Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and ceiling wax–of cabbages and kings! –And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings!”

And small books about Buddhist economics that turn out not to have been Buddhist after all.

All last summer I labored over “Small is Beautiful,” by E.F. Schumacher (1973), stubbornly trying to read the book cover-to-cover before I started another on my reading list. It was a desperate attempt to rehabilitate my reading habits from my usual hit-and-run style, wherein I start a book, get to the middle, start another book, get the middle of that one, and start another book…

I used the word “labored” but I don’t really mean it was a hard read–at least not at first. In fact, in just a bit I’ll write down some of the many quotations I took note of in my earnest but doomed attempt to really digest a book. It’s a very good book, and I recommend it, especially if you like authors who work on their words, refining their sentences until every other phrase seems worth putting on a coffee mug.

Maybe I have strange taste in coffee mugs.

Schumacher, apart from having possibly the best title for a book I can imagine (the subtitle is “Economics as if People Mattered”), is a thoughtful, sharp writer whose curiosity is evident–he inspired me to think about how things are, and how they ought to be. His main idea, as I understood it, was that economics is more than a (pseudo)science of how businesses interact and nations prosper; rather, there are deeper questions that economists ought to be asking, about human nature, about what people believe and value and why people work in the first place. He questions and he prods, and advocates, in the end, a return to certain values that have been dismissed as unproductive or lazy. Of course, he says, we oughtn’t be lazy, but nor must we work merely for money. There is, or at least there ought to be, something in men and women that makes them want to work, to produce something valuable, to create. 

But as a society, America doesn’t tend to value anything that is, perhaps, less lucrative but more fulfilling–we prize profit in monetary terms and sometimes, just sometimes, lose sight of why we’re working. The values which drive our actions get pushed to the back of our minds, and, if we’re not careful, we lose the values altogether. Schumacher takes issue with both Keynes and Carnegie, and sums up five to seven “ideas of the age” which have crept through science, education, and economics.

With that small teaser for an already small book (but a small book very much worth reading), here are some of the more fascinating sections I found.

About man’s nature:

“…we are estranged from reality and inclined to treat as valueless everything that we have not made ourselves (15).

“The substance of man cannot be measured by Gross National Product (20).

“We still have to learn how to live peacably, not only with our fellow men but also with nature and, above all, with those Higher Powers which have made nature and have made us, for, assuredly, we have not come about by accident and certainly have not made ourselves (21).

About pollution:

“As nothing can be proved about the future…it is always possible to dismiss even the most threatening problems with the suggestion that something will turn up (28).

“Nothing makes economic sense unless its continuance for a long time can be projected without running into absurdities. . . Permanence is incompatible with a predatory attitue which rejoices in the fact that ‘what were luxuries for our fathers have become necesities for us’ [Keynes]. . . Every increase of needs tends to increase one’s dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existenstial fear (33).

About greed:

“The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success (31).

“If human vices such as greed and envy are systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than a collapse of intelligence. A man driven by greed or envy loses the power of seeing things as they are, of seeing things in their roundness and wholeness, and his very successes become failures (31).

About work:

“There is need for a proper philosophy of work which understands work not as that which it has indeed become, an inhuman chore as soon as possible to be abolished by automation, but as something ‘decreed by Providence for the good of Man’s body and soul’ (37).

“…insights of wisdom…enable us to see the hollowness and fundamental unsatisfactoriness of a life devoted primarily to the pursuit of material ends, to the neglect of the spiritual (38).

“To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-wracking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with good than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure (55).

About education:

“…The task of education would be, first and foremost, the transmission of ideas of value, of what to do with our lives. There is no doubt also the need to transmit know-how but this must take second place, for it is obviously somewhat foolhardy to put great powers into the hands of people without making sure that they have a reasonable idea of what to do with them. . . When we think, we do not just think: we think with ideas. Our mind is not a blank, a tabula rasa. When we begin to think, we can do so only because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think (82).

“What do I miss, as a human being, if I have never heard of the Second Law of Thermodynamics? The answer is: Nothing. And what do I miss by not knowing Shakespeare? Unless I get my understanding from another source, I simply miss my life. . . Science cannot produce ideas by which we could live (87).

