Wednesday, September 16, 2009

`The Water That We Swim In'

“I was staggered by the Herbert quote today. It's so beautiful, and one of the truest things I've read in a long time. I can't recall if we ever talked about religion, but I'm Orthodox (what most Americans call Greek Orthodox, although the parish we attend is overwhelmingly Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian) and reverence towards tradition is the water that we swim in. Small surprise I fit in nowhere else!”

So writes a former colleague at Rice University. For almost two years we met periodically for lunch – brown bag, in the chapel or on a patio under the live oaks -- and never spoke of religion. Without giving it much thought I assumed she was an observant believer, probably in one of the mainline Protestant churches. How did I sense this? Moral seriousness, devotion to family, discontent with the general drift of things – and respect for tradition. By training she’s a historian. The modern era is nothing special. Not the worst – probably – but nowhere near the best. Her e-mail continues:

“I just finished reading The Man Who Loved Children. Ye gods. I couldn't rip my eyes away, though. Also, I've started learning Greek. I started off trying to learn classical Greek, but quickly discovered that the best teaching materials are all for koine Greek. Why so? Because every dimwitted seminarian has to learn it! I'm really enjoying it, I have to say. It's surprisingly easy and I wish I'd started years ago. I use Laudator Temporis Acti for practice, which only deepens my appreciation for it all.”

I’m pleased she finds Michael Gilleland’s blog, one of the best, so useful. The Horatian tag means “praiser of past things,” which makes Mike, like my friend in Texas, like any thoughtful or bookish person, a respecter of tradition. Like Herbert, too, as he writes in “Lascaux,” his essay about the Paleolithic cave painting in France (in Barbarian in the Garden):

“I returned from Lascaux by the same road I arrived. Though I had stared into the `abyss’ of history, I did not emerge from an alien world. Never before had I felt a stronger or more reassuring conviction: I am a citizen of the earth, an inheritor not only of the Greeks and Romans but of almost the whole of infinity.”

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