The Moment Spring Arrived

A spring scene on the Hilltop

March finally departed like a lion just the way it came in. It roared for 31 days and we do not miss it. For me spring began in one single ethereal moment. I was in New York City participating in the Renaissance Society of America. On Saturday afternoon my wife and shook our weary heads at the rain, put up umbrellas and escaped into Central Park, leaving the bustle and jack hammers of Sixth Avenue behind. It wasn’t long before we met a familiar old friend in bronze, he of the great forehead whose 450th birthday is in this new month. We forged on the paths, dodging puddles and steadily increasing sheets of rain, when just north of the Bethesda fountain we heard the ethereal sound of ethereal singing coming through the mist from . . . somewhere. And at that moment it might as well have been heaven.  Like many before us we descended the stairs and stumbled upon the source of the improbable and serene voices that were echoing from the underground pavilion north of the fountain: The Boyd Family Singers.

Not from heaven, but as close as one could get at that moment in wet shoes in Central Park.

In Conversatio we have been reading Joseph Pieper’s Only the Lover Sings.  “Music,” he says, “opens a path into the realm of silence . . . it imitates the impulses of the soul.” It is one thing to read such words, and quite another to experience them in a surprising moment among familiar strangers in a cold rain on a day of reluctant spring when even Shakespeare in bronze seemed chilled.

Had you been there and heard them, had you seen the Boyd family in their jackets calmlyadn soulfully singing their praises to God in a near empty park, you would have understood how very right Pieper is: “Cest l’amour qui chante,” love alone knows how to sing.”

Snow Starts to Silence Another Semester's End

Every student and teacher I know speaks of being buried this time of year. They mean books and papers and exams of course, but when steady blankets of snow move in as they have this week, it is not only an apt metaphor, but a physical quieting of the season’s inevitable frantic bustle. My own weariness at semester’s end is mixed with an abundance of gratitude for all the work that I have been able to complete and all that I have left unfinished, and the small share I have been able to have in the lives of students who leave from their exams and head for home.  

One of my final tasks of the semester was to deliver the final lecture to freshmen in the new Conversatio program. I was responsible for introducing them to the writings of St. Anselm and his words at the start of his prologue to the Proslogion. Follow me now as I make my way through the new fallen snow to Christmas morning:

Come now, insignificant man, leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares, and set aside your wearisome tasks. Make time for God and rest a while in him. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind; shut out everything except God and what is of aid to you in seeking Him; after closing the chamber door, seek Him out.”

Smile, You're in Conversatio

Conversatio students and faculty in front of Saint Augustine statue.

“How can anyone suffer an unhappy life by the will, when absolutely no one wills to be unhappy?”

This small human mystery posed by Saint Augustine is just one of the questions we have pondered each Tuesday and Thursday morning this semester at 8:30 in our Conversatio seminar. The debut of the College’s new humanities program has taken us from the stage of Antigone to the dungeon with Boethius and Lady Philosophy, and then off across the country and "Into the Wild." We have sampled "The Desert Fathers" and read "The Rule of St. Benedict."

Now as we whirl from "The Gospel of John" to the "Bhagavad Gita," we step into the darkening days of November with new thoughts about the ways of life in which individuals and communities through the ages have sought happiness, pursued truth, and understood the divine. A few weeks ago we met Fr. Mathias at the statue of St. Benedict to begin our tour of the monastery. Suddenly it seemed a moment worth capturing for posterity. Someone seeing the picture asked me, “Are your students always that happy at 8:30 in the morning?” I thought about Saint Augustine and his puzzle about the human will and human unhappiness.

“Almost always,” I replied.