Showing posts from July, 2008

Prayer is...*

Based on conversations I've been having, there would seem to be a difference of opinion on what the subject of my blog actually is. Not fencing, we've defined that. But prayer. By way of elucidation, here are a few answers that I've found in the sources I'm working with. I'm sure there are more.

" [intimate] conversation of the intellect (nous) with God." --Evagrius Ponticus (d. 399), Chapters on Prayer, cap. 3

"...[brings about] a turning of the heart to [God], who is ever ready to give, if we will but take what He has given; and in the very act of turning there is effected a purging of the inner eye, inasmuch as those things of a temporal kind which were desired are excluded, so that the vision of the pure heart may be able to bear the pure light, divinely shining, without any setting or change: and not only to bear it, but also to remain in it; not merely without annoyance, but also with ineffable joy, in which a life truly and sincer…

Matthew 10:34-39

I've been thinking about this passage a lot lately, wondering why it is that of all the people in the world who know me, it is only, apparently, my family to whom my faith (or search there for) seems to present a difficulty. For everyone else--colleagues, students, friends, fellow fencers, whether Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or atheist--the fact that I am a Christian is no more remarkable than my white hair (at age 43, no less) or my fencing. It is simply a part of who I am. Sometimes, to be sure, they see it as an invitation to further discussion, for which I am, of course, glad. And, occasionally, there are those who see my hair and ask why I don't color it ("You have such a young face, you shouldn't be gray!"), or others who question my choice of sport ("Isn't that a bit aggressive?"). But for the most part, thank John Stuart Mill*, they recognize my faith as of a piece with my hair color and my hobbies: not as a challenge to their choices to…

Sapientia Corporis

So my sister sent me the link to this YouTube video, and I've been watching it on and off all day as I sat at my desk making lists of manuscripts. It's called "Strength in Poland." [Although, as I've now learned, the men are actually from Hungary and their act is called "Golden Power."] If you haven't seen it yet, go look.

Amazing, aren't they? The first time I watched them, I started feeling impatient. Why were they moving so SLOWLY? The next time I started to realize how truly amazing it was that they could stay so STILL, almost as if they weren't moving at all. The third (or maybe fourth) time I started watching the breath on the man who is doing the lifts (look at his stomach) and realized for all his stillness how very hard he is working. There is a good reason that the YouTube post has the title that it does: that opening lift must take enormous strength for how slowly they go; much more so than the equally impressive but rather …

The Joy of Lists

I'm getting ready for a trip that I am taking to England next week, which means, of course, that I am making lots of lists: things to remember to pack, things to take care of before I leave, books to bring, music to put onto my iPod, libraries that I want to visit, manuscripts (particularly books of Hours) that I want to see, places that I want to go, people that I am going to want to look up. This is a lot of lists and might seem like a burden to be getting on with. But, in fact, it is remarkably pleasurable. There is something extremely satisfying about a list. I know that I am hardly the first to notice this about lists. There's even a song about it. And I'm sure I've read articles about the theory and meaning of lists.* But they fascinate nevertheless. What is it about a list that makes it so compelling?

I've been keeping a list on my iPod of blog posts to be. Some of these I think that I have already written (they tend to change as I write, so I may co…

Prayer for the Day

Hodie si vocem ejus audieritis, nolite obdurare corda vestra, sicut in exacerbatione secundum diem tentationis in deserto: ubi tentaverunt me patres vestri, probaverunt, et viderunt opera mea.
Dominus tecum.

Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness; where your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works.
The Lord is with thee.

O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
The Lord is with you.

--Matins for the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Invitatory Psalm 94 (Gallican Psalter of St. Jerome; Douay-Rheims translation); cf. Psalm 95:7-9 (NRSV)

“Isn't that a bit narrow?"

It is difficult to describe how heart-constricting this question is for a scholar at my university. It is, in a word, the single most damning thing that someone can impute of another's work, suggesting at a stroke not only that one's material is uninteresting, but, even worse, that it is insignificant, irrelevant to the Big Questions that Real Scholars should be asking themselves. Having struggled for eight years to transform my dissertation ("narrowly" focused on the way in which the Song of Songs was used in praise of the Virgin Mary for the better part of seven hundred years) into a Big Book (physically, at least; almost 700 pages) on the origins of the early and high medieval European devotion to the Virgin Mary and her son Christ, I had thought myself at long last immune to this question. Naively, as it turns out. There I was this spring at a reception for some of our graduating seniors talking to one of my colleagues about the work that I hoped to accompli…


Sitting in church yesterday morning, I started to think about how I would explain what I believe to my friends and family who are not Christians. The obvious place to start would seem to be the creed, that is, the trinitarian description of God as the creator who became incarnate, died and rose again for the salvation of humanity and then sent His Holy Spirit upon those who believed in Him, but this is rather like describing the point of fencing as hitting one's opponent with the tip of a metal stick. It is true, but almost laughably inadequate as an account of everything that makes attempting that action meaningful and worth years, perhaps even a lifetime, of practice.

Yes, from the outside, all that seems to be happening in fencing is that two people are moving backwards and forwards along a narrow strip of ground, taking turns extending their arms towards each other while holding said sticks, sometimes hitting those sticks together, at other times landing the points of the sti…

Into the Desert*

Some of you who are not fencers, maybe even some of you who are, may be wondering why, if fencing puts me through agonies such as I have been describing this past week, I do it at all. Surely there are more pleasant ways to spend my leisure time, if what I am looking for is a little fun. Why bring myself to the strip over and over again, night after night, year after year, if all I encounter there are the demons of pride, envy, gluttony, anger, lust, sloth and greed? Well, as the desert fathers who invented this list of deadly sins (more accurately, temptations) would put it, because that is where the demons are. How else will I learn to fight them?

I know, this may sound paradoxical. Why put myself in the way of temptation when, by avoiding the strip, I could so easily maintain my calm? Or could I? I would, of course, like to think I could, but then, how would I know unless I were brought to the test, for example, by having to stand in a long line at the airport waiting to hear …

Ego Death

Yes, I'm still disappointed with myself. Last year, the week after I did so poorly at Nationals, I decided to get my navel pierced, in part because I'd just spent ten days in Miami Beach and had seen how many women (and men!) have had their tummies done and so was thinking, "Why not? My tummy is surely as good as theirs"; in part because I wanted something that I could change about who I was. And, of course, because I think it looks cool. This year, now that the piercing is fully healed,[1] I'm shopping for navel jewelry, but everythingI like comes in diamonds and I'm not sure I can persuade my husband that we can afford (sigh) more bling right at this moment. I'm not really interested in getting a tattoo and I don't have any more body parts I'm eager to pierce [2], so I'm thrust back upon my blog and trying to think my way out of the paper bag that is my ego-self. But, oh, how I wish there was something else I wanted to have pierced, how…

Sound of One Bear Fencing

Zen has nothing on fencing for mind-bending paradoxes. Sometimes I think my coaches are doing it deliberately, but then, I'm really not sure. Maybe that's part of the practice, to present students with apparently irreconcilable nuggets of wisdom, like koans with which the students are expected to struggle until enlightenment dawns. Or maybe they're just trying to drive me crazy.

For example: "You have to want to win" (suggesting that your desire should be unflinching). But, on the other hand: "Don't be afraid to lose" (suggesting that you should not be fixed on winning because that will distract you from the action at hand).

Or: "Set it up" (meaning, entice your opponent into making the action that you want her to so that you can take advantage of her). But, on the other hand: "Don't think so much, just go."

Or: "Patience" (meaning, don't just push; give yourself time to gauge your opponent's actions; wait…