Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Your Life in a Snapshot: Writing the Memoir

mem⋅oir –noun
1. a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation. 2. Usually, a. an account of one's personal life and experiences; autobiography. b. the published record of the proceedings of a group or organization, as of a learned society. 3. a biography or biographical sketch.

ad⋅o⋅les⋅cence –noun
1. the transitional period between puberty and adulthood in human development, extending mainly over the teen years and terminating legally when the age of maturity is reached; youth. 2. the process or state of growing to maturity. 3. a period or stage of development, as of a society, preceding maturity.


Throughout the course of the first semester, we have discussed the importance of memory in writing. It is a function that allows us to make meaning of our experiences, which essentially define who we become not only as writers, but specifically as story-tellers. Even in the context of formal essay or academic writing, there is a story to share.

Eudora Welty's memoir, One Writer's Beginnings, reads like a series of photographic snapshots. This makes sense, considering she was a photographer at one point in her life. Indeed her memoir is a composite whole of many parts, bits and pieces of her life taken together to form a seamless autobiography.

Taking a tip from Welty and a professor I had in grad school, Dr. Richard Wertime, for a course on the adolescent experience in American and British literature, I would like you to write a brief memoir--a minimum of three pages / maximum of five--in which you capture a decisive or transformative adolescent experience that "you" have had. The experience can be a positive or a negative one, or some mixture of both--there's no limit on how extreme the experience you depict might be.

This effort should be:

a. written in first-person singular voice
b. drawn from your own personal experience
c. as realistic and true to the way the event happened as humanly possible

Please give me a typed hard copy in standard MLA format.

This assignment is due in my mailbox by Thursday, May 14, 2009. No exceptions for late submissions. You will receive a zero.

This assignment will be out of 100 pts.

I will use the typical rubric, which includes a total of 20 pts. for each area of critique: Meaning, Development, Organization, Language, Mechanics.

Any questions, please feel free to axe.

Brother Robert K. Peach, FSC

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Essay in Pictures: Making Meaning of Image

In her aptly title chapter, “Imagery,” renowned American poet, Mary Oliver, does well to explain figurative language, enlightening her readers with examples of metaphor, personification, allusion, and images found in poems from the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, Walt Whitman, and more. Oliver pays close attention to the idea of the image itself, that thing which becomes the centerpiece of a poem or some other piece of literature, opening up a window of opportunity for the writer to describe in full detail what lies before him in the natural world or in the world of his imagination. With some conscious consideration for detail, the writer’s world becomes an essay.

That said, I would like you to choose a video based solely in photography, animation, or some sort of pictorial narrative and interpret it in an essay of at least five paragraphs.

Some videos we will watch in class:

Son Lux's "Break": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUSBXsd8NkQ&feature=channel_page

Aesop Rock's "None Shall Pass": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1u43KDiWD0

Radiohead's "All I Need": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdrCalO5BDs

Philip Glass's "Pruit Igoe" from Koyaanisqatsi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4qxk7KhnHs

Talkdemonic's "Duality of Deathening": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCVRv6mZhkA

Sigur Ros' "Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34ZtT4Th9Ys

The images in the video you choose should hopefully inspire in you a sense of metaphor.

The question you should ask yourselves as you view the video of your choosing is: What do the images flooding my mind from the video represent?

And so the directions are as follows:

  • Watch the video.
  • Listen to the music.
  • Pay close attention to the details of the images presented in the video and the music that is interfused with those images, lyrics included (if the song has lyrics).
  • Jot down as you view the film your basic impressions of the images and the music. What mood does it create? What emotions are expressed through the interfusion of music and image?
  • Once you are finished viewing the video, write an interpretive essay in which you explain the deeper meaning of the video, giving a analysis/synopsis of its images, and an explanation of the various lyrics, if there are any.
  • Be sure to describe the music you hear as well.
  • This is assignment is due on hard copy by Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Be sure to include everything in MLA format as per usual.

Below, I have modeled for you my interpretation of a favorite music video by an experimental artist under the moniker Son Lux. It is his video for "Break" off of his debut album on anticon. records called, At War with Walls and Mazes:


Bro. Rob Peach, FSC

Bro. Rob Peach, FSC

ENG 165/Writing the Essay

06 May 2009

Breaking Son Lux Apart: An Interpretation of "Break"

I was leafing through my older brother’s college sketchbook this past weekend and came upon a page with some notes scrawled across its once blanks surface. His distinctive script was placed against the backdrop of a pen-and-ink depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, ablaze with a fire burning atop the organ, pierced with a ring of thorns and bleeding from an open wound. The shadow cast by the heart, set against the light of its own flame, was that of a cross. My brother’s message in all of this: “God’s greatest creation is the human heart, for it is in the love of the heart that [we are] most like God, sharing in His divinity.” Beneath this, a bullet point and an underlined: “The Order of Christian Lovers.” As sub-points to this, my brother writes: “A love so radical it knows no boundary—it has no fear…; it finds in every persona a ‘neighbor’ (CCC #1931); a heart sustained only in grace… .”

Evidently, this subject of Christian love that inspired my brother’s sketch some eight years ago was taken in paraphrase from The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It strikes me as odd that a document such as that of the Catechism, so easily associated with the lesser attributes of the Institutional Church—its black and white dogmatism and strict eye for doctrine and adherence to the letter of doctrinal law—would profess something so radical as a love without boundary. Upon further thought, however, such a provocation is not at all distant from the profession of beatitudinal love that Christ proclaims in the Gospels, particularly Matthew. This kind of love is one of charity, of self-giving concern for the other that readjusts one’s center of gravity. It is a love that incorporates into it a philial, erotic, and agapic sensibility—that is, the triune characteristics of brotherly, romantic, and unconditional concern for someone other than oneself. This Christ-inspired love is one that, though simple in what it requires of us, cannot be reduced to an easy definition in light of just how complex and complicated human relationships can be. The challenges of being vulnerable, of standing figuratively naked before someone else is no facile task; it requires plain speech and honesty; it requires simple sharing that acknowledges without judgment the inherent dignity of the human person. The simplicity of this message is clear, yet its complexity comes in the difficulty of actually living it.

In his song, “Break”, off of his electro-classical album, At War with Walls and Mazes, composer and song-writer, Son Lux, acknowledges the sheer difficulty of finding clarity in the web of human relationships that can tangle a person in knots of confusion, heartbreak, sadness, loneliness, and isolation. Indeed, weaving one’s way through obstacles in the course of developing ties to others involves the recognition of just how at once holy and wicked people can be, of how quickly one can be pulled into the holiness—that is, the wholeness—of life in relationship to another, as well as the wickedness—that is, the sense of fragmentation—of life in relationship to another.

The music video for “Break”, directed by Finbar Mallon, does well to image the dynamics of human relationship in its stuttered frames of stop-go photography that feature animated strings of yarn, colored in red and green; a man and woman interlocked at once by the green and red yarn, though separated by the obstacled space of a trafficked street; a naked body trapped in a web of such string; the budding of paper flowers in red and green; and the image of red, green, yellow, and orange paper that pixilate the walls surrounding an amorphous and tangled body. Put together, all of these images suggest a narrative of tension that occurs between lovers as much as it does between friends, between enemies, between those warring forces of holiness and wickedness within oneself. Thus the flashing colors of green, yellow, and red throughout the various sequences of the video signify the relational dynamics of “stop”, “slow down”, and “go” that we feel in the pull and push of everyday relationships. The video, at one point, presents an image of a young man dressed in green, a young woman to whom he is tethered by a string, dressed in red, suggesting the discord that lovers, friends, and enemies go through in those moments when one party says yes to something while the other says no.

