Essay

The word as guest

Maybe it’s the end of the semester, maybe it’s recent national and world events, maybe it’s the year I’ve had, but some days, too, I feel like I’m more eager for the new Star Wars than any holiday celebrations.

The good news, however, is that Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with me or my preparation (or my lack thereof).  It brought to mind for me the Denise Levertov poem (below). Levertov reminds us that it’s not the seasonal sparkles that prepare us to have the Word as guest. Just the opposite: the bleaker the circumstances, the brighter the gift.  Our houses may look pretty (and go ahead and decorate if it increases your joy), but thanks be to God that the incarnation happens despite the unfortunate condition of our hearts.

On the Mystery of the Incarnation, by Denise Levertov

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

One Comment

Leave a Reply