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A Little UD History and Prophecy

May 31, 2011

These two addresses, an old one from the now deceased Dr. Eugene Curtsinger and a nearly new one from Dr. Louise Cowan, were recently published in a student-organized and -published booklet titled (ominously? routinely?) “The Changing of the Guard.”

Dr. Louise CowanAddress to the Faculty

Apart from the Church, the university is the most powerful institution in our society today. It controls the health of all the professions, of industry, of government, and the very texture of daily life. But, as an institution, it is currently in trouble. This particular university that you and I share was designed to meet that trouble head-on and somehow to change the direction of American education. So it is not really our university that is the problem: it is the whole system, for which we might be said to be the solution. This is our moment.

So let me make clear that I consider the University of Dallas the most important underground organization in our society today. It is already determining the spirit of education in hundreds of classical high schools; its graduates have themselves founded institutions of higher learning; it educates teachers, influences the curricula of other colleges, staffs their faculties, sets the pace for liberal arts and humanities organizations, as well as produces business, professional, and political leaders. Despite its lack of public notice, UD is well known among those truly interested in higher education. It has taken seriously its revolutionary task of being what a university is meant to be and has forfeited much in order to keep that integrity. What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul? So this university, guarded by its faculty, has kept its soul. But on its fiftieth anniversary it faces not only the opportunity for which it was intended, but the crisis that could divert it from its true path. For, as Donald Cowan used to say, this university belongs to itself—not to the diocese, or the state, or the board; not the administration, the students, or even the faculty. And so we need always to consider what it wants to be. We cannot afford at this juncture to do nothing. So, much as I may seem to be reminiscing in the remarks that follow, I mean to be speaking to you of what this University truly is and of what it is meant to be—its character, that soul it has not lost.

But some moments contain within them an entire future. And such a moment it was forty-seven years ago, when this University was completing its third year, and Gene Constantin, Ed Maher, Bishop Gorman, and Msgr. Maher took Don and me to dinner, confiding in us their hopes for this new institution that they, along with the Sisters of Mary of Namur, had founded. They wanted it to make a difference in America and the world. We saw that we shared with them a piety toward the ideals of our nation (a cast of mind already becoming rare) and a conviction that we were witnessing the end of a long cultural era. We all agreed that the hope for our national ideals and indeed the world lay in American education. Further, like them, we held the conviction that not a college, but only a very fine university, even if small, could make any difference in the nation’s educational scheme. As Christopher Dawson had written in The Crisis of Western Education, “A Leviathan is huge; but he has a small brain.”

We conceived of a Catholic university as an opportunity for generosity on the part of the Church—the great texts from the past having been preserved in a Christian culture and now in danger again of being lost, a treasure trove as definite as the collection of art in the Vatican museum. And this meant, of course, that we conceived of a Catholic university’s chief task as educational, not specifically religious. We all agreed—the Bishop too, who had earned a doctoral degree at Louvain—that the kind of liberal learning that had developed ex corde ecclesia was something the Church could offer a world much in need of it. In fact, as we discovered, the founding motto of UD was “A Catholic university for students of all faiths.” As Mr. Constantin described it, it was to be a real university, not just another little college intended to protect the faith of young Catholics while they prepared for employment. The dreams of these founders were generous and bold; indeed, they may seem now a bit too bold in the audacity of their aspiration. But we listened. We heard them say that this institution had a unique mission. And, as we discovered, it already had variety. Founded by the unlikely combination of a group of dedicated, extremely conservative businessmen and an order of spirited, liberal nuns, it offered a home to a dislocated group of learned (left-leaning) Hungarian monks, attracted a community of charming (and right-leaning) Dominican friars. It had a talented non-political novelist as Dean. It was a strange and stimulating place to be in the pre-Vatican years, with a sense of purpose, a spirit of self-irony, a lot of bourbon—and an attitude. But it had to be directed away from the typewriters and the cooking ranges, the public speaking courses, the accounting ledgers, the textbooks.

Assured that we would have freedom to plan a curriculum if we came here, Don and I imagined what could be done with Catholic higher education. If we did cast our lot in with this new school, we made clear, it would have to be a real university–one dedicated to liberal learning for all its students. The world did not need another moderately good college. We were eager to develop innovative programs that would give an entire school a genuine education, for we felt sure that such a curriculum would ignite sparks, spread into a kind of firestorm, and eventually illumine an entire nation. We had converted to Catholicism in 1956 and had both taught at Vanderbilt before coming to TCU. Our ideas of education had been shaped by our friendship with the Southern Agrarians, along with study of Newman, Dawson, Maritain, Gilson, and intense reading in the brilliant theology of the forties and fifties—de Lubac, Guardini, Sertillanges, Rahner, John Courtney Murray—as well as C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot. All these writers were concerned with the relation of truth to culture. And all recognized that the culture we took for granted was in decline.