The theme here is finding unity in discord, of union in dissolution. Matched with the lyrics, the collage of aforementioned pictures tells a story of a hopelessness that ironically inspires hope. The shaky cry of Son Lux’s voice, overlaying the single-note structure of icy piano keys, relays an eerie message of lament over the feeling of being torn apart by the uncertainty, confusion, and doubt that is part and parcel of human intimacy:

Where have all the wicked gone? / Is there no one left to break you down? / Where have all the holy gone? / Is there no one to condemn you? / Where have all the wicked gone? / Is there no one to condemn you? / Where have all the holy gone? / Is there no one left to break you down?

It is not without some irony that Son Lux is asking himself and a perceived other, “Is there no one left to break you down?”. It is almost as though he acknowledges the unspoken wish we all have to entertain drama—even if it involves emotional turmoil—and to seek out suffering in relationship with someone else in such a way that we ironically feel more alive. We could call this the “embraced heaviness” that fictional characters such as Antonio in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice feels in his heart-break at the loss of his dear companion, Bassanio, who seeks the hand of the fair Portia in marriage. “Embraced heaviness” is a sorrow voluntarily suffered.

But what is the logic behind this kind of voluntary suffering? It can perhaps only be explained in the sense that, by being broken down, by being condemned, by being caught up in the push and pull of good and evil in our own hearts and the confusing forces of love shared between ourselves and someone else, that we have something to live for, that we have a reason to constantly restore ourselves in the ashes of our own brokenness. So, in asking “Where have all the wicked gone?” or, on the other hand, “Where have all the holy gone?”, Son Lux is recognizing the paradoxical tie between good and evil—one exists because of the other—in our lives. Moreover, he is acknowledging the difficulty of maintaining a steadfast will in reconciling these two forces in one’s life. It is neither one nor the other that exists alone, but both in co-existence. In this way, it takes courage to stand of one’s own free will in tending the flame that ignites between and within people.

Son Lux’s logic is not unlike that of St. Augustine who coined the term, “O Felix Culpa”, that is, “O Happy Fall!”. Nor is it unlike the logic of St. Paul who proclaimed in Chapter 12 of his Second Letter to the Corinthians:

In order that I might not become conceited I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and keep me from getting proud. Three times I begged the Lord that this might leave me. He said to me, 'My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.' And so I willingly boast of my weakness instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong. (2 Cor 12: 10)

While Son Lux nowhere specifically mentions the person of Christ, nor indicates explicitly any religious message within the song, the spiritual allusion to man’s potential for restoration, in recognizing and being called out for his own failures, is clear. We all suffer from the sin of pride and so it goes that we are all equally in need of humility, of being humbled as much by the wicked as by the holy. In realizing the good and evil in our own hearts and in the interpersonal dramas of human relationship, we come to a greater awareness of self and other, a knowledge that can only serve to foster growth—a budding like that of the flowers portrayed in Son Lux’s video collage.

This kind of paradoxical reasoning is certainly implied in Son Lux’s ironical lyrics for “Break”—that, whether holy or wicked, we are as much responsible for our own condemnation as we are for our own redemption; we, not someone else, bring both about in our own lives. In the end, it is we who must hold ourselves accountable for the way we treat and are treated by others according to the laws of the spirit. We must become our own judges. This is a challenge. It is much easier for us to skirt responsibility by willingly condemning or being condemned by others, appointing ourselves either the self-righteous judge or the helpless victim of misunderstanding. But, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, referencing the supremacy of God’s law (versus the laws of society) as exemplified by Christ’s accordance to its higher purpose: “But now we are released from the law, dead to what held us captive, so that we may serve in the newness of the spirit and not under the obsolete letter.”

I think that Son Lux may very well be echoing this sentiment: that when we live according to a higher purpose or law in relationship to another, we are challenged to make decisions for ourselves based upon that higher ideal. This is hard. It is much easier to give up when someone is throwing flames at us, be it the wicked or the holy, the righteous or unrighteous. It is much easier to rely on someone else’s will-power to steer us in a direction we are unwilling to drive on our won. But, to confront obstacles in a spirit of faith and hope, is a testament to the strength of the human will and spirit, inspired by that higher force we call God. Furthermore, by being aware of the good and evil that surrounds and is within us, we can come to a greater understanding of ourselves and others—thus that odd desire for an experience of wickedness and holiness, or to simply giving up which laces the questions of Son Lux’s hauntingly beautiful song.

As the video fades to black, we are reminded that, even in the tangle of human relationships, the love which inspires them is fundamentally without boundary; it is rather the foundation of the law which rules human relationship; it is the root force of human will and the spark which ignites the strength of the human person to hold him or herself accountable and free. Son Lux tells us—as does the seemingly unrelated chapter of the Catechism that my brother recreated through art—to untangle the web of confusion that prevents us from entering more fully the green realm of friendship with the other, to walk that safeguarded yet boundary-less space of intimacy. For it is there where we connect to each person we find as though s/he were indeed a “neighbor”. And when we do connect, it is crucial for us to take on the difficult responsibilities of caring for self and other.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Memory and Voice: Responding to Welty

Throughout Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, she stresses the importance of human memory in the process of writing.

I would like you to pay particular attention to chapter three, "Finding a Voice," in which Welty speaks often of the notion that memory is the foundation for story-telling and for writing in general. It is the storehouse, so to speak, of images, ideas, emotions, and thoughts that become the basis for the craft of writing.

That said, please construct a five paragraph reflection in which you, using chapter three of One Writer’s Beginnings,

1. Start with a thesis statement that essentially sums up Welty’s overriding theory on memory in your own words. Be sure to mention the author’s name and the title of the work in your introduction. (eg., In Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings...)

2. Find a quote in chapter three that mentions memory, cite it (indicate page number in parenthesis followed by a period), and then write a few sentences in which you interpret the passage.

3. Repeat step #2

4. Repeat step #2

5. Closing statement in which you incorporate your own theory of memory into the essay.

a. Questions to consider:

i. Is memory really an essential
function of
writing? If so, why? What does it do for us as

ii. Is memory a form of invention?
That is, does it help us to
formulate/invent ideas and opinions on matters of
life? If so, how?

iii. What would life be like without memory?
Would it have the same
meaning? Is memory essential to making life more meaningful? Why or why

Due: In class on hard copy by Wednesday, April 8, 2009. I will accept early submissions for those who will not be in attendence on Wednesday.

Below is my own essay in response to the assignment, though I bend the rules a bit. Instead of focusing on chapter three alone, I focus on the entire book. As you will see, I do not keep to such a strict format as I suggest for each of your body paragraphs. Regardless, I hope this is a helpful model for you:

Opening paragraph with some summary and thesis statement in bold/italics:

In Welty’s autobiography, One Writer's Beginnings, we learn of a woman whose passion to write was inspired by a love for family, for home (Jackson, Mississippi) and the various intricacies of life itself. From the age of two, Welty writes, she learned that “any room in our house, at any time of day, was there to read in, or to be read to” (5). By the time she was five or six, she recalls securing that sense of “hidden observer” (20) diligently monitoring and recording various subtleties of those people and things that surrounded her. She writes, “A conscious act grew out of this by the time I began to write stories: getting my distance, a prerequisite of my understanding human events, is the way I begin work” (21). Welty’s respect for the “holiness of life” (33)—in all of its ironies, juxtapositions, comedies, and tragedies—stemmed from her acute observations of the human experience through the function of memory. The insights of daily life could be best understood through memory and best described for her in words.

