Chunking Your Way to Fluency

Memorization and Practice as Keys to Effective Learning

Illustration by Sam Falconer

 

“How much should I practice?” It’s a question I get every time I teach Dramatizing Scripture. I always answer, “First of all, football players practice. Actors rehearse!” It’s a snarky way of suggesting to my students that actors breathe a rarefied air—that we are above the Philistine idea of mere practice. Rehearsing, I argued, was meant to be a substantive exercise in discovery and invention.

But that is a flippant and arrogant response. And it’s wrong.

There is a repetitive element to rehearsal that cannot and should not be denied. Not every rehearsal unearths new discoveries. We do not constantly invent. If we did, we would not have time to refine what we have discovered or invented. Rehearsal requires repetition. An actor can’t simply understand a character. He must memorize the lines, or he will soon be out of a job!

The great Russian director Constantin Stanislavski said,

“Rehearsals are taken up, in the main, with the task of finding the right objectives, getting control of them and living with them.”

OK, so “finding” has to do with discovery. But “getting control” has to do with two things: understanding what you have found, and practicing until you have mastered the action. “Living with them” results in a kind of procedural fluency that allows the actor the freedom to focus his relationship with the other actors, and with the audience rather than struggling with the distraction of “what do I say next?”

In her insightful essay, How I rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math, Barbara Oakley demonstrates how cognitive/rational apprehension of a subject (like math) can lead to “an illusion of competence that sets the student up for failure.” The contemporary focus on conceptual understanding of STEM/common core disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)  trumps the older teaching methods of memorization and repetition. But we need more than understanding. Because, as Oakley rightly observes,

“Understanding doesn’t build fluency; rather, fluency builds understanding.”

Oakley grew up reading Madeleine L’Engle and Dostoyevsky. She went on to study language at one of the world’s leading language institutes, and became a translator for the Russians on Soviet trawlers on the Bering Sea. But at 26 she grew eager for something new, so she made the  make the dramatic shift to learning engineering—a discipline which required a lot of math.

Long story short—Oakley learned math. And algebra. And trig. Eventually, she became a professor of engineering at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan. She learned—became procedurally fluent—in her new discipline the same way she became fluent Russian: through understanding complemented by repetition, and memorization.

Fluency of something whole like a language requires a kind of familiarity that only repeated and varied interaction with the parts can develop.

Fluency required an applied technique called “chunking.”

Chunking was originally conceptualized in the groundbreaking work of Herbert Simon in his analysis of chess—chunks were envisioned as the varying neural counterparts of different chess patterns. Gradually, neuroscientists came to realize that experts such as chess grand masters are experts because they have stored thousands of chunks of knowledge about their area of expertise in their long-term memory. Chess masters, for example, can recall tens of thousands of different chess patterns. Whatever the discipline, experts can call up to consciousness one or several of these well-knit-together, chunked neural subroutines to analyze and react to a new learning situation. This level of true understanding, and ability to use that understanding in new situations, comes only with the kind of rigor and familiarity that repetition, memorization, and practice can foster.

“Fluency with something whole…” that’s what we’re after in the Christian life as well. If we want to gain fluency in our Christian life, if we want to reveal Jesus on the world stage, we need to “chunk”! To familiarize ourselves with His word and His person so that we fluently articulate His character in everything we do and say.

Illustration: Sam Falconer

What Not to Fear

Taming the fear monster...

 

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.” Sophocles

I didn’t mean to be the fear monster to Rosalyn. It was supposed to be just a game. Rosalyn — then 4 1/2 — wanted to play hide and seek. We played often, and Ollie (my pet name for Ros) loved to be the “seeker.”

She would count to 10 and then I would hear, “Ok, Daddy, here I come!” And I would whisper loudly, “Oh, I hope Ollie doesn’t find me here in the closet in her bedroom!” But this time, I thought, I’ll string things out a little. So when I heard her say, “OK, Daddy, here I come!” I stayed quiet.

“Daaadyyy!” followed by a little laugh.

I tucked myself back into the shadows of our darkened dining room.

“Daddy!?”

Hmm. Maybe a little tension in her voice. No laugh this time.

“Daddy?” Small voice. Scared.

From my hiding place I see her stop in the hallway, right in front of the open dining room door. She paused, took a shaky breath and – I’m not making this up – bowed her head and folded her hands, and prayed in a little whisper: “Dear God – please help me find my Daddy.”