When Don and I came here, then, in the fall of 1959, as the heads of Physics and English, respectively, our imaginations were given over to the immense possibilities of this new school. Lyle and Sybil Novinski had arrived on the scene a year after us; and, with their talent and dedication, we managed to get things going toward the innovation and depth, the liveliness and style that we knew we needed to have, along with the seriousness of a rigorous curriculum. At my urging, the English department decided to use complete texts, rather than textbooks. We worked at developing what we considered a literature program rather than an English department, a program that, avoiding the over-specialization afflicting most English departments, would include translated texts and—most important of all—develop a philosophic approach to literature, considering it a genuine mode of knowledge. We started the Literary Tradition sequence, a literary discussion group, the Junior Poet project, a quite creditable literary journal, Kerygma. Then, when Don was made president, three years after we joined the faculty, the explosion became widespread, and a number of beneficent forces came together to make this a new start.

Don had a remarkably original mind and a varied background; he had had business and engineering experience; had taught radar to the Army Air Forces, and had taken the lead in developing the use of this new technology. After the war, he had gone on for his doctorate in physics and served for a while as head of a group studying the peacetime uses of atomic energy. Then, teaching at Vanderbilt and later at TCU, he had developed a passionate commitment to educational principles. He had a prophetic sense that a new “post-technological epoch” would follow on the collapse that he felt was nearly upon us, a collapse that would mark the end of what he called “the myth of fact.” For him, all the disciplines, in particular physics and poetry, sought truth through the imagination as well as the intellect. As president of this new university, he was fearless and selfless, and, was loved and trusted by Mr. Constantin, who had lost his only son in the Pacific War. So there was a providential time, it seemed, when whatever appeared right to do could be done; and everything was collegial. Don engaged a number of brilliant if sometimes a bit eccentric professors—chief among them Willmoore Kendall from Yale and Fritz Wilhelmsen from Spain. I wish there were time to name all the fine additions—Leo de Alvarez, for instance, and Scott Dupree and such leaders as Frank Doe, Bob Wood, Bob Lynch, Tom and Grace West, Josef Seifert, Bob Sardello. The novelist Caroline Gordon was with us for seven years. Eric Voegelin, in the six months that he lectured on our campus, finished a crucial part of the final volume of his series Order in History. Jeff Wallen (the founder and director of AALE) was a young faculty member during this time and remembers it as a golden age.

This was the period when our basic curriculum was born, our graduate programs developed, the Rome and MBA programs begun; Braniff, Gorman, the mall, the tower, the library, the Margaret Jonsson theater were built, the McDermott lectureship and the O’Hara program established. The university was honored by the Neiman Marcus Irish Fortnight; the famous culinary expert Helen Corbitt became our friend and sponsor. Lyle Novinski and Heri Bartscht were changing the concept of art in the diocese; Judy and Pat Kelly were developing a drama department that would set new standards for academic performances, Cherie Clodfelter was adapting a solid education program to the liberal arts. All the disciplines were galvanized. We designed a Masters in Art, in English, and in Humanities, and, a few years later, a Ph. D. Program in Politics and Literature, which was highly praised by the Southern Association, though we were urged to incorporate in it more programs. It became the Institute of Philosophic Studies, with the four concentrations of Literature, Politics, Philosophy, and Psychology (the last mentioned under the distinguished chairmanship of James Hillman). In the city, Don and I were appointed to the mayor’s 60-member Goals for Dallas team. UD was accepted as one of the important Dallas institutions. It could boast of having on its board the former mayor, Erik Jonsson, Margaret McDermott, and Ruth Carter Johnson, the daughter of Fort Worth’s great leader Amon Carter. It had a woman’s advisory board numbering more than a hundred and fifty of Dallas’ most active social leaders, who met for literary study on campus once a week. The University was on its way to recognition by and support of the wider community. It was on its way to thriving as a really fine university.

