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You may have noticed that I’ve been away from this space since May: first, to lead two back-to-back trips in Italy (for college students and for a group of adult learners), and then, to help my father in New Mexico continue his recovery from a terrible bout of pneumonia (which began as I was about to leave for Italy and saw him in the hospital for many, many weeks). So these have been fraught months on a personal level. 

It has felt odd to be at a distance (quite literally while I was in Europe) from the news: Uvalde and Buffalo, the Supreme Court, the CRC Synod. And sometimes, not at a distance at all: the train that derailed near St. Louis carried a former student and her family. A colleague’s daughter (also my former student) was at the parade in Highland Park on Monday. Overwhelming. Lord, have mercy.

To be honest, I have no idea what to say about any of it. Various ideas have come to mind, but each could easily devolve into platitude or “toxic positivity” or rant or worse. Words are insufficient for feeling. And I fear that an urge to punditry can be a form of self-idolatry. Academics, perhaps, are prone to this impulse especially: “if I don’t say something, it hasn’t been fully said.” 

I don’t say this because I think no one should be talking—not at all. Many voices are necessary. But the imperative to “be still and know” seems important for at least some of us. To intentionally commit to humble listening—to not jump to immediately be the fixer. It doesn’t make for a great blog, but this week, I embrace that. 

I’ve shared the poetry of Christina Rossetti quite often here. In this lament, she articulates the deep sadness that comes with unseasonableness, when life and death are out of sync. That feels like what is able to be said today. 

A Dirge

by Christina Rossetti

Why were you born when the snow was falling? 
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling, 
Or when grapes are green in the cluster, 
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster 
For their far off flying 
From summer dying. 

Why did you die when the lambs were cropping? 
You should have died at the apples’ dropping, 
When the grasshopper comes to trouble, 
And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble, 
And all winds go sighing 
For sweet things dying. 

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? I also now chair the department. And 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). As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids, a city I've come to love. I count myself rich in friends and family. 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 used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I don't have the car anymore, but the sentiment is still true.

4 Comments

  • jack roeda says:

    Thank you

  • Nancy VandenBerg says:

    “Be still and know that I am God.”
    To be honest, Jennifer, I had not considered this advice, but I have no doubt that this is what we do as we wait for what is ahead for the CRC, our country and world. We still talk and lean into the Holy Spirit’s direction, but we actively listen for Him.
    Just as Elijah, in his depth of discouragement over God’s seemingly quiet presence in the lives of His people, we, too, need to humbly wait and trust Him. And we need to remember that this is His church and listen for whatever method He chooses to reassure us.
    Hope your Dad is doing better.

  • Thomas Bartha says:

    Another heartfelt piece of writing , with a fine poem to accompany. Thank you.

  • Daniel Miller says:

    Thanks for that.

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