Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thankful: An Ordinarily Absurd Thursday

When I walk out of my office on Thursday afternoons, I usually see something like this: 

This photo is actually a smaller-than-usual meeting of the Thursday Club, a group of students and faculty who meet each week to share poetry we have written or discovered.

Thursday Club is, like many things that happen at a small liberal-arts college, unnecessary. Superfluous. Frivolous.  Financially unprofitable.

Some might see meetings such as this as decadent, or, more charitably, as a luxury enjoyed by privileged people who aren't burdened with more important work to do. That "more important work" could be anything from wage earning to evangelism to feeding the hungry. Such an attitude, however, would miss the point of Thursday Club, and of the countless other absurdly beautiful things that happen at a place such as this.

Because of course we are burdened--with deadlines, with family sorrows, with global anxieties. We have work to do--academic, professional, domestic, missional. We have bills and tests, dependents and superiors, vocations and commissions.

And yet, we remind each other that the study of truth, beauty, and goodness is, in the final sense, not decadent at all. Reading a poem in the cool November air and the bright November sun, we learn to believe the consolation the archangel Michael gives Adam when announcing mankind's exile from Paradise. In Book 11 of Milton's Paradise Lost, Michael assures Adam that

"...this pre-eminence [in Eden] thou hast lost, brought down
To dwell on even ground now with thy sons:
Yet doubt not but in valley and in plain
God is, as here, and will be found alike
Present, and of his presence many a sign
Still following thee, still compassing thee round
With goodness and paternal love..."

I am thankful to work and live in a place where, on an ordinary Thursday, my friend Steve reads an ancient poem--the Old English "Dream of the Rood"--while his student Will plays an Anglo-Saxon lyre they built together. It might seem absurd--it might seem a scandal--but it is very good, and I give thanks for it today.


  1. Aw, thanks. I like being associated with Milton.

    And yes, poetry is gratuitous in the best sense of the word. In fact, I'm starting to think that most academic disciplines are, at their core, a form of play. Some are just more obviously playful than others. When we speak of "liberal" arts, we are not just distinguishing them from the "servile" arts practiced by the slave, but we are implying that they are expressions of our human freedom.

    -Steve S.

  2. I can't believe that any time spent in true joy can ever be called "wasted". (Also wondering: Where do lyres go when they die?)