First developing paragraph involving a significant memory of Welty's childhood with a key quote:

Welty's appreciation for memory as a function of writing stems from her mutual appreciation for the events of her childhood. Furthermore, Welty’s sense of freedom as a writer set to see the world and frame it through memory really seems to have developed on those long road trips (later train rides) her family took to see the father’s side of the clan in the rolling farmland of Southern Ohio and the mother’s side in the mountainous terrain of West Virginia:

It took the mountain top, it seems to me now, to give me the sensation of independence. It was as if I’d discovered something I’d never tasted before in my short life. Or rediscovered it—for I associated it with the taste of the water that came out of the well … The coldness, the far, unseen, unheard springs of what was in my mouth now, the iron strength of its flavor that drew my cheeks in, its fern-laced smell, all said mountain mountain mountain as I swallowed. Every swallow was making me a part of being here, sealing me in place, with my bare feet planted on the mountain and sprinkled with my rapturous spills. What I felt I’d come here to do was something on my own. (57)

Second developing paragraph in which I interpret the above quote from page 57 and discuss the nature of time according to Welty:

In this way, Welty speaks of the sense of time and place that suffuses (or fills) her work and transports the reader to her vanished past. This sense of independence would stay with Welty. It was as a central piece of her history and the foundation of her identity as a woman longing to capture the world that passed by quickly from the window of a car or train. When she did begin to write in her twenties, the stories took shape from revelations she had while traveling in those summers of her youth. These revelations came through memory. Welty believed that time took on a chronology all its own in fiction; an ineffable chronology following along the “continuous thread of revelation” (69). Welty kept life from running away as she says, and learned that every “feeling waits upon its gesture” (85) particularly in regards to writing and memory, which both encapsulate transient life and hold it in one place.

Third developing paragraph in which I continue on the theme of writing as a way to exercise memory/observation and capture life's moments in time and place:

Although Welty never physically separated herself from her region for any great period of time—she graduated from University of Wisconsin and went to graduate school at Columbia in New York City—she too wished to remain invisible: “My temperament and my instinct had told me alike that the author, who writes at his own emergency, remains and needs to remain at this private remove” (Welty 87). In other words, Welty claims that to gain a wide frame of vision and a greater perspective on the whole of things in their parts. One must be able to set them at a distance. This is especially true, according to Welty, when observing humans. Welty writes that humans change with time as a result of the inward journey where “each of us is moving, changing, with respect to others” (102). Humans therefore remain vibrant through human memory where they are kept alive and thriving.

Fifth pargraph in all / Closing statements in which I make my conclusions about memory with Welty's help to back me up:

For Welty as for any writer, words help to hold transient life in place. Like Welty says of photography, I would propose that writing captures the transience of time by portraying those single moments when history unfolds before us in the events of everyday life. As Welty states in the final page of her memoir, "The memory is a living thing--it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives--the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead" (104). Indeed, memory is a way to resurrect that which we thought was dead and nothing could make that which seems impermanent more permanent than writing. Indeed, "Each of us is moving, changing, with respect to others. As we discover, we remember; remembering, we discover; and most intensely do we do this when our separate journeys converge" (102). In other words, it is our inward journey that leads us through time and, when joined with the journey of someone else, it becomes the charged dramatic field of writing (Welty 102)--the ultimate exercise of memory.

Copyright 2008 by Robert K. Peach, FSC All rights reserved. No part of the above excerpts may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, elctronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retreival system, without permission in writing from the author.Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the above excerpts should be e-mailed to robertkpeach@gmail.com

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Nature, Soul, God


As I mentioned in class the other day, the transcendentalists were greatly concerned with the spiritual element of nature and its relationship to God and the Soul.

But what does all of this mean according to you?

Put another way:What is nature? What, or who is the Soul? And of course, what, or who is God?

I challenge you to use your imagination and consider those images which come to mind when you hear or read the words: Nature, Soul, God.

This essay is due Thursday, April 2, 2009, by class-time.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

From the Firewatch into God: Merton and The Sign of Jonas


Below I share with you some pieces of my thesis I wrote for the completion of my Masters in English degree from Arcadia University. It will hopefully serve as a guide for you in constructing your response to the following question:

How is Thomas Merton's epilogue to the Sign of Jonas, entitled, "The Firewatch," a metaphor for man's spiritual journey?

Please answer in a well-developed, five paragraph essay indicating three aspects of Merton's journey through the monastery on his July 4, 1952 nightwatch that suggest a search for God. Name those aspects and relate them to the idea of spiritual journey.

This assignment is due Thursday, March 26, 2009 by class time.

Monk Peach, FSC
  • from Chapter One of " 'Into the Cavern': A Study of Consciousness through the Lens of Thomas Merton's Mystical Poetics":
In a February 26, 1952, journal entry from The Sign of Jonas, Merton speaks of “different levels of depth”[i] in a way that advertently or inadvertently reflects Jamesian mystical epistemology. Using the sea as his archetype for the oceanic feeling of peaceful nothingness, Merton plunges into three levels of the “sea” (or, for our intents and purposes, mystical consciousness): the surface (or action), beneath the surface (or darkness and rest), and in the depths (or the “rich darkness which is no longer thick like water but pure, like air”) (SJ 338-39).

Once beyond the first level of action, the monk enters into the second level of depth beneath the surface distractions of the world. There, he experiences the speechlessness of which James speaks; there is an ineffable quality to this immersion into contemplative territory, where “There is no sound” and “Nothing is happening” (SJ 339). Merton admits:

I think God intended me to write about this second level, however, rather than the first. I abandon all problems to their own unsatisfactory solutions: including the problem of “monastic spirituality.” I will not even answer, as I answer the scholastics, that the Desert Fathers talked not about monastic spirituality but about purity of heart and obedience and solitude, and about God. And the wiser of them talked very little about anything. But the divine life which is the life of the soul as the soul is the life of the body: this is a pure and concrete thing and not to be measured by somebody else’s books. God in me is not measured by your ascetic theory and God in you is not to be weighed in the scales of my doctrine. Indeed He is not to be weighed at all. (SJ 339)
Thus the mystic’s sense of God is reduced not to some confining theoretical doctrine or postulation, but articulated only through direct experience itself. In this sense, man’s intelligence is suffused with divine intelligence. For, as Merton would have it, in the third level, that is man’s innermost being, “love burns with an innocent flame, the clear desire for death: … Clean death by the sword of the spirit in which is intelligence. And everything in order. Emergence and deliverance” (SJ 340).

Merton suggests that man, then, must die to his old self, as philosopher psychologist, Carl Jung, suggests—or as with Jonas in the belly of the whale—and be redeemed in the baptismal waters of Christ’s resurrection, God’s guarantee of salvation for the human person whose experience of the divine leaves him psychologically free of distractions that chain him to a world of ceaseless action. The freedom of redemption is the intellectual freedom of “no thought” as it is with the mystic (i.e. Merton) who “pursue[s] thought no further” (SJ 341). Reborn into a life of stillness, the human person is called, according to Merton, to be like Jonas:

We must get Jonas out of the whale and the whale must die at a time when Jonas is in the clear, busy with his orisons, clothed and in his right mind, free, holy, and walking on the shore. Such is the meaning of the desire for death that comes in the sane night, the peace that finds us for a moment in clarity, walking by the light of the stars, raised to God’s connatural shore, dryshod in the heavenly country, in a rare moment of intelligence. (SJ 341)
That said, Mysticism and the mystic way are, to a degree, phenomenological as well. In other words, the mystic’s experience of God begins with the world of phenomena, which, through practices of meditation and contemplation, are eventually understood noetically as vestiges of God. “The sign of Jonas is written in our being,” writes Merton, “No wonder that this should be so when all creation is a vestige of the Creator but also contains, written everywhere, in symbols, the economy of our Redemption” (SJ 341).

[i] Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981 [1953]) 338; subsequent references will be cited as “SJ” parenthetically in the text.

  • from Chapter Four of thesis:

Transcending the Dichotomy and Reconciling Opposites:
Merton’s “Fire Watch” as an Ignition of the Unitive Spark Within

As is particularly evident in The Sign of Jonas, Merton’s life was characterized by the restlessness of the artist with undeniably mystic sensibilities. Like the artist of which Merton speaks in his reappraisal, there was in Merton’s life always that procreant urge to write. Though this is not to say that Merton never entered into the “abyss of the infinite actuality of God Himself” (SJ 351) as his “Fire Watch” epilogue to Jonas and his account of enlightenment in Sri Lanka indicate.

