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In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. Therefore, in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long. Seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
Mark Twain, "Life on the Mississippi"

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.
Flannery O'Connor


As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Donald Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing (written in the form of a poem)

We are as happy as people can be, without making themselves ridiculous, and might be even happier; but, as a matter of taste, we choose to stop short at this point.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing to his sister soon after his wedding to Sophia Peabody in 1842

I tell my students that it’s better to read first-rate science fiction than second-rate science. It’s more stimulating – and no more likely to be wrong.
Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal

If I told you I experienced going to the dentist, you would assume that I actually went to the dentist. You wouldn't think I had some emotions that felt just like going to the dentist. It's only when we Christians begin talking about God that we get uncertain about how real it is, and start agreeing with nonbelievers that "experience" means "emotional projection."
Frederica Matthewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer

The forms of evil spirit include male ones and female ones.
The males are they which unite with the souls which inhabit a female form, but the females are they which are mingled with those in a male form ... if they see the man and his wife sitting beside one another, the female cannot come into the man, nor can the male come into the woman. So if the image and the angel are united with one another, neither can any venture to go into the man or the woman.

In other words, a benefit of marriage: your spouse will ward away the demons of his or her gender. (Phew.) From the 2nd century Gospel of Philip.  Thanks to Bob Hann for this one!

Never look at the trombones... it only encourages them.

Richard Wagner

So I am convinced, from many experiments, I could not study, to any degree of perfection, either mathematics, arithmetic, or algebra, without being a Deist, if not an Atheist: And yet others may study them all their lives without sustaining any inconvenience.

John Wesley, The Use of Money, quoted in an appendix to Jesus and Money. (Wesley didn't mean this as a "light" quotation, but I don't have the heart to put it in the "meaty" column.)

Turns out when you think the world's ending you don't aim so carefully in the porta-potties.

Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation, episode 406, "End of the World"

You are a Philosopher, Dr. Johnson.  I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.

From a conversation between Doctor Samuel Johnson and an old school-friend of his, Oliver Edwards, recorded by his biographer, James Boswell in his Life of Johnson

Never underestimate the joy people derive from hearing something they already know.

Enrico Fermi (yes, this quote itself counts)

That which can be made Explicit to the idiot is not worth my care.

William Blake

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

Albert Einstein

It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.

Richard Feynman (when did the barmaid become a unit of information transfer?)

Small, too, are the navel and belly of the soul that ascends to Christ.

Ambrose (4th cent. bishop of Milan), on the Song of Solomon 7:2 (from the ACCS)

Never call a stomach a tummy without good reason.

William Strunk, Jr.

However much I balk at Christian miracles, I think friends manufacturing secular miracles--me included sometimes--is loonier. Like Deb thinks her wind chimes tinkling are messages from her dead ex-husband. You mean to tell me, I say to her on the phone, you don't believe in the Resurrection but you think Richard controls the wind?"

Mary Karr, Lit

"Gloria laughed at them and said that she'd overtaken grief a long time ago, that she was tired of everyone wanting to go to heaven, and nobody wanting to die."

From Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin

A wise old chef once told me: wait until peas are in season, then use frozen.

chef Fergus Henderson

It was the habit of the Fathers to take this verse completely out of context... But if they had paid the slighted attention to the context, they would have seen that here the 'dead' are those who have been shut up in hell, to whom Christ went to preach after his death on the cross.

Theophylact of Ohrid, an 11th century Byzantine archbishop from Bulgaria, on 1 Peter 4:6. [This is the strongest (only?) verse supporting the idea that Jesus preached in hell between Good Friday and Easter, and led to the theory of the Harrowing of Hell, popular especially in the middle ages.] Nice to see the ancient commentators mixing it up a little, old school.

I have received your present of mushrooms; they were of an extraordinary size, so large as to excite admiration.

St. Ambrose, 4th-century bishop of Milan, from a letter to Felix

Those who have to go near elephants do not put on bright clothes, nor do those who go near bulls put on red; for the animals are made especially furious by these colors; and tigers, they say, when surrounded by the noise of beaten drums go completely mad and tear themselves to pieces. Since, then, this is also the case with men, that some cannot endure the sight of scarlet and purple clothes, while others are annoyed by cymbals and drums, what terrible hardship is it for women to refrain from such things, and not disquiet or irritate their husbands, but live with them in quiet gentleness? 

Plutarch (a Greek historian, biographer and essayist writing during the late first and early second centuries), from his Advice to Bride and Groom, 144DE 

"And one finds, especially by the time one reaches one's fifties, that there are a limited number of types of people in the world, and you went to high school with every single one of them. You can visit the Eskimos, you can visit the Bushmen in the Kalahari, you can go to Israel, you can go to Egypt, but everybody you meet is going to be somebody you went to high school with."

R. J. O'Rourke

"Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo."

A common funerary inscription in ancient Rome, meaning "I was not, I was, I am not, I don't care."


I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time-

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

Billy Collins


Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It's the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

Billy Collins

This is only a Collins, and a Collins should not wade into deep places. It should be loving but neat.

W. Rahleigh, 1926, on the writing of a "Collins", which the OED defines as "A letter of thanks for entertainment or hospitality, sent by a departed guest; a ‘bread-and-butter’ letter."

The following poems are by Suzanne Buffam from her book The Irrationalist (Canarium Books, Ann Arbor), 2010. (Surely some of these belong in the "Meaty" category.)


As a young man Galileo Understood very well
The workings of the pendulum

But not until he was an old man
The hour

Of his death
Did he devise
The pendulum clock.


Take small bites.
Chew your food before swallowing.
Do not expect the waiter to congratulate you.


There is no cake in the oven, alas.
But a small bit of effort
Could put one there.


Enjoy the view while you can,
Mt. Everest.


To cross an ocean
You must first love the ocean
Before you love the far shore.


The pleasure I feel
When I say the word "trousers"
Is equal, exactly
To the discomfort I feel
When I say the word "slacks."


Place your face
Into your hands.
A perfect fit!


One of the richest men in Rome
Seneca knew many pleasures in life.

In particular, it is said
He loved to dine on quail

At a citrus-wood table
With ivory legs.

But he also knew
The fickle winds of Empire.

Far from home
Without a friend

Or lover near
With but a thin gruel

Before you
And plank for a pillow

Recall his recollection
Of these pleasures in a letter

To his mother from the tower:
Between them and me

I have kept a wide gap


Love and do what you will
Is a dangerous slogan
To plaster on the walls
Of a freshman dorm in spring.

And, from a longer poem on her attemps to conceive,

It is one thing to marvel at the miracle of life, but quite another to try to explain it. Almost every freshman biology textbook printed in the last fifty years contains the famous Miller-Urey experiment of 1953, in which Harold Urey and Stanley Miller tried to simulate early atmospheric conditions on Earth, in order to see what they could generate by adding an electrical spark. What they discovered were amino acids, the basic building blocks of life. From there, most books lead straight into a discussion of evolution, primpting the student to conclude that scientists have thus proven life can be created from a few nonliving chemicals. We tell this story to beginning students fo biologi, admitted Nobel laureate George Wald in his 1954 article, The Origin of Life, as though it represents a triumph of reason over mysticism. In fact, he points out, it is very nearly the opposite.

Either that wallpaper goes, or do I.

The last words of Oscar Wilde

Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.

Gottfreid Leibniz (thanks, Barbara!)

I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed spending time with your book once again. It's not often that reading a novel makes you both teary-eyed AND hungry, but you've accomplished just that!

Susan's editor

I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels

John Calvin

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style [by Strunk & White]. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy.

Dorothy Parker

You know, said Aristotle, we don't have compassion on people who have wrecked their own lives. They've made their own bed, they'll have to lie in it, and frankly we're not going to care.

How comforting that God skips around when reading Aristotle.

Neal Plantinga, from "For Your Sake, For My Sake, A Sermon on Isaiah 43:14, 25", Calvin Theological Journal 39 (2004), 391-395.

The wireless telegraph is not difficult to understand. The ordinary telegraph is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New York, and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same, only without the cat.