Ollie found her Daddy pretty fast. And then everything was fine. She was smiling, and she gave me a big hug.

She wasn’t fearful if her daddy was with her. Of course, I hadn’t been absent. I was there all along, but Ollie felt like I wasn’t there.

Sometimes I feel like my heavenly Father isn’t there. Or that He doesn’t care. Fear has a way of inducing grace-amnesia. In the middle of a fear-invoking crisis we forget that God loves us and that He is always with us (Matthew 28: 20).

But on this day 15 years ago, a lot of people felt like God had blinked. On 9-12, 2001 people felt alone. Someone had left the door unlocked and some bad people had come into our house. And they had hurt us.

But then, in the persons of our nation’s pastors, God stepped out of the shadows to remind us of those things that we need not fear. Here are just a few from His book of promises to encourage you:

Things not to fear:

Natural disasters: Mark 6:49-52

The World in Chaos: Luke 21:9

Public opinion when following God’s will: Matthew 1:20

Leaving everything behind to follow Jesus: Luke 5:10

Having run out of time for a miracle: Mark 5:36 (this is my favorite)

Those who can kill you: Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5

Philippians 4:6,7 sums it up pretty well. Christians need not fear anything. And here’s the amazing thing. This isn’t an option – it’s a command!  “Christians, listen up. Do not be afraid. Of anything! Instead get your head up and look to your heavenly Father. Talk to Him and be thankful that he’s there to hear you!”

Feeling fearful? Call out to your heavenly Father, and you know what you get? It’s the opposite of fear, and it’s bound up in one of the titles for the Lord Jesus—

“The Prince of Peace.”

So Long

Why 10 Miles Feels Like 10 Light Years

Ranch Sunset Windmill

 

I knew this was coming. I’d been preparing for it for a few months. In some ways that made it harder.

When the day finally arrived, I wasn’t home. I was in Tahiti trying not to think that, as Lauren and I were snorkeling for the first time ever off the coral reefs of Bora Bora, Evan was being tucked into his carseat and transported to his new home down the road a ways.

Our wise and kind daughter, Rosalyn, had planned it this way. So we wouldn’t have to be there to see them go. She knows how much PoP! here loves to get Evan up in the morning – every morning. For 2 1/2 years I’ve tiptoed up to his door and listened for him to stir, or talk to himself, or sing the Evan and PoP! song. It was the same every morning. I would say, “Hey!” Evan would respond with “Hey you” and then I would go in for hugs, kisses, prayers, the Apostle’s Creed (yes!), and maybe a story.

I love my kids. But it’s different with grandkids. Joy. Freedom from some of the worries that haunt first-timers – also known as parents. I don’t know. I do know that when he looks up at me he sees his PoP! and not a parent. That when he asks for a “combination” (conversation) he prefers more of a monologue – about riding down to the ranch on a big red firetruck with a silver light made out of a magic peach that lights up the magical windmill rocketship with blades that spin so, so fast and sparkly (red, blue, green, yellow, and vermillion) that it takes off for the moon where we meet green moon-men and drink green moon-juice and then fly back through the stars and down through the clouds to land just as Mommy steps out on the back porch with a plate full of warm cookies and ice-cold milk and vanilla ice cream.

His room is empty. The bed is gone. The toys are packed away for the most part.

I walk out onto our deck that juts out into the back yard and I notice a couple of tennis balls hiding away under the sweet potato vine that blankets the rock fountain – two that Evan swung at and missed. He always swings. No such thing as taking a pitch. And I notice the bare spot where he always stood, bat in hand, is starting to grow over with fresh Emerald Zoisia.

The grass, the bat and balls, the bedroom. The house. The front porch rocking chairs. They are reserved for visits now. Now Evan and Ollie (my nickname for Rosalyn) live in her newly renovated home.

Just down the road a bit.

Ten  light years away.

 

Whither Ethics?

A Primer on Where to Look These Days...

Ethics

Old man Aristotle had it right. He claimed there are just three basic principles to keep in mind when imbibing the latest draught from the political or entertainment well. Depending on where you dig, you may wind up with fresh water or foul. Best practices and common sense require that you test the water before swallowing.