About everything:

“All subjects, no matter how specialised, are connected with a centre; they are like rays emanating from a sun. The centre is constituted by our most basic convictions, by those ideas which really have the power to move us. In other words, the centre consists of metaphysics and ethics, of ideas that–whether we like it or not–transcend the world of facts. . . they cannot be proved or disproved by ordinary scientific method. . . but that does not mean they are purely ‘subjective’ or ‘relative’ or mere arbitrary conventions. They must be true to reality… (94).

“It is easy enough to see that all through our lives we are faced with the task of reconciling opposites which, in logical thought, cannot be reconciled (97).

Like what you read? You can find this book on Thriftbooks, Amazon, Goodreads–pretty much anywhere there are books to be found. Give it a read and tell me what you think!

P.S. Coming soon: A GoodReads thing where you can see what book(s) I happen to be bumbling through at the moment. Whenever I can figure out the blogging things.


A Pointless Story about Thistles

Think of this story like you would think of an unsharpened pencil: try not to resent its total lack of a point.

First of all, my family doesn’t tend to have the best luck with cars. We’ll send a car that’s been making a weird noise to the shop and it’ll come back still making a noise, just a different one. As my sister described the result of the most recent repairs, less like a vacuum cleaner and more like a perturbed hornet. We tend to baby our cars, as a result.

And we treat out lawn mowers the same way–gingerly. It’s not a happy day when you admit to the parents that you’ve broken the belt or tried to reverse with the blades down. Mortifying, actually.

Anyway, by now I’ve generally been taught what a riding mower can and can’t run over. I am always to avoid the enormous, hardened ant palaces that pepper any yard in southern Arkansas in the summer. I am not to get too ambitious during a wet season, but mow the low spots on the highest setting. Yadayadayadaya, we know all this, Jo. Get to the point.

But there isn’t any point, remember?

Today I mowed part of a pasture that was mostly wet and which contained many ant mounds and thistles. Accordingly, I mowed on the highest setting and scrupulously avoided the ants, especially after I hit the first one and a cloud of dust ballooned over the yard, no doubt carrying with it half a population of ants. Which was probably a thrilling, onece-in-a-lifetime experience for them.

I was glad because the blades were high enough that they didn’t cut the heads off the little blue Johnny jump-ups. They did, however, do a dandy job of decapitating the thistles. I rattled on over them, forgetting that I’d only just learned yesterday that part of this particular thistle is edible. If you didn’t know, the heart of this thistle looks and tastes kind of like a less-stringy celery, which is pretty good for something so intimidating and thorny.

I realized after about the twentieth thistle, that I was blithely mowing down a potential food source while leaving ant mounds alone, for goodness’ sake. This obviously means that, if I were a young Indian woman, responsible for foraging for my tribe or family, I’d be stoned by the community. Or left out in the woods for the wolves.

I tried to tell you there wasn’t any point to this story–although I’m sitting here trying to think of some lesson to tack onto the end so I don’t feel I’ve completely wasted your time. hmm what’s an easy, wise-sounding insight I can draw from mowing thistles?

If you can think of some moral that can come from this story, I’d be interested (and entertained) in knowing it. I feel silly for some stuff I write, til I remember that I’m just writing. And then I usually do some soul-searching about how valuable “just writing” really is, if I’m not trying to do it well or draw some insight from it. And then I think maybe I ought to go do something useful, like, I dunno, mow down some thistles.

And then I question what in the heck I think I mean by “useful,” and I descend into a kind of madness.

Thanks for reading:)

Stalking a Parent and Other Adventures

Sometimes you may happen to be napping off the cold medicine you took the night before, and wake to the realization that it is nearly 5:30 PM and you are SLEEPING THE DAY AWAY, so you rise hurriedly and glance out your window at the road and spot someone very dear to you crossing the street to the sidewalk that leads to the football field.

Some people, you muse to yourself as you pull on your tennis shoes with a huff, are worth getting out of bed for.

You bolt down the stairs and out the door, tracking, at a safe distance, your father’s steps (for the Dear One happens to be your father). He’s a fast walker, despite his slight portliness, but you resist the urge to jog and catch up. You take the time to walk behind, just thinking nice things and being happy you got out of your bed. Finally, you see up ahead that one of your father’s colleagues, out on an evening stroll of his own, has detained him.