Albert Einstein

I have a record of everything I wrote, but I dasn’t look it at lest A) my previous comments are really sharp compared to my current comments, which suggests a fatal diminution of ability, or B) my current comments are better, which suggests I embarrassed myself last year. You can’t win. Rather I can’t. Living as a writer sometimes meaning you walk into a great howling wind that says YOU JUST SUCK and it’s all you can do to keep from letting the wind pick you up and put you where it wishes. Which is usually in the not-too-distant county of SO YOU ADMIT YOU DO SUCK. It’s a corruption of an Indian name.

James Lileks

Just the omission of Jane Austen's books alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn't a book in it.

Mark Twain
[Twain makes fun of Austen, Austen of Radcliffe (author of The Mysteries of Eudolpho); must be a writer thing--except that no one makes fun of Twain]

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Billy Collins

And if that doesn’t leave me without a stain on my character, I don’t know what it does leave me without a stain on!

Bertie Wooster, in P. G. Wodehouse's "Joy in the Morning"

Many things are possible once you give up on quality of life.

Stu Collins, on his habit of staying up very late each night

Bacon covers a multitude of sins.

Sue Collins

I've said it before, and I'll say it again--girls are rummy. Old Pop Kipling never said a truer word than when he made that crack about the f. of the s. being more d. than the m.

Bertie Wooster, in Right Ho, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse.  (The reference is to Kipling's The Female of the Species.)

Try not to get involved in politics.  And don't volunteer.

Stuart A. Collins, Jr. -- advice to me before my first council meeting. (Note that Dad has spent countless hours volunteering for various causes.)

Build a man a fire and he will be warm for a day; Set him on first and he will be warm the rest of his life.

Anon., courtesy Ruth Manson (ACTUALLY, this is apparently a quote from John Calvin!)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.

 Johann Sebastian Bach

Sleep is God's contrivance for giving us the help he cannot get into us when we are awake.

 George MacDonald

Admittedly, a new baby incorporates an array of features that would be dismaying in any other houseguest: incontinent, unreasonble, incoherent, autocratic, and prone to tears. It is like hosting a tiny, hyper-emotional, non-English-speaking emperor, with wet pants. Why God thought this particular assortment of traits would be irresistible to parents is unclear.  Other factors more than compensate for these negatives however (see top of head, sweet smell).

Frederica Mathewes-Green, from First-Time Parent Memo

It is no use telling me that there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core they are all alike. Sooner or later out pops the cloven hoof.

P. G. Wodehouse, raised largely by aunts

"For the rest of your academic life", she'd told him on his first day of kindergarten, "whenever any teacher tells you that Columbus discovered America, I want you to run up to him or her, jump on his or her back, and scream, 'I discovered you!'"

Sherman Alexie from the short story What Ever Happened to Frank Snake Church

Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the hotel at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.

P. G. Wodehouse (as quoted in God and Bertie Wooster, First Things, Oct 2005, p. 23)

There are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard that there was such a thing.

We all have the strength to endure the troubles of others.

Everybody complains of his memory, but nobody of his judgment.

Francois VI, duke de La Rochefoucauld (b. 1613)

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

Groucho Marx

There is, of course, a certain amount of drudgery in newspaper work, just as there is in teaching classes, tunnelling into a bank, or being President of the United States. I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the R.C.A. Building, would pall a little as the days ran on.

James Thurber, from Memoirs of a Drudge, responding to a comment that his informal education included "drudgery" on several newspapers.

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.

Carl Jung

Be calm, and share the bananas.

Koko the Gorilla (in sign language)

[Billy Graham's] voice is weak, but he rehearses it daily ''like an opera singer,'' he said, demonstrating with a booming ''Yes, yes, YES LORD.'' His wife, Ruth, bedridden but sharp as a tack, likes to joke by responding from her recliner in the bedroom, ''No, no, no.''

From an interview with Billy Graham in the NYT, "Spirit Willing, Another Trip Down Mountain for Graham", Laurie Goodstein, June 12, 2005

Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal.

Leo Tolstoy

Yet he...joked that "he preferred the Episcopalians to every other sect, because they are equally indifferent to a man's religion and his politics".

Allen C. Guelzo, quoting Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (1st ed., p. 152)

...when you need to make a decision, in your work or otherwise, and you don't know what to do, just do one thing or the other, because the worst that  can happen is that you will have made a terrible mistake.

Annie Lamott

Like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence once again, frightening the little children and school attorneys of Center Moriches Union Free School District. Its most recent burial, only last Term, was, to be sure, not fully six feet under... Over the years, however, no fewer than five of the currently sitting Justices have, in their own opinions, personally driven pencils through the creature's heart (the author of today's opinion repeatedly), and a sixth has joined an opinion doing so.

The secret of the Lemon test's survival, I think, is that it is so easy to kill. It is there to scare us (and our audience) when we wish it to do so, but we can command it to return to the tomb at will. Such a docile and useful monster is worth keeping around, at least in a somnolent state; one never knows when one might need him.

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on the Court's invocation of the Lemon test (which concerns governement reimbursement of nonpublic, e.g. religious schools)

Let me be the first to admit that the naked truth about me is to the naked truth about Salvador Dali as an old ukulele in the attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts.

James Thurber from The Secret Life of James Thurber, which can be found in Thurber Carnival.

Q: Why don't Episcopalians participate in orgies?
A: Because it's such a hassle writing all those thank-you notes!

From the March 2008 Prairie Home Companion joke show

Later references to the holy kiss [see e.g. Rom 16:16] in Christian writings of the second and subsequent centuries consistently treat it as a liturgical action, often linked specifically with the Eucharist. Also, we learn that it was given mouth-to-mouth, an exchanged kiss, expressing mutual intimacy and affection among all congregants, and that, for the first century or so at least, the kiss was exchanged with members of one's own sex and the opposite sex as well. In time, from fears of impropriety and in efforts to abate pagan rumors about Christian promiscutiy, later church authorities sought to restrict the kissing to members of one's own sex. Similarly motivated were rules that the holy kiss was to be given with mouths closed and that no second kiss was permitted! 

Larry Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 42-43.

It later became almost a rule that married couples should have intercourse on Friday night, and this may very well have been part of ordinary sabbath observance in the first century.

E. P. Sanders on the topic of 1st cent. Jewish sabbath practices by common Jewish people ["Judaism, Practice and Belief 63 BCE-66 CE", p. 211]. Sanders is making the point that that the run of the mill Jewish people were pretty observant, but that the sabbath was a joyful day.  It was a day on which, for instance, they would have a nicermeal than the rest of the week (including fish or poultry rather than the usual meal of cheese, lentils and bread).

Perhaps the dissenters believe that 'offense to others' ought to be the only reason for restricting nudity in public places generally. . . . The purpose of Indiana's nudity law would be violated, I think, if 60,000 fully consenting adults crowded into the Hoosierdome to display their genitals to one another, even if there were not an offended innocent in the crowd.

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on decency laws (here are more Scalia quotes)

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.

Ben Hecht (see Writer's Almanac, Feb 28, 2005)

It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.

Rod Serling, creator, writer and producer of "The Twilight Zone" which first aired in 1959

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?

Jane Austen

It is better  to have loafed and lost, than never to have loafed at all.

James Thurber

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Ben Franklin

Ah, the sweet couple of seconds before I remember why I'm sleeping on the lawn.

Homer Simpson

As she fell face-down into the muck of the mud-wrestling pit, her sweaty, three-hundred-pound opponent muttering soft curses in Latin on top of her, Sister Marie thought, 'there is no doubt about it: the Pope has betrayed me!'

From the Bulwer-Lytton contest

In science, as in love, too much concentration on technique can often lead to impotence.

P. L. Berger (courtesy Barbara Hull)

In the early years of the nineteenth century, Columbus won out, as state capital, by only one vote over Lancaster, and ever since then has had the hallucination that it is being followed, a curious municipal state of mind which affects, in some way or other, all those who live there.

