Depth in the Shallows

Month: October, 2016

You’re Fired!


Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015), was a prolific British author largely known for his famed Discworld series of forty-one fantasy novels. Combining quirky characters and wicked wit, Pratchett created a universe of the scientific, the strange and the silly. But always lurking below the surface are zany observations and truths that give his books staying power. In this novel, the twenty-first of the series, Pratchett explores numerous themes, both scientific and social. And as always, he does it with humor.

The quote below is a funny riff on the old “feed a man a fish” bit. But think about it. Many times in our lives, we are warmed by a person, place, or experience. For those who are awake to life, not deadened by routine and technology, who are on fire with wonder, the fire is always burning. And near the end, as our flame diminishes, we still burn hot. In that, we continue to be a source of light and heat for all, even after our death. I must advise, as to Pratchett’s quote, do not try it at home.


“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”


Of Arms And The Man

A Man At Arms

European Etchings Of John Taylor Arms

American etcher, John Taylor Arms (1887-1953), studied architecture and law before settling into a career as a graphic artist. Known primarily as an etcher of the Gothic Revival in art and architecture in the early 20th century, Arms reached the height of his power in a series of etchings of Gothic churches in Europe. He began by sketching a cathedral on paper and taking notes. Arms then spent hundreds, often thousands, of hours etching the image onto a copper plate with a fine tip sewing needle. He then made prints in ink (he occasionally used aquatint). Arms captured intricate details in each piece. The best way to view one of his prints is with a magnifying glass. You will have a new appreciation for his work.

Arms believed Gothic art and architecture united both form and faith. Ben Bassham said, “Arms believed art consisted of two elements–spiritual meaning and technique. He never doubted that the spiritual content was the most important…”

The image below is called In Memoriam. It is the north portal of Chartres Cathedral, “the most perfect part of the most perfect church in the world,” according to the artist. Arms etched the image in memory of his mother-in-law. I’d say he liked her very much.





Finding Wonder In A World Bored By Entertainment

The Philosophical Act by Josef Pieper

Ever wonder? I mean truly wonder? To see something, to think something, as if for the first time? To see something in its common strangeness.  To slow down in mind and body, and engage the fullness of your senses in the moment and place? To simply be as you see a thing and wonder that it is? This is a poor attempt to get at wonder. In the Catholic tradition, wonder (and awe) is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But you needn’t be Catholic to wonder. You need only be human (although I reserve the argument that to be the latter truly is to be the former).

Why wonder? It is at the essence of our being. It is what Man is made for, to wonder at all that was made for Man. There are times when I see a tree, I mean really see it. I understand what it is, how it forms, how it interacts with other trees, and how it is fitted into the rest of nature. But the longer I really look, the stranger the tree is. The less any knowledge I have about the tree satisfies. It is the mystery of the thing that satisfies by creating a desire to truly know. Stay with me. This is at the heart of each of us in those quiet, solitary moments when we are not trying to be, we just are. In a world that is pelting us with pictures, streaming ads and movies, noise and a never-ending busyness, we need wonder. But we have gotten lazy. And wonder, though the natural state of Man, does not come without effort. Certainly not when it is buried beneath the debris of a society bent on throwaway entertainments. Our entertainments increase because our boredom increases. Only the desire to know satisfies. And that is wonder. This is not curiosity. It is not just learning about things (and Googling them). These go toward acquiring knowledge. It is the desire to know that gives life to our days, to the things we see, to the mystery of being human. If we have this, the simple things will overwhelm us with wonder.

Josef Pieper, German Catholic Philosopher, was steeped in the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was, however, a brilliant thinker in his own right. His discussions of leisure and art are accessible and transformative. If you want to see, truly see, read Josef Pieper.

“If someone needs the ‘unusual’ to be moved to astonishment, that person has lost the ability to respond rightly to the wondrous, the mirandum, of being. The hunger for the sensational, posing, as it may, in ‘bohemian garb,’ is an unmistakable sign of the loss of the true power of wonder, for a bourgeois-ized humanity.”

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