Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Belief and Non-Belief

If pressed to identify my position on the faith journey, I would probably reply that I was in the abyss between hope and faith. I have long since abandoned the corner of non-belief, which is in effect the flip-side of faith, a faith-shaped hole, the negative image of faith which admits faith as an option, just as atheism admits the possibility of a god to be without.
I no longer feel that it is necessary to pin one's colours to the mast (or in my case even possible), to come out in favour of either black or white, say on the one hand yes, but on the other no. It is completely possible to hold such matters in tension and agree that one does hope that God exists, not be totally convinced that this is so, but act as if it is. Is this intellectual cowardice? No, because it is a far braver act to admit one's ignorance than blithely opt, without irrefutable evidence, for a particular stance. As Socrates stated, wisdom consists of recognising what one does not know. And I at least know that I don't know very much, but rather than let that trouble me too much, I trust that by enquiry and contemplation I will eventually bridge the abyss.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Apocalypse Again

Ruminating on my earlier post linking Advent to the pre-Apocalyptic period of trial, followed by the climax of the Big Day, it occurred to me that our lives observe a rythmn of waiting/enduring/struggling/suffering followed by relief/release/discovery.
Consider: from our earliest moments.....the egg ripens (waiting) before it bursts from the ovary (release). The sexual act (struggle?) culminates in orgasm (relief/release). Pregnancy (waiting) and birth (struggle) brings forth new life (relief/discovery). Childhood is followed naturally by adulthood. Death follows the self-same process, we either die after a life unpunctuated by illness (waiting), after a terminal illness (suffering/enduring), or following trauma (struggle/suffering) which may be protracted or brief, inflicted by others or ourselves . Which begs the question, do we achieve simple passive relief/release at the moment of death, or is there a moment of revelation, an unveiling, apokalupsis, when all that has preceded finally falls into place and we begin a new ascent murmuring " I see......"?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wikipedia etc. etc.

Oh for heaven's sake why shouldn't a student use Wikipedia as a study tool? I completely agree that it shouldn't itself be cited as a reference, being mostly derivative, but as a first port of call, as a springboard for deeper enquiry it is excellent! The quality of content is uneven, but it doesn't take an expert eye to detect shabby scholarship. Some of the historical and theological pages are superbe and the array of cross references and links make it possible to find inroads into a subject that may have previously seemed impregnable. If anything, Wikipedia encourages the enquiring mind. I have used it many times for an overview on an unfamiliar topic. By judiciously noting down cited works and authors, I have equipped myself with enough material to go to the university library and start looking in depth at the subject. Wikipedia can be an enormous timesaver. For the naive there are warnings about impartiality and bias issues, so forewarned is forearmed. Used well it is a valuable tool, so I say to the academic nay-sayers " Get out of your ivory towers and show students how to use it properly!"

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Shortening of Days

There is something about this time of year that I love: the sense of the year's dying underpinned by the anticipatory tingle of Christmas. I feel energised, organised, almost elated by a sense of purpose that defies rational expectation. I write lists, co-ordinate and tidy my workspace, books and papers. I am filled with hope.
It is very fitting, then, that I have started to take a deep interest in apocalyptic literature. That too looks forward to the future overturning of the established order, the perishing of the temporal in a furnace of renewal.
It is generally considered that this genre, particularly the Jewish apocalyptic writings, were developed during periods of oppression and hopeless servitude and that it represents a distant hope that all will come to good despite present indications. I am of the opinion that this may not be true - it seems to me that apocalyptic may be the product of an age that has become complacent and morally lazy and seeks to sting the reader into considering 'the bigger picture' rather that present comfort. This appears to be equally true of the NT Apocalypse of John, written circa 100AD. As Christianity became established and spread, the shock value of the new teachings settled to regularity and acceptance, much the same as the Sunday churchgoer who attends out a sense of duty and habit, but no longer examines his/her faith or motives.
'Revelation' (for that is what the Greek verb 'apokaluptw' means, to reveal/take away a veil) comes as a clarion call to look to those things that need doing NOW, so that we are prepared for the Big Day ahead.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mrs Strange

I find myself greatly affect'd by the scribblings of Lady Susanna ________ , whose account of the intercourse between Faerie and England I have at this moment upon my night stand. It is proving to be an enlightening volume and one which I find utterly charming, particularly in its language, which is both archaic and elegant. It is not the sort of book that I should generally chuse as my evening's companion, but I am finding it to be absorbing nontheless. The very conceit that there remain transactions between our land and that of Faerie may be utterly ridiculous to some, but I am surprized that I find the notion tolerably logical given the amount of literature that comes down to us from various sources. That magicians should be called upon to aid and abet HM Government seems to me both sensible and wise, for those in power are in the main incapable of any sort of imagination and foresight, which those with a tolerable amount of magical skill could amply supply using mirrors, incantations &c &c. There seems to be some evidence indeed that England's Rugby team spent many guineas to procure a most satisfactory result against our antipodean cousins, although I detect'd some evidence of the spells waning effect as the end-minutes approach'd.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On the Death of Trees

Along one of the surburban streets where I regularly walk, there is a garden wherein stood a wonderful pine tree.