James Thurber, "More Alarms at Night", from _The Thurber Carnival_

In February the McGregor boys from Meadow Hill were out shooting woodchucks, and not far from the Gardner place bagged a very peculiar specimen. The proportions of its body seemed slightly altered in a queer way impossible to describe, while its face had taken on an expression which no one ever saw in a woodchuck before. The boys were genuinely frightened, and threw the thing away at once, so that only their grotesque tales of it ever reached the people of the countryside.


If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was
standing on the shoulder of giants.

Isaac Newton

If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants
were standing on my shoulders.

Hal Abelson

In computer science, we stand on each other's feet.

Brian K. Reed

You know, if you `owed your soul to the company store,' at least  you'd be assured of having a job.

             Don Olbris

One day the President and Mrs. Coolidge were visiting a government farm.  Soon after their arrival they were taken off on separate tours. When Mrs. Coolidge passed the chicken pens she paused to ask the man in charge if the rooster copulates more than once each day.  "Dozens of times," was the reply.  "Please tell that to the President," Mrs. Coolidge requested.

When the President passed the pens and was told about the roosters, he asked, "Same hen every time?" "Oh no, Mr. President, a different one each time."  The President nodded slowly, then said, "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge."

Bermant, G. (1976).  Sexual behavior: Hard times with the Coolidge Effect.  In  M. H. Siegel & H. P. Zeigler (Eds.), /Psychological  Research: The inside story/ (pp. 76-103).  New York: Harper & Row.

He'd never shot a woman before.  He'd shot men, plenty of them. Shot them, bludgeoned them, garroted them, drowned them, poisoned them, he'd even pushed some poor slob out of a 747 as he crapped in his pants and pleaded for his life.  But he'd never shot a woman before.  No, wait a minute.  He had shot a woman before.  There was that dance therapist in Fort Lauderdale.  He'd filled her with so much lead that you could have sharpened her head and done a crossword puzzle with her.  He'd shot women before, but never anyone as beautiful as this.  He'd never shot a beautiful woman before, that's it.  And this one was beautiful, wow.  Long legs, long long hairy prehensile toes.  An ape-woman. Square peg teeth, hairy floppy ears, a bridgeless nose with wide flattened nostrils.  He'd never shot an ape-woman before.  Well, come to think of it, he had shot an ape-woman.  Back in '63 in Reno.  But he'd never shot an ape-woman this beautiful.  Nope.

Mark Leyner, My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist

It is like finding a new room in the house we have lived in since childhood," said Charles Dermer of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, a researcher from one of five collaborating institutions that discovered the fountain. "And the room is not empty. It has some engine or boiler making hot gas filled with annihilating antimatter.

Scientists often use familiar situations to explain complex scientific issues. Investigator Larry Yates, a connoisseur of fine prose, spotted the previous description in a recent issue of the "Washington Post." The article was headlined "Scientists Find Antimatter Fountain Gushing From Center of Milky Way."

Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterley's Lover has just been reissued by Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-by-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous materials in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book cannot take the place of J. R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping.

From a (tongue-in-cheek) review of Lady Chatterley's Lover as it appeared in Field and Stream, November 1959.
The mating rites of mantises are well known:  a chemical produced in the head of the male insect says, in effect, "No, don't go near her, you fool, she'll eat you alive."  At the same time a chemical in his abdomen says, "Yes, by all means, now and forever yes."

While the male is making up what passes for his mind, the female tips the balance in her favor by eating his head.  He mounts her.  Fabre [a naturalist] describes the mating, which sometimes lasts six hours, as follows: "The male, absorbed in the performance of his vital functions, holds the female in a tight embrace.  But the wretch has no head; he has no neck; he has hardly a body.  The other, with her muzzle turned over her shoulder continues very placidly to gnaw at what remains of the gentle swain.  And, all the time, that masculine stump, holding on firmly, goes on with the business!...  I have seen it done with my own eyes and have not yet recovered from my astonishment."

Annie Dillard, _Pilgrim at Tinker Creek_

I don't mind what Congress does, as long as they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses.   

Victor Hugo

Love is like a snowmobile flying over the frozen tundra that suddenly flips, pinning you underneath.  At night the ice weasels come.

Matt Groening

I once heard that the great mathematician David Hilbert was invited to give a talk on any subject he liked during the early days of air travel.  His subject: "The Proof of Fermat's Last Theorem" Needless to say, his talk was eagerly anticipated. The day arrived, the talk was given, and it was brilliant -- but it had nothing at all to do with Fermat's Last Theorem. After the talk, someone asked Hilbert why he had picked a title that had nothing to do with the talk.  His answer: "Oh, that title was just in case the plane crashed."


No man should marry until he has studied anatomy and dissected at least one woman.

Honore de Balzac

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.

Dorothy Parker

One World War II Quaker conscientious objector had been a professional wrestler.  Once when he and some other inmates of the Coshocton CPS camp in Ohio made a trip into town, they were hassled about their
pacifism by some local youths, who insisted that only force could change the German's views.

In response, the ex-wrestler took off his coat, challenged one of the local boys to a match, and promptly threw the townie across the room. He then asked the youth, "_Now_ do you believe that force won't change people's views?"

"Heck no!"  the local boy hollered back.

"That's exactly my point," said the Quaker, who put on his coat and left.

Taken from Quakers Are Funny! by Chuck Fager, Kimo Press, 1987

William Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, was  invited to a demonstration of Michael Faraday's equipment for generating the latest scientific wonder---electricity. Faraday set up the experiment and ran it, while Gladstone looked coolly on. When the show had run its course, Gladstone stood silent for a moment, and then said to Faraday: "It is very interesting, Mr Faraday, but what  practical worth is it?"

"One day, sir, you may tax it," replied Faraday.

From the New Scientist (25 Dec 1993/1 Jan 1994)

The other week a white Cadillac drove up into the yard and out jumped an unknown priest. He turned out to be a Jesuit, come over to tell me that he had read and liked my stores. This almost knocked me out, as no priest has ever said turkey-dog to me about liking anything I wrote.

Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being

What I wondered was, what was this lemur doing in my scheme of a perfectly balanced organization?

                    H. G. Wells, THE TIME MACHINE

Hawaii's Republican Senator Hiram Fong, an American of Chinese ancestry, had an impassive face but a keen sense of humor.  Once he accompanied some Senators to London to attend a conference and was at the dinner which a member of Britain's House of Commons gave in their honor.  The toastmaster introduced the Senators, one by one, and when he reached Fong, he said: "I am pleased to introduce the next of our guests.  He is the first American Senator of Chinese ancestry.  Unlike many -- perhaps most -- Americans, he has no English blood."  Fong got up to respond, and, with a deadpan expression, announced: "I must correct our good host.  He said I have no English blood.  I must tell him that my great-grandfather ate Captain Cook."  This brought down the house.

Taken from Paul F. Boller, Jr., "Congressional Anecdotes" (New York,  1991), 171.

It will be clear even at this stage that the mixing length theory represents an extreme simplification of the actual physical process of convection.  One does not therefore expect quantitative results derived on the basis of this theory to have high accuracy or reliability.  One of the principal sources of uncertainty in the theory is the value to be used for the mixing length itself. Arguments could also be raised against some of the factors of two, etc. which (as we shall see) are introduced in the course of development of the theory.  In view of the basic crudity of the theory, the exact values adopted for such factors are hardly significant.

Cox & Giuli, Principles of Stellar Structure, vol I, ch 14.  (It is for a reason that they say in astrophysics the error is in the exponent of the measurement.)

Jack London claimed to write twenty hours a day.  Before he undertook to write, he obtained the University of California course list and all the syllabi; he spent a year reading the textbooks in philosophy and literature.  In subsequent years, once he had a book of hisown underway, he set his alarm to wake him after four hours' sleep. Often he slept through the alarm, so, by his own account, he rigged it to drop a weight on his head.  I cannot say I believe this, though a novel like _The_Sea-Wolf_ is strong evidence that some sort of weight fell on his head with some sort of frequency -- but you wouldn't think a man would take credit for it.