Don and I felt intuitively that a tremendous cultural change was coming about; and hence were certain that this new university should not model itself on the current pattern. Our work, we thought, was turning out leaders, by retrieving and furthering the Christian and Classical tradition, considered as not merely the Great Books, but a living, vital continuum. We considered the works we taught as making up an organic body that we called “the tradition,” influenced by T. S. Eliot in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Eliot declared tradition to be something not inherited but struggled for, speaking of the literary tradition in particular as a body of works that together make an organic whole—so that when a new work appears, the entire organism rearranges itself to include it, forming a new order. What this figure implies is the constant reinterpretation of the past as it responds to the unfolding of history; and we considered this process to be ongoing in all the disciplines.

But the galvanizing issue for us was Christopher Dawson’s interpretation of the rarity and value of Western Civilization. In Religion and the Rise of Western Culture he asks:

How did it come about that a small group of peoples in Western Europe should in a relatively short space of time acquire the power to transform the world and to emancipate themselves from man’s age long dependence on the forces of nature?

And he answers his question:

…, because its religious ideal has not been the worship of timeless and changeless perfection but a spirit that strives to incorporate itself in humanity and to change the world. In the west the spiritual power has not been immobilized in a sacred social order . . . It has acquired social freedom and autonomy and consequently its activity has not been confined to the religious sphere but has had far reaching effects on every aspect of social and intellectual life.

And then:

The activity of the Western mind, which manifested itself alike in scientific and technical invention as well as in geographical discovery, was not the natural inheritance of a particular biological type; it was the result of a long process of education which gradually changed the orientation of human thought and enlarged the possibilities of social action. In this process the vital factor was not the aggressive power of conquerors and capitalists but the widening of the capacity of human intelligence and the development of new types of creative genius and ability.

What inspired Don and me in Dawson’s thought was his conviction that it was not conquest and finance but education that gave the West its idea of progress. This was a recognition of the ability of education to change people, not just to conquer them, not even just to govern them, but to transform them; and in transforming them, to alter the destiny of the world. Implied in Dawson’s statement is the objective good of the Western focus on education, which he conceived not as a trait of one particular people, but as a universal truth needing constantly to be reinterpreted. The Western tradition could be seen, then, not as aggression and ruthless cupidity or mindless evolution, but as paideia, the leading out of new possibilities of the soul—not just a series of conquests. Within the panorama of violence that constitutes Western history (for all human history seems tragic in retrospect) could be discerned heroic attempts to educate: to move toward the good, not pointed toward one race, but universal in its intent.

The major influence on our thinking, of course, was Cardinal Newman’s insistence in his magisterial Idea of a University that the liberal quality of education is determined by the spirit in which learning is approached, not by specific courses. Further, Newman’s conviction was that in education one needs to be taken to the top of a mountain to see the vista below. Having once seen the whole of things, the learner’s viewpoint is forever changed. “If we would improve the intellect, first of all, we must ascend; we cannot gain real knowledge on a level; we must generalize,” he writes, and “That only is true enlargement of mind which is the power of viewing many things at once as one whole.” It is this mountaintop experience that illumines UD education. The disciplines are viewed in a quite different light than if approached merely from the plains below. They have extension and perspective; they point to a whole, a beyond that imparts to them a dimension not otherwise discernible. The disciplines inform each other; and what is now called the “core curriculum” accomplishes this mountain peak experience for students at UD. This vision of the whole is something that happens to students nearly always in the second semester of their sophomore year. It all comes together, they say; and they have a hard time describing the experience. But it is recognizable as a kind of vision, an enlargement of soul that changes the way they look at things.

All this is a brief and hasty summary of the mission we had for this school in its first stage. The University of Dallas is not like other Catholic universities; and this difference accounts for the difficulty one faces in attempting to change it. But it nevertheless must change and grow. It has a stubborn identity, the value of which it conveys to anyone who seriously regards it. But it was at least partially changed in its second stage, an epoch from which it is just now emerging. During this period, it structured its course offerings, solidified what it calls its core, clarified its management, fortified its departments, built a solid faculty, strengthened the Rome program, developed a more conscious Catholic sense, came to regard academic specialization more kindly and curricula as firm and unchanging. It has grown up. But, now, on our fiftieth anniversary, facing of necessity a third stage in the unfolding of this university’s calling—with a genuinely learned and gracious president, an extraordinary faculty, a remarkable student body, and a concerned Board, we are asked to look again at our curriculum.

What I myself would suggest is that, just to make sure of our direction, we return in our imaginations for a while to that first vision of liberal education as a spirit illuminating study rather than as specific courses. For, if we need to find room for some innovations, not just any innovation will do; nor will other universities’ practices automatically merge with the flow of things in the deep underground stream that is the life of this institution. As Mark Twain said, about steering a boat up the Mississippi: “You have to know the shape of the river.” So changes and additions have to be made carefully, cautiously, from time to time—in line with the invisible flow that is the shape of this river, for the University has an indiscernible inner movement of its own.