How lucky for me, you think, thanking your lucky stars that Dr. Whats-his-face is out perambulating when he is. Still, he doesn’t detain your old man as long as you’d hoped, and before you know it, there’s a widening gap between you and the Aged P. You take a risk at the crosswalk and skirt an impatient driver who’d like to turn, and try to justify yourself for having delayed a stranger.

Enough is enough, and you begin to jog, eyes trained on your quarry, who has no idea that his offspring is behind him getting ready to pounce. Just as you draw within 20 feet of the target, a silver car pulls up and your mom opens the door for your dad to get in. You’ve been foiled by your own mother, driver of the Getaway Car. You walk over, say hey to them both, and pretend you were only out for a jog, and only happened to have been trailing your father for half a mile.

On your way back to campus, you notice how lovely the evening is, remembering how you love this time of year and this time of day. You’ve just learned this morning a new word, crepuscular, meaning (more-or-less) “something that is only active at dawn or dusk.” You like all sorts of times of day, but it occurs to you that maybe your favorites are crepuscular.

The only times of day you question the worth of are the wee hours of the morning. You have something of a Nathanaelic attitude toward them: “Can any good come out of 3 AM?” Probably there are some wonders you have never witnessed which occur only for the night owls of this world.

Two sensations, one unpleasant and the other good, come to your mind at the thought of 4 AM. The unpleasantness is from memories of staying up to finish papers and assignments, when you’ve worked through the night out of desperate necessity and the last 2 1/2 hours have taken twice as long as they should have because your brain is in stupid mode and keeps trying to hibernate every 10 minutes like your computer.

Seeing the sunrise in that mood gives you a nauseous feeling, wherein all hope sinks to the bottom of your stomach as you realize the day has reset and you haven’t rested.

The other sensation is a lovely one, experienced most often when you are rising early for a trip or an adventure. Once, for example, you arose quite early to meet the passenger train carrying your sister home from college. You felt an excitement immediately upon feeling the morning air (the air in the wee hours of the morning is different from any other time), and you got to the train station in the dark, a few moths flying around the hazy streetlight in the “bad part of town.”

When a freight train came, it brought the breeze with it, and the loudness and the largeness of its motion stimulated every part of you into a calm but acute wakefulness. You felt like standing up on tiptoe, and in a moment the train had gone, leaving you suddenly hungry for chocolate milk and donuts, ready to face the coming, long day.

In the present, you begin to have a vague sense of being followed, and as you glance cautiously behind you, you see your dad’s colleague, Dr. Whats-his-face, coming up fast on your right. He’s walk-jogging in the parking lot parallel to you, and it’s evident he means to overtake you before the parking lot ends and he’s forced to get behind you, slowing him down. You grin, and for a minute subtly increase your pace in an attempt to beat him to the point of convergence, but, like your dad, Dr. Whats-his-face is danged fast and has longer legs than you do.

So you slow down and continue gawking at the early spring. Some birds are singing, and a strange image hits you that won’t leave your mind. It’s just that, if all of reality were a cartoon, and somehow God were a more dignified Mickey Mouse showing you what He’d made, you’d be an utterly happy (but just as undignified) Goofy, shaking your silly head and marveling, “Garsh.”

About Joy and Melancholy

For an English class I’m taking, I’ve been reviewing the papers I’ve written for my English classes. And I got to this one, and it turns out I wrote it exactly a year ago. So of course I read it:) I guess it’s a terribly nerdy thing to publish one’s own (required) English papers. It’s an even nerdier thing to want to read someone’s required English papers. But if you want to, please do, and let me know your thoughts.