Annie Dillard _The_Writing_Life_

There's good news and bad news.  The bad news is I just discovered cat vomit (quite a bit of it too) on the carpet in front of the whiteboard. The good news is i was able to put off writing for a few minutes in order to clean up the cat vomit.

Susan Gilbert-Collins

We do not intend to hand the reader a bushel of potsherds with the remark that it contains the wisdom of ancient Sumer.  ...  Needless to say the description of properly assembled potsherds is a tedious business.  We hope the results are worth the effort.

Eugene N. Parker

President Charles de Gaulle, a six-foot-four-inch humorless Frenchman with "a head like a banana and hips like a woman" (as Hugh Dalton remarked), did not hit it off with the much more compact and sparkling Churchill.  Each had his own ego problem; each saw himself as the embodiment of his nation.  On one occasion, during dinner at Chequers, Churchill was informed by his butler that de Gaulle wished to speak to him on the phone.  Churchill, in the middle of drinking his soup, refused to take the call.  De Gaulle, vehemently persisting through the intermediary of the butler, eventually persuaded the British leaderto abandon his soup.  When Churchill returned to the table ten minutes later, he was still crimson with rage.  "Bloody de Gaulle!  He had the impertinence to tell me that the French regard him as the reincarnation of Joan of Arc."  Pause.  "I found it necessary to remind him that we had to burn the first one."

Anon. (to me)

I hate quotations.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


I read to the entire plebe class,
in two batches. Twice the hall filled
with bodies dressed alike, each toting
a copy of my book. What would my
shrink say, if I had one, about
such a dream, if it were a dream?

Question-and-answer time.
"Sir," a cadet yelled from the balcony,
and gave his name and rank, and then,
closing his parentheses, yelled
"Sir" again. "Why do your poems give
me a headache when I try

to understand them?" he asked. "Do
you want that?" I have a gift for
gentle jokes to defuse tension,
but this was not the time to use it.
"I try to write as well as I can
what it feels like to be human,"

I started, picked my way care-
fully, for he and I were, after
all, painted by the same dumb longings.
"I try to say what I don't know
how to say, but of course I can't
get much of it down at all."

By now I was sweating bullets.
"I don't want my poems to be hard,
unless the truth is, if there is
a truth." Silence hung in the hall
like a heavy fabric. Now my
head ached. "Sir," he yelled. "Thank you. Sir."

William Matthews, printed in "Poetry 180" by Billy Collins

The secret is not a calm disposition or inner strength
Or following the advice of your physician:
The secret of longevity is length.
Day by day the journey is made.
I'ts like becoming the Tallest Boy In The Sixth Grade,
Stick around and you are bound to win it.
And by and by
You'll even be as old as I.

Garrison Keillor

Dearer to me than the evening star
A Packard car
A Hershey bar
Or a bride in her rich adorning
Dearer than any of these by far
Is to lie in bed in the morning

Jean Kerr, from Please Don't Eat the Daisies


The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the condictor who is
entreating him with the baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

Billy Collins


The Panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn't been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don't anther.

Ogden Nash

in the window // there's a kitten // it's a very tiny kitten
in it's mouth // there's a tongue // it's a very long tongue
when it's cleaning // when it's preening // it wraps its tongue around it
there's no fur // there's no claws // it's just a red ball of tongue
So I pick it up and I bounce it // And I put it in my pocket
I lose it in a game of marbles // But I win a bigger one.

(from talk.bizarre)

Adam & Eve, who first began
The human race, the race of man,
Walked upright, and had brains & thumbs.
(We use those still, for doing sums.)
They named the beasts, invented clothes,
Left Eden,when the need arose.
The need arose in apple season.
It's called the Fall, for just that Reason.

From "Consider the Lemming"


I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

 Ogden Nash

Top 10 Least Exciting Super Powers

10. Super spelling
9. Lightning-fast mood swings
8. Really bendy thumb
7. Power to breathe soup
6. Ability to calm jittery squirrels
5. Power to shake exactly two aspirin out of a bottle
4. Ability to get tickets to Goodwill Games
3. Power to score with other Superheroes' wives
2. Ability to communicate with corn.
1. Magnetic colon


Among the anthropophagi
People's friends are people's sarcophagi.

Ogden Nash

Seduced, shaggy Samson  snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.

S. Lem, The Cyberiad -- "...A poem about a haircut. But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom..."; and all the words beginning with "s".

Finally, after 25 years on a deserted island, Joe was being rescued. As he climbed onto the boat, the curious crew noticed three small grass huts.
"What are those?" they asked.
"The first one is my home," Joe said. "The second is my church."
"What about the third hut?" the rescuers wanted to know.
"Oh," says Joe, "that's the church I used to belong to."


See Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offences by Mark Twain.


Jesus was having dinner with his disciples one time and as they gathered reverentially about him, more or less in the attitudes since immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci, he looked about at them. There, in one direction, he saw Judas Iscariot, who he well knew, would betray him to the authorities before three hours had passed. On the other side was Peter, the prince of the disciples, who, as he well knew, would deny him thrice ere the cock crowed. And almost immediately opposite him was Thomas, who, on a crucial occasion, would express doubts. There seemed only one thing to do.  Jesus called over the head-waiter. "Max," he said, "separate checks."


As an Oberlin grad I shouldn't find this funny, but there you are...

An Italian, a Scotsman and a Chinese fellow are hired at a construction site. The foreman points out a huge pile of sand and says to the Italian guy, "You're in charge of sweeping."  To the Scotsman he says, "You're in charge of shoveling." And to the Chinese guy, "You're in charge of supplies."  He then says, "Now, I have to leave for a little while. I expect you guys to make a dent in that there pile."

So the foreman goes away for a couple hours and when he returns, the pile of sand is untouched.  He asks the Italian, "Why didn't you sweep any of it?"

The Italian replies, "I no hava no broom. You saida to the Chinese a fella that he a wasa in a charge of supplies, but he hasa disappeared and I no coulda finda him nowhere." 

Then the foreman turns to the Scotsman and says, "And you, I thought I told you to shovel this pile." 

The Scotsman replies, "Aye, ye did lad, boot ah couldnay get meself a shoovel! Ye left th' Chinese gadgie in chairge of supplies, boot ah couldnay fin' him either."

The foreman is really angry now and storms off toward the pile of sand to look for the Chinese guy ... Just then, the Chinese guy leaps out from behind the pile of sand and yells...



    A man walked into a doctor's office. He had a cucumber up his nose, a carrot in his left ear and a banana
in his right ear.
   "Whats the matter with me?", he asked.
   "You're not eating properly", replied the doctor.


Top 10 Least Exciting Super Powers

10. Super spelling
9. Lightning-fast mood swings
8. Really bendy thumb
7. Power to breathe soup
6. Ability to calm jittery squirrels
5. Power to shake exactly two aspirin out of a bottle
4. Ability to get tickets to Goodwill Games
3. Power to score with other Superheroes' wives
2. Ability to communicate with corn.
1. Magnetic colon

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man - there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or "The ladies, God bless them!"; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything "funny" about woman's nature.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society   

God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.
Joni Eareckson Tada

Do you notice the three extraordinary, astounding words that Matthew slips in? The risen glorious Jesus appears, and, of course, they worshipped him. But Matthew adds ‘but some doubted’. Even then! You see there was no compulsion. Not even then would he compel worship, acceptance. He does not use his authority that way. You look, listen, think, decide, and you are free to decide wrong.
C. K. Barrett, commenting on Mt 28:16-20

Again and again the great themes of biblical theology, of the Gospel, are illustrated not by specific discussions but by stories. That is why the concordance is not an infallible guide to what the Bible has to say on any given subject. For example, if you wanted to learn about faith you could find out a good deal by looking the word up in a concordance. But the concordance would not send you to this passage [2 Kngs. 6.16-17], because the word faith is not here, but the idea is.
C. K. Barrett

The great scholar is not a person who has a multiplicity of interests in life, who dips into this, looks at that, tastes one enjoyable thing after another. I have known these sort of people and I know the single minded intensity of thought and labor which makes them. We are apt to think of the very learned as unemotional, dull; far from it. No one would ever do such work without a dominating passion, an all absorbing thirst driving him. The person who can say ‘one thing I know’ is a person who gets things done. It is the person who says ‘I know the world is round’ who gets in a boat and sails around it. It is the person who says ‘I know there is a way to the top of the mountain or to the Pole’ who gets there. It is the person who says ‘I know I can succeed in this job’ who does succeed.’