First of all, know the fellow (or gal) who told you to dig. Is he trustworthy? After all, you are counting on his advice to help you find truth. He wants you to buy what he’s selling, believe in his message, and elect him to office. This is called ethos and it goes right to the fellow’s character.   A man who is ethical is a man who has integrity. He may be incorrect – he may, in all sincerity believe he is a rutabaga – but at the very least you can trust him to give you his version of the truth. He may try to persuade you, but he won’t try to manipulate you. He will give you the truth as he sees it. But that’s as far as ethos will carry you. I don’t want to elect a man who believes he is related to one of the three food groups, no matter how deep his convictions.

That’s why we need principle #2: logos. Logos has to do with the logic of the salesman’s argument. Does it make sense that you should dig your well here? Do you have a seismic survey that indicates there is water down there? In short, is the argument reasonable?

Now we come to the tricky member of this rhetorical trinity: pathos. Pathos appeals to emotion. Of course pathos can be abused. The unethical director can spin an emotional tale that will corkscrew his audience into an emotional pretzel – to swallow his message based on an emotional appeal that is a lie. In a pure appeal to pathos, Leni Riefenstahl paraded ethos in a swastika. In a kind of rhetorical final solution, she crowded logos into a cattle car with the rest of the Jews and made it disappear.

In a pure appeal to pathos reason is reduced to how I feel.

On the other hand, the legitimate use of pathos inspires the reader or viewer or listener to passionate conviction and ultimate action based on the integrity of the speaker (ethos), the logic of his argument (logos) and – here comes pathos – the degree to which the person receiving the message identifies emotionally with the story/message that is true.

There is an inner sense that the emotion of the story is being revealed and not concocted. And that we are being invited to participate intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally in a truth claim. There is a resonance based on a moral premise that rings true and is consistent with natural law (read Stanley Williams’s The Moral Premise).

Ethos. Logos. Pathos. Jesus invites us to come and drink from His well (see John 4). He is trustworthy because he is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6). He is the divine Logos (John 1:1), the one who perfectly, reasonably reveals the way of eternal life. He is the one who inspires absolute allegiance of intellect, heart, and will.

If you’d looking for ethics these days, you need look no further than Jesus.

 

Slow Down. Listen. Say no.

Learnin' to Love the Sound of Silence

time-warpTeach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

In the 90th Psalm Moses revealed a keen awareness of our need for wisdom in living out the span of days allotted by the Lord. One unexpected result of learning to “number our days” is that we gain a working knowledge of the difference between the qualitative and quantitative value of time.

Wedged between the rather Muggleish Psalm 90 and Psalm 91 you will find Psalm 90 3/8 (think, Harry’s Platform 9 ¾), and in it a lyrical fragment from the 60’s.

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.
– Simon & Garfunkle, Feelin’ Groovy

Time can be measured as a metronome sequence of events (chronos), or as an opportunity (kairos). Moses has chronos in mind when he tells us to “number our days.”

Here’s what we need to do: 1) slow down; 2) listen; 3) learn to say no. Some practical benefits: 1. We will live longer. 2. We will be happier. 3. We will discover that we actually do better work! 4. Suddenly those closest to us will come into focus. Once the fog of distraction clears it’s like, “really, where have you all been?!”

The instrument of instruction during my slowing-down periods has been music. Music can keep us from the peril of missed opportunities. That’s what Paul is warning us to guard against.

Another “Paul”— modern day secular prophet and lyricist Paul Simon—captures the essence of the missed opportunity in his lament, “Slip Slidin’ Away:”

I know a father
He had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done

He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

It’s hard to stay sensitive to opportunities when the world, the flesh, and our enemy are screaming in our ears. The resulting cacophony dulls us to the beauty of silence where we can attune our hearts to the still small voice of God. C. S. Lewis understood that part of Satan’s strategy is simply to fill our lives with distracting noise:

We will make the whole universe a noise in the end….
The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.
But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, #22

It doesn’t matter how much time you invest in living your life if you squander the days you’ve been given on junk.

So, it all comes down to choices.
We choose to count, to remind ourselves of the brevity of our lives a la Moses.
We choose to redeem the time a la Paul.

Slow. Down.

You may be surprised that you emerge from that intentional pause in which you kicked down a few cobble stones feelin’ — you know.

Swayed by Tahitian Waters

Yet another lesson in maintaining balance

Tahiti & Bora Bora

Yep, the Lord called me to a ministry in Tahiti! Took me about 1/2 second to accept Chuck Swindoll’s gracious invitation to join him on a four-masted sailing ship that would cruise the islands. I would be performing Bible characters along the way.

