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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal/Theological Notebook: Research; Erik Visits; Revisiting Notre Dame in Spirit 
5th-Jun-2011 12:22 am
Notre Dame Graduation
Seriously? It's already been another week since I last wrote in my journal? Another brief litany of current distraction:
  • I finally became finished-finished with my administrative nightmares from the end of the spring semester. That alone would justify a lost week. I am so glad to be done with it all.
  • Dived into some research reading Kevin recommended for me regarding the book project. The psychological side of it is interesting enough, but I feel like I'm almost having more of a learning experience in reading things clearly and concisely presented for a popular audience. I've been reading too much Karl Rahner this year, and there's very little that's less user-friendly than German theology, I'm afraid, which is too bad since the man is amazing.
  • Last Saturday with Erik, Tiffany and her kids was great fun. We took in the Audubon Aquarium, which is first-rate, and I saw a 3-D IMAX film on coral reefs there which was a new one for me. I had a really pleasant time meeting everyone, enjoying the sort of wide-eyed excitement from the two little ones, Zach and Maddie, who were around Haley and Sophie's ages, and thus pretty familiar in that respect, as well as having some fun conversation with Elise, who was turning eleven and getting into that stage of starting to enjoy more adult conversation. She's a gifted young songwriter, and while we were resting a bit at the hotel before dinner, she sang for me a song that she had not only recently written, but had also performed at her church, as it was written in a contemporary worship style. It was very much in the "delight in God through nature" mode, which is as contemporary as the ecological movement and as classic as the Psalms. And it was good: not good-for-an-eleven-year-old, but just plain good. Getting someone that young to sing for a man she just met could have been a huge difficulty in itself, but while she showed some of the natural shyness you would expect in the situation, she just stepped past it and shared her song with me, which was impressive in itself. So, while classic in its mode, she was creative and even occasionally daring lyrically, and in a clear and pleasant voice, sang a melody that not only was catchy in the way a good song should be, but was contemporary and catchy in a way that would lend itself to lots of different kinds of playing, whether with a solo guitar, keyboards, lots of percussion – whatever. So after she was done, I was able to tell her that I didn't just enjoy it because that was the polite thing to say, but that I had enjoyed it for all the above reasons. She seemed to take that complicated complement as well as I could have hoped for, and continued to talk music with me through dinner.
We took that in at the Hard Rock Cafe, which was her choice, as the place she wanted to go to in celebration of her birthday, and where Erik treated me to a fine dinner. So we listened to the music, watched a few of the videos on the screens, looked at the paraphernalia on the walls, and I shared a few stories of Erik as a rocker in his days with the Freeks, rather than as the liturgical musician they all know him as. I didn't get as much time talking with Tiffany as I'd hoped, given the constant ebb and flow of child management, but we talked teaching a little (she's a middle school science teacher) and the constantly-shifting topics of the sights we were seeing, the music around us, and such. I figured I'd get in more time with her the next day, when I'd accompany them to the Audubon Zoo, as well as push Erik to hear some more details on his new position. Unfortunately, their schedule kind of got away from them, and they ended up passing on the Zoo excursion. As it was, I was having one of those one-out-of-twenty situations that I have, where the single glass of wine I'd had with dinner nevertheless managed to not make me tipsy but left me horrifically hungover, and so it was all probably for the best. Erik and I caught up a bit more on the phone on Tuesday or Wednesday evening, and that just amplified the pleasure of sitting on my front porch enjoying the New Orleans air around sunset.
  • I mentioned to Erik while we were talking on the phone that I'd started reading Kevin Coyne's Domers: A Year at Notre Dame, which I had forgotten was from when that writer lived in residence on campus during Erik's freshman year. So I had just been going through the welcoming speech at Erik's orientation when he called. It's been sort of interesting to re-live a bit of this time at Notre Dame, and to so intensely try to revisit that very particular slice of time. I mentioned it to Kevin as well, who had met the writer during his time there, and thought him a good guy. But I still can't help but see all the people, stories and drama that I know of from that time, and that Coyne did not see, and does not report – the stories and lives that to me especially made Notre Dame the great place that it is – and it just reminds me all the more of just how many human stories there are, and how few we see, either through our own involvement in them, or in literature, film, or other media.
I think that this is one of the things I love most about God, really. I am particularly interested in spiritual autobiography as a literary and spiritual form, having been influenced by and having also taught such classics as Augustine's Confessions, the origin of the form, or Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love, or C.S. Lewis's Surprised By Joy. And I am, I hope in a non-narcissistic way, kind of in love with my own life and its story, as this is the only one I get to experience from "the inside," and by which I am able to extrapolate to understand other people and their own experiences and stories. So to understand that God, in His infinite nature, is able to take in and have an infinite depth of passion for all the lives and all the stories – that to me captures what it is we mean by "the Love of God."  And to know that there is an infinite Someone who holds all our stories is a real comfort and relief, because that's all too much greatness to get lost if reality were really just in the end a nihilistic oblivion or something that got meaninglessly recycled in some reincarnation mechanism.

