“For We Can Only Wonder”

“Insofar as poetry has a social function it is to awaken sleepers by other means than shock.” –Denise Levertov

Over the years, I’ve heard various private and public voices argue that our culture–the millennial generation in particular–suffers from a need for instant gratification, constant entertainment, and a steady dose of thrills (see here and here and talk to your parents). There is clearly some truth to this, but perhaps there is something more. This hunger may be the blessed antidote for something that frightens me much more: numb minds, lukewarm hearts and the general stagnation brought about by a sleepless society (in almost all senses of the word).

It reveals some important information about ourselves, that we were made to be fully alive every single moment with arms stretched open to receive both the palm branches and lashes of life.

But how do we reconcile this taste for drama with the slushy grey snow and monotonous lectures that surround us most days? I’ve found an answer in the idea embodied by the word open— having open eyes and open ears. Although this will be published later, I’m presently typing this reflection on my personal magical rectangle, as I literally soar through the clouds themselves with a group of friends and many strangers. The experience of flying is almost too easy— only the most self-absorbed minds are not open enough to grasp the thrill and wonder in such an experience.  

Take my pending trip to the grocery store. I will soon drive my warm, fast car to a massive complex (my beloved Trader Joe’s), that is owned and operated by mysterious, unseen faces. There, I will play the fun game of stretching my college budget through bright aisles of exotic bananas, organic and fresh heads of lettuce, and past perfectly-proportioned boxes of Coconut Pancake Mix. Perhaps I will even collect a jasmine candle from Indonesia or a Dutch pink tulip plant— of which I am still always surprised to wake up and find this vividly living thing on my window sill!

And I haven’t even mentioned the glory in every detail of human friendship… I recently enjoyed dim sum with a beautiful old friend, whose fantastical entrance into my life was a generous compliment about my (infrequently) curled hair while we waited in line for lunch. What if I had run out of time to curl my hair that day! What if I had never attended that event, or that party, or made an offhand comment about that mediocre book! Somehow, these beautifully unfolding stories are ever more evident in the presence of this stunning peach sunset, and this momentous music, and the lingering memory of love letters that make up my environment. That is the function of beauty in art forms: the opening of the eyes and ears. They gently shake us awake to see the unfolding stories of which we play a part. Only with open eyes can I fully affirm the truth written by my old friend C.S. Lewis,

“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work…”

So, hold on to that hunger for excitement, the urge to explore with reckless abandon, and the ache for a good story. It’s making you more childlike.


Perhaps this fascination with the daily details makes me sound like someone in love. Truth is, I am. The joy in being open lies in the fact that it is is a form of the vulnerability known by the lover’s heart. Peter Kreeft has explained it far better than I in this essay:

“We can see the same principle at work on every level: gravity and electromagnetism on the inorganic level; a plant’s attraction to the sun and to water and nutrients in the soil on the plant level; instinct on the animal level; and love on the human level. And within the human sphere there is also a hierarchy beginning with the sexual desire (eros) and affection (storge) that we share with the animals up to the friendship (philia) and charity (agape) that we share with the angels. The universe is a hierarchy of love. This is not a myth. This is the splendid and glorious truth. Look! How can you miss it? It’s all around us…

When Jesus threw open his arms on the cross, he said, in effect: ‘See? That’s how much I love you.’ “

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Sehnsucht in the Library of Congress

Deep calleth unto deep. –Psalm 42:7

It is no accident that lofty thoughts blossom forth in beautiful places.

But the really interesting thing is that man’s monuments and God’s landscapes do not push inspiration from the outside-in; rather, they engender a planted seed. Something already in us resounds and responds in harmony. An easy example is the clarity that emerges from our muddled minds when we find ourselves in the presence of a thundering waterfall, opulent temple, star-speckled sky, or keeping quiet vigil as the baby sleeps on our chest. In forgetting ourselves through contemplation, we feel as if we have returned to ourselves. There is a mystery in that.

It is for this reason that I’ve found myself studying in the Library of Congress lately (…also did I mention that they have a fantastic gift shop?). The magnificent trappings of the exterior and interior are undeniably conducive to good work. While reading (this and listening to this) in the company of new-friend and very-new-friend, I took a pause to look up and noticed eight named figures, History, Commerce, Religion, Science, Law, Poetry, Philosophy, and Art, encircling the dome.