One of them was Jonah, a new character for me. Old Jonah wasn’t called to paradise. He was called to go to Assyrian Nineveh. About as far from paradise as you’re going to get. And he did NOT want to go. In fact he headed the other way, only to be stopped by the Lord while on board a ship.

But who wouldn’t want to go to the South Pacific? When you think of Tahiti you may well conjure coral reefs ringing black sand beaches with shallow lagoons filled with iridescent rainbow fish and near-transparent eels with coal black button eyes. You may be able to feel the feathery touch of balmy breezes that carry just a whisper of coolness. You can almost smell the fragrance of a thousand tropical flowers. And that’s just the way it is. Tahiti is as close as you’re going to come to paradise.

On the island.

What you may not be aware of is that there’s a lot of what is ironically called the Pacific Ocean between the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia where we find Tahiti. There isn’t much that’s pacific, or peaceful, about some of those waters. The technical name for the dramatic movement of a ship caught in rough swells is called “sway.” So there I was, reciting the lines of God’s reluctant prophet, Jonah who found himself in the gut of an enormous fish—wondering if I might be in for the same fate. And I wasn’t even running from the Lord!

You should have seen me as I was performing Jonah—trying to maintain my balance and remember my lines as the ship was swaying back and forth—praying I wouldn’t tip over. I looked out the portholes on the starboard side and all I saw was gray sky. Five seconds later we tilted back and out the port side all I could see was water crashing against the thick glass. Thanks to a heavy stool they pushed out onto the stage for me I managed to avoid stumbling into the laps of the seasick seafarers to starboard or the green-gilled patrons to port!

The Lord graciously sustained me, though many passengers (including my sweetheart, Lauren) got seasick and stayed that way for more than 10 hours—all through the rest of the night. I should say “nights” because this was the first of two!

There was a good lesson here. There are going to be rough seas ahead.

I thought of another boat scene. The Lord Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and go ahead of him to the other side of the lake. Unlike Jonah, they were in the midst of obeying God when they encountered a life-threatening storm (Mark 8:33). Tumbling waves—even if they were going where He told them to go.

The same holds true for us today.

The good news is that He is with us. Always (Matthew 28:20). In the fish. On the boat. He is with us wherever we go.

Even between the islands of paradise, where the water can get rough.

Tahiti Bound!

Satisfying a Hunger for Real Beauty

Tahitian Women on the Beach - Paul Gauguin

Tahitian Women on Beach – Paul Gauguin

Tomorrow, Lauren and I will fly to Tahiti via LAX.  We are going with Dr. Chuck Swindoll and the Insight for Living bunch. We will be traveling on a beautiful 4-master, beginning in Papeete and then sailing northwest to Bora Bora. We have never been to Tahiti or anywhere close to the other paradise islands in French Polynesian Archipelago.

Tahiti exerts a romantic tug for a lot of folks. Part of the reason for the exotic allure grows out of our familiarity with the great artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and his bold renderings of raven-haired Tahitian women.

In 1891 Gauguin left France  behind (along with what Gauguin believed to be its repressive conventions) and moved to Tahiti, where he lived with native islanders far outside the capital, Papeete.

Gauguin’s striking use of color and symbolism in his Tahitian paintings set him apart from his French contemporaries by an aesthetic distance equal to the physical distance that separated Papeete from Paris. Some of his major works include La Orana Maria (1891), Tahitian women on Beach, (1891), The Seed of the Areoi (1892), Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897), and Two Tahitian Women (1899).

I have seen many of his masterpieces hanging in major museums around the world: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. You can find some of his other works in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The geographical distribution of his work is impressive.

Some folks consider it a shame that not a single original Gauguin painting remains in French Polynesia. The Gauguin Museum on the main island of Tahiti, displays only reproductions of his work.

I don’t share that sentiment. Why restrict Gauguin’s work to his adopted home? It’s out there as it should be, available to a foreign population, the vast majority of which would never have had the opportunity to view his masterworks in person were they kept in Tahiti.

Still, for all its glory, Gauguin’s vision of Tahiti is self indulgent. Theosophism and native Polynesian religions limited the great Gauguin to a selfish and egotistical exploration of all that Tahiti could provide with its natural beauty and its exotic sensuality. Many of Gauguin’s masterworks reflect exquisitely his allegiance to the carnal appetites of the god he beheld in the mirror.