Merton had to write. Like the artist of whom he speaks in “Poetry and Contemplation,” Merton always returned to himself as poet. In characteristically clever fashion, Merton found a way, at least rhetorically, to resolve the paradox that his own vocation as monk, mystic, and poet reflected, relying of course on the power of God: “It remains true that at a certain point in the interior life, the instinct to create and communicate enters into conflict with the call to mystical union with God. But God himself can resolve the conflict. And He does. Nor does He need any advice from us in order to do so” (SJ 354). Merton came into dialogue with God as both a writer and contemplative rather than as either one or the other. Echoing a fellow Merton scholar, Robert G. Waldron notes in, “Thomas Merton’s The Sign of Jonas: A Jungian Commentary,” that the lyrical loveliness of the “Fire Watch” epilogue is the “direct, though paradoxical, result of Merton’s efforts to deny his vocation as writer, one which he thought at the time was incompatible with his higher vocation as a contemplative.”[i] The “Fire Watch” symbolizes, “Merton’s merging of both vocations, that of writer and that of contemplative, in language that transcends duality and reaches toward the ineffable beauty of God.”[ii]

In this way, Merton’s writing, like his fire watch, is therefore an “examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light: a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness” (SJ 352). Merton thus walked back into the darkness from which he was born and to which he returned in the spirit of Christ’s resurrection. As the apex of Merton’s spiritual journey, in Jonas at least, from solemn vows to priestly ordination, the “Fire Watch” takes the reader on a flight similar to that in the closing chapters of Bonaventure’s Itinerareum mentis in Deum.[1]

Elbow to elbow with Merton, we move through different levels of the monastery on a cloudless and hot summer night in Kentucky where we see that Merton’s journey has thus far “rendered him aware of the history of the monastery, his own personal history, the history of humankind—all intertwined in one history: Merton’s and everyone’s.”[iii] Merton comes to grips with his past—in all of its “deceits, errors, and sins”[iv]—and his monastic vocation in true mystical style, passing through the hallways of memory, will, and understanding; ascending the stairway of purgation; and eventually reaching the tower of illumination that transcends both time and space.

“The nocturnal fire watch leads Merton to the realization,” says Waldron, “that to plunge into the night (the unconscious) is to embark on a journey of self-realization, to wholeness.”[v] We get a good sense of this self-discovery in the epilogue to Jonas. It is in darkness where Merton meets clarity—an event that would replay itself throughout Merton’s life. With the gift of his writing as God’s grace, Merton is granted the freedom to suspend all other activity and simply contemplate God’s presence there in the monastery, the place to which he came so as to re-enter the world and thus begin his journey to God in word, sacrament, and deed (i.e. psychological integration).

[1] trns. The Soul’s Journey into God.
[i] Robert G. Waldron, “Thomas Merton’s The Sign of Jonas: A Jungian Commentary,” The Merton Annual 4 (1991) 59.
[ii] Ibid., 58.
[iii] Ibid., 64.
[iv] Ibid., 64.
[v] Ibid., 68.

  • from the concluding pages of thesis:

From the Whale’s Belly into God

Following Merton on his mystical journey as portrayed in his poetics, we are taken through a vast spiritual landscape traversing the “burning promised land” that is the world of the mind in conscious and unconscious form. It is a pilgrimage inspired by the tension of paradox—the threshold between seemingly opposing forces such as life and death, being and nonbeing, solitude and community, contemplation and action. His poetics give witness to Merton’s, albeit precarious, crossing of the bridge between the great ramparts of his conflicted existence. We see that Merton was lead to his destiny as a prophet marked by the sign of Jonas the prophet and of ultimate reconciliation: Christ’s resurrection from the dead. In the end, it is in writing, as in his prayer, that Merton seemed most confident in crossing the figurative Rubicon from here to eternity.

In his poetics Merton made the dialectical and quantum leap into the depths of his own psyche, his own being, his own soul. By way of his poetics, in prose and poem, we are led by an elusive figure navigating the myriad passageways of Merton’s unconscious, symbolized by his monastery walk during the nighttime firewatch into God. This silent watcher, this poet takes us on the imaginative trajectory of human intuition that reconciles opposites and leads us back to our original, unified source:

But there is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question. Eternity is in the present. Eternity is in the palm of the hand. Eternity is a seed of fire, whose sudden roots break barriers that keep my heart from being an abyss.

…Questions arrive, assume their actuality, and also disappear. In this hour I shall cease to ask them, and silence shall be my answer. The world that Your love created, that the heat has distorted, and that the mind is always misinterpreting, shall cease to interfere with our voices.

Minds which are separated pretend to blend in one another’s language. The marriage of souls in concepts is mostly an illusion. Thoughts which travel outward bring back reports of You from outward things: but a dialogue with You, uttered through the world, always ends by being a dialogue with my own reflection in the stream of time. With You there is no dialogue unless You choose a mountain and circle it with cloud and print Your words in fire upon the mind of Moses. What was delivered to Moses on tables of stone, as the fruit of lightning and thunder, is now more thoroughly born in our own souls as quietly as the breath of our own being.

The hand lies open. The heart is dumb. The soul that held my substance together, like a hard gem in the hollow of my own power, will one day totally give in.

You, Who sleep in my breast, are not met with words, but in the mergence of life within life and of wisdom within wisdom. You are found in communion: Thou in me and I in Thee and Thou in them and they in me: dispossession within dispossession, dispassion within dispassion, emptiness within emptiness, freedom within freedom. I am alone. Thou art alone. The Father and I are One.

The Voice of God is heard in Paradise:

“What was cruel has become merciful. What is now merciful was never cruel. I have always overshadowed Jonas with My mercy, and cruelty I know not at all. Have you had sight of Me, Jonas My child? Mercy within mercy within mercy. I have forgiven the universe without end, because I have never known sin.

There are drops of dew that show like sapphires in the grass as soon as the great sun appears, and leaves stir behind the hushed flight of an escaping dove. (SJ 361-62)

And so, with Merton as our mystic, poetic, and prophetic guide, not unlike Elias or Jonas, we stop asking questions and enter resolutely into the Divine mystery of our own existence, our own psyche, free of all duality, floating like a dove in the “now”—in the silent, eternal music of the spheres.

Copyright 2008 by Robert K. Peach, FSC

All rights reserved. No part of the above excerpts may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, elctronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retreival system, without permission in writing from the author.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the above excerpts should be e-mailed to robertkpeach@gmail.com

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. Augustine's Confessions


In a scholarly style, I would like you to produce a formal, five paragraph essay in which you discuss a theme demonstrated in "Book II" of St. Augustine's Confessions.