It turns out I only ever write the same paper with small variances each time. Thanks for reading me:)

Samuel Coleridge: A Return to Joy

Recently, my pastor spoke on certain gifts God has given those who follow Him; one of them, to my surprise, was grief. Grief and accompanying disappointment, he said, are gifts in that they remind us of what we truly value. Disappointment teaches us to value the right things, and grief, when it comes, brings us back to reliance on God. My pastor’s inclusion of grief on a list of God’s blessings surprised me, but I more-or-less accepted it and thought about other things. In writing this response, however, the sermon I heard a few weeks ago has come back into my mind, especially in considering the following passage:

…and sometimes

‘Tis well to be bereft of promised good,

That we may lift the Soul, and contemplate

With lively joy the joys we cannot share. (Coleridge 64-7)

When I read Coleridge’s “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” the above lines stood out to me as being especially worth remembering.  He wrote the poem under circumstances of loneliness, and, likely, pain, and yet he realized that his surroundings—his so-called prison—were lovely and full of comfort.

What I like about Coleridge, especially in this poem, is that, when he begins his meditation, he is despondent, but by the time he is finished, his soul is more peaceful than before. It seems as if his poetry is therapy for himself—if such was the case, I can certainly identify in that way with Coleridge. Although I do not struggle with an addiction as he did, I often become despondent or discouraged, and it is at those times that I find writing to be a gift. Writing, especially writing poetry or meditative prose, helps purge me of my despair and often leads me back to the hope I have in Christ. I write alone, which, similar to Coleridge’s situation, might seem sad to some people. However, if there is anything I have responded to with the Romantic tradition, it is the idea that melancholy is not always negative. Being alone and a little pensive is a means of developing thought and character, and is often precisely what I need. In a world where I have access to knowledge of what any number of friends is doing—of what I could be doing at any given moment—I value the ability to sit and simply be, without feeling as if I’m continually left out.

“That we may lift the Soul, and contemplate / With lively joys the joys we cannot share” (66-7). At first, Coleridge expresses disappointment that he cannot share his friend’s first experience of the sights that so delight him. He does not necessarily blame his wife for injuring his foot and thus confining him to his garden,[1] but he regrets losing “beauties and feelings, such as would have been / Most sweet to my remembrance even when age / Had dimmed mine eyes to blindness!” (2-5). He tends toward exaggeration: his garden-bower is therefore a prison, and he idealizes the “beauties and feelings” from which he is excluded. This is perhaps the more natural reaction: having been prevented from taking part in a long-awaited visit, Coleridge might be excused some jealousy. However, as he reviews them in his imagination, he begins to anticipate Charles’s joy, and that, in turn, gives him joy.

This seems like such a healthier, such a better, way of thinking, and, reading the turn in Coleridge’s thought, I wished I could have the same view of disappointing situations. I have stayed back from many events, either because I don’t feel I belong or because I have other obligations, and, in those situations, I tend toward a morose jealousy. Whether I admit it to myself or not, my gut reaction to deferred good is bitterness. Sometimes, though, I force myself to stop thinking of my feelings or misfortune, and consider the good in the situation. It may be that, because I was unable to go to the lake with a group of friends, for example, I had the time to read or think, or talk quietly with a friend who may have needed company.

Choosing to rejoice in the good fortune of others seems to be the happier, healthier attitude—as at Christmas, when, rather than compare my gifts with my siblings’, I choose to be glad for their sakes. Then again, I receive joy from anticipating peoples’ reactions to the gifts I have chosen for them; if I have put thought and feeling into finding what I think they will truly value, I would be disappointed not to see the expression on their faces when they unwrap their present. Perhaps this is a little of the disappointed feeling Coleridge has at the onset of the poem: having spent so much time anticipating Charles and Mary Lamb’s visit, only to miss seeing Charles’s reaction to, say, the purple flowers shining in the sunset, or “isles of purple shadow.”

How does he make up for the loss of such “beauties and feelings” as watching the sun set on a “kindled” ocean under a “wide, wide Heaven?” He imagines his friend experiencing such beauty for the first time, and the joy he imagines coming to Charles comes to him as well: “a delight / Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad / As if I myself were there!” (43-5). Now he begins noticing the beauty of his lime-tree bower, once a prison. He notices little things like a leaf’s stem making shadows on the transparent leaf, and the sights and sounds of twilight. “Henceforth I shall know,” he says, “That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure; / No plot so narrow, be but Nature there, / No waste so vacant, but may well employ / Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart / Awake to Love and Beauty!” (59-64)