Having seen and appreciated many of Gauguin’s paintings, I look forward to experiencing the real Tahiti, up close and unfiltered by another artist’s point of view. I want to draw my own conclusions. To interpret the beauty of the islands from my own perspective. As Christians we enjoy a an increased capacity for distinguishing the beauty of creation from the beatific Creator of nature. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to celebrate the infinite beauty of the Divine Artist even more than His masterworks of creation.

While we will enjoy the beauty of the islands, our allegiance and our deepest appreciation are to the One who, by the power of His Word, called all things into being—including Tahiti.

A Farewell Letter to Garrison Keillor

A Native Son Comes Home to Lake Wobegon - where "sort of the truth" is truth enough

Garrison Keillor

Dear Garrison,

I heard you are retiring today, and I had to write. I started listening to you by accident sometime back in the late 80’s. A buddy of mine named Jim Hoover had told me about this storyteller on National Public Radio. His name was Garrison Keillor, Jim said, and he loved to talk about his hometown of Lake Wobegon tucked away somewhere in central Minnesota.

I was traveling back from a preaching assignment as I recall, and I stumbled upon your show, A Prairie Home Companion, on our local NPR station. You were just launching into your weekly story with the now famous line, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town.”

The first thing I noticed was your voice! I don’t think I’ve ever heard, to this day, a more relaxed delivery. I mean, mister, you could talk the tension out of a twelve-string. On my maiden voyage with the program I had no knowledge of Lake Wobegon. The story that day was about the death of Buddy Holly in February, 1959. You and the members of your High School band, The Pharaohs of Rhythm, had traveled the roughly 3 1/2 hours down to Clear Lake, Iowa to pay your respects at the crash site. You guys saw the wrecked plane out in the field where it crashed, and piled out of the car to stand along a fence row for a better look.

You, heeding nature’s call, went over into some nearby trees to relieve yourself. You looked out through the trees and saw something sticking out of the snow—it was the neck of Buddy Holly’s guitar! To your credit, you resisted the temptation to snatch it, and rejoined your own buddies who were deep into conversation with some teenage girls who had come out to see what was to be seen. You and the Pharaohs of Rhythm played Buddy Holly music all the way back to Lake Wobegon—and I was hooked! What a story!

I retold the story to Lauren as soon as I got home. The next day I went into work and told Jim that Lauren and I had decided that we were going to visit Lake Wobegon that next summer. No matter what it took, I was going to find it and go into the Sidetrack Tap for a coke. Jim smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Reg, it isn’t real. It’s all make-believe.”

I’m a storyteller, Garrison. I know a make-believe story when I hear it. I respect Jim Hoover. He’s a good man. But I think he got this one wrong. I read an interview with you in National Geographic. In it you said, “People want stories to be true.” I’ve decided that yours are. They don’t have to be factual to be real.

The best stories—and yours are among the very best—are true in ways that stretch beyond the particulars of latitude and longitude. I find your stories in my own small town of Oakville, Texas. Your stories are in the small towns that populate our collective nostalgia, where all the women are strong, all the men are good lookin’, and all the children are above average. Thanks for a great ride, Garrison! And by the way, I’m loving your new collection of poetry, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound. Thanks for signing it with “All the best!”

I wish you the same.

P.S. Be looking for us. Lauren and I will be coming for a visit there in Lake Wobegon one of these days— pretty sure we’ll pass through Mayberry along the way.

For Evan on Father’s Day, 2016

My Pop and the Time we Talked

Reg's first Buck

Evan, you didn’t get to know your great grandpa—my Pop—but he was a great man in my eyes.  Pop taught me, among many things, to hunt. There wasn’t a lot of talk about anything. He was a man of spare words, so in that regard (and in many others) we were pretty different. We didn’t talk about life, or football, or why I was deathly afraid to kiss my first girlfriend, LU. With Pop it was all about what was going on right then and there. In this case, the hunt—how to stalk, how to track a wounded buck until you found him, how not to let noisy thorn bushes scrape your jeans. How to walk ten slow steps, pause and look. And wait. And then to hunt until you got back to the truck, because if you stopped before you opened the truck door, that’s when a big one would jump and run.

