthusiastically, I might say, though I've also gotten several looks from her that I'd guess translate best to "Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house?!") So that's a relationship with plenty of room for development, and we'll be celebrating her first birthday with the traditional bash this Saturday.

And of course I've had more good memories today as I've been thinking a lot of my "ten years ago" trip with Erik over the course of the last several days. Ten years ago today was our spectacular day exploring the ruins of ancient Carthage: starting on the high central hill now dominated by the no-longer functioning Cathedral of Saint Louis, to the ruins of the Basilica of Cyprian of Carthage, the layout of the streets and buildings of Roman Carthage, to excavated Punic settlements, the military seaport, the Amphitheatre of the Martyrs where Perpetua, Felicitas, Saturus and their friends were killed, and the Theatre of Carthage where Augustine felt he wasted too much of his youth. A cavalcade of glories and insights. Sunset came in the beautiful seaside town of Sidi Bou Said, and I look back now and can't imagine how I could have been so satiated at the end of it all.

Another one of the "Moments That Justify My Life."

All the images were at a boil in my head, and on my taped journal I was already starting to mumble lines built around my missing the girl I was dating at the time, and wishing she could see what I was seeing, under the phrase/question "Why does the world make me think of you?" I thought that that was a fairly universal experience, and one I could build on. All of that would come together on the flight home over the North Atlantic on the back of a Roman ATM slip, with Erik watching over my shoulder and offering good criticisms, as my song "Tunisian Blue." (Now available on iTunes! Sorry. I was contractually obligated to do that. For all three of you.)

Tags: augustine, books, class-theology through the centuries, family, friends-marquette era, friends-notre dame era, historical, judaism, julian of norwich, martin luther, medieval studies, moments that justify my life, musical, mysticism/spirituality, patristics, personal, philosophical, photography, psychological, sophia, teachers, theological notebook, travel-1998 rome/tunisia, trinity
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