Above each was an inscription:


IMG_2064History: One God, one law, one element, and one far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves. —Tennyson

Commerce: We taste the prices of Arabia, yet never feel the scorching sun which brings them forth. —Anon

Religion: What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? —Micah 6:8

Science: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. –Psalm 19:1

Law: Of law there can be no less acknowledged that her voice is the harmony of the world. —Hooker

Poetry: Hither, as to their fountain, other stars repairing, in their golden urns draw light. —Milton

Philosophy: The inquiry, the knowledge, and belief of truth is the sovereign good of human nature. –Bacon

Art: As one lamp lights another, not grows less, so nobleness enkindleth nobleness. —Lowell


How marvelous that a cluster of words, written down by a human being long ago, still calls out to us with power. No person enters the channels of time without leaving an impact, but it’s clear that a select few have been gifted with the most eloquent (or frankly boisterous) voices around our large family dinner table. Though the intellectual in me is sorely tempted to add my cluttered commentary to each phrase, I instead want to focus on the small, silent whisper threaded throughout each of them: There is something greater to come.

So the takeaway from this little rumination? Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that this is all there is. There’s a reason you feel more at home in beautiful places than anywhere else.

You were made for something more.

The Way to Flourish at College and Beyond

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” (C.S. Lewis)

Originally and politely suggested in an ISI email, it nevertheless took a long line at the DMV (sneaky payback for every speed limit I’ve ever scoffed at?) for me to finally resign myself to reading this article. For some reason, I have a hearty disdain and distrust of these kind of articles that sell sweeping fix-alls and revolutionary advice. Perhaps it’s my generation; perhaps it’s just me. But I quickly knew that this advice would be true and truly original, since the opening paragraphs were not afraid to tell me that I was very wrong in my thinking but that someone else was very right. “The Muses do not keep a calendar or follow a plan,” is the summery trap I found myself in recently, but luckily, we are given the antidote:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-12).

Funny me for muddling it all together. The river needs strong banks to channel its energy. The author proceeds to cite the fruitful routines of Lewis and Churchill to drive the point home (just mention Mr. C.S. Lewis and I’m all ears).

So– in my funny, long-winded way I’m politely suggesting that you read this article and take it’s advice to heart. Building routines in your life is like what happens in a simple piano piece when you merge the dancing right hand with the undercurrent of the left. Art is limitation. Games only work when we play by the rules. It’s yet another paradox of this life; know first what everything is for and then the mysteries of the world will flower before you.


Source: The Way to Flourish at College and Beyond

Alain de Botton on “The Art of Travel”

The first time I laid eyes upon The Art of TravelI immediately knew that I would adore it. Not only did its giver have an impeccable track record for book gifts, but travel, art, and beauty, all explained through the eyes of a witty English philosopher?* How much better could it get? If we could eat books, this would be my first course.

And now, precisely a year later, I have reopened the pages (to be welcomed by a small shower of Domincan sand) to once again meet the text for use in a short speech assignment. I’ve come to the sad realization that rarely do friends take my fervent book recommendations into serious consideration (God bless them when they do), and so the speech is a fun way to share my favorite portions. The chapters chosen were “On Curiosity,” “On the Country and the City,” and “On the Sublime.” Although my real presentation includes a notes-sheet packed with delicious verses, for simplicity’s sake I’ve included just one per chapter here, along with my Prezi:

I. On Curiosity

“Curiosity might be pictured as being made up of chains of small questions extending outwards, sometimes over huge distances, form a central hub composed of a few blunt, large questions. In childhood we ask, ‘Why is there good and evil?’ ‘How does nature work?’ ‘Why am I me?’ If circumstances and temperament allow, we then build on these questions during adulthood, our curiosity encompassing more and more of the world until at some point we may reach that elusive stage where we are bored by nothing. The blunt large questions become connected to smaller, apparently esoteric ones. We end up wondering about flies on the sides of mountains or about a particular fresco on the wall of a sixteenth-century palace.” (pg. 116)

II. On the Country and the City

“Of what moment is that when compared with what I trust is their destiny, to console the afflicted, to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier, to teach the young and the gracious of every age to see, to think and feel, and therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous; this is their office, which I trust they will faithfully perform long after we (that is, all that is mortal of us) are mouldered in our graves” –Wordsworth in a letter to Lady Beaumont after his poetry was initially described as “namby-pamby” and “a piece of babyish absurdity”

III. On the Sublime

“‘Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me’…When divine wisdom eludes human understanding, the righteous, made aware of their limitations by the spectacle of sublime nature, must continue to trust in God’s plans for the universe” (pg. 171)

Surely there is nothing more enthusing than the prospect of traveling, not only to new places but with such playfully enlightened eyes.


 

*If you need any more reason to read the text, consider that there is a portion entitled “The Exoticism of Shitting Donkeys.”