Falling asleep—though it was 5:30 a.m. and still dark as a javelina den at midnight—was strictly forbidden and besides that, it was unprofessional. By the way, the rules changed a little over the years. When Pop was about my age now, we would take naps on the shady bank of the Nueces. Most things, including all sports and any curricular or extra curricular activities were to be approached in the same all-or-nothing, do-the-very-best-you-can professional attitude. But winning wasn’t everything to Pop by a long shot. In fact, doing your best while losing showed more character than an effortless victory. Pop didn’t talk it. He lived it, day-to-day.

But there was this one time, Evan, when Pop and I talked on a hunt. This poem is about my Pop and me, but it’s for you. Because what my Pop held in his hand on that hunt, I hold in mine. I held it for your mom. I held it for my boys, your Tio Niko and Giaccomo. And I hold it for you for the all the days ahead.

Love,

PoP!

“Things to Come”
You sat with me while hunting deer
Beneath the big oak tree
You cupped a secret in your palm
And wouldn’t let me see
“You know what I have here?” you asked
“A bug? An arrowhead?”
You looked again and smiled a bit
And “nope” was all you said.
“I don’t know, Pop. Can I see now?’
You held the secret near
You nodded at the whisperings
I wanted so to hear.
“I hold you in my hand, my son,
I hold your dreams unbound.”
Then with a wink, you showed to me
The secret small and round
“Now here’s a forest in my palm
A thousand trees I hold
Ten thousand promises to keep
And stories yet untold.”
“This mighty oak at riverside
Began smaller than you
But God has blessed and God has grown
This oak as He will you.”
Now if you want to grow up tall
And straight and strong and grand
Remember that you started small
In God our Father’s hand.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Sayers and Mr. Yeats!

Celebrating the Gift of Creativity in Two Very Different Artists

The following blog was to be submitted yesterday, June 13, but a lightning storm interrupted the posting.

Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers

The great Symbolist poet William Butler Yeats (b. June 13, 1865) was 28 years old to the day when Dorothy Sayers (b. June 13, 1893) was born at the Head Master’s House, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Though they both discovered their talents for writing at a young age, the their lives stood in stark contrast to one another.

Sayers, the daughter of  a chaplain of Christ Church and headmaster of the Choir School, won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford. There she studied modern languages and medieval literature, finishing with first-class honors in 1915. Since women were denied degrees in 1915, she had to wait until 1920 when she became one of the first women to receive her MA from Oxford. In one of her most influential theological books, The Mind of the Maker, she explored the analogy between a human creator and the doctrine of the Trinity (more tri-theism in Sayers than orthodox Trinitarianism) in creation. Her human “trinity” consists of the Idea, the Energy (= the materialization of the idea into concrete/written form), and the Power (the reception/reading of the form by the audience).

Her good friend, C. S. Lewis said he read her excellent radio play, The Man Born to be King, every Easter, though he claimed never to have developed a taste for her more famous detective, Lord Peter Wimsey and his adventures. She died 17 December, 1957. Her her ashes are buried beneath the tower of St. Anne’s Church, London, where she had been a churchwarden for many years.

W, B, Yeats

W, B, Yeats

Yeats, on the other hand was no scholar. He attended art school briefly to appease his father, also an artist. While there he decided to become a poet. He moved to London in 1886, where he joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group. He maintained his fascination with the occult for the rest of his life, often addressing spiritual ideas in his brilliant poetry. Women, as well, held him in thrall. He had many affairs and more than one mistress. He died in France in 1939, having founded the National Irish Theater in Dublin (now the Abbey), and having won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.

Two exquisitely talented writers who shared much more than a birthday. Together they shared the gift of a creative spirit to which they gave a habitable form in their poems and novels and plays.

The defining difference between the two lies in their spiritual allegiances – she, to the Christ of Scripture; he, to an esoteric system of philosophy that reflected Hindu Theosophical beliefs and the occult – a system communicated to him through spirits (he called them “Instructors”) whom he had summoned while experimenting with automatic writing.

Can we enjoy the work of an non-Christian genius like Yeats as we can the works of the Christian Sayers? Of course. Just as we can appreciate the truth and goodness and beauty of the ring trilogy by an anti-Semite like Wagner, or Symphony #6 in D-Minor by Tchaikovsky, who struggled with homosexuality.

We can recognize and celebrate the truth, beauty, and goodness evident in these flawed men and women because these qualities emanate from the God we worship Who is the source of all that is true, and beautiful, and good. And Who graciously condescends to reveal Himself through flawed people.

Like us.