And the one who succeeds (if the word may be allowed) in Christian life is not the person with a variety of religious opinions, but the person who knows, really knows—one thing. It is real conviction which is, I think the ‘one thing’ lacked by so many people; they are interested, they are sympathetic, they are fairly well informed, but they cannot say ‘I know’.
C. K. Barrett

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way tot something inknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability--and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually--let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don't try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., paleontologist and theologian

The parts of the New Testament that really prove the resurrection are not Mt. 28, Mk. 16, Lk. 24, and John 20.21. These are the stories of the first Easter. Of course I am not depreciating them; they are of great value. But taken in themselves and on their own, they could be wrong, they could be mistaken, they could be deliberate fiction, invented to bolster up a case. The parts of the New Testament that prove the resurrection are Mt.1-27, Mk. 1-15, Lk. 1-23, and John 1-19 for these were raised up with Jesus. If nothing had happened at the first Easter, if Jesus had simply stayed dead in the grave, he should never have had these stories of his life and teachings. There might have been a few scattered references in the Talmud (as in fact there are) but (as David Flusser says in the article in the Encyclopedia Judaica summarized in this morning’s Times), the events of the Gospel were not really very close to the major events of the day. It is because Jesus rose from the dead that we have the Gospel records. In other words, the risen Christ is the historical Jesus and there is no other.
C. K. Barrett

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
Fred (Mr.) Rogers

For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Revelation 19:10b

To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides from the blind.
Anthony the Great

The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.

It is indeed an incredible fact that what the human mind -- at its deepest and most profound -- perceives as beautiful finds its realization in external nature. What is intelligible is also beautiful.
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

The trouble with us is we are listening to ourselves when we should be speaking to ourselves.
Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression

You can do more than pray after you've prayed, but you cannot do more than pray before you've prayed.
Watchman Nee and A. J. Gordon, both probably quoting John Bunyan

...in Genesis 13:10-13, Lot chose to live near Sodom because property values were more important to him than the moral integrity of his neighbors. One gets the impression from Genesis 19:26-34 that this was not the healthiest moral choice for his family’s future.
Craig S. Keener

Freedom is the right to choose that which binds you.
F. Buechner

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.
Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison

At present alleluia is for us a traveler's song, but this tiresome journey brings us closer to home and rest where, all our busy activities over and done with, the only thing that will remain will be alleluia.
Augustine, Sermon on Lk 10:38-43

Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver.

John Calvin (thanks, Barbara!)

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: 
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Shelley (again, indebted to B. A. Hull...)

By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old--and Sarah herself was barren--because he considered him faithful who had promised.

Hebrews 11:11

It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.

Gustave Flaubert

Being a lover of freedom, when the [anti-Nazi] revolution came to Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced.  Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks.  Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth.  I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom.  I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.

Albert Einstein, in an Interview in Time magazine, Dec.
23, 1940, p. 38. Sadly, the greater church didn't continue in such a noble vein.

Of course, it hardly ever happens that a philosophical argument is compelling: clever people can often find reasons to reject premises; philosophers with commitments to incompatible views will fail to be convinced of proposed objections.

Ed Wierenga, Cartesian and Neo-Cartesian Arguments for Dualism (2011), delivered in a plenary talk at a conference in Iran on dualism. Ed goes on to address those of his readers who do find the argument convincing.

You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.

C. S. Lewis. (The ancient Jewish conception was monistic; Paul's writing is more dualistic. Who's right?)


My soul is a dark ploughed field
In the cold rain;
My soul is a broken field
Ploughed by pain.

Where windy grass and flowers
Were growing,
The field lies broken now
For another sowing.

Great Sower, when you tread
My field again,
Scatter the furrows there
With better grain.

Sara Teasdale

Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succor and defend and encourage the hero. They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all.  So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it. The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.

Lucian of Samosata, from The Passing of Peregrinus, 13, where he describes the life and death of a Cynic philosopher who for a time converted to Christianity. In exposing Peregrinus as a fraud, and incidentally slams the early church as rubes, in the process giving extra-Biblical credence to descrptions of the church from early in Acts 

I find that scientists can be touchingly naive in believing that they don't make faith commitments. When I ask some of my friends in science if they are religious, they say, "No, I'm a scientist," implying you can't be religious, and that these things are opposites. They would like to believe that scientists don't take things on faith but on evidence. So I frequently ask my scientist friends, "Are you married? Did you do any kind of scientific experiment to determine whether it was a good idea to get married? Do you have any scientific basis for believing that this marriage is going to last for a lifetime? What kind of evidence did you use?" Of course they hum and ha, and eventually allow that probably all people make commitments out of deep expression of faith, based on personal values that don't come out of science.

Bill Newsome

People sometimes think it is odd, or even disingenuous, for a person to be both a physicist and a priest. It induces in them the same sort of quizzical surprise that would greet the claim to be a vegetarian butcher.

John Polkinghorne

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

Annie Dillard

Anytime you think you have to protect God then you can be sure you are worshiping an idol.

Stanley Hauerwas in an interview

The righteous perish,
   and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away,
   while no one understands.
For the righteous are taken away from calamity,
   and they enter into peace;
those who walk uprightly
   will rest on their couches.

Isaiah 57:1-2

Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he as been forsaken, and still obeys.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (VIII)

The superpowers often behave like two heavily armed blind men feeling their way around a room, each believing himself in mortal peril from the other, whom he assumes to have perfect vision.

Henry Kissinger

Very often I was more occupied with the wish to see the end of my hour for prayer. I used to actually watch the sandglass. And the sadness that I sometimes felt on entering my prayer-chapel was so great that it required all my courage to force myself inside.

Teresa of Avila, A Life of Prayer by St. Teresa of Avila, ed. James Houston (Portland, Multnomah, 1983), p. 2; nice to know the spiritual greats had to work at it too!

I've been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It's entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don't know the horrible aspects of war. [...] I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!

General Sherman, speaking in 1879 to the graduating class at Michigan Military Academy


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.  

Billy Collins

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper... For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

Jeremiah 29:4-7, 11-13

Also in this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 5

Most Christians live lives of practical atheism. ... Atheism isn't explicitly a denial of God, it's to live in a way that God does not matter.

Stanley Hauerwas (from the St Petersberg [Florida] Times, "With Vigor, He Discourses on Virtue" by Waveney Ann Moore, Feb 14, 2007)

I went outside this morning, and was accosted by a damp, still, silver-haired fog. Driving to work trees appeared by the side fo the road like smoke from a campfire, materializing wispy and grey--standing beside the road, a curtain of mottled darkness and light. The sky was a dome of silent contemplation, the sun a disk of dim yellow wakefulness. And as I approached my workplace a round lens of blue asserted its dominion, pushing back the quiet blanket covering the heavens and rushing in with the stark blue azure of morning.

It was a fine commute this morning

Stuart Andrew Collins

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Ps 37:4

May we live here like strangers and make the world not a house, but an inn, in which we sup and lodge, expecting to be on our journey tomorrow.

Charles Spurgeon (thanks to Benton Blasingame)

Love God and do what you will.

Augustine [Homilies on 1 Jn, 7.8, in Augustine: Later Works, ed. John Burnaby (Phil: Westminster 1955), 316.]

I came to feel as unwilling as he was to let a sentence stand if the meaning was not as unambiguously visible as a grizzly bear in a brightly lit kitchen.

John Gardner

Pray until you pray.