4 Business Lessons From Papa Jace

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

~St. Francis of Assisi

Maybe it’s because I miss playing hooky to walk and talk around the park, or perhaps it’s because I have no one to grill or make pancakes for me on demand here in Kansas City, but I miss my dad (the tiniest bit.) Bad jokes, overprotectiveness, lectures, annoying exuberance and all. How good it was these past two weeks to wake up (more like be jolted awake by all the Jace clan morning chaos) in my own bed! Those precious free weeks prior to my current internship were refreshing and put to good use. For ages now, I had been meaning to effectively summarize and articulate the lessons concerning business that I was taught by my biggest role model, and considering that the internship season of my life is in full bloom, there is no better time than this Thursday summer night. Not to mention that studying investment philosophies can only entertain a young girl for so long.

And something well worth noting: these little nuggets of wisdom were spoken out loud about 1% of the time and simply lived out the other 99%.

  1. Go the extra mile. No doubt that every individual would jot this down under their “good advice” mental note-to-self, but fewer have had the luxury of watching an example of this commendable habit throughout their entire life. In seizing the early hours of the morning to workout and cook breakfast for us kids, in driving hours upon hours for a family weekend at the cabin and still having the grit to mow the lawn and clean the house once we arrive, in red-eye flights to be my date for the Red Dress Gala, in forcing us to go to the art museum when all we want to do is lounge through our Sunday, and in the way you paid close attention to the items needed to make our new house a home, you give 100% to every person and situation. In the business world, we all want to work with true partners: the kind of people who know how to get excited about their work, the kind who will have burst of genius in the line at the grocery store because they didn’t just shut off their brains after a long day of work, the ones who stare life straight in the eyes and engage with each new adventure, situation and person to the best of their God-given ability. You engage. It is that very spirit that spurs you through the extra miles upon miles and inspires me to do likewise, personally as well as professionally.
  1. Grin and bear it. Sometimes, even those ordinary miles will hurt. You always forced me to follow through on my commitments, no matter if they had turned out to be painful mistakes (way too often.) Well kids, you’re learning an important lesson. There will be days, oh so many of them, when the only thing tiding you over is that cup of coffee (did someone say Redbull?) you’re clutching with your weary hands. I think that’s actually a good sign, and I know that I saw you power through many of these times with a big smile still on your face. Hard work is crucial, but it is hardly laudable without cheerfulness. To retain one’s optimism while relentlessly attack the tasks of the day, now that is rare. Somehow, you figured out the real art of laughing and learning from your failures and inspire me to do likewise, personally as well as professionally.
  2. The beauty of art, classical music, and nature is important. Sure these luxuries are nice, but how does this make you a better businessperson? Turns out the whole business side takes care of itself when you simply focus on becoming a better person from the start. Not only is beauty enchanting, but it has the joint power of motivating us to make something more beautiful out of the piece of work we call ourselves. There is an unmistakable challenge, a reawakening of our nursery curiosity, effusing from a work like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake or a dazzling sunset in Assisi. It may not seem like the most direct way, but learning to appreciate art, music and nature is a skill that will enhance any social circle and remind you to gaze upon the exquisiteness of this world with grateful eyes– even and especially in the office. The way that you and mom sacrificed so much time and effort to expose us to the majesty of man and nature, whether found in our local parks or in France, speaks to the fact that you find value in permitting yourself to be moved and elevated by our surroundings and inspires me to do the same, personally as well as professionally.
  3. Your life is not your own. By extension, neither are your successes, failures, trials and tribulations. And that is a very freeing thing. It is clear that there is a real atmosphere of ownership–of a strong individualistic focus– infused in the American business ecosystem today. To a certain extent, that is it’s biggest strength. Yet when we focus solely on ourselves and forget that, for better or worse, we are heirs to a family, organization, community, and nation larger than ourselves, our perception goes awry. In fact, there is a massive body of research that points to the fact that when we remember that we belong to each other, we are happier. There is this concept of the servant leader that comes to light time and time again in the business world, and I always think of you. You allow yourself to be humbled by the bigger mission and inspire me to do the same, both personally and professionally.
And on that note, happy early Fathers Day from your favorite child!
And on that note, happy early Fathers Day from your favorite child!

A Long Time Coming

This blog, let me tell you, has been a long time coming.

I had always imagined that I would launch it in some glorious manner – perhaps during a long, stormy night or in the heat of a summer afternoon beside a sparkling creek – but here I am, on a spontaneous Thursday evening, furiously typing at my desk. It was simply the right time; you know the feeling? Luckily, time has taught me to find the right time, since it won’t find me on its own. It’s not so much about the space that we exist in, but rather how we choose to exist, or expand if you will, in that space.  While my surroundings might not be ripe for the poetic spirit, I will search for the poetry in these streets. While the chaos of my life may not yet be art, I will find clarity, and through that clarity: truth, beauty, wonder, and art.

I will try to do that with this blog- while this bud of a blog blossoms, I challenge you to do the same. Expand your horizons and forget your comfort zone. Home is all around you.

Audaces fortuna iuvat