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Essay

Nouns and Verbs

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Today’s blog will be my last until September, so I’m pleased to introduce to you my replacement for the summer: Sarina Gruver Moore.  With an undergraduate degree from Wheaton and a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, Sarina has been teaching in the English department at Calvin for the last few years—to the delight of faculty and students alike.  Her specialty is Victorian literature, including authors like Elizabeth Gaskell, and she has become a much-sought teacher for classes like her just finished “Global Austen” course. With fellow-12er Debra Rienstra, she helps coordinate “the post calvin: thirty under thirty” blog.  She has three handsome sons and a charming lawyer husband.  I’m sure she’ll tell you more about her herself. But I have no doubt you are going to love hearing from her in the coming months. 

We’re finishing the semester this week at Calvin. That means exams, of course, and commencement.  But it also means a different kind of commencing: the beginning of retirement for some well-loved colleagues.  We often spend most of our time as the academic year ends thinking about our students (and rightly so), but those of us who make our lives at colleges know that the faculty and staff with whom we serve are essential to long-term contentment (and commitment, too).  And so retirements are keenly felt when we lose from around our tables voices of wisdom won through years of experience.  My brother pointed out to me recently that the word “alumni” was appropriated from the Latin concept of “foster child.” Following that metaphorical logic, I wonder what kinds of families we are often nurturing our “children” in?  What kind of people we are as “academic” mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles? Or better yet–at Christian institutions–as sisters and brothers?  

It struck me, then, that a quick investigation in the Oxford English Dictionary showed that colleague is not just a noun—it’s a verb. 

colleague, v. [ad. OF. colliguercolleguer, to join in alliance, unite, ad. L. colligare to bind together]

1. to join in alliance, to ally, unite, associate. 2. to enter into a league or alliance; to unite; to cooperate for a common end; also in a bad sense, to conspire, cabal.

And it’s a verb that suggests our tendency to misbehave (the temptation to become a clique or a club) as much as it describes the possibilities of collaboration (wonderfully Reformed, that).  We tend to think of “colleague” as a reference to something we are rather than something we do, but the definition focuses on action—and indicates the hard work involved in coming together.  

 But it is hard work. I’m grateful for colleagues who have shown me how to do it with joy and grace.  Happy retirement, Roy and Nancy.

And I’m grateful, too, for literature that gives me richer language to think about the work we’re called to do—and the One who brings it to completion. I leave you with three poems that demonstrate that better than I ever could.  

Until we meet again in autumn.

 

X

Wendell Berry  

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

Song of the Builders

Mary Oliver

On a summer morning,
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God —

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

Praying

Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

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