I identify with this view of Nature as a healing force. Whenever I am truly discouraged, I seek the outdoors—specifically a place where I can sit and notice little things of beauty. In college, I have found two spots on campus that have filled the role of Coleridge’s lime-tree bower: both are benches, one down near Speer Pavilion, the other just outside Berry Bible Building. From the bench at Speer, I can see the river, and, more importantly, the river’s bend, which I connect with hope and the anticipation of the unknown. I often hear birdsong, and on one occasion, I listened to a chorus of owls from across the river. It’s there that I have written the compositions that have shaped my thinking most clearly, because it’s there that I have the time and space to think clearly and process my thoughts. I notice things more there, and outside Berry, whether it’s the birdsong or the sunlight making the roses glow bright pink, dappled with sun and shade like Coleridge’s lime leaves. It is at times when I am at my leisure to notice well my surroundings that I realize how remarkable nature is. I wonder things like, “Why did God make flowers such a ruddy-pink?” God did not have to make the world so beautiful, yet He did. I wish I noticed it more.

These thoughts, thoughts that focus less on my circumstances than on truths I can be thankful for—these are what change my mindset from discouraged to content. If I can “employ each faculty of sense—” whether through looking or listening—under Coleridge’s view of Nature, my heart will keep awake to Love and Beauty. Joy will remain. Not just joy, but the “deep joy” Coleridge describes is highly attractive to me. He imagines Charles looking out over the wide landscape, and being overwhelmed with an inexplicable feeling of something more. Coleridge tries to describe it for the reader, speaking of a “swimming sense” that things are “less gross than bodily,” but this description seems vague and unsatisfying. Directly after, he compares the feeling of deep joy to the effect of the Holy Spirit on one’s soul, and that, to me, is a little clearer, though I still feel that Coleridge must have struggled to evoke the emotion he intended. I think I know what he meant, although I doubt I could express it any better than he did.

The feeling I am thinking of is one of reveling in the way the world is—and yet, it might not be particularly happy. It is seeing your surroundings with an eye of intense delight, as if you are seeing more to them than what is normally apparent. As Coleridge says, it is as when the “Almighty Spirit…yet [he] makes / Spirits perceive his presence.” I have felt a little of this enigmatic sensation, most often when surrounded by natural beauty, and I have encountered it in books. L.M. Montgomery, who wrote the “Anne of Green Gables” series, had a fondness for crafting highly-poetical, romantic heroines, such as Anne or the title character of the “Emily” series, both of whom were subject to what Emily called “the Flash.” The Flash, according to Emily, was a trance-like state that might come over her and make her extraordinarily sensitive to beauty or, in a broader sense, truth—especially truth that might not be apparent under ordinary circumstances. For Anne, the feeling manifested itself in her ability to notice the ethereal beauty of her environment. Perhaps the feeling comes with a tendency to poeticize one’s surroundings, a tendency Coleridge decidedly possesses.

And yet, this same sort of feeling shows up in C.S. Lewis’ autobiography, “Surprised by Joy.” As I recall, Lewis experienced a sense of longing, an “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” Such a sensation he devotes an entire book to describing, or trying to describe—that of a depth of intense feeling that attracts him again and again. He calls it Joy, and differentiates the feeling from happiness or pleasure. Coleridge does not explicitly make such a distinction, so perhaps the two feelings are not the same. Regardless, in reading Coleridge’s words, I was reminded of Lewis’s, and further reminded of instances where I think I have had similar, if not identical, flashes of joy.

I think it happens most often when I am very content or very distraught, and less often when I am routinely going about my days, intent on getting things done. If I am feeling well and particularly happy to be alive, I might look up at the sky and feel a glad shudder go through me, simply because I can hardly believe this is real life. If I am sad, however, or discouraged, or only feeling a little lonely, everything around me, though beautiful, seems not enough. There ought to be more, I think—and the thought is never completed. I don’t know what it is that I long for more of, exactly, and even if I knew, perhaps I could not express it. Chesterton, in his Orthodoxy, speaks of a Christian being out-of-place in the world, and thus feeling “homesick at home.” Even in the middle of standing, like Coleridge, with a wide, wide view of an incredibly lovely world, I feel that something is missing—and I long for its completion.