This will require you to follow the format below:

P1 (intro/thesis)

P2 (brief summary of "Book II" including direct quotes and paraphrases)

P3 (a discussion of the theme and how it is protrayed in the text, using direct quotes and paraphrases, as well as an interpreation of what the citations mean)

P4 (a further discussion of theme, indicating another aspect in which it is portrayed in "Book II")

P5 (concluding statement that indicates answers to any questions or observations that still need to be addressed in reaction to the text)

Some writing tips:
  • When writing a literary analysis, you will focus on specific attribute(s) of the text(s).
  • When discussing these attributes, you will want to make sure that you are making a specific, arguable point (thesis) about these attributes.
  • You will defend this point with reasons and evidence drawn from the text. (Much like a lawyer!)

an example of a decent thesis statement:
  • In "Book II" of St. Augustine's Confessions, the author demonstrates man's perfectibility as seen in his emphasis on the beneficence of punishment regarding what he believes are the vice-filled exploits of his youth involving undisciplined lust and mischief.

an example of a decent citation and subsequent interpretation:
  • Lamenting his fall from grace, likened to the biblical fall of Adam and Eve, St. Augustine admits early on in "Book II" that "I could not have been wholly content to confine sexual union to acts intended to procreate children, as your law prescribes, Lord" (25). He adds, "But I in my misery seethed and followed the driving force of my impulses, abandoning [God]" (25). Here, St. Augustine attributes his despairing loss of God's presence in his life to the lusty desire of his flesh--longings that he seems to have acted on, therefore bringing about a painful guilt. In such guilt for his sins of the flesh, St. Augustine claims to have learned from his mistakes: "I should discover to be in nothing except you Lord, nothing but you. You fashion 'pain to be a lesson' (Ps. 93: 20 LXXX), you 'strike to heal', you bring death upon us so that we should not die apart from you (Deut. 32: 39)" (25). In this way, St. Augustine realizes the upside of "falling" down; man may fall, but he still has the power to pick himself up and move towards perfection in God. What's interesting, here, is that St. Augustine seems to suggest that man's greatest punishment is not directly related to a violent act from God; rather, man's punishment is in the sense of separation he experiences in the committing of his own sin: "Where was I in the sixteenth year of the age of my flesh? 'Far away in exile from teh pleasures of your house' " (Mic. 2:9). Thus, St. Augustine uses the Bible to indicate that punishment is in the isolation from love caused by vice. This is most evident in his concluding remarks: "My desire is for you, justice and innocence, you are lovely and splendid to honest eyes; the satiety of your love is insatiable. With you is utter peace and life immune from disturbance. The person who enters into you 'enters into the joy of the Lord' (Matt. 25: 21)" (34).

This reflection is due on Wednesday, March 18, 2009.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Creating Your Myth


In his lecture "The Self as Hero" from Pathways to Bliss, Joseph Campbell writes:

Now, all these myths that you have heard and that resonate with you, those are the
elements from round about that you are building into a form in your life. The thing worth
considering is how they relate to each other in your context, not how they relate to something
out there--how they were relevant on the North American prairies or in the Asian jungles
hundreds of years ago, but how they are relevant now--unless by contemplating their former
meaning you can begin to amplify your own understanding of the role they play in your life.

In this way, Campbell suggests the importance of understanding our own histories as reflective of the archetypal hero journey, filled as it is with a specific pattern of departure, fulfillment and return. Campbell also mentions the specific quests within the hero's going and returning: the entrance into the darkness of the unconscious, the reconciliation with one's shadow, the integration of the anima (for males) and the animus (for females), and the atonement with the "father."

That said, I would like you to, using one myth that Campbell describes in his lecture, explain the hero journey and what is involved in it. This will involve summarizing the myth and pinpointing trials, the specific psychological correlates of the trials, and spiritual themes of the tests the hero must undergo.

After you have done that, do what Campbell recommends: relate them to your life. Explain an experience that you have gone through that parallels the hero journey as delineated by Campbell.

This assignment is due Thursday, March 12, 2009.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

L'Engle and the Art of Journaling


As discussed in class, it is interesting to note Madeleine L'Engle's style in writing a rather heavy theological reflection about the "eschaton" that is ironically presented as an informal, conversational thought-piece.

Seamlessly written, her journal entry is rooted in time and place, beginning with a description of setting both externally--that is, involving details of her physical environment--as well as details of her internal environment, the stuff of her heart and mind, of her lived experience. She uses the space in between the opening and closing of her entry to espouse a philosophy of life that is closely tied into all that is currently happening around her at the moment of her writing, two o'clock in the morning over a cup of hot bouillon.

That said, I would like you to create a journal entry of your own, written in the very style demonstrated in L'Engle's entry. Again, notice the pattern--an interwoven dynamic of setting, time, place, reflection on current experiences, setting, time, and place.

This assignment is essentially a free writing assignment, but it will require that you seek out a quiet space in your normal home environment. Root yourself in place and then simply write about what is on your heart and mind in the style of L'Engle. Fall into your own groove and just let your thoughts drift a la free writing. Be sure, however, to have a basic thrust--that is, theme--to keep your reflection focused, as with the in-class free write we did on Wednesday of this past week.

For L'Engle, the basic thrust of her piece is the "eschaton" as it relates to the liturgical season of Advent and as it relates to the day-to-day experiences of herself and those around her. Her eschatalogical vision, like Merton's, is one of hope. L'Engle writes, "The end of the world in the eschatalogical sense has nothing to do with pride or anger and it is not just the end of this one planet...It is the redemption, not the destruction of Creation" (3). Thus, the coming of the Kingdom, the end days is really about beginning.

Please structure everything according to MLA format, especially if you quote L'Engle for whatever reason. Meanwhile, I expect you to have a title for your entry as usual and to follow the typical header and heading formats of previous essays. Remember, however, that this is not so much an essay you are writing as it is a journal entry. Thus, you can get away with being a bit more informal in your writing. Just be sure to develop your thoughts fully and clearly! This should be at least three typed pages.

It is due next Wednesday, March 4, 2009.

Sister Peach, FSC

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Merton and the Meek: On Christian Non-Violence

In Thomas Merton's essay, "Blessed are the Meek" from Faith and Violence, the deceased Trappist monk and political activist of the twentieth century sets a theological basis for the manifestation of Christian non-violence in the modern world. His understanding of Christian non-violence is informed by the Beatitudes proffered by Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. As Merton would have it, Christ's eschatalogical vision for humanity is undergirded by meekness, humilty and hope--all central tenets of Christian non-violent resistence that is most efficacious when carried out according to seven conditions the famed monk proffers in "Blessed are the Meek."


Using the above prompt as an introductory paragraph to your next essay reflection, I would like you to craft a thought piece that is structured as follows:

Intro - provided

P 1 - give an explanation of what Merton means when he discusses that the non-violent resister is one who fights for everybody and who undergoes a transformation of self in and through God (cf. 15 - 17).

P 2 - give an explanation of what Merton ultimately means by both "meekness" and "resistence" and what the end goal of any form of non-violent, meek "resistence" is (cf. 17-20).

P 3 - summarize and interpret, relying on both paraphrases and direct quotes, the seven conditions Merton sets forth as the bases for Christian non-violence (cf. 21-27).

P 4 - interpret the relationships between "person-oriented" thinking and Christian non-violent resistence (cf. 28).

P 5 - conclude (without stating, "In conclusion," or "All in all") with a statement that gives a clear indication of what Merton's ultimate mandate it is for those seeking to settle conflict (cf. 29).

This reflection is due in my hands, according to MLA format on Wednesday, February 25, 2009.

If you have any issues regarding proper formatting, particularly with regard to incorporating and interpreting quotations--long or short--in(to) your text, please refer to the MLA guide distributed to you at the beginning of the semester.

Monk Peach, FSC

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dorothy Day's Christology


To say that Dorothy Day’s outlook on life is Christological is to say that it pertains to “Christology,” formally defined as “the branch of theology [i.e. the study of God] dealing with the nature, person and deeds of Jesus Christ” and “an interpretation of the nature, person, and deeds of Christ.” As discussed in class, Day’s theology was a lived study of God as she experienced God in the person of Christ. However, her experience of Christ was not abstract. Rather, it was very much grounded in the day-to-day reality of her dealings with the suffering of the poor. It was in service to her brothers and sisters, “the workers,” that she saw the face of Christ and came closer to that person through the love she felt in suffering with those people. Ultimately, her experience of God, of Christ, and of people was rooted in compassion—the act of suffering with.

