Friday, February 22, 2013


These days, I'm more active here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Short Explanation

Finally remembered my password.  Glad to be back.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My German Teacher

T Jones' comments on Pandorina morum reminded me of a piece I wrote several years ago about one of my high school teachers. Here it is:

My German Teacher

"Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly." (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

We worked hard in my high school German class. Our instructor was Father Richard Cleary, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and an unusually effective teacher. I still marvel at how he got forty 15-year-olds to sit through it all: conversational drills, reading exercises, and homework every night.  Fr. Cleary's little discourses on German life and culture we counted as small respite. Yet he was able to get even the most rambunctious students to cooperate.  In the three years I had him as a teacher, I saw him give detention exactly once, and it broke his heart to do so.  He gave us his best, and we felt we could do nothing less in return.  His encouraging smile even got us very cool adolescent boys to sing "O Tannenbaum" and "Stille Nacht" every Christmas.

Not long ago I met up with Fr. Cleary again, more than twenty years later. [Note: Fr. Cleary has since died, in 2009.] He's working in an inner-city parish, gracious as ever.  I brought him a bottle of Eiswein, the special wine of the Rhine region made from grapes frozen on the vine.  We talked about his teaching days.  I asked him if he had kept his knowledge of German sharp.  Had he a flair for languages?  Had he lived or traveled in Europe, perhaps?  "Oh, that," he smiled.  "When I reported to the high school, they said they needed a German teacher. I had had some German in college, so I got the textbook out and started studying.  I managed to stay a couple of chapters ahead of you guys."  He had, in fact, spent most of his priestly career as a spiritual director.

Did I feel cheated that my beloved teacher was not a German scholar?  Far from it!  He had impressed many things on my young mind:  the necessity of order, of patient effort, of respect for others.  To work hard and joyfully at what needs to be done-- I can't think of a better expression of the message of Christ.  And I wish I had more of Fr. Cleary's spirit of service, without which the word of God would wither and die among men.  I learned all that, and-- oh, yes, a lot of German, too.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"All Writing is Curious"

Well, I recently "monetized" the blog. Money-making, advertising, etc. seems perfectly natural to me. There's no angst about "selling out." It does make me think about who I'm writing for, and, indeed, who it is that's writing. This blog started out as little more than a diary, but I didn't want it to be my mental meanderings only. I had to include something of the outer world, something that, yes, an audience, can relate to. I hope what I fling out there lands somewhere between introspection and pontification.

Anyway, today I ran across a pellucid essay by the poet Dudley Fitts. It's extensively quoted by David R. Slavitt in Re Verse: Essays on Poetry and Poets. Fitts says he writes for an imaginary audience that is "concerned, sympathetic, cultivated in [its] tastes, demanding but forgiving, witty, well read and above all a fan." This imagined audience is, in fact, his imaginary friend from childhood! I've never thought that way before, but I think he's perfectly correct. It's odd, I think, but true. But, as Fitts say, "all writing is curious."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pandorina morum

Were we not talking about microorganisms? I ran across this this morning and had to put it up, if only to accompany the painting in the last post. This is a microorganism, not abstract art, as drawn by Sister Catherine Francis Regli in her master's thesis from 1941. Drawn right into her typed thesis, in pen and ink. No place for timidity or sweaty palms. And there are 53 such illustrations, drawn with the same delicacy and precision.

Makes me think of illuminated manuscripts. Makes me think of...a lot of things. I was talking to a biology professor recently and he stated how incredibly hard it is to get students today to look into a microscope and draw--even crudely--what they are seeing. Aside from lacking all patience to do such a thing, they just don't "see," he said.

I was rather a science geek in school. Catholic kids back then saw science as a grand adventure, a peek into the mind of God. I think science requires an inherent belief in reason, order, benevolence, and a Creator. A background, if you will, for seeing. "Let there be light."

Some years ago, when I was drifting away from the Buddhist fold, after years of seeing everything as appearance, as untrustworthy, where one idea is as bootless as the next-- I took a course in Aquinas. The professor tossed out one day, almost offhandedly, "Oh, yes, the principle of identity: a thing is what it is." I felt like I had been plunged into a refreshing bath of cold water. A thing is what it is! Of course! If, that is, you believe in things, and your ability to comprehend them. If you believe the world is reasonable. If you believe...

Sister Catherine Francis, if she got her master's in 1941, was probably teaching when I was attending school. Men and women like her led me to the same fountains of faith from which she had imbibed.