A Puritan saying quoted by D. A. Carson in Call to Spiritual Reformation. He writes, "Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that [often] attends praying."

Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her.

Hosea 2:14. The desert is a time of trial, but a time Israel was--and we are--closest to God. 

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners,
that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself," stanza 6, in Leaves of Grass (Boston, "1891-2 edition").

Where are the Hittites?

Why does no one find it remarkable that in most world cities today there are Jews but not one single Hittite even though the Hittites had a great flourishing civilization while the Hews nearby were a weak and obscure people?

When one meets a Jew in New York or New Orleans or Paris or Melbourne, it is remarkable that no one consideres the event remarkable. What are they doing here? But it is even more remarkable to wonder, if the Jews are here, why are there not Hittites here?

Catholic novelist and philosopher Walker Percy, quoted by Gary Anderson in his article "How to Think About Zionism" (First Things, Apr 2005, p. 30).

Hurry up, John.

Joe Wheeler, writing from Europe during active military duty, in a letter to his older brother John, a physicist working on the Manhattan Project. Joe fell during the Allied advance in Italy in 1944.

This is what the LORD says to me:
    "I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place,
like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest."

Isaiah 18:4. (And like so many of these heartbreakingly beautiful verses, it's followed by a vision of Israel's downfall. Isarel is truly Jack Boughton of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead,  or Paul MacLean of A River Runs Through it.)

There is a world--I do not say a world in which all sholars live but one at any rate into which all of them sometimes stray, and which some of them seem permanently to inhabit--which is not the world in which I live. In my world, if The Times and The Telegraph both tell one story in somewhat different terms, nobody concludes that one of them must have copied the other, nor that the variations in the story have some esoteric significance. But in the world of which I am speaking this would be taken for granted.  There, no story is ever derived from facts but always from somebody else's version of the same story...

In my world, almost every book, except some of those produced by Government departments, is written by one author.  In that world almost every book is produced by a committee, and some of them by a whole series of committees. 

In my world, if I read that Mr. Churchhill, in 1935, said that Europe was heading for a disastrous war, I applaud his foresight. In that world, no prophecy, however vaguely worded, is ever made except after the event. In my world we say, "The first world-war took place in 1914-1918."  In that world they say, "The world-war narrative took shape in the third decade of the twentieth century." 

In my world men and women live for considerable time--seventy, eight, even a hundred years--and they are equipped with a thing called memory.  In that world (it would appear) they come into being, write a book, and forthwith perish, all in a flash, and it is noted of them with astonishment that they "preserve traces of primitive tradition" about things which happened well within their own lifetime.  

. H. N. Green-Armytage, John Who Saw: A Larman's Essay on the Authorship of the Fourth Gospel (Faber and Faber, 1952), pp. 12-13

Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

Isaiah 49:15. See also Hos 11:8.

A parable: A few years ago I was part of a group that organized a large celebration event in the University Concert Hall in Cambridge. In one item we asked the whole orchestra to improvise on a given melodic shape and chord structure, in the midst of a giant chorus of praise sung by a sizable congregation. The majority of players were Christian. But some were not, among them a 14-year-old in the second violins. Later, she told others that she came to faith during this extravagant extemporization. Normally when she played in an orchestra she would play exactly the same notes as the seven others in a second violin section. Here, for the first time in her musical life, she discovered her own "voice," but she found it through trusting, and being trusted by, others—and in the context of praise.

Jeremy S. Begbie, from his book Resounding Truth, excerpted in Books and Culture 13, Sept/Oct (2007), p. 28. 

I woke up to darkness, twisted in the blankets, my heart beating hard against the mattress. I had to se my mother right away. I started out of bed and struck the wall. The wall was on the other side of the cot. I tried again, and again I struck it.There wasn't a wall on that side of the cot, and not all the logic in the world, or the wall itself, could convince me otherwise. Being reversed in bed never occurred to me. I tried again and again. I called for Jerome and there was no word. Was I outside the room? Finally I fell back on the cot, exhausted, and my left armstretched out into blank space. If there was a wall where I knew there was none, then what lay in this emptiness where the wall should be? I pulled my arm onto the safety of the cot and held it over my chest, afraid to move, afraid of the dark.

In the morning, without having to be told, I knew my mother was gone.

Larry Woiwode from his novel Beyond the Bedroom Wall, as quoted in Thomas Gardner, "What Will Suffice", Books & Culture, July/Aug 2008, p. 20. 

If you are in Christ, you are just a shadow of your future self.

N. T. Wright

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Col 3:23-24

I… entreat you that ye use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those [that are given to this] mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death. For there are some vain talkers… [who] intermix the poison of their deceit with their persuasive talk, as if they mingled aconite  with sweet wine, that so he who drinks, being deceived in his taste by the very great sweetness of the draught, may incautiously meet with his death.

Ignatius, d. 98/117, Epistle to the Trallians, 6:1-2; written from prison, before his death by wild beasts

Why do you complain to [God] that he answers none of man's words? For God does speak--now one way, now another--though man may not perceive it.

Job 33:13-14

Do not say to me, “What shall we be able to do, twelve men, throwing ourselves upon so vast a multitude?” Rather, the most conspicuous thing about the apostles is that they were not put to flight when they mixed with the multitude. The leaven then leavens the lump when it comes close to the meal, and not simply close but so as to be actually mixed with it. He said it was not simply put in the flour but hid in it. So you also, when you come close to your enemies and are made one with them, then shall you get the better of them.

The leaven, though it is buried, is not destroyed. Little by little it transmutes the whole lump into its own condition. This happens with the gospel. Do not fear, then, that there will be many dangerous circumstances. For even then you will shine forth and be victorious.

John Chrysostom, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol Ia, Ed. Manlio Simonetti, 2001, p. 282 (on Mt 13:31-33, the parable of the leaven).

I think you are fallen into an odd way of thinking. You say that till within a few months you had no spiritual life, nor any justifying faith. Now this is as if a man should affirm he was not alive in his infancy, because when an infant he did not know he was alive. All, then, that I can gather from your letter is that till a little while ago you were not so well satisfied of your being a Christian as you are now.

Susanna Wesley, trying to understand her sons' conversion experiences [from Elesha Coffman, Christian History and Bio., 20, 2 (Feb 2001)].

I was more convinced than ever, that the preaching like an apostle, without joining together those that are awakened, and training them up in the ways of God is only begetting children for the murderer. How much preaching has there been for these 20 years all over Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, no order or connection; and the consequence is, that nine in ten of the once-awakened are now faster asleep than ever.

John Wesley, as quoted in the Feb 2001 issue of Christian History and Biography (Charles Edward White, CH&B, Feb 2001, 20, p. 28)

I'll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

The character Pi in Yann Martel's The Life of Pi

Sooner or later if you follow Christ you've got to answer this question: Which is going to be more important to me, that I make it as difficult as possible for me to sin or that I make it as easy as possible for people who don't know Christ to find him?

Dennis McCallum, in a teaching on Lk 18:9-14, the parable of the tax collector and the pharisee 


There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
there are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.

Fleur Adcock from Poems: 1960-2000 (Bloodaxe Books)


Maybe the wound still oozed, or maybe
it had healed over with scars like golden coins.
Thomas might have noticed, but I doubt it.

True, he placed his finger in the Lord's hand,
and his hand in the Lord's side,
and then, we presume, he held his heart

in the bleeding heart. I like to think that.
And I like to think that years later he was still
radiant with holy light. My unholy hunch, though,

is that within a week he learned to doubt
his eyes or his touch, maybe both, maybe
whether he'd really been in the room or not,

or if again the elders had sent him out
for bread or fish, anything to keep his mouth
out of earshot. He wasn't the type to suffer

his loss in silence, and the more he wondered,
the more they doubted, too. That's my guess.
And that may be why only John, the youngest

of the bunch, the mystic, the beloved, the mad,
recalled the very day, and cared enough
about belief to recall the shame of doubt.