At this juncture, however, what is primarily needed is a reformulation of our public role. We can no longer remain in hiding. The world needs us. This is no time for us to back down from our belief, with Mortimer Adler, that “the best education for the best is the best education for all.” We must move on into a third stage in our University’s history where we take the lead in an even more intense advocacy of liberal education at a time when the institutions that have shaped and supported society are already crumbling. As many authorities now tell us, we may be facing a new Dark Ages, when the light of Greece and Rome, the codes and courtesies of Europe, and the openness and freedom of the American way disappear from the human community. Civilization as we have thought of it already seems a thing of the past.

Of course, the elephant in the room, the object that it is difficult to speak about, is our conviction of the uniqueness of this university. Secretly, we know we are meant to be the flagship university for the Catholic Church in this new era, and our task has to be the investigation and expansion of true learning. We have to find among our collective selves the genius to know the true from the false—for our institution without doubt will grow and we need to know what choices to make. We have to be able to impart the liberal spirit to new programs. And this discernment will require meetings and colloquia, letters, discussions, arguments, insults, apologies. To change the old saw, battles are so bitter here not because the stakes are low, but because they are immeasurably high.

But the greatest key to our kind of education is something that we are already doing, something very simple and yet energizing: something indicated by one of my students after he had failed his M. A. comps and I encouraged him to try again. He called it “the alchemy of praise.” And something did indeed transmute him almost alchemically when we worked together in preparation. Perhaps this is the most distinctive aspect of the University of Dallas: you admire and love the University, each other, your disciplines, and your students. And that changes things. Willmoore Kendall once asked me, “Louise, why do you want people to love each other?” “Because it’s more fun that way,” I responded. But that was not the right answer. I should have said, as Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical puts it, “Because God lavishes on us a love which we must in turn share with others . . . in a heart that sees.”

In this light, the limits of what is to be praised in humanity have not yet been determined, though Greece in the 5th century BC and Europe in the 13th century AD attempted the task. It is in fact the exploration of these limits that constitutes the kind of liberal study the University of Dallas is meant to offer to a world in need.

Dr. Eugene Curtsinger : “Moby Dick on Campus”

There’s not much I can say that this faculty doesn’t already know. So I’ve decided to tell you two or three little stories, all of them true. A few years ago, one evening toward dusk, a carload of nuns–Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur–drove along the dirt road that is now transformed into Braniff Drive. They stopped to admire the farmland that might become the home of the University of Dallas. They could see a horse–Billy Colwell’s old nag–on a rise a hundred yards away, staring at them. In their fluttering black habits and white rims, they stood beside the fence and prayed for the deal to go through. I’ve never seen a flock of nuns trying to get through a barbed-wire fence, and it didn’t happen then. Sister Mary Margaret told me that they checked the miscellany of their pockets–pliers, rosaries, scissors, crackers, cigarettes?–but couldn’t find a statue of Saint Joseph to plant in the field. Sister Stanislaus came up with a small carving of the Infant Jesus of Prague. She threw Him over the fence into the plowed field, along with their prayers. On the way back to Fort Worth, the other sisters teased her. “The horse will eat it!”

A few years later, Professor Louise Cowan, with a little help from the English department, brought Moby Dick on campus, along with Crime and Punishment, Madame Bovary, and Light in August–each of these involving an approach to the cross–and other marvelous writings. I was busy writing novels, but I was soon caught up, again, in the wonders of Melville’s classic. You remember how Ishmael makes a double journey–out there, across the water, and in here, into the self. Sea-scape and soul-scape mirror each other. You recall Aristotle’s comment that “the human soul is, in a way, all things.” Parmenides pointed out that “thought and being are one.” Whatever Ishmael meets out there he discovers in the immensity of his spirit. Ishmael enters a spell of half-sleep, and a strange being, Queequeg, enters the room, bringing a light into Ishmael’s inner and gloomy November. The pagan harpooner comes from an island, Melville says, “far away and to the west and south, not down in any map. True places never are.”