[1] Just previous to the visit of his friends, Coleridge’s wife, Sara, accidentally spilled scalding milk on his foot, preventing Coleridge from walking with his friends during their visit.

Letter #3: In Which Grandma Jo Goes Blind

Dear Aglet,

If, by the time we meet each other, I happen to have gone blind, here’s why.

I am in the habit of staring at sunsets. Isn’t that awful? I’ve been told since I was a little girl not to look at the sun, and that doing so would hurt my eyes and eventually blind me, but I can’t seem to help it. I’m sure you’ll never disregard what your elders tell you solely for your own good, Aglet, but I’m telling you now that if you ever decide to disobey, you better have a durned good reason for doing so.

I have a great reason for staring at the sun when it rises or sets. Here it is: it’s beautiful. And I’m drawn to the sight, even though I know my eyes aren’t strong enough to handle all that light.

[That is why they told me not to, isn’t it? Something like that? Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter now. Not now that I’m blind and I can’t see what my own (imaginary) grandkid looks like.]

I’m frustrated that I can never look at the sunset for as long as I’d like to. I can only take a glimpse, then look away–and when I glance again, the lighting’s changed just a little. It’s like taking a new and lovely photograph with every blink.

Someday you’ll be reading this and thinking, “Grandma, grandma, grandma. You were/are so strange. You chose looking at a couple of boring old sunsets over preserving your eyesight into your old age.”

I’ve already apologized in a different letter for being strange. Get over it, Aglet.

Here’s what I hope, though. I really, really hope that people can still notice sunsets in that weird, dystopian future I imagine you growing up in. Sometimes it feels like we humans are losing our ability to appreciate anything that isn’t technological or made from a machine. And while I’m here wailing the same warnings older people have been wailing since the invention of the wheel, I may as well say this.

[But seriously, can’t you see Grandpa Cave Dweller shaking his fist at the youngsters on the first unicycles hewn out of the cave walls? “Durn kids! Always playing with their useless, newfangled toys! Now, when was a youngster…”]

What I was going to say, Aglet, is that while it might seem silly to say “beware of technology” and it might seem foolish to resist all the change that’s happening in the world, there’s something to be said for listening. Listen to older folks when you can, especially when they talk about their lives and what they’ve learned. People like to talk, and if you can learn how to really listen, you have a shot at gaining wisdom when you’re young.

One of my favorite books is called “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry, and it has to do with memories and emotions and what it means to be human. It takes place in a society in which nothing seems to be lacking…except, curiously enough–grandparents. The Old, in this society, are kept by themselves, perfectly tended to, perfectly comfortable, while the younger members of the society go about their practical, smooth-running occupations. There’s no overlap between the generations. And it’s tragic.

You should read the book. I think that what you might find is that the lack of grandparents only reflects the loss of many other things that make us human.

There are certain memories I have that I hope I will get to pass on to someone–if not you, then someone else. There’re certain experiences that I hope are universal to the human soul.

Sunsets are one of them. Holding my niece for the first time is another. Playing hide-and-seek in the curtains with my nephew. Seeing someone I love smile. Reading words that assure me of God’s presence. Listening to the third movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D.

All sorts of strangely specific things that conjure up a swelling in my heart. These things are real, somehow, in a way that watching other people’s lives on social media can never be real.

In Sunday School, when the teacher reads Genesis 1.1 and a kid pipes up with “Did He create smartphones,” the teacher says God created the minds of humans with the ability to make smartphones, and in that way, He’s responsible. And yes, there’s a deeper truth there about human tendency towards creating and how that reflects the creative aspect of God’s nature.

My point is that it’s easy to think we humans are so clever to have designed this or that new innovation. We look at our own creations and congratulate ourselves.

Look at what God has done. Look at what He still does, every day. That sunset or that sunrise is just one of an infinite number of things God creates every day to display His glory. The way our bodies work is marvelous, and scientists discover new aspects to His design all the time.

Another book I think you should read is by C.S. Lewis, called “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Heck, if I haven’t lost my vision completely by the time you’re born, I’ll read it to you myself. And oh, I can’t do justice to it here, but there’s a place near the end that I love. I’ll only say that when I read this book, I’m not ashamed of my fascination with sunsets, rather encouraged.

