George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish clergyman and writer who profoundly influenced the fiction and non-fiction works of C.S. Lewis. One of Lewis’s lesser-known publications is an edited collection of MacDonald’s writings: the book can be hard to find in print now, but a dear friend gifted my a copy of it two years ago, offering me a valuable 'guided tour' of MacDonald's profound, if at times abstruse, writings on life and faith.
As 2019 has come to a close, and a new decade is beginning, I have been thinking about a poem by Emily Dickinson - one of my favourites, for its enigmatic imagery and its expression of longing: 'I did not reach Thee'. Here is the first stanza (you can read the whole thing here):
I did not reach Thee
But my feet slip nearer every day
Three Rivers and a Hill to cross
One Desert and a Sea
I shall not count the journey one
When I am telling thee.
Last weekend in Oxford saw the second of this year's Developing a Christian Mind conferences - an annual pair of events inviting postgraduate students to consider and deepen the intersection of their academic work with Christian faith. 'Seeking Wisdom' is split into multiple disciplinary streams (this year, Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Philosophy & Theology) to enable more specific conversations to take place on how Christians think and work in particular academic fields.
Guest blogger Audrey Southgate reflects on lessons drawn from studying a morally problematic figure.
In his recent post ‘Forays into finance’, Richard reflected on the challenges of institutional sin in his new context of the financial sector: an industry governed by forces which seem to tend towards exploitation of others, manifesting sin beyond the personal to the societal level.
But, of course, you don’t need to be in finance to recognise the way human institutions can be a force for evil. This concept of sin is easily recognisable to those in academia, too.
This review is reprinted with permission (and some additional material) from The Glass, the journal of the Christian Literary Studies Group (issue 30, Spring 2018). See other selected articles and more information about the journal and Group here: www.clsg.org.
Does academic work matter? This is a question most academics come up against at some point in their career, and in day to day life: while most of us at least started because we love our subjects, everyday work in the lab or the library can be monotonous and frustrating, sometimes seeming pointless. At the same time, academic culture often encourages us to make our identity as intellectuals into an idol, and this makes any doubt or difficulty feel like a personal failure.
In the week after Easter I had the privilege of travelling to the Republic of Macedonia to take part in a conference on 'The Bible and Literature'. It was co-hosted by the Macedonian Academy of the Sciences and Arts - a research university in the capital city of Skopje - and the Balkan Institute for Faith and Culture, a Christian organisation seeking to engage with academic circles and promote interfaith discussions in Macedonia and surrounding areas.
‘Oh, you’re thinking of doing English at university? You’ll have to be careful about that. A lot of people lose their faith.’
I was seventeen. I had been a Christian for several years, and I had loved books for much longer. I was doing two English A-Levels and thoroughly enjoying them, and I had just moved past a period of crippling doubt in God – the first I had experienced – into a steadier, more confident faith.
Today I want to talk about a poem.
Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.