William Jolliff, Christian Century, April 20, 2004, p. 30

There is a fascinating example [of a noncanonical saying of Jesus] in what is known as the Western Text ("D") of St. Luke's Gospel. It comes just after the pointed words of Jesus "The Son of man is Lord of the sabbath" (Luke 6:5). "D" then offers a short narrative which is complete in itself and thoroughly fits the context: "When on the same day he saw a man doing work on the sabbath, he said to him: 'Man, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed. But if you do not know it, you are accursed and a transgressor of the law.'" It may well be authentic.

Anglican theologian Michael Green in The Books the Chuch Suppressed, p. 140.

The problem of the delay of the parousia is a modern myth. The problem is caused by liberal Christianity's no longer believing in the resurrection, which means that the weight of God's activity is pushed forward in time. There's not much evidence that the early church was anxious about this. First-century Christianity didn't see itself so much as living in the last days, waiting for the parousia, as living in the first days of God's new world.

N. Thomas Wright, Resurrection Faith, Christian Century, Dec 18-31 (2002), p. 30. 

The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

Galileo Galilei, quoting the Cardinal who was the Vatican Librarian (an assertion also quoted by Pope John Paul II in his final summary of the Galileo investigation). According to Owen Gingerich, who provided the attribution, the quote is as clever in Italian as in English, but not quite so nice in Latin.

Give peace in our time, O Lord.
Because there is none other that fightest for us, but only thou, O God.

From the suffrages of the Daily Morning Prayer service, in the 1549 Anglican Prayer Book

If you ask for change, someone philosophizes to you on the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you ask for the price of bread, you are told, "The Father is greater, the Son inferior." If you ask "is the bath ready" someone answers "The Son was created from nothing."

Gregory of Nyssa, complaining about the effects of the extensive popular interest in questions about the Trinity in 381 in Constantinople around the time of the Council there (as quoted in Roger Olson's The Story of Christian Theology).

Prospects for absorbing the immigrants into American life seemed dim. They insisted in segregating their children into special religious schools, where, rumor had it, even the youngest were indoctrinated to hate others who were not like them. Knowledgeable observers claimed that the immigrants' places of worship concealed arsenals; that their fanatical secret societies swore bloody oaths to exterminate Americans; that their religious loaylties would always prevent them from assimilating in anything but name. Self-evidently, their rigid religious dogmas prevented them from participating in the intellectual debates of an open democracy. At their worst, their clergy and spiritual leaders sounded as if they were still living in the 13th centure. But somehow, matters changed dramatically over time. In 1960, in fact, a member of this despised immigrant religion even became president of the United States, and today only the narrowest of bigots would deny that Roman Catholics are fully assimilated into American sociel, political and intellectual life.

Philip Jenkins, The Mosque on the Corner, from Books and Culture, May/June 2004, p. 9.

More or less unsuccessful attempts were made to capture the essence of the Trinity using analogy: water, snow ice, or the identical reflection in several fragments of a broken mirror... There was a passion for similitudes of all kinds among the preaching friars [of the middle ages], some of  whom carried little pocket books containing prompts.

Ursula Rowlatt, "Popular Representations of the Trinity in England, 990-1300", Folklore, 112, 201 (2001).

All argument is for it; all human experience against it.

Samuel Johnson, when prodded by James Boswell to comment on predestination. (Courtesy David Sims.)

[Augustine] is alleged to have commented that the doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious and dangerous because, "if you deny it you will lose your salvation, but if you try to understand it you will lose your mind!"

Roger E. Olson, "The Story of Christian Theology"

One way of imagining the question of image and likeness is to think of a lock and the key made to fit it. A key and its lock do not look like each other, one is not a big version of the other. But a key is made after the image and likeness of the lock, it fits and meshes with it, it belongs in it and its purpose and destiny is to move in it. We are not miniatures of God... but our mysterious evolution influenced by the Spirit working in creation has made us able to "fit" the being of God, our beings match and mesh with God's. Our deepest needs as person are met and fulfilled by who God actually is. Every aspect of ourselves as persons-in-relationship is blessed and completed by contact and union with all that God is.

Martin L. Smith, from "The Word Is Very Near You", on being made in God's image

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus notes several disturbances in Jerusalem during [Jesus' life] that had inflamed the Jewish crowds. One occurred shortly after Jesus' death when a Roman soldier 'mooned' the Jewish crowd from  a temple portico during a festival, creating a public riot that left the streets strewn with bodies.

Darrel L. Bock, "Jesus v. Sanhedrin", Xianity Today, 4/6/98.

What do you mean, 'helped to create'?! I am Cyrus! I am Cyrus!

President Harry Truman, when introduced at the Jewish Theological Seminary as "the man who helped create the state of Israel" [from The Land, by Gerald McDermott, Books & Culture, 9, 8 (2003)].

Read your letter from the blessed Apostle Paul again.

Ever wondered what happened to those troublesome Corinthians? This is several decades after Paul, from the first letter of Clement, bishop of Rome, to the Corinthians, who had just kicked out their own bishops.

What does it matter if I can prove to you that lobsters exist, if you're not interested in seafood at all? The theologian's real job should be to work up your enthusiasm for the Lobster Himself. Only after that can be talk to you about the Unlobstered First Lobster without putting you to sleep.

Robert Capon, "Hunting the Divine Fox"

In advanced matters of theology absolute confidence is possible only for two classes of people, saints and idiots.

Origen, as quoted in Christopher Hall's Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers.

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy.  If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin.  God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners.  Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.  We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

Luther, from a letter to Melanchthon on the day of the feast of St. Peter the apostle, 1521 (Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, from the Wartburg)

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis. (Here literal means concrete.)

Many religious people lament that the first fervors of their conversion have died away. They think—sometimes rightly, but not, I believe, always—that their sins account for this. They may even try by pitiful efforts of will to revive what now seem to have been the golden days. But were those fervors—the operative word is those—ever intended to last?

…And the joke, or tragedy, of it all is that these golden moments in the past, which are so tormenting if we erect them into a norm, are extremely nourishing, wholesome, and enchanting if we are content to accept them for what they are, for memories. Properly bedded down in a past which we do not miserably try to conjure back, they will send up exquisite growths. Leave bulbs alone, and the new flowers will come up. 

C. S. Lewis, from Letters to Malcolm, pp. 26-27.

The parable is thus essentially two-sided. It has a visible side, the analogical; but that is thrown alongside the invisible Kingdom and is, so to speak,  contrapuntal to it. The parable is essentially sacramental in form and that is always its intention on the lips of Jesus. Jesus Christ, in teaching and Person, is Himself the great Parable of the Kingdom of God.

Scottish Presyterian theologian T. F. Torrance, Scottish Journal of Theology, 3, 298 (1950). [Torrance (1913-) was a student of Karl Barth and one of the exceptional theologians of his time, focusing on a range of topics including the Trinity, science and theology and Calvin and Reformed theology.]

Above all forms of speech the parable is calculated to have the greatest  propensities for suggestion in which with the light and skilled thrust of a rapier Jesus gently touches men to the quick of their soul by the two-edged Word, summoning them to decision without crushing them to the ground by an open display of majesty and might. It is by means of the parable that Jesus pierces to the heart in such a way as not to crush the bruised reed or quench the burning flax.

T. F. Torrance, ibid.

Every story Susan has ever written stops before the end and that shows amazing writing clarity. And everyone who reads them imagines the next day or next conversation and the story goes on, at least a little while, in the reader's imagination.

Ruth Manson

Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

George Washington in his farewell address of 1796

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.

C. S. Lewis

Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.

John A. Wheeler

Only because God has become human is it possible to know and not despise real human beings.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer  (Bet the ladies were lining up to marry him!)

God foreknew those who would be reborn in response to the offer of grace.

Pelagius, Commentary on The Second Letter to Timothy (should I be worried that I agree with Pelagius?!)

This same election took place, not on the basis of foreseen faith, of the obedience of faith, of holiness, or of any other good quality and disposition, as though it were based on a prerequisite cause or condition in the person to be chosen, but rather for the purpose of faith, of the obedience of faith, of holiness, and so on.