Sunday it was there, but this morning it was not. It was a handsome tree, of what variety, I am not sure. Its cones were small and compact, its needles of the deepest green, such that gazing up into its heights was akin to looking into a mysteriously dark cocoon. A pair of wood pigeons nested on the topmost branches. My daughter and I admired this tree, which must have been around fifty years of age judging by the girth of the trunk. The regularity of its branches suggested its supreme suitability for the siting of a tree-house, and we discussed the theoretical possibilities for the construction thereof, and spoke of our desire to have such a tree in our garden. Now alas, it is gone, so totally that I had to look twice to assure myself of its demise, which was revealed by the footprint of its trunk sawn off precisely at ground level. A few pine-needles scattered the verge nearby, evidencing to the tree-surgeons precise butchery.
There was probably a sound reason why the land-owners has this tree removed - the ingress of roots into the house's foundations, the obscuration of light, but I mourn this tree's death. It was wonderful of its type, and I feel sad that it's gone. I feel the dryad's shudder at the touch of the chainsaw.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Student days

I actually like living in an area where there is a large proportion of students. I like their cheerfulness and apparent energy. I also like the fact that they are a transient population, so they never get too annoying with their thoughtlessly noisy nocturnal habits and careless parking. Sometimes I feel that I'm living in a time-lapse film: they arrive with parents; unpack; leave for uni.; come home; party; have friends over; celebrate; pack up; leave with parents - then it all starts over again in September! A constant source of amusement is to watch the freshers buying up stocks of 'real' CocaCola, Heinz beans, McVities digestives, Fairy washing-up liquid at the beginning of the academic year and gradually watch these choices being exchanged for supermarket own-brand items by its end. Ah me! You can't put a fiscally old head on optimistic young shoulders.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Is my baby perfect? Probably not....

OMG! I'm SO proud of my new baby! It's A4, green and beautiful! But as yet I've not had the overwhelming desire to check it all over for flaws and blemishes, to count its metaphorical toes to ensure that all is present and correct. In fact, I am exceedingly reluctant to open the front cover and start to read the words that its taken me the best part of a year to write. Why is that, I wonder? Well, like all those people who are reluctant to go to the doctor just in case he/she finds something REALLY wrong with them, I am terrified that on reading my magnum opus it turns out to be complete and utter drivelly, illogical CRAP! Now that I excercise no editorial power over it, I am loath to be confronted by my own inadequacies. All I can do is let go out into the world and, like one's corporeal children, hope it fares well.....or at least, not fall flat on its face.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Facebook. How exciting! But how revealing it is to think about friendships and interests when one generally take these things for granted......and how it can knock preconceptions for six and strip away your fondly held conceits. Like blogging, I suppose it is really an exercise in vanity, you holds a mirror up to yourself and see....what? Something less than you had previously thought was there, a more spectral personality, rendered down into words. Is this the true me? One that can be summed up so briefly?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nostalgia and Melancholy

I was struck today (whilst walking the dog) by a severe sense of melancholy. Something about the decreasing elevation of the morning sun, the coolness of the air, the sudden thought that, as the buddleia was now past its best, I would probably not see many more butterflies this year. I am entering a state of mental inertia. There are no crisp new textbooks or timetables for me to consult this year, just a few desultory anticlimactic wrap-up meetings to attend, some dull administrative tasks that ensure my thesis is delivered on time. I remember the profound sense of anticipation, tinged with a whiff of fear, that surrounded my entry into full-time university education three years ago, an excitement that took me right back to the misty, blackberried September mornings of newly-uniformed bepencilled childhood. But all that has passed now. I knew it was a very special golden time granted to me, somewhat belatedly, but intensely welcomed all the same. Looking back, even knowing that I really did squeeze the most out of it that I possibly could, I think I could enjoy it even better now if I were to live those years again.
Will I feel like this as I approach old age and death?
Seize the day. I did, and it still slipped through my fingers. Friends move on, to jobs, distant colleges, new lands. I feel like the Cumaean Sibyl, doomed to immortality by Apollo without eternal youth, watching the world from her cave, knowing that she can never fully participate in it, nor leave it. Time moves on and despite my nostalgically longing backwards gaze, must carry me with it to a new place.
'If idly lost, no art nor care,
The Blessing can restore
And Heav'n extracts a strict account
Of ev'ry mispent hour.'

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dusts off hands...

Alexander McCall Smith writes in 'Love Over Scotland' that producing a PhD is 'like having a baby that one promptly gives away' which made me chuckle. If this is the case then producing an MA is approximately the same, but the pregnancy is of a shorter duration! Having collated all the various sections and printed them off, I was rather disappointed to find out that the postage to the prof. (first- class) was a mere £1.42. Not that my baby was underweight: Oh no! It eventually totalled approximately 38,000 words - almost a third longer than it should have been. Hence the relegation of a portion of the text to complementary appendices. Fingers crossed it will draw admiring coos from Those Who Matter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

O Enkidu, my brother....

