Saturday, June 23, 2012


If I were to give awards to the celestial phenomena most like poetry, I would give obliquity the gold medal. Obliquity, the angle of Earth’s tilt (about 23.4⁰), is responsible for seasonal change. One hemisphere, and then the other, slants nearer the sun for half the year. [Venus, in case you wondered, orbits with its north pole down; Uranus, north pole sideways. See Obliquity, Wikipedia.]

This is mysterious to me, why a seeming celestial anomaly—earth’s tilt—should give rise to seasonal regularity. It’s one of those counter-intuitive things that, to my mind at least, belongs in the same category as why babies are soothed by jostling, jiggling, and white noise. What? Junior is screaming? No problem! Just turn on the vacuum cleaner and toss him around a bit. Works every time!

But I digress.

Since midsummer has just passed, you can perhaps see why I would be thinking about obliquity. We in the northern hemisphere have begun the turn that culminates at the winter solstice in December. It’s a good time to pause and assess.

How am I doing with those goals I set in January? Have I met any of them? Do I need to make a course correction? Should I modify or eliminate some goals due to changing circumstances? I thought I’d share part of my assessment with you.

The good news is that I met one annual goal in February, and that was to find a market for my “Change Ringing” article. The bad news is that I’ve fallen short on almost every other goal I set for myself. Daily and weekly word counts went out the window in February, about the same time I signed the contract with The Old Schoolhouse magazine. I had only a few days’ notice to edit and submit the article I had already drafted, thank goodness, in the event my query letter hit home. After that, my disciplined routine gave way to a little celebration and maybe just a little smugness. In other words, I got distracted. What I learned is not what you’d expect to learn from success: it can become an obstacle if you let it.

Another goal I set for myself was to disallow all excuses for not writing. This is the Just-Do-It philosophy, to which I no longer subscribe. I’ve since allowed for the obvious difference between an excuse and a valid reason. Sometimes health, personal problems, family, church, or employment make legitimate claims on my time, state of mind, and energy level. 

I don’t have a prescription for eliminating such interruptions. I only know that I can’t allow them to become extended or permanent disruptions. I do the best I can. If that is a lame, halting pace, so be it. I go on. Besides, such interruptions are my life, my personal obliquity. And it is probable that collectively they comprise some inscrutable effect that makes my work unique and my voice distinct.

One thing that wasn’t on my goal-setting list for the year was coming up with a mission statement, which, due to serendipity, I did anyway. It’s taken almost word-for-word from an article by Aaron D. Wolf celebrating the Christian influences of J. R. R. Tolkien ( “To inspire someone to see the real, enchanted world behind the sterile, imagined one of modernity.” I printed it out and put it on my desk as a reminder.

The world truly is enchanted. It isn’t black and white. It isn’t the way you’d expect it to be. True, we live in a world of cause and effect, but every cause has unintended, and unforeseeable, consequences, and every effect is but another cause. This demands humility. We are not in control. 

I find this to be cause for great celebration. We are not in control! To move the world, we have no celestial body near enough to stand upon and no lever long enough to reach. Christ Himself, as a good friend has to remind me regularly, has already sifted the results of all possible world-changing combinations, and the only numbers that come up are the ones He allows.

Despite the human tendency to see time as linear, we live in a cyclical world. Despite appearances to the contrary, human paths dont stretch out in a straight line to infinity. We have, instead, finite, but regularly recurring chancesas well as the responsiblityto start over. 

To repent, to change our minds, and to begin again. I need that—desperately. 

Thank God for obliquity.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel . . . .

           . . . We shall not cease from exploration                  
          And the end of all our exploring
          Will be to arrive where we started
          And know the place for the first time. 
               (from “Little Gidding,” by T. S. Eliot)


  1. Isn't obliquity a great word?

  2. Love the Eliot quote. I try to look at every day fresh and not dwell on all the distractions that yanked me off my path.