Einstein is rumored to have said that “the imagination is more powerful than knowledge.” The alert reader soon realizes that our tattooed Queequeg comes not only from some cannibal island but also, by Melville’s magic, from the depths of Ishmael, and from the unmappable true place known as heaven. Is Queequeg a divine messenger–angel, archangel–bringing the light of Christ? Is he the Holy Spirit? Is he the place where our hero is hooked on to immortality? Along with their allegorical or symbolic roles, the characters in the novel have their own intense and literal reality. They’re real sailors, on a real ship, in a real and wet Atlantic.

They are also mysteries going on in the soul of our Ishmael. We do them some mis-service by translating them narrowly, but we might recognize Starbuck as the re-vivified conscience of our sinful Ishmael. A student wrote that “Starbuck even sounds like the conscience speaking in his low and steady voice.” Another sophomore wrote that “Captain Ahab’s leg was decapitated by a whale.” My brother said “he must have had his foot in his mouth.” Ahab, opposed by Starbuck, is the embodiment of Ishmael’s sin. As Ishmael grows to represent mankind, Ahab may be seen as all the sins we’ve ever enjoyed all the way from Adam down to now.

Classical Greeks liked to insist that knowledge and wisdom come only with work and suffering. But we’re built for learning, and we love to do it. Jolly Stubb is a celebration on two legs, always ready for a pipe, a drink, a song. He is the embodiment of Ishmael’s–and our–joy in our difficult journey toward ultimate truth. Other parts of Ishmael are running around loose on board the Pequod, but the cabin boy, black little Pip–in that mystery of person–is the irreducible core of Ishmael’s deep self. Pip, abandoned in the water, is”carried down alive to wondrous depths,” Melville says. “Strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes….He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it,” in that nautical term. The weavings of the classical Fates are being replaced, in Ishmael’s growing belief, and the loom is powered now by Providence.

The secrets of heaven are not sayable by the human tongue. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath the heart of man imagined” those delights. Music, poetry, the imagination, might touch on them, but they are cloaked securely. Pip, the core of Ishmael, has had a glimpse of ultimate truth. What wild knowledge-what soul-entrancing visions of divinity he gains in his encounter with God’s eternal foot–are not sayable in the language of time or man. But Pip tries.

Hearing Pip’s jabberings after his rescue, his shipmates call him mad. Biology majors say that Pip’s brain was deprived too long of oxygen. Melville says, “Man’s insanity is heaven’s sense.” Some of the Christian mystics seem to prove the point. Pip’s vision marks a profound overhaul going on in Ishmael, readying him for the encounter with ultimate truth, the big white whale: God. Or, if it makes any difference, God’s grandest agent. “It will be seen,” says Ishmael of Pip, “what like abandonment befell myself.”

By this time in the story, the reader recognizes that the soul of the novel is classical tragic form, baptized now with the beginnings of Christianity. In the first moments of the Oedipus Rex, Oedipus is regal, potent, sinful, stuffed with hubris, lost as a man. A classical scholar at a nearby university agrees with his students that, to use his published phrase, “Oedipus was screwed by the gods.” The novelist in me attacks that notion as a total misreading. I picture the old gods sitting around and conspiring Oedipus’ chance for moral rescue. “I know what,” one says. “Let’s set things up so that, out of his own will and in his rage and pride, he kills his father and marries his mother, then finds out later what he’s done. If that don’t cure him, we’ll have to give him up.” God might give you a crown of thorns, but there’s no halo unless you reach for it. Oedipus never ceases reaching for the truth. When he returns to the stage at the end of the play–blinded, on his knees, catsup on his tee-shirt–he is beautiful, saved as a man, saved by his unyielding search for truth and the responding grace of the gods.

Tragic form not only reassures us of the goodness of ultimate truth. It rehearses us, establishes, in the sinews of the spirit, the salvific path to heaven laid out for all us sinners. Well, we always have saints among us–in the classroom, perhaps two or three of you at the moment–but most of us need to sail the oceans of the spirit and find a Queequeg and a Moby Dick. “Something gets born at the end of tragedy,” Arthur Miller says. It is us. Having had a look at the big whale, we rise up with Ishmael off of Queequeg’s coffin, reborn, renewed, faith quickened, hope soaring, virtue rampant.

Some years ago, President Donald Cowan talked about “the spirit who walks these hills.” He mentioned it so often that we began to make fun of it. But we recognized, in terms of our own disciplines, what he meant. The old Greeks, out of a sense of the spiritual and of the mystery of being, honored the goddesses of grove and fountain, the gods of river and hill and sky. With a similar sense, one of my Rome sophomores, visiting Assisi and falling for the place, wrote that she walked down a cobbled path, and turned a corner, and saw St. Francis crossing the street. Melville calls Moby Dick “the gliding great demon”–the word had a sinless connotation back then–”the gliding great demon of the seas of life.” If we really enter into this place called UD–pour ourselves into it, work with it, struggle with it, love it–we catch a glimpse, now and then, of the spirit who walks our hills.