The Canons of Dordt

We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

 Paul Bowles (
novelist, composer, and poet)

They ought to make it a binding clause that if you find God you get to keep him... Finding God (if indeed [I] did find God) became, ultimately, a bummer, a constantly diminishing supply of joy sinking lower and lower like the contents of a bag of [drugs].

Philip K. Dick

That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved.

Gregory of Nazianzus (see also atonement)

More and more, it seems to me that the gospel is terrible news before it is good news--especially if you happen to be at the front of the line, on the top of the heap. That seems to be where I am being led these days--to the gospel that disturbs before it comforts and that insists on death as the condition of new life.

Barbara Brown Taylor

God is easy to please but hard to satisfy.

George MacDonald

Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to be.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-65)

In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, "How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?" The point is that each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride.

Clive Staples Lews, from Mere Christianity

It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never seen a book on ‘the problem of pleasure.’ Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around in head-shaking perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question – the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians.

Philip Yancey

A quantum mechanics professor once said that someone asked him, 'Is such and such a theorem in quantum mechanics a deep truth?' He said, 'No, that's a simple truth. No man is an island--that is a deep truth. Every man is an island. That is also a deep truth.' Scripture doesn't tell us about the wave nature of particles; scripture tells us about really deep things.

William Phillips, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics for laser cooling of atoms (quoted in The Best Christian Writing 2004, Ed. John Wilson)

When we savor God, we call it worship.

Earl D. Wilson

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.  I am haunted by waters.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Women and God are the two rocks on which a man must either anchor or be wrecked.

Frederick William Robertson

Some things arrive in their own mysterious hour, on their own terms and not yours, to be seized or relinquished forever.

Gail Godwin

       Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, `No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say `Let me but have this and I'll take the consequences': little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin.
       Both processes begin before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already confirms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, `We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,' and the Lost, `We were always in Hell.' And both with speak truly.

C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Prov 3:5-6

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Prov 4:23

Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun-- all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.

Eccl 9:9

Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

Eccl 5:19-20

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Cor 4:16-18

I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [or spirit] ; man has no advantage over the animal.

Ecclesiastes 3:18-19 (the "all dogs go to Heaven" verse)

The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.

Ecclesiastes 10:2 (what could this mean? Credit to Barbara Hull for this one)

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Ecclesiastes 5:1

Do not say "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions.

Ecclesiastes 7:10

This is what the sovereign Lord, the holy one of Israel, says:
`In repentance and rest if your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength'

Isaiah 30:15a

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

I Thess 5:23-24

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

Jonah 2:8

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent.

Revelation 3:19

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3:10

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.

Judges 3:31

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.

2 Tim 4:14 (my "life verse"... one of them, anyway. This is probably the only mention of Alexander in the Bible. How would *you* like to be forever remembered this way by perhaps the greatest evangelist?)

It will be the haunt of pelican and hedgehog,
the owl and the raven will live there;
over it Yahweh will stretch the measuring line of chaos
and the plumb-line of emptiness.

Isaiah 34:11 (Jerusalem Bible)

I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits.

Song of Solomon 6:11

Pay no attention to his height, for I have rejected him.

1 Sam 16:7 (no, this is my life verse)

The driving is like that of Jehu, son of Nimshi - he drives like a madman.

2 Kings 9:20 (and this used to be!)

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Matt 6:34 (KJV)

"Is not my word like fire," declares the Lord, "and like a hammer shattering a rock?"

Jeremiah 23:29

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Romans 8:6 (NRSV)

All things are possible, but not all things make money

1 Cor 10:23 a la Danny Veenje

It is God ... who made Aldebaran and Orion, the Pleiades and
the circle of the Southern stars; who does great and unsearchable
things, marvels without number.

Job 9:9

Just simply to say that it goes against tradition and the teachings of the Church and scripture does not necessarily make it wrong.

Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson, bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire. (What else, by the way, is left as a standard?)

Tell me, tell me if anything got finished.

Leonardo da Vinci, who worked very slowly and only finished a few paintings in his life. This phrase is repeated again and again in his notebooks, and scholars believe he wrote it whenever he was testing out a newly cut pen.

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

from Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, an excellent and spooky book.

The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.

Henry David Thoreau

When my ashes scatter, says John, "there is left on earth
No one alive who knew (consider this!)
--Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
That which was from the first, the Word of Life.
How will it be when none more saith, `I saw'?"

Robert Browning, from A Death in the Desert


I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in Heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.

Emily Dickinson


Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it - it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less -
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars - on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Robert Frost


And did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
on England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
among those dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariots of Fire!
I will not cease from metal fight;
nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
till we have built Jerusalem
in England's green and pleasant land.

William Blake

A medieval carol (from The Oxford Book of Carols):

Refrain:    Make we joy now in this feast
    In quo Christus natus est:    [On which Christ was born]

A Patre unigenitus        [From the Father only-begotten]
    Through a maiden is come to us:
    Sing we of him and say `Welcome,
    Veni Redemptor genitum.'    [Come, Redeemer of the nations]

Agnoscat omne seculum:        [Let every age acknowledge (thee)]
    A bright star made three kinges come,
    For to seek with their presents
    Verbum supernum prodiens:    [The celestial word proceeding]

A solis ortus cardine,        [Risen from the quarter of the sun]
    So mighty a lord was none as he:
    He on our kind his peace hath set,
    Adam parens quod polluit:    [Which parent Adam defiled]

Maria ventre concipit,        [Mary conceived in her womb]
    The Holy Ghost was ay her with:
    In Bethlehem yborn he is,
    Consors paterni luminis:    [Consort of the father's light]

O lux beata, Trinitas!        [O blessed light, O Trinity]
    He lay between an ox and ass.
    And by his mother, maiden free,
    Gloria tibi, Domini!        [Glory to thee, O Lord]


NOTE: The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in langue d’oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only those words.

I remember the quick, nervous bird of your love.
I remember the quick, nervous bird of your love.
Always perched on the thinnest, highest branch.
Always perched on the thinnest, highest branch.
Thinnest love, remember the quick branch.
Always nervous, I perched on your highest bird the.

It is time for me to cross the mountain.
It is time for me to cross the mountain.
And find another shore to darken with my pain.
And find another shore to darken with my pain.
Another pain for me to darken the mountain.
And find the time, cross my shore, to with it is to.

The weather warm, the handwriting familiar.
The weather warm, the handwriting familiar.
Your letter flies from my hand into the waters below.
Your letter flies from my hand into the waters below.
The familiar waters below my warm hand.
Into handwriting your weather flies you letter the from the.

I always cross the highest letter, the thinnest bird,
Below the waters of my warm familiar pain,
Another hand to remember your handwriting.
The weather perched for me on the shore.
Quick, your nervous branch flew from love.
Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to.

Billy Collins,
United States Poet Laureate 2001-2002.
(No relation.)

Nature's first green is gold, the hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf's a flower, but only so an hour
Then leaf descends to leaf.  So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day.  Nothing gold can stay.

 Robert Frost

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this chapel were shut,
And `Thou shalt not' writ over the door,
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,

And I saw it filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

                    William Blake

Irritation produces the pearl,
Pressure make a diamond,
Impurities color all precious gems,
Fire refines Gold.

Amy Collins


Needle, needle, dip and dart,
Thrusting up and down,
Where's the man could ease a heat
Like a satin gown?

See the stiches curve and crawl
Round the cunning seams --
Patterns thin and sweet and small
As a lady's dreams.

Wantons go in bright brocades;
Brides in organdie;
Gingham's for the plighted maid;
Satin's for the free!

Wool's to line a miser's chest;
Crape's to calm the old;
Velvet hides an empty breast;
Satin's for the bold!

Lawn is for a bishop's yoke;
Linen's for a nun;
Satin is for wiser folk --
Would the dress were done!

Satin glows in candlelight --
Satin's for the proud!
They will say who watch at night,
``What a fine shroud!''

Dorothy Parker

If they pay you to pet the cat, then pet the cat.

Ellen Gilbert

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