I’m looking for a place where I can look at the sun in all its glory, and not look away.

Love, your grandma,



The Ants Go Marching…

“I am going to try not to focus so much on myself or drawing attention to myself. Instead, my aim is to draw your gaze to the curious things of the world, to the little wonders that don’t have to be there, but are.”

That’s how I described what I wanted to achieve with this blog, two years ago. I’m afraid I haven’t done a very good job of “not focusing on myself/drawing attention to myself.” That’s most of what I do. I’m not exactly apologizing for the failure, because I know that another reason for writing is to get thoughts and worries out of my head that are not benefiting me or anyone else, just replaying over and over in my mind. Confession is a large motivation for this site. Knowing and being known. Asking for confirmation that I’m not alone; trying, in turn, to reassure others that neither are they alone. All valid reasons for writing, I think.

But today I’m going to try to do what I said I was going to do. So listen, if you want to, as I talk about ants and other creatures, all of whom do a lovely job of glorifying God, simply by being themselves.

Today I sat outside for a while and watched some ants. First there was a tiny black ant, a sugar ant, I think, which was hardly noticeable on the wooden railing. I almost had to squint to see it well, to make out its antenna exploring the knots in the wood. I noticed the blur of green in the background, and focused out. Immediately the green leaves came into sharp, clear distinction, with the ant once again barely distinguishable from the brown plank. I experimented like this more times than I care to report here. Easily amused, I guess.

Easily amazed, is more like it.

You should try it. Our eyes are amazing! And so are ants.

Anyway, there were other kinds of ants: fire ants, which were black and a brownish-red, and some yellowish ants, with extra long bodies. I was so used to their tininess that I jumped a little when a black ant three times the size of the others came scurrying along the rail. It was huge in comparison! Also it looked uncomfortably like a spider. Then I found a fireant on my sleeve and freaked out (just a little) and flicked it off. And I felt kind of bad for flicking it away, so I looked down at the ground to see if it was alright. [Not that you would have been able to see it among the leaves, Jo. Goodness.] And then I saw…

…what looked like part of a black and yellow jump rope. You know how jump ropes have those speckly patterns in several colors–well, this was exactly that pattern, and it was exactly that same thickness.

 I finally realized I was looking at a snake.

I only shuddered a little, before realizing it was a speckled king snake. As much as my parents trained me to avoid snakes and poison ivy and everything that hides in the leaves during the summer, they also taught me that king snakes were different. They’re the good snakes, because they aren’t poisonous and they don’t like the snakes that are poisonous and aggressive. So I like them. Kind of.

I started thinking about camp last summer, and how, as a counselor, I couldn’t be afraid of snakes anymore. I even got trained to handle the milk snakes and corn snakes. I knew those snakes’ names; I knew what their habits were–how they were prone to seeking heat, even if that meant attempting to snuggle up in the counselors’ sleeves; and I knew they weren’t going to hurt me. Not really. I would rattle off fact after amazing fact to the girls, most of whom were never convinced that snakes weren’t evil. [“Snakes are awesome, girlsies! They’re just one example of how incredible our Creator is.”]

Toward the end of the summer, I got trained to handle Pearl, the nine-pound rainbow boa. She was an amazing creature, and her name was accurate. Her scales would glint rainbow colors in the right light. Since her body was pure muscle, I always felt she was stronger than me–and, holding her, I was conscious that it was her choice how tightly she would wrap around my wrists. She decided when to release her grip; I had uncomfortably little to do with it.

All through the summer, part of my job was to convince these girls that God’s creation displays His glory. An animal can be powerful–even dangerous for humans–and still reflect God’s design and imagination. [Nature’s cool, guys!]

After watching Mr. King Snake slither off, I headed back to campus, when I heard something rustle in the leaves near me. And despite all that high-faluting language about how I got so brave this summer, my heart did a floppy thing. I comforted myself by thinking through the passage in A.A. Milne’s “The House at Pooh Corner” where Pooh reassures Piglet that just because he gets a little scared, doesn’t mean he isn’t brave.

“You only blinched inside, Piglet.”

Thanks for reading:) If you want to read a wonderful poem by D.H. Lawrence called “Snake,” you can find a copy here: