Thursday, February 28, 2002

Keeping house

[The] sense of being at home is important to everyone's well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor, and courage will decrease.... Being at home feels safe; you have a sense of relief whenever you come home and close the door behind you....Coming home is [a my edit, jbb] major restorative in life....

What really does work to increase the feeling of having a home and its comforts is housekeeping. Housekeeping creates cleanliness, order, regularity, beauty, the conditions for health and safety, and a good place to do and feel all the things you wish and need to do and feel in your home.
From Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson, p. 7.

Now I am marching straight into the kitchen to wash dishes, after which I will pick up at least one pile of papers on the living room/study floor.
St. Spiridon's

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Orthodox Church in America

I came across the website of the Orthodox Church in America, which has its roots in the Russian Orthodox tradition. A book about the history of Orthodoxy in America, beginning with the arrival of Russian missionaries to the Aleuts on Kodiac Island in Alaska, is published at the website. There is also a page of stunning icons.

I attended an OCA church in Seattle, St. Spiridon Orthodox Cathedral (complete with brilliant blue onion domes!) for about three years. I was very drawn to the high liturgy that encompasses all the senses: the smell of incense and candles burning; the colors of the icons and brocaded vestments; the brightness of the lights and candles glinting off polished brass candlestands; the sound of the chanting; the touch of crossing oneself or kissing an icon; the physicality of standing for the entire service, as well as the freedom to move about with no pews; the taste of the Eucharist (but only if you were Orthodox).

Monday, February 25, 2002

Bright sadness

A very long quote from Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, by Alexander Schmemann, about the experience of somber Lenten services:
On the one hand, a certain quiet sadness permeates the service: vestments are dark, the services are longer than usual and more monotonous, there is almost no movement....[N]othing seems to "happen"....Thus, for a long time we stand in this monotony—in this quiet sadness.

But then we begin to realize that this very length and monotony are needed if we are to experience the secret and at first unnoticeable "action" of the service in us. Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed "bright," that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us. It is as if we were reaching a place to which the noises and the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access—a place where they have no power. All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the the words of Dostoevsky, touched "another world." And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust. We understand then why the services had to be long and seemingly monotonous. We understand that it is simply impossible to pass from our normal state of mind made up almost entirely of fuss, rush, and care, into this new one without first "quieting down," without restoring in ourselves a measure of inner stability....

Thus, as we experience this mysterious liberation, as we become "light and peaceful," the monotony and the sadness of the service acquire a new significance, they are transfigured....What at first appeared as monotony now is revealed as peace; what sounded like sadness is now experienced as the very first movements of the soul recovering its depth. (pp. 32-33)

Saturday, February 23, 2002

Always more to think about

Yesterday afternoon I attended another workshop on integrating the study of Islam into religion courses. The workshop leader, Mehrzad Boroujerdi, is a political scientist who participated in the Iranian revolution in 1979 when he was a student. He had many fascinating insights into the appeal of the revolution and its failure to fulfill its promises once in power. Another topic of discussion included analysis of some of the factors contributing to the September 11 attacks. The broader theme was the intersection of modernity and Islamic societies. (I missed the previous evening's lecture on that subject, though.)

Thursday, February 21, 2002

The Atlantic Monthly

The Atlantic Monthly magazine is very generous about posting its articles online, although they now require payment for access to certain current articles. However, by the next month, the articles are free. Also, the paper magazine arrives before it is online, and thus I have to hold off commenting on interesting articles. So here are a few articles I've enjoyed recently:
  • February's cover article, "Oh, Gods!", about new religious movements and those who study them;
  • An essay on the joys of getting up early;
  • A review essay of de-cluttering and housekeeping books. The author is somewhat skeptical of the "anti-clutter movement." "The sneaking suspicion I often get from reading such books is that the real purpose of cleaning out the closets is simply to make room for more stuff."

Tuesday, February 19, 2002


No, Britain is not invading Spain. This news article, via a link on "Best of the Web Today" at OpinionJournal, made me laugh; the writing is, well, so British!
Quiet desperation

Last night I picked up Thoreau's Walden and began reading through it again. I underlined many pithy phrases and thoughts, including this one:
[H]ow to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my proper pursuits, was a question which vexed me....
And me! One of the reasons for undertaking the whole Ph.D. thing was to combine what I deeply enjoyed doing with earning a living. Sometimes I wonder, though....

And, of course, Thoreau's famous advice about Clothing:
I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.
What he wrote in 1854 could be applied to today's sweatshops:
I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which men may get clothing. The condition of the operatives is becoming every day more like that of the English; and it cannot be wondered at, since, as far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched. In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Sunday morning

As I typed my title, I remembered Wallace Stevens's poem, "Sunday Morning":
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice....
My "peignoir" is a pair of flannel pyjamas and it's not exactly sunny; it's raining, in fact.

I usually don't turn on my computer on Sundays, but the paper has not yet arrived--delayed by the rain, I suppose--and I had to get directions from my e-mail. I'm meeting a couple friends from school, and we're going to attend a Syrian Orthodox Church this morning.

Last night I finished the Elizabeth George mystery. It certainly was absorbing, although its subject matter was disturbing. Maybe I'll try one of the "Mysteries with a Literary Twist" mentioned in a recent WSJ column (paid subscription required) by Tom Nolan:Well, I just heard the paper arrive.

Friday, February 15, 2002

Quote of the day

I was going to write a long, descriptive, profound entry but then I couldn't log-on to Earthlink--it didn't recognize my name or password even though it did this morning. So, instead of letting it go and trying later, I got on the phone to technical support, waited forever, and finally got through, only to be passed back and forth between technical and customer support. Now, a couple hours later, the problem has gone away but I'm cranky. Therefore, only this quote:
No man is born in possession of the art of living, any more than of the art of agriculture; the one requires to be studied as well as the other, and a man can no more expect permanent satisfaction from actions performed at random, than he can expect a good crop from seeds sown without due regard to soil and season...Nothing is more conducive to happiness, than fixing on an end to be gained, and then steadily pursuing its attainment.
By J. C. London in An Encyclopedia of Agriculture, 1825, quoted on p. 20 in Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World by Helen and Scott Nearing. (The copy I linked to has two of the Nearings' books in one volume.)

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Lime Jell-O

Did you know that, according to an LA Times article,
Salt Lake City is America's Jell-O-eating capital. Every man, woman and child in Salt Lake City buys two boxes of the stuff annually, or twice the national average, says Mary Jane Kinkade of Jell-O brand gelatin-maker Kraft Foods. Utah residents also eat twice as much lime Jell-O as anyone else on the planet.?
Check out the recipes at the end of the article!

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Misc. notes

My 1992 Pontiac Sunbird turned over 100,000 miles on Thursday. I noticed the odometer at 99,996 miles but forgot to check again until after 100,002 miles, so I did not witness the significant event. It has been cared for by Armenian mechanics since about 20,000 miles, to whom I attribute its reliability.

I swung by a bookstore on my way out to school this morning and bought the unabridged version of Robert Fagles' translation of The Odyssey on cassette tapes (I drive a 1992 car, remember) read by Ian McKellen. The set was on sale for $15. One trip to school equals one side of a tape, so I have 24 trips (12 round-trips) covered.

Tonight, I'm playing for the Ash Wednesday English service in the parish hall at church. The regular pianist is playing for the Spanish service taking place simultaneously in the main building. I remember when I came back to the States in Grade 11, I didn't know what Lent was because I was from a very non-liturgical, low church Protestant background. A Catholic student in Chemistry lab explained it to me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Currently reading...

Selected Stories by Alice Munro. Wonderfully descriptive, addictive, evocative short stories.

In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George. An escapist, fun mystery.

Monday, February 11, 2002


[I]f I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I would say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace....[T]he house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind....Without it, man would be a dispersed being. It maintains him through the storms of the heavens and through those of life.
From The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, pp. 6-7.

Friday, February 08, 2002

Brain stimulation

I've often wished the web and personal websites were available when I was an undergraduate because posting to a personal website can be a great way to keep track of and to process all the new ideas one is exposed to in college. However, the web can also be a great distraction and time suck.

I just got back from a stimulating morning at a religion and media conference. John Hart, a former religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times who now works for The Christian Century, was the main speaker. The panelists included Jon Beaupré, a broadcast reporter, Philip Amerson, the president of Claremont School of Theology, and Zayn Kassam, a professor at Pomona College.

Topics of discussion included how balanced and insightful media coverage of religion is and how scholars of religion can contribute to a broader understanding of religious issues.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

Waiting, again

I'm out at school, again. I'll be attending a workshop and a lecture later this afternoon and evening, as well as a conference on religion and the media tomorrow. Because of the heavy traffic late in the afternoon, I have to leave home by 3:00 at the latest to avoid rush hour traffic. Of course, I could be in the library studying while I wait, but it is much more fun to come to the computer lab and post to my weblog!

On my way here, I detoured to the San Gabriel Nursery to get flame lily bulbs. I also bought a Boston fern to put in my bathroom. What a fun nursery to explore! They have red wagons (like the Radio Flyer brand) for customers to load their plants. Because the nursery is located in a part of LA with a large Asian population, they have a lot of bonsai plants, pots, etc., and other Asian plants and gardening accoutrements.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

High Tech

My task the last few days at work has been to finish a time consuming, multi-step project, involving uploading, matching files and records, running queries, downloading, editing, mail merging, creating labels, typing individual letters and envelopes, double-checking different lists and systems, adding records, deleting records, mailing letters, and, finally, e-mailing reports. It was very "tasky" work but a nice break from academic work.

Most of this was accomplished on my svelte new computer with the most recent versions of MS Office applications. My company is doing its part to pull the country out of recession....

Over the past few weeks I've been watching the PBS special The Secret Life of the Brain. It's fascinating how much scientists are learning about the brain and its effect on human development, behavior, and emotions. Last night's episode was about the relationship between thinking and emotion.

Monday, February 04, 2002


I'm at school again waiting for the Genesis reading group to start. A number of us get together each week, led by one of our professors, to read through the book of Genesis, verse by verse, in Hebrew. It helps keep my Hebrew vocal cords limber now that I'm not in the crunch of course work and have passed the Hebrew exam. We're about to begin chapter 23; this group has been meeting since at least 1998, if not earlier.

I met with a retired professor earlier today and will begin helping him get a commentary ready for publishing. I was prepared to be extremely intimidated by him, but he was very friendly and very open about needing my help with the computer. So I'm looking forward to my new adventure.

Friday, February 01, 2002

Studying Islam

Yesterday's post was written in a mad rush at school just before going to a lecture, "Moses and the Torah of Muhammad," the first lecture in a series of lectures and workshops about integrating the study of Islam into other religion courses. (See the description of the NEH grant, Engaging Islam, for further details.) Although the series is a faculty development project, students are allowed to listen in.