That said, I would like you to write a five paragraph essay in which you interpret three claims (overall) Day makes in “We Scarcely Know Ourselves” and “Beginnings” that communicate a Christological message. Here is a possible outline to help you structure your response:

1. Start with a thesis statement that essentially sums up Day’s overriding theology in your own words. Be sure to mention the author’s name and the title of the work in your introduction. (eg., In Dorothy Day’s autobiographical reflections, “We Scarcely Know Ourselves” and “Beginnings” from Robert Ellsberg’s Dorothy Day: Selected Writings…). You may paraphrase some of Robert Ellsberg’s introduction and/or preface to help you formulate the introductory thoughts on Day.

2. Find a quote in either “We Scarcely Know Ourselves” or “Beginnings,” cite it (indicate page number in parenthesis followed by a period), and then write a few sentences in which you interpret the passage. You can begin your interpretation with a statement such as In other words, Day is saying…

3. Repeat step #2

4. Repeat step #2

5. For a conclusion, it is good for a writer to suggest further ideas for consideration regarding the topic. What a writer should avoid is simply restating everything that’s already been said. He should ask himself any unanswered questions before writing and then set about answering them in brief within a paragraph or so of concluding remarks. He can even ask unanswered questions in the conclusion, as long as his conclusion isn’t chock-full of them. That said, here’s some things to consider for your conclusion:

Closing statement on man’s search for God through service to others:

a. Questions to consider:
i. Is God really an essential function of service? If so, why?
ii. What would life be like without God? Would it have the same meaning? Is belief in a higher power or the person of Christ essential to making life more meaningful? Why or why not?
iii. How is service linked to the essence of God? To the essence of Christ?
iv. Is action wedded to faith? Service to justice? Humankind to Christ? Explain.

This reflection is due, typed and according to MLA format and guidelines provided you in the syllabus, on Wednesday, February 18, 2009.

In peace,

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Some Questions for Soldiers: Responding to Tolstoy and Dragomiroff

In Leo Tolstoy's essay, "Notes for Soldiers," he responds to a propagistic treatise on war of the same name written by a General Dragomiroff of the Russian Army--likely set in the late 19th or early 20th century.

It is the duty of the soldier, according to Dragomiroff, to "Die for the Orthodox faith, for our father the Tsar, for Holy Russia" (qutd. in Tolstoy 39). Dragomiroff relies on various biblical verses from the New Testament to spiritualize the vocation of the soldier, lacing his battle-cry as general in the Russian army with a religious fervor that echoes the shouts of Israelite prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures: "Obedience, education, discipline, cleanliness, health, tidiness, vigor, courage, dash, victory! Glory, glory, glory! Lord of Hosts, be with us! We have no other helper than Thee in the day of our trouble! Lord of Hosts have mercy on us!" (qutd. in Tolstoy 39). Essentially, Dragomiroff makes a jihad or crusade of Mother Russia's military agenda on the battlefield.

Tolstoy refutes Dragomiroff's contention that the soldier is responsible to the orders of his general to kill under God. Tolstoy claims that the Dragomiroff and his minion soldiers are violating the most essential of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shall not kill." Just as no one is above the law, Tolstoy reminds his audience, namely the soldiers under the command of a general such as Dragomiroff, that no one--particularly a Christian--is above God's law. Ultimately, Tolstoy asserts that a "Christian cannot be a murderer and therefore cannot be a soldier" (37).

Summary aside, I would like you to answer the following questions in response to Tolstoy's piece during class. Please answer all questions in your journal. Be sure to date your entry and quote from Tolstoy's essay where necessary, using proper MLA format. See guide packet for help on how to format quotations into your responses.
  1. If you were to pinpoint a thesis statement from Tolstoy's essay, what would it be? Rewrite it in your journal.
  2. On what grounds do the Russians make an exception to the Sixth Commandment according to Tolstoy?
  3. What are the true 'Notes' for a Christian Soldier according to Tolstoy? Please quote him verbatim in your journal.
  4. What are the three biblical quotes that Dragomiroff uses to inspire the Russian soldiers to fight for God and country? On what grounds does Tolstoy refute the manipulative use of these biblical excerpts?
  5. Lastly, what is Tolstoy's most conclusive statement regarding the issues discussed in his essay? Rewrite it in your journal.


As for the Tolstoy reflection due next Tuesday, February 10, 2009, I would like you to respond to the following question in five paragraphs:

Do you agree or disagree with Tolstoy's philosophy that there is no moral ground on which a soldier is justified to fight and kill? Explain. Do you agree or disagree with Dragomiroff's philosophy that there is moral ground on which a soldier is justified to fight and kill? Explain. If you agree, what is so convincing about the argument or philosophy you support? If you disagree, what is misleading or inconsistent about the argument or philosophy you condemn?

Be sure to answer as thoroughly as possible. I expect you to follow MLA formatting guidelines for all citations. You are required to quote from both essays.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

West Reflection, Due: Wednesday, February 4, 2009


As you read through Cornel West’s chapter from Democracy Matters titled, “The Deep Democratic Traditions in America,” I want you to pay attention to the two types of democratic paradigms—or models—that West pinpoints as important to the restoration of democracy in America.

In an essay, I want you to answer the following questions for reflection:

· Where does democracy begin according to West? What is currently threatening the original spirit of democracy upon which the United States was founded?

· What are the two paradigms and who inspired them? How would you define their respective philosophies according to West? Who does West cite as modern day literary and political models for the different democratic philosophies?

· What, ultimately, must we do to sustain and nurture the original spirit of democracy upon which West bases his argument for its restoration?

Each question should be answered in paragraph form and you should make sure to either quote directly from or paraphrase West in constructing your response.

I know that some of West’s language may be confusing, but that’s where the dictionary steps in to help you understand him.

Any questions, ask in class. Meanwhile, be sure to check the MLA writing guidelines I handed out to you in class to understand better the ways to quote, paraphrase, summarize, and argue.

May the force be with you,

Brother Peach, FSC

A possible thesis statement to get you started at the end of your intro paragraph as discussed in class on Friday:

As West would have it, democracy is upheld only when individuals within a democratic society live according to a philosophy of self-reliance and self-discovery. The ultimate aim of democracy is to challenge social ills such as prejudice, racism, and violence to bring about peace and justice.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Holiness Code for the Ages

Bros: Below is an unrevised, draft copy of an essay I threw together Saturday morning to provide you with a model for how you could go about constructing your own essay response to the reflection prompt distributed last week. Don't forget, the assignment is due Tuesday, January 27, 2009 in class on hard copy. See syllabus for formatting guidelines.
Bro. Rob Peach, FSC
Bro. Rob Peach, FSC
ENG 165 / Writing the Essay
27 January 2009

King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail: A Holiness Code for the Ages

Intro paragraph (sets the stage for what is to come by defining key terms; introducing the subject of the essay, MLK and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”; giving some background info on what MLK was all about; and the thesis statement in bold below)

Essentially, the term "social justice" refers to an ideal that upholds a system of fairness within a given society. It operates from a platform of equality on the basis that all are guaranteed rights to dignity and freedom regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. Martin Luther King, Jr., the great civil rights leader of the twentieth century, proffered a sense of justice inspired by the biblical messages of his Christian faith. His own spirituality and that of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)—which he cofounded and which jump started the movement to end segregation laws in the American South—was informed by the Exodus of the Old Testament and Christ’s journey toward Calvary in the New Testament. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King protests the apathy—the ‘do-nothingism’ as he says (42)—of the white and black moderates who sit idly by while the Negro community of the American South and elsewhere endure the injustices of segregation, inadequate wages, and violence. King states, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience” (40). It is white-on-black violence, the indifference of the moderates, and the despair which ensues such injustices in the Negro community that informs King’s “holiness code” of just law, tension, civil disobedience, and non-violent direct action.