Our visions arise out of our disciplines, our character, our negotiations with the world, with each other, with the students. A couple of decades ago, Tom Jodziewicz looked out his office window at the students walking along the mall as students do–book-laden, tired, exuberant, noisy, solemn. He also saw each student carrying a cross, bent a little with the weight. He shared with us this beautiful, this true and moving vision.

As you’ve learned from history and math and languages and things moving around in test-tubes, I’ve gained from characters in my novels images and phrasings I didn’t know. A Spanish character says “it’s on the cross that the unthinkable violence–the killing of a god–comes together with the unimaginable love.” A batty old Roman cleric taught me a new sign of the cross. In his younger days, he had worked at bringing together the eastern and western churches, and he signed this way: head, and tummy, and, crossing his arms, both shoulders at the same time. I read recently a thirty-page essay on what mankind was for. I didn’t find out. But in the novel I was writing, five ducks line up, alphabetically, and follow each other in single file: Arturo, Balthasar, Chretien, Danielle, and what’s his name. They object when the donkey points out they’re going to be eaten. “What do you think ducks are for?,” he says. Arturo, the leader, responds. “We’re for the glory of God,” he says.

I admired Jodziewicz’ vision of students with crosses. Not to be outdone by a history teacher, I discovered, back in the eighties, that an invisible crucifix a thousand feet tall stands in the center of our campus. The department of English and the other departments are always in its shadow and its light. Perhaps the gold doubloon Ahab nails to the tall center mast of the Pequod has something to do with it. The Christian imagination, illumined and encouraged by Melville’s poetry, sees the doubloon as Christ. “Now this doubloon was of purest, virgin gold, raked somewhere out of the heart of gorgeous hills.” It is “untouchable and immaculate to any foulness.” It is “set apart and sanctified to one awe-striking end.” “The mariners revered it as the white whale’s talisman.” Ahab, Mr. Sin, does the nailing out of an ancient truth: no sin, no crucified Christ.

“I and the Father are One,” Christ says. I had enough calculus years ago-the Army decided we couldn’t win World War II if I didn’t become an engineer, so they sent me to Carnegie Tech–I had enough calculus to be impressed by the beauty of mathematics, the power of calculus over swirling forms–enough math to appreciate the poet’s line “Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare.” It seemed to me Christ should have said “I and the Father are two-thirds.” I need a course in Divine Mathematics. I guess the Spirit who walks these hills can’t do it by Himself: Christ and the Father are strolling too. Some holy-rollers in one of my novels, needing a meeting-room, look for a place “easily accessible by the Holy Spirit.”

Walks these hills? Invades the buildings! Wanders the halls, the classrooms, the labs, perhaps even peeks into the administrative offices. You teachers have noticed those occasional moments in class when the students become suddenly very quiet, very still, not even taking notes, scarcely breathing. Their eyes become beautiful, motionless, fixed on something beyond all sight. For an immeasurable moment, the Spirit sings through the voice of the teacher, and every student knows that he is loved. I don’t know if Billy Colwell’s horse went to communion on the little statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague. We still have him, this Child, even as He has grown up and is hanging, now, on our crosses, and even as the Divine Trio after the resurrection–perhaps hand in hand–enjoys our hills, our buildings, our mall, and signs up, now and then, for one of your courses.

I’m reminded of a young couple in one of my novels who pray together a prayer for a chaste courtship. They look ahead with fear, and a sort of anticipatory joy, to their wedding night when, the bride says–referring to the fulfillment of the joyous sacrament, the sacred moment of their lovemaking–“when God in me holds hands with God in you.”

The philosopher-poet Emerson wrote that “men go through the world each musing on a great fable.” I’ve given you a corner of mine. The Spirit Who walks these hills attends all our dealings with each other–discussions, arguments, jibes, committees, even this talk I’m finishing now, while Moby Dick in me holds hands with Moby Dick in you.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Bonifield permalink
    June 3, 2011 12:03 pm

    Thank you for this.

  2. June 8, 2011 11:42 am


  3. Carl Kuss, L.C. permalink
    March 30, 2014 11:24 pm

    Dr. Curtsinger opened my soul to literature. I loved this man for that great gift.

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