So I'm revisiting Notre Dame in thought quite a bit right now, and I'm even toying with rereading my journals of the time, which is not something I've done in any full way. I looked at the campus on Google Earth today and I'm amazed to see how much more has changed than I'd even heard about since my last visit, which was now about five years ago. It made me want to call Kate, and make her look at Google Earth with me and just marvel in a sort of virtual walk around campus. But the Wolf Club Tree is still there, so it's not like everything's different. I've joked for years with Leslie and Jim about getting one of the nieces to defect from going to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, which is basically the family school (I being the only one not to go there), and getting her (or them) to go to Notre Dame instead. Thinking about all this, I can see a little more strongly the attraction of getting family into a "legacy" school in this way: it would be so satisfying to share all the tangibles and the intangibles of Notre Dame with someone in the family, who you could then look in the eye and exchange that sort of look that gives you the satisfaction that someone else that you love gets it.
Comments 
5th-Jun-2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Just thinking of spiritual autobiography - are you familiar with the work of Michael Plekon? His recent work has been along those lines. Most recently published is Hidden Holiness and he has another book in process (both through UND Press. Fr Michael has introduced me to some excellent memoirs. Mary Karr's "Lit", Darcy Steinke's "Easter Everywhere", Andrew Krivak's "The Long Retreat".

No teaching in the summer? Those break times are precious, een if they are filled with other kinds of work, research, writing, etc.
John
5th-Jun-2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
No, I've never heard of Plekon or the rest, actually. Any favourites among those?

I'm definitely giving the summer over to laying low here in town and diving into the research/writing side of things. With a 4/4 teaching load and designing new courses all around, there's just no time for that during the school year for me. Reading anything outside of my syllabus (much of which was new reading to me, too, along with the different work that is prepping even those texts you've already read) was always so fresh as to feel like a revelation. Any special plans for your summer?
7th-Jun-2011 04:14 pm (UTC)
Mike - Fr Michael Plekon's work is excellent. Hidden Holiness, while not itself autobiography, draws on that genre. His upcoming book is, I think, even better. Of the memoirs I listed, Krivak's "Long Retreat" is just fine. Beautifully written, an excellent account - in the long run - of vocational discernment. The read knows from the outset that Krivak did not get ordained, but it is the story of his personal development and t he process of human and religious formation that is beautifully described. Karr and Steinke are rough rides as they deal with difficult and challenging lives....but in the end there is hope. I'd add Sara Miles' "Take This Bread" as an excellent read. But - with limited time - if one had to choose just one of these books, I'd go with Krivak.

I also thought of you in regard to Stanley Hauerwas' "Hannah's Child" - especially with the ND connection. It is a good book.
John
It i s a quiet summer for me...i.e. no teaching. Fine by me.
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