Transition paragraph (serves to guide the reader, reminding him or her of the major topics to be discussed with regard to the subject of the essay MLK’s holiness code according to his “Letter…”)

The term “holiness code” refers to the laws set forth in the Book of Leviticus. These teachings were collected and put in the book by priest-writers known as, Deuteronomists, to illustrate true worship of God through just and compassionate relationships (Peach). If one were to construct a holiness code based off of King’s letter, it would involve a summary of his statements on what constitutes a just and unjust law, the need for tension as well as civil disobedience, and the efficiency of non-violent direct action.

Body paragraph (develops major theme of King’s address, namely what makes an unjust law)

King begins his address with a statement on ways in which a law can be unjust. He writes, “A law is unjust, for example, if the majority group compels a minority group to obey the statue but does not make it binding on itself. By the same token, a law in all probability is just if the majority is itself willing to obey it” (40). He goes on to say that the law cannot be just if the minority did not have a part in the voting process which devised the law. He refers specifically to the situation in Alabama in which “all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters” (King 40). King adds that a law considered unjust is rightfully protested if done so peacefully, in a loving way, and “with a willingness to accept penalty” (41). Such action is ironically a show of highest respect for the law (King 41). The primary systemic evil that King protests in the 1963 letter is that of segregation, a law enacted without the consent of the entire community and one that deserves protest by way of peaceful assembly of blacks and whites who rightfully consider the laws of segregation unjust.

Second body paragraph (addresses another major theme of King’s address, namely what makes non-violent direct action and why it is so important in confronting violence)

For King, the best way to confront the status quo—too easily perpetuated by the indifference of white and black moderates—is non-violent direct action, another aspect of his holiness code. The purpose of such action is negotiation according to King: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (39). King stresses the fact that he has “earnestly opposed violent tension,” adding that “there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth” (39). In other words, King is saying that in order for the community of blacks and whites to come together and work for a common bond of friendship and negotiation, there must be created a situation that dramatizes the inherent injustice of segregation. Thus enters the methods of doing so: sit-ins, marches, boycotts, speeches, and letters.

Third body paragraph (addresses the problem of racism in today’s world, using some basic references to modern day issues that involve racism)

What started with a civil rights demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama led to a million man march on Washington that incited President John F. Kennedy to enact laws to end segregation in the South. Regardless, racism is still a problem in the twenty-first century. Because “civilized” man has inherently aggressive tendencies, the contemporary societies of the world are ever threatened by their own demise. By unfolding the pages of human history we are not hard pressed to find ways in which aggression has manifest itself in the form of such evils as racism, genocide, and war. Some brief retrospective reflection teaches us that these manifestations overlap, presenting to us a picture of racism as the chief thread weaving through the blinding veil of violence. The racial implications of the Janjaweed’s ruthless assault on non-Arab Muslim Sudanese in Darfur, as well as the United States military intervention in Iraq and other parts Middle East such as Afghanistan are explicit historical realities that form the fabric of this veil currently blanketing the twenty-first century world. More implicitly, we see the violence of racism prevalent in the United States criminal justice and prison system (the majority population of which is black and Hispanic), as well as in the hardships experienced by Hispanic immigrants attempting to shape a familial and societal identity in a “free” country that ironically complicates their access to citizenship by police action and bureaucratic acrobatics. With such realities, we are all challenged to reassess what we can do in our own lives to profess a faith of justice and compassion—in biblical terms, a “Shema.”

Concluding paragraph (addresses my own Shema, based off of the subject of the essay: MLK and his letter; notice that, because the quote from him is more than four lines long, I place it in a "block" on its own)

If I were to create a “Shema” or profession of faith in which I stress what is most important to living a just and compassionate life, it would simply echo the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. … Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. (39)

As it is with King’s call to justice in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, so it is with my Shema. It is nothing more than what the great prophets of biblical times encouraged their communities to do: to live tenderly and walk humbly before my God.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Syllabus: Major Assignments (tentative/subject to revision)

Week of: January 19 – 23
No classes Monday
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
Purchase black, Moleskin journal (may be lined, unlined, or graphed) at BNN or Border’s
Purchase other course materials
Check for materials on Friday, January 23
Choose five of your top choices for reading from Rohr’s Wild Man
Assign King reflection, due: Tuesday, January 27

Week of: January 26 – 30
Cornel West, “The Deep Democratic Tradition in America” pp. 63-105
Due Tuesday: Reflection, King (25 pts.)
Assign West reflection, due: Tuesday, February 3

Week of: February 2 – 6
Leo Tolstoy, “ ‘Notes for Soldiers’ ” pp. 32-39
Due Tuesday: Reflection, West (25 pts.)
Assign Tolstoy reflection, due: Tuesday, February 10

Week of: February 9 – 13
Dorothy Day, “Preface,” “Introduction,” “We Scarcely Know Ourselves,” “Beginnings” pp. xi – 15
Due Tuesday: Reflection, Tolstoy (25 pts.)
Assign Day reflection, due: Tuesday, February 17
No classes Friday

Week of: February 16 – 20
No classes Monday
Thomas Merton, “Blessed are the Meek” pp. 14-29
Due Tuesday: Reflection, Day (25 pts.)
Assign Merton reflection, due: Tuesday, February 24

Week of: February 23 – 27
Madeleine L’Engle, “The Night is Far Spent” pp. 1-15
Due Tuesday: Reflection, Merton (25 pts.)
Assign L’Engle reflection, due: Tuesday, March 3

Week of: March 2 – 6
Joseph Campbell, “The Self as Hero” pp. 111-133
Due Tuesday: Reflection, L’Engle (25 pts.)
Assign Campbell reflection, due: Tuesday, March 10

Week of: March 9 – 13
Richard Rohr, selections, From Wild Man to Wise Man
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Campbell (25 pts.)
Assign Rohr reflection, due: Tuesday, March 17

Week of: March 16 – 20
Saint Augustine, “Book II” of Confessions pp. 24-34
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Rohr (25 pts.)
Assign Augustine reflection, due: Tuesday, March 24

Week of: March 23 – 27
Thomas Merton, “Firewatch” pp. 349-362
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Augustine (25 pts.)
Assign Merton reflection, due: Tuesday, March 31

Week of: March 30 – April 3
Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” pp. 57-68
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Merton (25 pts.)
Assign Thoreau reflection, due: Tuesday, April 7

Week of: April 6 – 10
Eudora Welty, “Finding a Voice” pp. 73-104
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Thoreau (25 pts.)
Assign Welty reflection, due: Tuesday, April 14
No classes Thursday through Monday

Week of: April 13 – 17
No classes Monday
Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” pp. 63-86
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Welty (25 pts.)
Assign O’Connor reflection, due: Tuesday, April 21

Week of: April 20 – 24
Samuel Hazo, “The Power of Less: Poetry and Public Speech” pp. 1-16
Due Tuesday, Reflection, O’Connor (25 pts.)
Assign Hazo reflection, due: Tuesday, April 28
No classes Thursday and Friday

Week of: April 27 – May 1
Mumia Abu-Jamal, selections from, Live from Death Row
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Hazo (25 pts.)
Assign Mumia reflection, due: Tuesday, May 5

Week of: May 4 – 8
Essay in Pictures, see handout and PowerPoint presentation
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Mumia (25 pts.)
Assign Memoir, due: Tuesday, May 12
No classes Friday

Week of: May 11 – 15 (Senior Finals Week)
Due Tuesday, May 12, Memoir (100 pts.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ENG 165 / Writing the Essay
Bro. Robert Peach, FSC
Second Semester, 2009

A Prefatory Note: Course Philosophy

I have a hard time with the name of this course, Writing the Essay. I find it somewhat confining because of the word, “essay.” It connotes the sort of dread and boredom that comes with the daunting prospects of having to write yet another paper, project or assignment—whatever you want to call it—for Mr. Whoever or Mrs. Whatsherface.