Ooh ooh! Akkadian! there's a language to have on your CV if ever there was one! So we'll start after thesis hand-in date....i.e. late September. I've always fancied learning cuneiform, but am a bit doubtful about the literature that this will unlock. I've got a feeling it's more of an 'accounting' language like Linear wassname, so we might eventually be able to unravel a few king-lists or fathom out the contents of the royal granaries rather than translate previously untranslated epic poetry. Wasn't Gilgamesh written in Akkadian? I love that epic, especially when the selfish bull-in-a-chinashop hero mourns Enkidu.....three thousand years old and still has the power to move:
' O Enkidu, my brother,
You were the axe at my side,
My hand's strength, the sword in my belt,
The shield before me,
A glorious robe, my fairest ornament'

'He touched his heart but it did not beat, nor did he lift his eyes again. When Gilgamesh touched his heart it did not beat. So Gilgamesh laid a veil, as one veils a bride, over his friend.'

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Word-limits suck!

The sun being high in the sky, we went off to catch grasshoppers in the short scrubby grass near the university. Having marvelled over their speed and agility we released them and walked home before the sun started to burn us. Still no word from the Prof. I am loathe to start pruning my thesis to get it within the word count until I get the go-ahead from him. But, in truth, I don't want to trim it back at all! It does what it says on the tin 'A textual commentary on the variants contained within the NA27 apparatus criticus': if I hack bits out it won't BE that anymore and I'll feel I've compromised my dissertation to conform to some arbitrary word-limit! None of it is padding: it's solid, logical, point A to point B reasoning. Nothing is superfluous. Everything is covered in a terse scholarly style. So I'm fretting and watching the dealine for hand-in getting closer and closer....

Monday, August 6, 2007

General moaning.

The school holidays are just no good. Trying to amuse bored children on a shoe-string in indifferent weather is exhausting and leaves you feeling limper than a dead lettuce. Add to that mix a grumpy 22-year old who should have moved out LONG ago, a thesis that is just sitting there WAITING for final comments from an absentee supervisor (the clock is REALLY ticking now) and all the crap of hot-flushes/cold sweats/high blood pressure......Well, I've just had it. Fortunately the eldest is at work and the middle has been whisked away for the day by some cousins, so that just leaves the boy to amuse. But where can I fit in some study-time? And what should it be? Editing? Hebrew? And I promised myself I'd brush up on some Italian, but the CDs are about an hour's-worth each and we're going away a week today, so there's a pile of stuff to wash, iron and what's the betting I don't fit into any of my 'holiday clothes'. No doubt the husband will start stressing about flying soon and go into one of his gloomy silent phases. Bollocks. I'm off out.....

Friday, August 3, 2007

Biblical Hebrew

Well, the Biblical Hebrew is coming on quite nicely. Having taken most of the year of to attempt to learn Arabic (with limited success), I decided that Hebrew was probably going to be more immediately beneficial to my future studies (although I will have to look into Aramaic at some point). Plus, having used a number of Hebrew words in my thesis, I was somewhat alarmed to find that the letters were looking less and less familiar every time that I read them. My original textbooks were by Menahem Mansoor and certainly got me off the starting blocks, but on my return to studying the language I purchased 'Learn to Read Biblical Hebrew' by Jeff Benner in conjunction with the Ancient Hebrew Research Center ( It's an excellent book that is taking me right back to basics and teaching me some additional useful stuff along the way. It's a very satisfying feeling when a language becomes more than a collection of foreign-looking signs and words become apparent before you very eyes. It's good to get to grips with ancient texts at an early stage too - it inspires you to continue and become familiar with more and more. I remember the thrill of learning ancient Greek. It reminds me of those 'magic' paint-books you could buy when I was a kid: from a blank page, great wonders are revealed. Coptic is also on the cards.

All over bar the shouting.

Having spent most of the last year sitting in front of my computer, curtains partially drawn to avoid screen glare, I emerge blinking from my book-stacked 'study'. I cannot believe that I have completed the bulk of the writing on my research MA, a textual commentary on the Greek text of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. The draft is sitting on my desk and, aside from polishing up the introduction, abstract and conclusion, it's all over bar the shouting.
Just as well really - the family holiday happens in ten days time and there's no chance that I'll take anything even remotely related to my thesis away with me......or will I? Because I am, I suspect, like many scholars in that I am loathe to let go of something that has occupied my daylight hours for a very long time. My thesis has become my fifth child, the silent reproachful one that sits and waits for me to pick it up. I have become very protective of it and want it to be the best that it can be. So if I read an entire book on a related topic and garner just one quote to add to my magnum opus, it's got to be worth it, hasn't it? Then why not read two? Why stop at many books so little time. Oh get over it, will you? Just pack the Dan Brown.