Admittedly, the name is appropriate since the aim of this course is to put together words and ideas to make sentences and paragraphs that expose or communicate a unifying theme or subject of discourse. That’s the nature of essay writing, yes.

But, what about the thing that’s actually required of the person who is writing? What about that secret life in all of us that inspires and motivates? What about the nature of the things we are actually observing, speculating and writing about? How keenly are we actually listening to the pieces of narrative—that is the stories or essays—constantly taking shape within and around us?

That’s what this course is about: composition, “the act of combining parts or elements to make a whole.” It’s about creating something and therefore has everything to do with possibility. Writing, composing, involves the making of something as yet unseen, unheard, or unwritten. That said, if I were to rename the course, I think I might call it something like, Composing Possibility: Essay as Narrative, or, Writing to Learn, or, Composing the Essay. There is something misleading about the drab, Writing the Essay. I don’t think it communicates very well the nuances of what writing is really all about: conversation, experience, movement, consciousness, intellectual ability, art, the senses, feeling, reason, faith, hope, love, and truth.

That’s a lot, write? Heh, I mean, right?

Well, at its most basic, this course is to provide us with models for good writing from expert writers in fiction, poetry, public speech, and essay who speak mostly in prose, as we will hear from them, and are approaching a range of subjects from the vantage point of various disciplinary backgrounds: philosophy, politics, psychology, spirituality, and theology. As renowned writer of the American South, Flannery O’Connor, says in a collection of lectures called, Mystery and Manners, “One thing that is always with the writer—no matter how long he has written or how good he is—is the continuing process of learning how to write” (83). And so we all—myself included—are to approach this course with the same objective, to become something better than what we were previously as thinkers and as writers. It’s on ongoing process of revision, but one that no one deeming himself a student of writing or a writer, for that matter, can escape.

Whatever we write—be it the formal paper for a class, the college application essay, the piece of poetry, or the work of fiction—is an autobiography, reflecting some piece of our individual histories, our prejudices, and the cultures in which we have grown up. Whether you are conscious of it or not, your choice of language and the subject matter you choose to address in a piece of writing gives you and your audience a glimpse into your deeper self—that bit of being that no one gets a chance to see on a regular basis. That is the beauty of writing in whatever form; it gives us the chance to reflect and, in reflecting, to respond to those deeper insights that churn inside of our mind and heart.

This course is thus undergirded by a philosophy which espouses the written word as a creative means to navigate previously unforeseen territory in our individual consciousness. In this way, writing becomes a vehicle for self-expression—not so much a chore as an opportunity to travel, to re-create, and to simply “be.”

That said, I challenge you to take this course as a way to access those deeper parts of self, to explore the world around you through the written word, and to develop a language for yourself that bespeaks a hidden reality behind that persona—i.e. that “front”—we all put up on a daily basis, either because we are too caught up in the “busy-ness” of life or because our ego tells us there is no use for the reflective space which writing provides.

But that’s just it! It is through writing that histories are written and that the “business” of the world is both communicated and carried out.

So, let your histories speak through this course and beyond the bounds of this classroom. Let the world hear your voice.

Introduction: Course Objective

“Writing the Essay” is to serve as a foundational course for college writing. With focus on the development of both vocabulary, argument, exposition, and style in writing, the course aims to provide upperclassmen with an adequate basis for thinking more critically and analytically—a skill set that will be of crucial importance in the collegiate environment. After all, good writers make good thinkers.

The course will involve the study of writers including (in no particular order): Samuel Hazo, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Thomas Merton, Cornel West, Martin Luther King, Jr., Madeleine L’Engle, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mumia Abu-Jamal, St. Augustine, Richard Rohr, and Joseph Campbell.

By the example of such expert writers, we will discuss the nature of writing as revelatory—of revealing to us things, in their essence, that too often go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. These writers have much to offer us in the way of reading deeply into our experiences and becoming deep thinkers—as writers—ourselves. We will therefore use these writers as models for our own writing.

Each week, I will assign a text or texts to be read from a self-made reader. I will concurrently assign a 25 point written reflection of no more than three pages in response to the assigned readings. There are about thirteen essays that we will read, which will take us through the semester.

There will be a major writing assignment due at the end of the semester that is worth 100 points.

I will assign journal and online weblog, or blog, reflections periodically throughout the semester as well. Such assignments usually total no more than 10 points each.

Course Material Requirements:

A three-ring binder with your name, my name, course number, and semester indicated on the front cover or inside front cover. It will be crucial that you have this as a text covering for the materials (i.e. “fun-packs”) that I will assign. There will be many!

A black-bound, Moleskin journal (purchase from BNN or Border’s).

A manila folder with your name, my name, course number, and semester indicated on the front cover or insight front cover.

A black or blue pen for journal assignments.

Course Rules:

Read, read, read! Underline, underline, underline! Highlight! Jot notes in the margins of your text! Respond to comments the authors make in your journals! Imitate!

Listen attentively to instructor and classmates when they are speaking.

No foul language. No racism, agism, sexism, homophobia, or otherwise. This is a setting that promotes diversity, tolerance, and the non-violent peace teachings of Christ. Make the Beatitudes your attitudes!

Come to class on time. While I allow for some free conversation before class gets underway, I expect your full quiet and attention by the time prayer starts. If you have any poetry or reflections you would like to use for prayer, please let me know, and we will use that to get things started.

I will not accept any excuses for late assignments without an automatic five-point penalty for each day an assignment is late. I will not accept anything that is untyped.

I think that’s it. Again, please take this course seriously. If you elected to be here then expect to work. We are dealing with materials that are on the caliber of an honors-level course. Consider yourselves budding scholars and take yourselves seriously!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Your Life in a Snapshot: Writing the Memoir

mem⋅oir –noun
1. a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation.
2. Usually,
a. an account of one's personal life and experiences; autobiography.
b. the published record of the proceedings of a group or organization, as of a learned society.
3. a biography or biographical sketch.

ad⋅o⋅les⋅cence –noun
1. the transitional period between puberty and adulthood in human development, extending mainly over the teen years and terminating legally when the age of maturity is reached; youth.
2. the process or state of growing to maturity.
3. a period or stage of development, as of a society, preceding maturity.


Throughout the course of the first semester, we have discussed the importance of memory in writing. It is a function that allows us to make meaning of our experiences, which essentially define who we become not only as writers, but specifically as story-tellers. Even in the context of formal essay or academic writing, there is a story to share.

Eudora Welty's memoir, One Writer's Beginnings, reads like a series of photographic snapshots. This makes sense, considering she was a photographer at one point in her life. Indeed her memoir is a composite whole of many parts, bits and pieces of her life taken together to form a seamless autobiography.

Taking a tip from Welty and a professor I had in grad school, Dr. Richard Wertime,for a course on the adolescent experience in American and British literature, I would like you to write a brief memoir--a minimum of three pages / maximum of five--in which you capture a decisive or transformative adolescent experience that "you" have had. The experience can be a positive or a negative one, or some mixture of both--there's no limit on how extreme the experience you depict might be.

This effort should be:
a. written in first-person singular voice
b. drawn from your own personal experience
c. as realistic and true to the way the event happened as humanly possible

Please give me a typed hard copy in the following format:
12 pt. Georgia font
Double Spaced
1" margins all around
Header (aligned right) with last name and page number

Please format your front page with the proper heading:
Your Name
My Name
Eng 165 / Writing the Essay
Date Due

Please include a creative title, centered directly below your header

The assignment is due in my mailbox on Thursday, January 15, 2009. No exceptions for late submissions. You will receive a zero.

This assignment will be out of 100 pts. I will use the typical rubric, which includes a total of 20 pts. for each area of critique: Meaning, Development, Organization, Language, Mechanics.

Any questions, please feel free to axe.

Brother Robert K. Peach, FSC